Charlie Robison’s Time Has Come

Like a true Texan, Charlie Robison knows how to throw a big, big, big party. To celebrate his most recent birthday, Robison took the stage at the fabled Gruene Hall, the oldest dance hall in Texas, about 80 miles from his home in Bandera, Texas.

Robison tells CMT.com, “My birthday is Sept. 1, so for Labor Day, we do a two-night stand there, and that’s the second one we’d done. It’s like a tradition every year. One of the two nights was my birthday, so the crowd sang ‘Happy Birthday.’”

That serenade didn’t make the cut for Robison’s latest album Live, but his other concert staples are here: “Barlight,” “My Hometown,” “Right Man for the Job” and so on. He tosses in snippets of classic rock songs from Bob Marley, Steve Miller and the Rolling Stones. There’s also an off-color comment about Monica Lewinksy during “Sunset Boulevard.”

Whoa. Monica Lewinsky?

“There needs to be a good scandal, so I can update a little bit,” he says.

Which brings us to the Dixie Chicks.

Robison is married to Emily Robison, one of the Dixie Chicks. The couple had their property vandalized following the media frenzy following Natalie Maines’ remark in London, although the outcry has since dissipated. Robison himself attended a few shows and witnessed the scene outside.

“One guy had a sign that said ‘The Dixie Chicks are Communists.’ And I was like, you know, they’re making a ton of money tonight and we’re taking all that home and keeping it for ourselves, so that’s really not the definition of a communist,” he says with a laugh. “That’s the epitome of capitalism right there.”

Though he calls touring his “bread-and-butter,” Robison spent Saturday nights this spring in Nashville, judging a dozen country hopefuls on the reality show Nashville Star. He calls the experience “a good time,” although he says he would not have auditioned for such a show in the earlier years. He also doubts that other visible young acts on the Texas scene would be interested.

“Most of those folks don’t want to jump through hoops and go through a competition like that,” Robison says. “It’s like the Texas thing. That’s a program I never would have gone on. It might have been a good thing for me, but just being hard-headed and stuff, I probably wouldn’t have been on it.”

He continues, “I would be too afraid of having to take that much direction. They have to take a lot of direction, as far as singing, and what songs they have to choose from to cover. I would have never wanted to cover any contemporary stuff. George Strait is one of my favorite guys in the whole wide world, but I wouldn’t want to have to go out in front of America the first time and have them see me do a George Strait song. I think that’s where the rub for a lot of people around here would be.”

Robison says he doesn’t lose sleep over a lack of radio attention, though he says he’d be happy to get more airplay. Instead, he continues to perform for big crowds in Texas and respectable audiences in clubs from coast to coast.

“It’s a lot like the Willie crowd,” he notes. “There are hippies, rednecks, college kids, yuppies — a real cross-section of people.”

Asked whether a musician can really make a living solely on the Texas club circuit, Robison says, “You could do real well and never leave the boundaries. That’s completely true. It’s really conducive to live music here. From one end of the spectrum to the other, there are places to play. No matter what day of the week, you can go out and draw a great crowd. There’s really great local music. You call it local, but you can be 400 miles away and still be in Texas. From Bob Wills to Willie to where we are, it’s always been a place where everybody likes to get out and see something that’s from Texas.”

The Robisons also welcomed their first child, Charles Augustus, in November. (He calls fatherhood “the coolest thing in the whole world.”) Meanwhile, Charlie’s brother Bruce and wife Kelly Willis brought home twins in March, joining their 2-year-old son.

Noting that everyone’s doing well, Charlie says, “Their kids are taking over the house. They’ve got their hands full. Emily and I are talking about starting next year to try again. And she’s terrified of having twins after going over there a few times.”

Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.