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“I was having nightmares every night, thinking, ‘Wow, they’re going to hate this,” says JD McPherson.
When he talks about his new album, Undivided Heart & Soul, there’s no glimmer of self-adulation, or even the confidence one might expect of a veteran artist. Instead, there’s a snapshot of McPherson’s creative process bringing the record to life, a journey filled with fear and change, then boldness, and, eventually, catharsis.
The best rock music has a story to tell. This record chronicles a series of upheavals, frustrations, roadblocks, and kismet—a cross-country move, failed creative relationships, a once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity, and learning to love making music again by letting go.
McPherson calls moving his family from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, to East Nashville a decision based “on opportunity” and one he was reluctant to make but notes the profound influence the city has had on his new crop of songs.
“Up to this point, I thought I knew what I was doing with songwriting, that I don’t do this or that,” McPherson says. “Writing with people who co-write for a living…maybe I saw myself as John Henry, and them as the steel-driving machine.”
Along with collaborations with fellow Oklahoman Parker Millsap, Butch Walker, and Aaron Lee Tasjan, McPherson’s selections for Undivided Heart & Soul include many deeply personal themes: “Let’s Get Out of Here While We’re Young” shares writing credits with longtime bandmate Ray Jacildo and McPherson’s wife Mandy. He also delved into character profiles, both fictional and based on real-life experiences, stories McPherson has held onto but never thought of as fodder for songwriting, such as the Las Vegas bus station interlude detailed in “Style (Is a Losing Game).”
“That seems like a pretty normal thing for a singer-songwriter to do, to write about personal experience, but I really have never done that,” McPherson says. “It felt great but it also was tough at the same time. The thing is, John Henry is trying to beat the machine because he’s in awe of it. It was a lot of me saying, ‘You’re really good at this, and I have a hard time doing it.’”
With a group of soul-baring tracks taking shape, McPherson and crew scheduled studio time to help force the issue. It quickly became apparent that these sessions were not going to work, bringing McPherson’s momentum to a halt.
To clear his head, he flew to Los Angeles at the invitation of friend and longtime supporter Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, who was also recording at the time. McPherson, Homme, and his Queens bandmate Dean Fertita played around with some songs, with Homme pushing McPherson outside of his comfort zone in a no-stakes environment.
Two Tons of Steel
Before there was Americana, before there was Texas Country, Two Tons of Steel front man Kevin Geil and his original band, “Dead Crickets,” rocked a sound that blended the best of musical worlds and pushed the envelope of “Texas” sound with a signature brand of country meets punk.
The San Antonio-based group packed the small bars and local hangouts and quickly became the Alamo City’s most-loved band, earning them a spot on the cover of Billboard Magazine in 1996. It was the beginning of a twenty year journey for Geil and the 4-piece ensemble.
Releasing “Two Tons Of Steel” in 1994 and “Crazy For My Baby” in 1995 on Blue Fire Records, a sponsorship deal with Lone Star Beer quickly followed. Dead Crickets, renamed Two Tons of Steel in 1996 began traveling outside of Texas, including stops at the Grand Ole’ Opry in Nashville, Tenn., the National Theater in Havana, Cuba, and European tours, to greet fans who had embraced their Texas-born sound. In 1996 they released “Oh No!” on their independent label, “Big Bellied Records.” They followed up the passion project with a live recording at the legendary Gruene Hall in Gruene, Texas, taped during a Two Ton Tuesday Show 1998.
2018, will mark the bands 23rd year of “Two Ton Tuesday Live from Gruene Hall.” The summerlong event has drawn over 230,000 fans since it began its annual run in 1995. The popular concert series was captured in “Two Ton Tuesday Live,” a DVD-CD combo
released on Palo Duro Records in 2006. Also that year, the band’s first national release, “Vegas,” produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Lloyd Maines on the Palo Duro label, took them to No. 7 on the Americana Music Charts and was one of the top 20 releases of 2006.
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