I would have liked to discuss at length many more of the songs written by Cleto Cordero, front man and songwriter for Lubbock-born band Flatland Cavalry.
It was obvious a maturation process had taken place between tunes written for the band’s debut EP “Come May” and first album “Humble Folks” and, years later, January’s more adult follow-up “Homeland Insecurity.”
Whiskeyriff.com noted not long ago, “Flatland Cavalry is undoubtedly the next big thing in Texas country. We’ve been listening to these guys for a while and, if you’ve yet to jump into their music, make it a priority. They’re the real deal.”
Indeed, the band may have paid its dues and climbed the initial rungs of success at Blue Light Live in Lubbock, but the music is in the process of being introduced nationwide.
Flatland Cavalry returns to Lubbock to perform at Blue Light Live’s Street Party from 7 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Sunday. The concert celebrates Blue Light Live’s 20th birthday in Lubbock, and who better to headline? The show is on an outdoor stage on Buddy Holly Avenue, with fans expected to fill the area between 18th and 19th streets.
There also might be a little romance in the air. After all, Cordero had taken a knee on stage in May at Floore’s in Helotes, northwest of San Antonio, and proposed to singer Kailyn Butts.
She said yes, but their relationship is at times long distance as she is developing a recording and touring career out of Nashville, while Cordero feels an obligation to keep the band in Texas.
Their paths will cross at a festival in a few weeks but, this weekend finds Butts traveling to Lubbock, where she will open Sunday’s street party with a set at 7 p.m.
She will be followed on stage by Ross Cooper, The Dirty River Boys and then, at approximately 10:30 p.m., Flatland Cavalry. I suspect she’ll join Cordero for a duet.
Butts might have provided inspiration for Cordero’s heart-aching song “Sleeping Alone,” one of my favorites on the new CD – but she also played a role in Cordero’s step forward with “Other Side of Lonesome.”
Many might be blown away by the images within, and ending, of the video for the song. But first consider the lyrics:
“Don’t you plan another minute
Planning your goodbye getaway
Life’s a race you’re bound to finish
We’re not meant to know
The hour or the day
So come on brother
Must be something we can do
Don’t pull that pistol out of your pocket
Go on, shake the mud off them boots
Maybe we can grab some coffee
Teach each other a thing or two
And on the other side of lonesome
There’s a place for you.
The band previously had shot videos of live performances, but Cordero had something much darker in mind this time.
The song dealt with bullying and its repercussions. The video, directed by Natalie Rhea, focuses on school and/or mass shootings. It follows a tense police officer as he makes his way alone around a school, clearing classrooms, looking for a reported gunman.
Cordero had been asleep when his then-girlfriend called to tell him about the more than 50 deaths at the Route 91 massacre. Cordero said he developed goosebumps and grabbed a notebook. “I believe I wrote what I would have wanted to say to someone like that, someone in the state of mind to shoot. That ‘on the other side of lonesome, there’s a place for you.’”
The caring and empathy within the words cannot be denied and, despite the number of dead, Cordero said. “I was writing about spreading the love, which probably sounds like some hippie. But the reaction thus far has really been positive.”
Cordero tends to speak highly of Lubbock, and the music generated here, in many of his chats with the press. He is not from Lubbock originally.
Rather Cordero was born and raised in Midland. His father showed him his first chords on an old guitar. His Christmas gift after his 14th birthday was a new acoustic guitar. He improved as he learned guitar by ear, copying classic rock songs from the only tape he could find.
The first concert he attended, with the Randy Rogers Band headlining, convinced him he wanted to someday form a band and play music for a living.
Drummer Jason Albers also hails from Midland. “Me and him started playing together when we were 12 years old,” said Cordero.
The band would have to wait.
Cordero said he first tried his hand at writing a song when he was 17.
“I said it was good, but I was lying through my teeth. But when I played it for my dad, he thought I was a natural talent, and I just kept trying,” he said.
Asked when he knew he would make a living with music, Cordero hesitated and said, “I did not know what I wanted to do. It was my parents who gave me the dream. Although my mom wanted me to earn a college degree so that, in her words, I would not end up selling drugs or my body.”
Cordero decided to aim for a degree in accounting.
Following high school graduation, he first enrolled at Midland College. Asked why he transferred to Texas Tech, he did not mention accounting professors, instead explaining, “There had always been all this great music coming out of Lubbock. Guys like William Clark Green and Cory Morrow and, before them, Joe Ely and The Flatlanders.
“I never gave up going for my accounting degree. I had pledged I would do it for my mom. And I also had a brother telling me I better not be spending all of mom and dad’s money and not studying.”
Still, Cordero arrived at Texas Tech on a Saturday. On Sunday, he was hoping to play music at the O-Bar on 34th Street.
“Honestly, I had envisioned Jason and me finding the right group of people. I was passionate about wanting to have a band. That was my own dream, my vision. And after a while I started hanging around the Blue Light (Live). … And to tell the truth, I’ve got to give a lot of credit to the Blue Light and Six (co-owner Dustin Six).”
Flatland Cavalry came together slowly. Primo guitarist Reid Dillon was recommended by his older brother. They had tried out almost a half-dozen bass players. Cordero said, “Johnny (Saenz) was from South Plains College. We went through just one song and he knocked it out of the park. We asked him when he could start.”
Laura Jane Houle was hired to play fiddle. She left the group in late 2018, and Cordero was taken with fiddle player Wesley Hall “who had played in a lot of other bands already.”
Cordero arrived in Lubbock in 2012 and was playing with his own band two years later. Needing music to offer fans, Flatland Cavalry released EP “Come May” in 2015. Debut album “Humble Folks” arrived in 2016, helping to expand the band’s following.
Cordero would take his time writing songs for second album “Homeland Insecurity,” released this year in January.
The title, rather than taking a political stance, could be found within the lyrics for “Years From Now,” another song which asked deeper questions about individual futures:
“Years from now I’ll fall asleep and pray I don’t wake up in the grave
Somewhere on the other side of outer space
And feel the gold beneath my feet and place my hand on pearly gates
In a place free from time and gravity
And former homeland insecurities
Then I’ll know what love is all about
I don’t hope soon, but some time years from now
Years from now.
Six, at the Blue Light, seemed a good choice for observations of Cordero and the band from afar.
- On the songwriting: “Cleto is a student of the art of songwriting. When he first started attending Songwriter Nights at Blue Light, maybe back in 2014 and 2015, he paid very close attention and was willing to take advice from the Brandon Adams and Red Shahans of those days. His songwriting has evolved with his surroundings, but I don’t think he will ever lose the ‘humble’ twang.”
- Difference in second album: “If the question is have they improved, the answer obviously is yes. Flatland Cavalry has evolved in many ways. Their wheels are prettier, their travels are longer, their reach is crazy. Their greatest asset in my opinion is their attitude toward fame. They don’t seem to have changed. I’d be surprised if fame ever truly deluded their quality of tunes.”
Cordero may be a songwriting front man, but he’s all about the band. “I can’t remember who said it, but I watched the Oscars one night and someone said. ‘If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, you go together.’ I believe that.”
For that matter, he is completely satisfied working as an independent band. “Being on a label might be cool, might make some things easier. In the end, it’s all about the music.”
Except he does have added pressure these days in a long-distance relationship. One can feel his lyrics for “Sleeping Alone:”
Cause I’m tired of sleeping alone
I just wanna be where you are
Tired of saying goodnight through the phone
And wakin’ up each morning in the dark
Better say a prayer
Turn out the light
Sigh and hug my pillow tight
I’ll be with you soon my dear
If only in my dreams.
The way Cordero put it, he would support Butts no matter the distance. Flatland Cavalry already is comfortable in Texas with “a manager, a booking agent, a publicist.”
He said Kaitlyn has the talent and just needs a team, and Nashville could be the perfect place to put one together.
Meanwhile, he admits he felt “100 percent more pressure” when writing the second album. He can join Kaitlyn “to decompress, But the band is only going to grow artistically when we’re under the spotlight.”
And as the band’s success grows, he recalls his father’s advice: “Let the fame go to your heart and not to your head.”
Meanwhile, Six concluded, “I think Cleto and the band pay homage to Lubbock because of the big acts that came before them, and the ones chasing them. It’s a place to call home. They know they are considered family in a great group of 806 musicians. That’s a big deal.”
Expect a crowd Sunday. Tickets in advance are $20 for fans age 21 and older and $25 for those between 18 and 20. Tickets at the gate are $5 higher. Visit bluelight.com to buy advance tickets.