Celebrate Dallas’ Old 97’s 30th anniversary with these 5 tunes

Old 97’s. Photo: Alysse Gafkjen

It seems both impossible and inevitable that the Old 97’s has existed for three decades.

Impossible, simply because the band first blossomed in the hurly-burly of 1990s Dallas and its bars and clubs, during a moment when it often felt like every local band might be the next big national thing.

Inevitable, only because from the opening moments of 1994’s Hitchhike to Rhome, and scads of live performances then and over the ensuing years, there was always a sense that Rhett Miller, Murry Hammond, Ken Bethea and Philip Peeples — the core foursome then as now — possessed the exact sort of alchemy to sustain such a band for … well … forever.

“I think the fact that the Old 97’s will turn 30 [in 2023], the fact that we’ve consistently made records and toured all three of those decades, it was constant production and touring, is that we’ve always been hungry,” Miller told Forbes.com last June. “I still feel the hunger, like I just want to keep being a part of the artistic conversation. I want to keep making albums because I’m still fascinated by the process, that I still love the idea of putting something into the world and making the world, if not a more beautiful place, at least a more interesting place, a richer artistic place.”

And so, the Old 97’s will return to where it all began for the kick-off to a 30th anniversary celebration which will stretch well into the depths of 2023. Befitting a band renowned for its legendarily un-rehearsed live prowess, the 97’s are launching with a four-show run in various pockets of the city that nurtured them. The festivities begin Thursday with a sold-out, two-night stand at the Sons of Hermann Hall, followed by another two-night stand in Deep Ellum, at the Studio at the Factory, with only tickets for Sunday (as of this writing) remaining.

To help get you ready for the rowdiness, here are five key 97’s cuts to play (as loud as possible).


Arguably the quintessential 97’s track, the lead-off track from the band’s 1997 major label debut, Too Far to Care, and a reliable highlight of any live show. This relentless fusion of country, rock and pop is a headlong rush into the white-hot center of the band. Manic and magical in near equal measure, this one lights the fuse for new and old fans alike.


This rollicking fusion of Tejano and zydeco, pulled from 2004’s Drag It Up, is a relative rarity in the 97’s catalog, only in that it features guitarist Ken Bethea on lead vocals. (The acoustic breakdown near the conclusion is also achingly lovely.) Top it off with an amusing crack about women in Dallas honky-tonks, and you’ve got a keeper.

Another stand-out from 1997’s Too Far to Care, “Salome” showcases a more tender side of the band. Miller is in full-on troubadour mode here, pining for a love that’s left him waiting in the twilight. The mournful melody is matched by the band’s glowing three-part vocal harmonies.

Pulled from 2001’s Satellite Rides, this track has popped up in numerous films and TV shows, thanks to Miller’s plaintive vocals and the starkly romantic tenor of the lyrics: “Someday somebody’s gonna ask you/A question that/You should say ‘yes’ to/Once in your life.”

“Crash on the Barrelhead”
Vocals from bassist Murry Hammond on this one, which appeared on the band’s 1999 LP Fight Songs. The lyrics evoke a cautionary tale — “You’re gonna crash on the barrelhead, son,” Hammond intones through a haze of static — and the vaguely sinister air fits snugly alongside the many other colors on the band’s palette.

Old 97’s at Sons of Hermann Hall (Thursday-Friday) and the Studio at the Factory (Saturday-Sunday), Dallas. Thursday, Friday and Saturday sold out. Tickets for Sunday are $35.

Preston Jones is a North Texas freelance writer and regular contributor to KXT. Email him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter (@prestonjones). Our work is made possible by our generous, music-loving members. If you like how we lift up local music, consider becoming a KXT sustaining member right here.