In a year filled with chart-topping country albums by Aaron Watson, Jason Isbell and Blackberry Smoke, the Turnpike Troubadours are the latest independents to climb their way up the Billboard charts without help from mainstream radio.
The band’s new, self-titled LP is currently sitting at Number Three on the Billboard Country Albums Chart, thanks to first week sales of 19,400 copies. For the Oklahoma-based Troubadours, who self-produced the record and partnered with Americana powerhouse Thirty Tigers for its release, a bronze medal on the Billboard charts is another not-so-small victory in a career that’s been built on the road. For nearly a decade, they’ve been one of the hottest tickets on the Red Dirt circuit, playing an ongoing string of 1,000- to 4,000-capacity venues across Oklahoma and Texas. In more recent years, the guys have expanded their reach to the rest of the country, too, selling out clubs in bigger cities — including a gig at L.A.’s Troubadour — where country music isn’t exactly the genre du jour.
Flanking the Turnpike Troubadours on the Billboard charts are Alabama, whose Southern Drawl bested the Troubadours album by a scant 1,500 copies, and a cappella group Home Free, whose Country Evolution includes, coincidentally, a medley of Alabama songs. Both of those acts are unusual sights on the charts these days, but the two groups also enjoy the backing of major labels, with Alabama partnering with BMG and Home Free — recent winners on NBC’s The Sing-Off — teaming up with Sony. If anything, Alabama’s return to the charts is a sign of country fans’ loyalty toward the hit-makers of yesteryear, while Home Free’s success points toward the continued impact a reality TV singing competition can have on a group’s country career. The Turnpike Troubadours, on the other hand, are largely independent, backed not by the pockets of a record label CEO but by the support of a modest, loyal grassroots audience.
To celebrate, the guys are doing what they’ve aways done: hitting the highway and playing more shows. A cross-country with fellow Thirty Tigers roster mates the Black Lillies will take the band from the west coast to the Appalachians, with stops at New York City’s Highline Ballroom and West Virginia’s Mountain Stage along the way.