Two decades ago, most Texas country musicians just wanted to hit the road and score an open mike or an open couch. But the long road has made many artists older and wiser.
And they realize there's money back at home.
That's why long-beloved Texas artists such as Pat Green, Randy Rogers, Cody Canada and more have recently been diversifying their portfolios. After all, what to do if they can't (or don't want to) play music away from home forever?
Fort Worth-based Green, who has been a partner for several years at a huge bar in Uptown Dallas called the Rustic, recently opened an art gallery in Fort Worth to showcase his own sculptures and paintings. Dallas native Granger Smith has turned his redneck alter ego Earl Dibbles Jr. into a cottage industry with a popular line of merchandise, including Yee Yee Energy Drink. Out in Stephenville, Larry Joe Taylor has turned a once-small campfire gathering into a year-round calendar of festivals at his own ranch. He even makes money on an annual music cruise.
Waco native Wade Bowen has recently gotten into the bar and restaurant game, opening the Caboose in Alvin, Texas, and Papa Jack's in Kyle, Texas. Although Bowen has the restaurant biz in his blood, thanks to some uncles who spent their lives in F&B, these non-music ventures are designed for Bowen and his family to "have some fun and to try and be smart with my money" rather than any sort of nest egg building for the future, he says.
Like Bowen, not all musicians are looking to build empires for their grandchildren's grandchildren. But there is a consistent anthem among most enterprising musicians, whether their side projects are grandly ambitious or small in scope: They want to entertain people. And they want to stay closer to home.
Texas Tech alum Green went from musician to part-time restaurateur when the Rustic opened in 2013. Since then, the Rustic has been one of the highest-grossing bars in Dallas in terms of alcohol sales, one that's so successful that its partners just opened a Rustic in San Antonio. Another one, in downtown Houston, opens soon.
But around the same time Green was entering the food and beverage world, he entered a new artistic realm as a painter and sculptor. The hobby was a prolific one, but his many creations didn't fit in his home.
"It got to a point," Green says with a laugh, "where we had too much of my own art in the house, and my wife said 'You got to get some of this out of here.' So we opened a gallery."
His new Galleywinter Gallery in Fort Worth, which opened in May, is across the street from the studio where Green's wife, a former lawyer, operates jewelry and handbag store Kori Green Design.
Green sells his own pieces of art, which includes "The Hand of Christ," a bronzed piece depicting a life-sized hand emerging from a wooden plank with a large nail driven through the palm, as well as the works of his two gallery co-owners, local artists Ginger Walker and Cheryl Hodge.
Just like in the music industry, Green found there's a gap dividing high quality art and commercially viable art. "We look for what is good," he says. "But also, because it is a business, we look for what will sell. There's a big difference between fine art, collectible art and my kid's drawings."
Now that he's seen his money do great things away from the concert stage, you might think Green is ready to slow down his busy touring schedule, but that's not the case. "I'm kind of loaded up right now in terms of the time I have available," he says about new ventures. But looking ahead, he knows he won't play music full-time forever.
He's also interested in his family business: Green's father and brother are financial advisors.
He could've used their knowledge in his earlier days, in fact. "As musicians, we get our money in chunks, almost like a seasonal job," he says. "When I was younger, I didn't know how to manage my money or how to save it or pan for the future.
Today, he says he's thinking "past my music career."
Being a dad is tough 'playing 250 shows every year'
"I'm not an engineer, so I can't drill you an oil well," says Rogers, who recently received a Distinguished Alumni award from Texas State University in San Marcos, where he graduated in 2001 with a degree in Public Relations. "But I can apply the lessons I've learned over the years in the music industry to other things outside of just playing shows."
Rogers has been highly active in his business pursuits. In the past two years, he's launched Big Blind Management, an artist management company. He also bought the Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, the first venue he ever performed in, and became part-owner of minor-league baseball team the Cleburne Railroaders in the town he grew up in. And those are on top of his wife's successful River Rose fashion boutique, which just opened its third location.
"As a songwriter, I consider myself a lifer, and I don't plan to ever put the guitar down," Rogers says. "[But] in the music business, you never really know when it all might be over. And there's more to life right now. I have three children I want to spend time with, and that's hard to do if I'm playing 250 shows every year."
In May, Rogers announced his partnership in ChopShop Live, a new restaurant and music venue opening in Roanoke this summer in conjunction with Dallas-based Rock Libations, which operates the restaurant Musume in the Dallas Arts District and others. As is the case with his other ventures, Rogers' latest project fits in nicely with the expertise he's developed over many highway miles.
"When it comes to life on the road and playing in as many venues as I've played," he says, "I've lived the kind of life where the lessons I've learned aren't necessarily taught in classrooms."
Why not rock right at home?
Since breaking through with his first band Cross Canadian Ragweed almost 20 years ago, Cody Canada is one of the most recognizable names in the Texas country and red dirt music scenes. His loyal fans followed him to his latest incarnation of the Cody Canada and the Departed, the group he's fronted since 2011.
For pretty much every step of the way, Canada's wife, Shannon, has been the self-admitted Type A personality leading the 36D Management agency that reps him. Today, since Shannon says she and Cody "aren't old, but not necessarily young," they say quality time as a family of four was a top priority as they considered new business ventures.
In April, the Canadas opened up a School of Rock franchise in their hometown of New Braunfels. It took several years for the deal to come together.
"At first, the people at School of Rock didn't think New Braunfels could support its own franchise since there was one in Austin and San Antonio already, so I met with them in Los Angeles, and it took some convincing for them to see that because of our background, we knew what we were doing and they could trust us," Shannon says.
With two sons, Dierks, 12, and Willy, 9, who can't get enough of learning how to play rock, the Canadas say they found the right side project.
"It's usually a bar or venue someone tells us about," she says. "But the black and white answer from us is that the hours for that just don't work for me."
Along with running 36D, Shannon is at School of Rock every day. And although Cody is on the road for much of the week, he still finds time to stop into the new school and help instruct when he can. Down the road, the Canadas would like to open more School of Rocks in cities like Waco or Tulsa, but that's for much later. For now, the school is a "passion project," and not something to be relied upon for paying any family bills, Shannon says, especially since Cody's desire to tour and make music is far from dulled.
"Opening the School of Rock really grabbed my heart and spoke to me," Shannon says. "I realized this is who we are and this is what we should be doing."