Charley Crockett at West Coast Country Music Fest
Roots troubadour Charley Crockett was “born way down there in South Texas,” he says.
Growing up in poverty in San Benito, Crockett’s mother sent him to live with an uncle in New Orleans. That’s when he began to busk on street corners in the French Quarter. Those streets led him to others as he hitchhiked and rode trains back and forth to cities across the country. He played the subways in New York City, then set off to Paris before wandering to Spain and Northern Africa.
“I busted my ass playing the streets for about a decade, and I’m proud of it,” Crockett says. “I learned a bunch of stuff by playin’ for change. Most everything I need to know, the street taught me,” he said during an interview with Foo Fighter guitarist Chris Shiflett on his podcast “Walking the Floor.”
Musically, Crockett is a ship at sea. When he returned home to Texas to record his debut solo album, “A Stolen Jewel,” in 2015, he made his mark on the Dallas music scene with its musical gumbo of Delta blues, honky-tonk, gospel and Cajun jazz.
Crockett and his band will perform at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, at the annual West Coast Country Music Festival to be held at Green Springs Inn, 11470 Highway 66, Ashland.
They share the bill with California outlaw country band Miss Lonely Hearts; Northern California bluegrassers The Bow Ties; honky-tonk throwbacks Halden Wofford & the Hi*Beams from Denver; Nickel Creek guitarist Sean Watkins and The Bee Eaters; Nashville honky-tonker Pat Reedy with The Jimmy Pinwheel Band; Portland country band The Waysiders; and more, along with local favorites Intuitive Compass, Justin Gordon, Gene Burnett, Rainy and the Rattlesnakes and the New Autonomous Folksingers.
Music starts at 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 10, 11:30 a.m. Saturday, and runs until dark. There will be a kids play area, a beer garden, a barbecue and food vendors at the festival.
Single-day tickets are $30 in advance, $40 at the gate. Weekend passes are $50 in advance or $80 at the gate. VIP tickets are $125 or $200 per day. All tickets are available at eventbrite.com/e/6th-annual-west-coast-country-music-festival-tickets-44231171625?aff=eac2.
Crockett’s released three more albums since “Jewel” — “In the Night” in 2016; “Lil G.L.’s Honky Tonk Jubilee” in 2017; and “Lonesome as a Shadow” early this year.
“I got a lot of songs to record,” he says. “I’ve already recorded another since the new one that I’m putting out the end of the year. It’s another tribute record, like ‘Honky Tonk Jubilee.’ I did ‘Honky Tonk’ for fun. I wanted to make a whole album of my favorite classic country songs.
“We were promoting the 2016 album ‘In the Night,’ and I didn’t want to compete with it. I wanted to let the record run its due course. But Thirty Tigers in Nashville liked ‘Honky Tonk’ and picked it up. I never would have thought it would be my most popular record. The most popular song on it is ‘Jamestown Ferry.’ We were just over in Europe, and all the audiences were singing along to that song.
“There’s the music business that says you can own a song, and I would argue that in the end no one really does,” Crockett says.
Crockett’s “In the Night” and “Lonesome as a Shadow” make a progression toward soul and R&B.
“I think with ‘Lonesome,’ it had a lot to do with it being recorded in Memphis at Sam Phillips Recording Service,” Crockett says. “That record’s got Memphis all over it.
“It’s kind of put me in a funny place because people had seen me as a honky-tonk revivalist because of the 2017 album, and like I said, I got a deep love for honky-tonk. Then when the next record, ‘In the Night,’ had a lot of soul on it, people were surprised. But that’s more a part of my sound. I’m known for switching between them at live shows. That’s a New Orleans thing, I think, to be able to go between. A lot of country stuff I do might actually sound more zydeco or Cajun. That’s my heritage. I love the idea of my music being of Texas and Louisiana because country doesn’t mean the same thing to me as it does to commercial America.”
“Lonesome” is Crockett’s first album of original material for Thirty Tigers.
“‘Lonesome as a Shadow’ is really important for me,” he says on his website. “I’d been in the shadows and playing out on the streets for years. That kind of living gave people the impression that I was rough around the edges. Just a gentleman hobo. I learned a million songs standing out in the street, but I’ve also written a million, too. This record is me laying all that out there. It’s a Texas and Louisiana record through and through, but it’s a Memphis soul record, too, and I really like that.”
Crockett says he’s just following the footsteps of his musical heroes — Ernest Tubb, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Etta James, Hank Williams and earlier influences such as Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb, he says.
“T-Bone Walker played barefoot in the streets of Texas,” Crockett says.
He’s referring to the streets of Deep Ellum, a neighborhood of Dallas developed after the Civil War as a residential and commercial neighborhood by freedmen. In the ’20s, the place was a hotbed of early jazz and blues musicians, including “Blind Lemon” Jefferson, Robert Johnson, Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter and Bessie Smith.
Today, Deep Ellum is a trendy entertainment district known for blues venues, art galleries, Tex-Mex eateries and craft breweries.
“Deep Ellum is one of those places — which is why I play it a lot on and off — that really is as important culturally as New Orleans or Memphis,” Crockett says.