Live, indoor music returns to the Kessler Theater for the second weekend with Charley Crockett on Friday and Saturday nights.
It’s a rare opportunity to see the Texan blues and country artist in an intimate setting and fans know it. All four shows, two on each day, are sold out.
Rising Dallas singer Joshua Ray Walker will join Crockett both nights, adding to the draw, though the recent uptick in coronavirus cases might give some people pause about the shows’ timing.
The Kessler is operating at 25% to 30% capacity and, it says, with all the safety precautions one’s come to expect. Masks are required anytime fans leave their seats, and parties are spaced apart from each other.
Last time we caught up with Crockett in August, he’d just put out Welcome to Hard Times, his eighth album since launching his career in Deep Ellum. We’re republishing the conversation — between the musician and our critic Thor Christensen — here, as Crockett gets set to play.
— Dan Singer
Your new album sounds like a classic country record, but with a lot of twists, including a harpsichord. What were you aiming for?
They call me a stylistic chameleon … and on this album, I really wanted to try to hit that darker, dramatic Gothic sound that came in the ’60s before outlaw country. I feel like maybe we landed in a world somewhere between Lee Hazlewood and Bill Withers.
It sounds like you challenged yourself, lyrically, on the album. Tell me about “The Poplar Tree,” a song about a man who gets lynched, but with lyrics that seem autobiographical, like “crossing many rivers wearing a scar across my chest.”
I was thinking a lot about the famous Lefty Frizzell hit “Long Black Veil,” so “The Poplar Tree” is kind of a “sung from the grave” story. But I was also channeling my own experience with mortality.
And I was also thinking about race and the idea of the poplar tree being associated with the oppression of African-Americans. … Society sees me as an ambiguous figure, and I like writing songs that people who identify from different ethnic points of views can get something out of, you know?
You’ve talked in the past about your own identity conflict and the fact you have ancestors who are white, Black, Creole and Jewish. How has Black Lives Matter affected your self-identity?
I’m far closer to white than I would be to African-American … although my heritage reflects slavery in the South. My great-grandmother was marked down as Black on two censuses and white on two other censuses.
I’ve also lived in this other place of being ostracized by white people for looking or acting different. … On Juneteenth day, on Instagram, I posted this amazing drawing I saw in The Dallas Morning News of an African-American man breaking his chains of slavery, with an outline of Texas around it. I thought it was a great way to celebrate a holiday about freedom, but I got these negative comments from white men who were following me, saying, “I’ve lost all respect for you.”
To be quite honest, I don’t think white America has ever really had to deal with civil rights. It’s good we’re finally having these conversations, but it has to be talked about a lot more. It can’t just be posturing.
You launched your career performing in Deep Ellum, a historic neighborhood first settled by Black men and women in the 1800s and later by Jewish immigrants. Preservation Dallas recently put it on its “Most Endangered Places” list because of overdevelopment. Where do you think Deep Ellum is headed?
I really believe Deep Ellum’s heritage is at serious risk. It was the first Black commerce district in the whole state, and its musical heritage is dizzying: Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lead Belly, T-Bone Walker, Robert Johnson … it’s huge.
But in Texas, real estate developers are damn near unregulated. They’re the kings. I don’t want to freeze culture, but too many buildings are being hollowed out and expanded. If it’s all new buildings and boutique apartments and cupcake shops, what happens to the history and the beauty of Deep Ellum? It disappears.
The people of Dallas — especially the wealthy white people in Dallas — need to believe that Deep Ellum is just as historically significant as the French Quarter in New Orleans or Beale Street in Memphis. They need to take pride in it, and they need to protect it.
How did having open-heart surgery last year affect your life and career?
It’s been amazing. I feel much stronger. Before, I was just so tired, man. I felt dizzy and short of breath. I think my heart was so close to shutting down.
But now my energy and metabolism levels are so much higher. If I take my shirt off and look at the scar, it makes me think about mortality and eternity — where I came from before I was born, and where I’m going after, you know?
There’s a saying to the effect of, “Your second life begins when you realize how short your life really is.” That’s how I feel. It’s like being born again.
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