Roughly 3,300 people live in Okemah, Oklahoma, a town with vintage redbrick storefronts, a dive bar called the Rocky Road Tavern, a name that means “things up high” in Kickapoo, and a strange track record of birthing great American songwriters: Woody Guthrie is from Okemah. Grammy-nominee John Fullbright is, too. Evan Felker belongs on that list.
“I was born in Okemah but was raised in Wright City, a town in southeastern Oklahoma,” Felker says. “Now I live in Okemah again. The characters I write about are living in that world I grew up in––a bucolic, dirt-underneath-your-fingernails sort of world. People where I grew up are tough. It’s nice to be able to represent them in art.
Felker is the frontman, cofounder, and primary songwriter for Turnpike Troubadours, a virtuosic band of country-rock road dogs who, on any given night of the week, will play for a much bigger crowd than the populations of Okemah and Wright City combined.
Singer/guitarist Felker, fiddler Kyle Nix, steel and electric guitarist Ryan Engleman, bassist RC Edwards, drummer Gabe Pearson, and steel and accordion player Hank Early deliver punch after punch of smart rock-and-roll that sells out huge venues throughout the Midwest and South and packs legendary haunts like the Troubadour in Los Angeles.
With their highly anticipated fourth album A Long Way from Your Heart, the sextet is poised for even bigger breakthroughs. Narratives put to music are nothing new, but Felker and his bandmates have upped the ante, creating a web of unforgettable characters that show up on album after album in songs that are both catchy and musically complex: men and women with their backs against their wall, represented realistically but also imbued with dignity. “It feels like going home to see that those characters are still alive in a way that movies and literary writers have always done,” Felker says of the recurring favorites. “It feels good. There they are, all based on people that I know and love. They’re composite characters based on real people.”