Bri Bagwell is an old pro at Mile 0 Fest; she hasn’t missed one yet. Last year, she came solo and played acoustic. This year, she’s especially excited to be bringing her full band.
Bri moved to Austin for school at 18-years-old, and she liked it so much, she never left. She quickly paved her path within the Red Dirt scene. A native of Las Cruces, New Mexico, she had long admired the artists that she now calls friends, as her older brothers would drive over for shows and let her tag along.
She recorded her most recent record, 2018’s In My Defense in Nashville with Rachel Loy.
She and I spoke about that recording process and about transitioning from being an admirer of the Red Dirt scene to being a vital part of it.
Things have been open a little longer in Texas than they have in our part of the world. You’ve already been back to playing shows for a bit, right?
Yes. We started back up in March. In February, I was supposed to get back to work, but we were having to cancel shows due to the ice storm [laughs], which is strange. April feels very much more normal. We played regular capacity shows [in April]. It’s been strange. But fun!
People have enjoyed socially distanced shows. At Gruene Hall, there have been tables spaced six feet apart. Everyone has kind of gotten used to it. It’ll be interesting to watch people adapt to going back to normal.
Have you found that most people are comfortable? How have fans reacted to easing back into it?
It seems like people are anxious to get out; people seem really excited to see shows. But I also got a couple of texts from people that were like, “Sorry, but we’re just not comfortable with indoor stuff yet.” And I totally understand that. We respect everyone’s opinion, whatever it may be. But ticket sales for those shows and merch sales were through the roof, so I think most people are just ready to get back out.
You grew up in New Mexico before heading to school in Austin. Did you feel like you had to be in Austin to make a career in music work?
I just think that I needed to leave my small town. I really love the Texas music scene. Growing up, my brothers would drive me to Texas to watch Jason Boland and Cory Morrow and Pat Green. I always thought, “I love that scene, and that’s what I want to be a part of.”
I love music and I knew that I was going to do it for a long time. I wasn’t ready to move all the way to Nashville when I was 18. Austin was a little closer to home. It was a natural transition to go to Texas.
I went to Nashville for a little while, and I love it there, too. I always thought that it would be so intimidating, but once you get there, the people are great. I thought it would be a big competition, but both Austin and Nashville are very welcoming.
You sound a lot more like Nashville country than your Texas peers. Is that fair?
I think I can see that. I made the last record in Nashville with a bunch of Nashville players.
Rachel Loy produced that record and did a lot of the co-writes with you. You guys wrote and recorded it all in Nashville?
Yeah. It’s funny; I think a lot of recording has changed because of Covid. But it was accepted for a long time that if you wanted the best players and you wanted the best sound, you go to Nashville. From my 2015 record to my 2018 record, I wanted people to immediately hear and feel the difference in the quality of the recording. Rachel Loy produced a record for William Clark Green, and I loved that record. I asked, “Who is this person?” And it turned out that it’s a female producer, which I also thought was cool. She’s also married to one of my favorite songwriters, Brian Keane.
It was kind of a tough recording process because I still had shows every weekend. So I’d fly to Nashville and stay Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and fly back for shows on the weekend. I wish I could have just taken two weeks off to make a record, but I wasn’t in a place to do that.
There were a lot of co-writes with female songwriters, in addition to Rachel. I know Courtney Patton was on a track or two. Was working with female songwriters also important to you?
I love writing with all my friends, male or female. So I didn’t really make it a point, but it’s funny how that happened. I’m a huge fan of Courtney. We were working a songwriting camp together, and she said, “Hey, I have this idea. I have some verses.” And that song is called “Cheat on Me,” which ended up being a number one in Texas.
I’m a huge fan of hers. The female songwriters in Texas right now are so good: Jamie Lin [Wilson] and Courtney and Kaitlin Butts. If I can write with them, I’m honored.
You’ve said that a lot of the folks that you looked up to in the Red Dirt world when you were younger were guys like Cody Canada, Randy Rogers and so on. What is it like to have those folks as peers now?
It’s crazy! I was at the awards show a few weeks ago, and at my table was Aaron Watson and William Clark Green, and at the table next to us was Cory Morrow and Kevin Fowler. It’s still surreal to me that those are all my buds and I’m considered to be at that same table with them. I love it. Those guys were all so nice to me when I started. You never have to win anyone over in the scene. They’re so kind; and now they’re just my friends and we drink too much together sometimes [laughs]. And that’s wonderful! I love it.
You said you play a lot of shows in a normal year. How many of those are in Texas? It’s easy to spend a lot of time making your rounds in the state, I imagine.
I’d say 90%. Last year, we were supposed to go up for two weeks to Colorado and Montana, but all of that got canceled. We try to do one big out of state run if we can. We play New Mexico and Oklahoma quite a bit. But, yeah, I’d say 90% of our shows are in Texas.
Someone asked me recently, “Do you not want to do something bigger?” And sure, the dream would be to play stadiums. I’d love to travel all over the world, if I get the opportunity. But it’s neat that I can do what I can come home to Texas and I can make a living playing live music every weekend. It doesn’t get any better than that. I don’t want to have to have a day job and try to make it in Nashville at night when I can be playing live music with my band and loving my life.
How big of a moment was it for you to headline Gruene Hall as someone that is based in New Braunfels?
My brothers used to talk about Gruene Hall like it was this elusive, magical place. We came here when I was younger to watch Eli Young band; my brothers drove over from New Mexico. And it is; there’s just something so cool about it.
When I got to play my first headline there, I was worried. I didn’t want to play my dream gig and nobody show up. But I think we sold 550 tickets. People drove down from Dallas and up from Houston and over from New Mexico because they understood how important it was to me. I’ve headlined a few times now, and I live, like, five minutes from Gruene Hall so if we ever just want to walk over there on a Sunday and see a band playing we can. It’s magical.
Bri Bagwell plays at Truman Park Amphitheater on Wednesday at 5 p.m, the Kimes Ranch Southernmost Beach Resort and Cafe on Thursday at 11 a.m., the Mount Gay Stage at Dante’s on Saturday at 2:40 p.m. and she’ll be a part of Duets at the amphitheater on Friday at 10:30 p.m.