News Column

Country singer JD Strait kicks off first-ever Boots and Brews Festival in Aztec

September 7, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 07--IF YOU GO

What: Doors open at noon today. Live music from 1 to 10 p.m.

SCHEDULE

1 p.m. Country Thunder

2:45 p.m. Desert Knights

4:30 p.m. The Dirty Pesos

6:30 p.m. Triple Nickel

8:30 p.m. The Country Music Project

Where: Riverside Park, 500 S. Light Plant Road in Aztec

Costs: $22 admission. Children 12 and under are free.

More info: Tickets and more details at www.bootsandbrews.com.

AZTEC -- He's been a switchman, brakeman and yard master for the railroad in El Paso, Texas, a rodeo clown and roper throughout the Southwest, a radio programmer in Louisiana and recently settled in Albuquerque with a feisty macaw parrot named Charlie.

And on Friday night at Crash Music, JD Strait -- the outlaw country singer-songwriter with a baritone voice and attitude in the neighborhood of Johnny Cash's -- performed with his band, The Country Conspiracy. Farmington folk and bluegrass duo Willow Blue, featuring Elaine Gapinski and Tom Dinning, opened the show.

The concert kicked off the first-ever Boots and Brews Festival, which continues today with performances at Riverside Park in Aztec. The stage will feature The Country Music Project and Triple Nickel, both from Denver, Colo., and The Dirty Pesos from Dallas, Texas; The Desert Knights from Phoenix, Ariz., and the Navajo Nation's Country Thunder.

The event features a wide variety of groups, according to Katee McClure, president of Animas River Arts and Entertainment, which is producing the festival.

Strait, though, sees a common thread in country music -- or at least in his own songs.

"There's a famous saying in music by songwriter Harlan Howard, 'All you need to write a country song is three chords and the truth,'" he said in a phone interview from Albuquerque before his Aztec concert. "Every one of my songs follows that credo -- just do the music justice and tell the truth."

In 2010, after years working off stage, Strait decided to make entertaining people with his resonant voice a full-time gig. "I've been blessed getting a second chance to play music," said the 58-year-old. "It's pretty cool, and it's all for the love of the music."

In 2012, Strait released his first full-length album, "Stories," to critical acclaim and heavy airplay in the U.S. and Europe.

At the Hollywood Media Association awards in 2011, he won Country Song of the Year for his ballad "I Love You Girl."

Strait grew up in El Paso surrounded by country and R&B music, courtesy of his father's position as a general manager for an officers' club at Fort Bliss.

"My dad loved R&B and country, so I grew up listening to a lot of the greats," Strait said. "In our house, there was a photo of my dad with Willie Nelson circa 1960. (Country legend) Johnny Paycheck stayed at our house. I soaked it all up, the music was a part of growing up."

Strait gravitates toward the traditional outlaw sound made famous by towering giants of the genre: Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Billy Joe Shaver.

"When (Johnny) Cash got busted in Juarez in '63 for amphetamines, my dad got a late call from him," Strait said. "He told my dad, 'It's been a long, hard road, can't sleep, can't do the show tonight.' This was just part of the entertainment business, but the music and talent made the biggest impression on me."

Though he's worked with various musicians, Strait is most proud of his current backing band, The Country Conspiracy.

"These guys are the biggest secret in New Mexico," he said. "They're my kind of guys playin' my kind of music."

Strait says he takes lyrical inspiration from the music he absorbed growing up in Texas.

"I love the Four Tops, Spinners, Gladys Night and the Pips, Ray Price, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, especially Red Sovine, a great storyteller whose songs 'Teddy Bear' and 'Giddy up Go' are incredible narrative songs. The whole song tells a story that just tears your heart out," he said.

Strait uses his diverse life experience as raw material for the ballads he performs.

"I've been a cowboy, a railroader, a firefighter, in radio. Now I get to be an entertainer, and I'm not done yet," he said. "I love Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum, but that ain't me. I'm outlaw country telling tales of railroadin', heartbreak and some good things, too. I'm all country. That's what I do."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.

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