Turnpike Troubadours front man Evan Felker may be young, but he ain’t new. His songs traffic in the kind of everyday moments and perpetual longings traced by artists like Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle.
The Oklahoma quintet has been around for roughly three years, but it seems like a longer time. That’s the feeling of working uphill, but their luck’s crested of late.
The Americana act just had its second single to reach No. 7 on the Texas Music Charts, “7 & 7,” a paean to the hard-living glory days and the regret of what might’ve been. The song’s protagonist recalls the carefree days of 7-Up and Seagram’s, and feels the weight of time when he spots his ex-fiancée with her husband and child in the supermarket.
“It’s a ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’ kind of thing,” Felker said. “He’s figuring that out: ‘I didn’t mean to screw this all up. I was trying to be good.’ And then here we are.”
The “here we are” has been pretty stunning for Felker, too. Although he’s still renting a room from a childhood friend in Oklahoma City, he’s come a long way. The Troubadours’ tours have pushed out as far as Minnesota and Colorado, leaving the East and West Coasts as untapped territory, with upward of 200 dates in the past year. Not a bad start for a bunch of smalltown boys.
Felker hails from Wright City, where he worked at the paper mill until music began to consume his life and he moved to Stillwater, finding work as a technician.
“You’re always worried about getting stuck there, working at the mill like your buddy did or your buddy’s dad did. Get some girl pregnant or whatever and have to stay there,” he said. “It’s something you get scared of when you’re 18: ‘Am I going to be able to go to college? How am I going to get out of here?’” Breaking free of small-town life and its constraints, while shedding the blinders of youth, are themes that resound throughout his songs.
Playing Saturday at Wormy Dog Saloon, the Troubadours have been a work in progress for Felker and bassist R.C. Edwards, the principal songwriters. Their mix of traditional bluegrass and country rock seems to have struck a chord, and they’re continuing to hone their sound and expand the instrumentation. Guitarist Ryan Engleman has been learning the pedal steel, and fiddler Kyle Nix also plays some mandolin and guitar. They’re looking forward to recording a new album to follow up last year’s “Diamonds & Gasoline.”
“We’ve got enough songs for another album right now,” Felker said. “We’re just kind of trying to bide our time a little bit, and maybe release another radio single.”
In the meantime, he’s trying to keep his feet on the ground … when they’re not in the air.
“I’m going to fly to Austin on Tuesday and play at Antone’s with Jason Boland & the Stragglers Wednesday,” he said. “A year ago, I’d never even flown. Before that, we would be playing Fittstown, Shawnee, Ada and Durant — that’d be a run. So it’s really moving forward, and that’s exciting.”