The music industry has changed radically since Texas country musician Mark Chesnutt got started more than a quarter-century ago but not his music, and the two-stepping crowd that comes out Friday to see him at The Melody Ranch likely knows that.
He’s got a new single coming out in May, “ When the Lights Go Out,” and there are plans for a new album for release beyond that. Just don’t expect to hear any previews at the show.
“My music hasn’t changed much,” he explained in a phone interview en route from a Colorado show to his home outside Beaumont. “It’s country music — honky-tonk and pretty love songs, some puke-in-your-beer songs, some fun, rowdy songs.”
In other words, the sort of songs that have driven Chesnutt’s success since he made a national name for himself with 1990’s “Too Cold at Home.” That was the first of the Beaumont native’s three, million-copy-selling albums in the 1990s. The years since then have seen him compile eight No. 1 country hits such as “Bubba Shot the Jukebox,” “It Sure Is Monday,” “I’ll Think of Something” and “Gonna Get a Live,” plus nine more albums.
He and his veteran band — all with at least a decade’s experience in backing Chesnutt — keep busy with some 80 performances a year. That’s not on pace with younger road dogs, but Chesnutt, 49, said that’s by choice.
“I was 26 when I hit the road (with “Too Cold at Home”) and I was exhausted after the first year,” he recalled. “It gets old pretty quick.”
Joined by band members who also wanted to spend more time with their families, Chesnutt opted to dial back on touring about five years ago, though those 80 dates a year still take their toll. “It’s quite a bit for a bunch of old guys,” he chuckled.
Chesnutt’s Texas-flavored honky-tonk still retains its appeal, even though the country music industry in which Chesnutt first made his reputation has changed. The major labels don’t own and drive a performer’s career the way they used to, and though radio airplay is still a
crucial factor for country success, artists now have the Internet to release and promote their music.
“When the Lights Go Out,” in fact, is a single released to keep Chesnutt fans happy by downloading it now rather than wait on a new album. After working with six recording labels in his career, Chesnutt owns his songs and their publishing rights and finds his past success enables him to use the Internet rather than a record label’s publicists to spread news of fresh songs and live shows.
“It helps to have a core audience, which, thank God, I do after 23 years on the road,” he said.
Friday night will find the Texas honky-tonker and his seven-piece band doing what got him in the business in the first place and keeps him there. “I’m doing what I love to do and my favorite state to play is Texas,” he said. “Our job is to give people a good time.”