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The Shootouts: From Finally Friday To The Grand Ole Opry

The Shootouts
Jamie Escola

One night in the fall of 2015 some friends dressed properly in western wear and played hard core country music for a handful of folks at the late, great Euclid Tavern in Cleveland, OH. It was supposed to be a fun side project for the musicians involved. Now it’s eight years later and the band born that night is about to debut on the Grand Ole Opry. They are The Shootouts, an upbeat, fun-loving honky tonk and western swing four-piece (plus “extended family members”) from Akron that’s made quite a few fans in Nashville and beyond.

Among the believers are Marty Stuart, Buddy Miller, Raul Malo and Jim Lauderdale, all of whom take guest turns on the Shootouts’ third album Stampede, which arrives on Friday amid a week of Music City celebrations. The band played Honky Tonk Tuesday at the American Legion in East Nashville. They’ve got a Grimey’s in-store on Thursday afternoon. Then they play our own Finally Friday Series 3rd & Lindsley, followed by their debut that evening on the Opry, something that astonishes singer, guitarist and songwriter Ryan Humbert, who I spoke to this week.

“It was really just a labor of love. And here we are now, you know, three records in and it is still a labor of love,” he says. “To be able to receive some of the recognition that we have, and folks really giving us such great feedback, it really has been meaningful. When you're making art on your own terms (and) you stay true to yourself - that's something we really strive to do.”

That earnest sincerity is authentic and infectious, connecting the “lightning bolt” epiphany they had playing that first night to the big rollout of Stampede. “Making music that we want to make and trying to take all the parts of the genre that we love and filtering those through our northeastern Ohio roots - you know, that mission statement hasn't changed.”

The core of the band began with Humbert and electric guitarist Brian Poston, a fireballing twang picker in the tradition of Redd Volkaert, Albert Lee and Ray Flacke. One of his signature moves is composing an instrumental bearing the title tracks of each of the Shootouts’ three albums. “Stampede” is a fusillade of sixteenth notes in the style of a fiddle breakdown, set to a train beat on rails. “He is a monster,” says Humbert. “I mean, I've played with a lot of guitarists here in Nashville and at home and beyond. And he is pretty special.”

Up front, sharing vocal duties, is Emily Bates, with whom Humbert says he’s been singing for 20 years after meeting her at the college radio station where they both worked. She wasn’t even going to be in the original “side project” but she went to a show a few weeks into the experiment and decided she needed to be part of it. Rounding out the core band is Kevin McManus on bass and vocals.

The Shootouts

The Shootouts got on a lot of folks’ radar and into the upper reaches of the Americana and roots radio charts with Bullseye, the album they made in 2019 in Nashville with former BR549 frontman Chuck Mead as producer. They delayed its release about a year as the pandemic disrupted their robust touring schedule. But when it arrived in 2021, it was received as a refreshing breeze for fans of old school country in today’s diverse Americana landscape. It was also part of what made Ray Benson, founder/leader of Asleep At The Wheel and champion of western swing, interested in producing the record that became Stampede. For Humbert that reflected more validation of the highest kind.

“We were not thinking we'd be making a record so quickly, after Bullseye. But, you know, that was an opportunity that we didn't want to pass up,” he says. Benson “would give advice, or he would help you shape a song or he would offer some comments or thoughts on something in the studio. And also, I should say that we worked with Ray as well as his son, Sam Seifert. They make an incredible team.” Seifert, in his mid thirties, acts as Asleep At The Wheel’s producer these days and was ace with capturing sounds and performances, Humbert says, while Benson tended to the big picture.

The album is bookended with two versions - electric and acoustic bluegrass - of “Better Things To Do” that are propelled forward by the mandolin of Marty Stuart. Buddy Miller’s guest turn on “Anywhere But Here” has more of a California country meets jangle pop feeling. And “I’ll Never Need Anyone More” taps the harmony vocals of Raul Malo to deliver an echo of Freddie Fender. It’s a delightful and varied record that speaks to the larger prospect of making Akron, Ohio famous for something twangier than Devo and The Pretenders.

The Shootouts will open the music on Friday at 3rd & Lindsley at noon, followed by piano-punching neo-soul singer and songwriter Bee Taylor (Nashville by way of Texas) at 12:45 and hard core Georgia troubadour Channing Wilson at 1:30. Wilson’s got the new album Dead Man dropping on Friday, and he’s got a Grand Ole Opry date on Saturday night. Well done, everyone.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's music news producer and host of The String, a show featuring conversations on culture, media and American music. New episodes of The String air on WMOT 89.5 in Middle Tennessee on Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. Twitter and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org