The Texas Song Theater

The Texas Song Theater is song and spoken word that is brought to the stage by three performing songwriters working together as a play of voices, imagery, and emotion.

First conceived by performing songwriter Eric Taylor, he has engaged two of his most respected and accomplished writing friends, David Olney and Denice Franke, to join the “Theater.”

At first glance, Eric Taylor, David Olney, and Denice Franke appearing together on stage would not be considered as something unique. Singers and songwriters have been getting together in “rounds” for years. But it is the presentation that these three bring to the performance that invents something quite different. They come together on the stage, just as a theater ensemble might bring an adaptation of a gathering of playwrights.

The Cast Speaks...

Eric Taylor says, “The first time I saw Lightnin’ Hopkins do a live version of Black Cadillac, he performed a spoken word piece, a story that went along with the playing of the song. I felt like I knew where he was going. I was going with him and it wasn’t by his invitation. He was taking me there. There was the song and there was the theater. To some degree, I’ve worked spoken word into my songs since that day, but I seem to do it with more conscious effort these days because I just enjoy the performance piece so much.

“A few years ago I became intrigued with the idea of performing songwriters working together on the stage and using spoken word to form a ‘cast’ that interacts in each other’s songs, interaction that is sometimes written and sometimes spontaneous. The idea is that this could all be done on the theater stage and would require very little other than varied lighting and a minimal notion of props.”

Denice Franke says, “The Texas Song Theater is a performance that will leave you on the edge of your seat........ provocative and compelling........Eric Taylor is onto something here.”

Reviews and Comments...

David Olney, a performing songwriter who was one of the original cast members of The Texas Song Theater, says, “Singers can come together and blend harmonically on a particular song. At the end, the audience will hopefully show their approval. Then the process is repeated, and each performance is a separate little dot. This project is about connecting the dots thematically so that each piece becomes part of a greater whole. When it works, it’s gangbusters. When it doesn’t, it’s still fun to watch Eric sweat.”

Marilyn Rea Beyer, Music Director and midday host at America’s only full-time folk/songwriter format radio station, WUMB Folk Radio (91.9fm Boston), is schooled in theatre and holds an M.A. in the Oral Interpretation of Literature from Northwestern University. Besides her daily airshift, she is also a spoken word performer.

Of The Texas Song Theater, Beyer says, “Today, we’re all accustomed to ‘layering,’ what with Adobe Photoshop, multi-tracked audio, sliding layers of video montage. But to do it live, acoustic...the only electricity supplied by the human voice and the visions of those three human minds! That’s Greek. It reminds us of why the ancients trusted in myth, followed their bards, and heeded The Oracle.

“Eric Taylor, David Olney, and Denice Franke individually have the power to move you. The Texas Song Theater will make you believe.”

Sean La Roche has worked in legitimate theater and the popular music business since 1958. He says, “I’ve never heard or seen anything like it. I was fortunate to attend the first performance of The Texas Song Theater in a packed showcase room at The Northeast Regional Folk Alliance in Monticello, New York.

“If ever a performance was more than the sum of its parts, this was it. People coming to see Denice Franke, David Olney, and Eric Taylor because of their individual reputations as poets and musicians were totally surprised by the energy and deep soulfulness projected from these three.

Photo by Stephen L. Clark

David Olney

Photo by Robert Corwin
“When Olney started talk/singing about the road towards Nashville and suddenly Franke adds her voice over his and Taylor comes under them with words and music about God-only-knows what dusty trip from Montgomery to Memphis...........a gasp from the crowd could be heard from front row to hallway.............It was the ultimate real deal.

“If The Texas Song Theater comes your yourself a favor.....go see it, go hear it. There’s nothing like it.”

Dalis Allen
Producer, Kerrville Folk Festival
"November 2002. I will forever be able to say I was there for the first performance, the beginning.....What a delight to walk into a room full of expectant, palpable energy and see performance art at it's finest. It was a stretch, a risk even, to take three artists that are strong as solo performers and intertwine their material to create theater. It worked beautifully. My advice, make it a part of your life experience."

Pete & Maura Kennedy
The Kennedys
"As the house lights fade, so do your surroundings, and you enter into a smoky, meditative Lone Star State. At times you feel like you're riding shotgun in Robert Mitchum's "Thunder Road" hot rod. Other times, you feel like you're sitting at the Driskill bar between Townes and Newbury while they trade tall tales. But comparisons only serve as mile markers on this dark backroad. Nobody from McMurtry to Bogdanovich has evoked the loneliness and dying-ember passion of Texas's two-lane highways and roadhouses better than these three time-tested troubadours."

Lucy Bonnington
Plowshares Coffeehouse in Phoenixville, PA
“Call it Texas Song Theater, call it art, call it brilliant. David Olney, Denice Franke, and Eric Taylor are all gifted performers that draw on their common roots and weave a complex tapestry of story telling and exquisite musicianship. Prepare to be moved to tears, enlightened, and finally grateful for the commitment of these three amazing musicians to a new vision of what ‘folk music’ can look like.”

Richard Cuccaro
Acoustic Live in New York City
“I was never more aware of my ‘student’ status when I stepped into Sean La Roche’s packed guerrilla showcase room to witness the experimental first-time performance of a ‘theater’ piece put on by Eric Taylor, David Olney, and Denice Franke. I had heard of these artists, but had never seen them. I was blown away by their set. They layered sung and spoken pieces over each other, exploring, among other things, the concepts of isolation and spirituality.”

Mike Joyce
The Washington Post
“Instead of taking turns randomly displaying their wares, the three musicians used original songs and traditional refrains to create an intriguing cycle. Punctuating the quietly harmonized tunes, played on acoustic guitars, was a series of spoken passages--brief dramatic vignettes that alluded to small-town encounters or Jack Kerouac’s teeming prose or personal misadventures recounted without regret.

“Olney’s ‘Dillinger’ and Taylor’s ‘Hemingway’s Shotgun,’ both refreshingly unsentimental, ranked among the evening’s highlights, as did (Taylor’s) ‘Bread and Wine,’ a view of the Last Supper as seen through the eyes of Christ. As for Franke, she sang several beautifully written, introspective ballads and conveyed the deepest kind of heartache.”

For more information about the Texas Song Theater, contact Blue Ruby Music by email or phone 979-263-5789.

Official website for Denice Franke