By KATE LUDLOW
There exists a group of musicians today, who continue to produce new music, and who just can’t identify with modern country music, try as they might.
Allen Hurt is one of those musicians.
“I can’t say I like the new country, the pop country. It’s almost rock and roll. A lot of them have crossed over, and the fans don’t consider it country anymore. Lots of fans have been lost to that. We’re trying to bring it back,” he said.
Allen Hurt and The Mountain Showmen are bringing their style of bluegrass music to Liberty Hill. In an exclusive interview with The Independent last week, Hurt said he is fairly certain that he and his band have found the perfect crowd their their style of music.
“You have to find a way to hold it (the music) between the old and the new,” he said. “We play family music. We’re not always singing about the bars and the booze. A lot of venues love having those kinds of guys, but I think it limits you to one crowd, one market. I write to keep it in that category. I’ve got about 1,750 songs, and three more coming.”
Though he grew up on traditional country music, in 2000, Hurt decided it was time for a change.
“I made the switch. I just started playing contemporary bluegrass. I like music with a banjo and a bluegrass fiddle instead of some electric drum. It’s a more pretty sound when it’s less electronic. The talent is greater, to play those things with your own two hands, instead of a computer,” he said.
Before Allen Hurt and The Mountain Showmen embark on a tour with the legendary Ray Price, they’ll be playing in Liberty Hill as part of the Summer Concert Series hosted by the Liberty Hill United Methodist Church.
For Hurt, the chance to play along with Ray Price is thrilling.
“It’s an honor to get to tour with such a legend. He plays with a full orchestra, so for them to allow us to come in with our genre, it’s pretty incredible. It’s just….whoa. It gives me goosebumps just to play with him,” says Hurt.
Allen Hurt is used to sharing a stage with country music legends. He got his start around the age of 9, as The Rhinestone Kid on “The Porter Wagoner Show” — a country music variety show that ran from 1960-1981.
“He (Porter) raised me,” Hurst said. “He gave me my first belt-whooping for saying my first cuss word. My biological dad died at the age of 9. It was hard, but my dad and Porter were close, and I was an only child. He took me in.”
On stage, Hurt still wears versions of the colorful, hand-beaded Nudie and Manuel suits that Wagoner made famous.
“I had smaller versions of his (Wagoner’s) suits that I would wear on the show,” he added.
The story of how Hurt’s father came to be fishing buddies with Porter Wagoner is just one of the many larger-than-life encounters Hurt has had over the years.
“Well, they met through Elvis. In 1977, Elvis’ father, Vernon, he was the caretaker of Graceland. He kept the yards mowed, and did the maintenance. My dad asked Vernon to babysit, so he and my mom could go on a trip to Gatlinburg, TN,” he said. “They had met while they were both in the service together; they were both mechanics, and so on. So, Vernon is babysitting me at Graceland, and he had to work, so he just made a pallet in the Jungle Room on a leather couch. It was an air-conditioned room, and I just fell right to sleep.
“Well, Elvis, he was supposed to be out of town, but he came home early. He picked me up and put me on his knee. It scared me! I screamed bloody murder. I thought someone was stealing me. I got over it, and stayed a day and a half,” Hurt said.
Elvis introduced Hurt’s father to Porter Wagoner, and when he died a few years later, Wagoner was around to fill the gap in the young boy’s life.
Wagoner gave Hurt the beginning to a career, which would eventually take him around the world, leading him to one of his most surreal concert moments while on stage in Hong Kong.
“The crowd was packed in to see this country artist. I look up, and they’re all wearing straw hats. I could barely sing. I just keep wondering, ‘Where did they get all those hats? Is there really a big western wear store in Hong Kong?’” he laughed.
Life with Wagoner also taught Hurt a little something about professionalism.
“When you’d sing, you’d do it over and over. When you got it just right, just a little special, he’d (Wagoner) would wink at you, and say, ‘That’s it. Let’s go to the studio,’” said Hurt.
When traveling around Texas, the group drives to their own shows if they happen to be local. If they’re farther, they have a tour bus, one they just bought from Tanya Tucker, a friend of Hurt’s.
“When I got them, they were this special lavender, which is Tanya’s signature color. Naturally, the first thing I had to do is paint them bright red,” says Hurt, adding that the atmosphere on the bus is far from a wild time.
“It’s such a professional group. They’re quiet. We read. It’s kept clean and there are rules. We look after each other, and I’m very proud of that,” he said.
It’s that vibe that instills such pride in Hurt, and it’s what he loves most about playing with The Mountain Showmen.
“Well, number one, they have a classy look. They dress well. Two, the sound they make is just amazing. And three, there’s a professionalism there that you don’t get with a lot of other musicians. We like to set an example with we’re out there. We want to keep our rhinestone look, and remember our roots,” he said.
And for them, the style is just as big as the sound.
“Our style, the way we look, it’s an important part of us. It’s important to our future. We’ll see a lot of young kids, maybe they weren’t interested in listening to us, but then they see our look, and they’re curious, then they come up and say that we look ‘awesome,’” said Hurt. “That’s pretty cool to me.”
In May, Allen Hurt and The Mountain Showmen were inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame.
“It was an interesting night, it was a complete honor,” said Hurt. “We’re up there with Texas premier artists. I was just blown away. But truthfully, we just showed up to perform. We were standing around, and they (event organizers) came up to me and said, ‘How’d you like to be a member?’ I thought it was a joke. They were pretty sneaky like that.”
Though he typically plays larger shows, Hurt is excited for the chance to play in Liberty Hill.
“We’ve got a large fan base in Central Texas, so anytime I can play near Austin is great. I play all over the world, but I always get such a good feeling from the fans in Central Texas. I’m more at home there as an entertainer,” he said. “As an entertainer, it’s a great feeling to connect with your crowd. You look out and people are dancing and singing along. It’s like a birthday party and everyone you invited came.”
Allen Hurt and The Mountain Showmen will play in Liberty Hill on July 28 at the Liberty Hill United Methodist Church Summer Concert Series, alongside the Texas Eagle Dirt Band. For more information, visit www.lhumc.org.
Tickets are $10 each and may be purchased in advance at The Independent, 14251 W. SH 29, Suite B, in Liberty Hill or at the event.