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Scene report: Turnpike Troubadours at Austin Ventures stage

Peter Blackstock

While the masses of ACL Fest gravitated to the RetailMeNot stage’s mud plains for Sunday’s weekend-two-only highlight Lorde, and EDM fans flocked to the Miller Lite stage for a spectacle of electronic music and lights with Zedd, the Austin Ventures stage filled up with a comparatively smaller but no less thrilled crowd of country fans taking in the Turnpike Troubadours.

It might have been a sore point to have these Okies in the spotlight just a day after the Sooners defeated the Longhorns in the Red River Rivalry. But all seemed forgiven among fans who gathered for the group that probably does the red-dirt roots-country-rock thing better than any current band from Texas.

A lot of that is thanks to frontman Evan Felker, whose voice rises a cut above most aspiring honky-tonkers and reaches toward the realm of classic vocalists such as Merle Haggard and Dwight Yoakam. His bandmates offered sure-fire support on songs such as the fast-paced “Shreveport” and the darker “Gin, Smoke, Lies,” for which Felker switched from acoustic guitar to banjo.

The band has built enough of a following through three records in the past six years that a lot of audience members knew most of their songs by heart. Many sang along triumphantly on “Before the Devil Knows We’re Dead,” a rousing number driven by hot fiddle licks. The richly melodic quality of Felker’s voice stood out on the heartbreak tune “Wrecked,” which suggested the Troubadours have some kinship with Dallas alt-country heroes the Old 97’s.

Country and Americana have largely been phased out of ACL Fest’s main rotation lately, relegated to sidelight status behind pop stars and indie buzz bands. Yet the dedication of the crowd for Turnpike Troubadours made it clear there’s still a demand for this music among the festival faithful.