It's not uncommon to hear live Americana music emanating from the Love Field food court on a Friday afternoon — at least not since the Texas Music Project partnered with the airport and the city of Dallas to install a state-of-the-art stage there last year. But it's not every week that travelers stumble upon a free performance by one of Texas' most treasured singer-songwriters.
That's part of what made Gary P. Nunn's set on July 7 so special. Well, that and the folks who — between hustling from security checkpoints to their gates — two-stepped across the airport in tune to Nunn's classic song "What I Like About Texas."
First recorded in 1984, the song has taken on a new life and purpose this summer, as Nunn helps kick off the Texas Travel Industry Association's #WhatILikeAboutTexas social media campaign. The effort asks Texans, non-native visitors and lovers of Texan culture to use the hashtag when sharing their favorite moments, places, people and events from all over the state.
In Dallas for a show at the Kessler later in the evening, Nunn and the Sons of the Bunkhouse Band took to the Texas Music Project stage at Love Field at noon Friday to share information about the social media campaign and to spread a bit of Texas hospitality to passers-by on their ways around the world.
We already knew Nunn's got a knack for "taking Texas to the country." Why stop there?
Kim Phillips, vice president of the Denton Convention and Visitors Bureau, introduced Nunn's set Friday. Discover Denton, a.k.a. #Dentoning, is one of six travel bureau partners from around the state that have partnered with the TTIA to promote the campaign.
"Storytelling is the crux of this whole campaign," she said, about #WhatILikeAboutTexas. "It adds a level of authenticity when it's not only people like Gary P. Nunn, but also average people, just anybody, telling their story."
Visit Houston, Visit San Antonio, Port Royal Ocean Resort & Conference Center, the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau and Visit Lubbock have also joined the cause to help shore up interstate travel. Phillips said she loves the diversity among the partner cities' network. Each helps promote a unique side of Texas' multidimensional culture.
At its core, the #WhatILikeAboutTexas campaign is similar to the well-known It's Like A Whole Other Country campaign by the state's Economic Development and Tourism department — a savvy marketing ploy that appeals to abundant state pride in order to bring hard-earned dollars into the Lone Star State.
If that sounds cynical, there's a catch — at least where #WhatILikeAboutTexas is concerned. The social media platform has a democratizing effect on the conversation. Anyone with an internet connection can participate.
"It's not ads, and it's not being driven by who paid what," Phillips said. "It's the average Texan telling a story."
She's lived all around the state, everywhere from the border to deep East Texas and now Denton, and she believes the travel industry can play a positive role in shaping and developing statewide culture in all of the best ways, especially as populations continue to boom.
"We're friendly, that's one of our biggest selling points here in Texas, and we're diverse," she said. "Sometimes we get sideways of one another politically, but this lets us meet each other and get to understand others in a different kind of way."
On the statewide level, there couldn't seem a better spokesman than the congenial Nunn, who played standards — his and those by other beloved country and folk singers — as well as a handful of surprises during his near two-hour set at Love Field.
Of the most delightful: a reggae version of his famous "London Homesick Blues," and a rendition of the Beatles' "All You Need is Love" as a hat-tip to the Love Field setting (and, perhaps, to Ringo Starr, whose birthday is July 7).
Another charming moment: When a group of teen girls in matching T-shirts crowded the stage, Nunn said, "You girls want to do a line dance? That's why you're lined up like that?" before segueing seamlessly into an impromptu version of the Hank Williams classic, "Hey, Good Lookin.' "
The 71-year-old singer has been on a roll lately. In fact, you might say 2017 is shaping up to be the Year of Gary P. Nunn.
In May, Nunn's uber-hit "Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning" — which first struck gold when Willie Nelson recorded it in 1982 — was revived on Nashville sensation Chris Stapleton's new album From A Room: Vol I.
And, he's penned an autobiography he plans to release in the fall.
As for the stage at Love Field, Nunn's lively performance echoes its mission of bringing homegrown music and musicians to a wider, if captive audience. It's funded largely by the Texas Music Project, a nonprofit organization that promotes music education and which coordinates the stage's weekly programming.
"It's like a fishing net that catches all sorts of people," said Michael Clay, the organization's co-founder and executive director. "We want to get everyone from kids to pros up there as a gateway to Dallas' culture and arts."
Catching a flight soon? Have a layover? The Love Field stage currently features live music on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at noon. It's one of the easiest — and most inexpensive ways — to see North Texas talent in bloom.
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