There’s a lot of rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma, both geographically and on the gridiron, but there’s also been a great back-and-forth cultural exchange between the states. Bob Wills got his big break in Tulsa, and Oklahoma’s Woody Guthrie started out performing songs in the Texas panhandle during the Dust Bowl. And it’s time to open our Texan ears and hearts to another Oklahoman–John Fullbright.
Growing up in Okemah–the same eastern Oklahoma town that Guthrie was born in–Fullbright emerged out of a musical household, picking up piano at age five and later turning to the guitar. But his real musical education came at the Blue Door, the legendary club in Oklahoma City that’s been home to songwriters like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jimmy LaFave, Arlo Guthrie, Eliza Gilkyson, and many more. Fullbright developed his style and sound through countless gigs there, and his debut was an acoustic set recorded live at the Blue Door in 2009.
But Oklahoma’s borders can’t contain Fullbright. Last year, he released his first studio album, From The Ground Up, and it was recently nominated for a Grammy for “Best Americana Album.” Fullbright will also perform at the Paramount Theater Friday night on the Austin leg of his headlining tour, and it’s certainly easy to hear why he’s connecting with so many people. He recently brought his songs to Studio 1A for a live session, showing off his diverse repertoire and styles. Like Guthrie before him, Fullbright tackles social injustice in his lyrics, but he also repeatedly wrestles with religion. On “Gawd Above,” he sings as the Old Testament Yahweh, sounding like a fire-and-brimstone preacher out on the plains. It’s an interesting point-of-view, especially for such a young artist. Yet it’s that youthful brashness that sets Fullbright apart from the singer-songwriter crowd.