Mark Powell, arguably the biggest name in country music to play the Ark Valley since Michael Martin Murphey, will perform with his band Lariat at 9 p.m. Saturday at The Lariat in Buena Vista.
Powell’s band includes his father, Bishop Powell, on fiddle, so we asked how much influence Bishop’s musical career had on Mark’s decision to pursue a career in music.
“Every bit of it,” Mark replied. “He plays all kinds of instruments. He taught us to play by ear. … He had a fiddle maker make me a third-scale fiddle, and we’d do twin fiddles during some of his gigs. … That’s how I got into (music). He also taught me to play banjo, mandolin and guitar.”
Mark said the country music he heard at an early age ‒ music played by his dad and musicians like Larry Gatlin, with whom Bishop Powell performed ‒ were big influences that “I honed in on.” Mark admitted his early interests focused on playing instruments. “I never wanted to be a front man or sing, but I had a knack for remembering songs … this knack for words.”
As a sophomore in high school in Abilene, Texas, Mark started his first band with his dad and Ryan Starks. After high school, Mark stayed in West Texas to attend college, but Starks went to college in Nebraska. Then, three years ago, “we both wound up in Abilene,” Mark said. Starks now manages the band and plays keys. “That was the coolest thing for me, being able to play in a band with my dad, my main influence, and Ryan, who I started a band with in high school.”
Lariat also includes drummer Coy Chew, bassist Galen Weston and Nashville guitar player Seth Plemmons. Mark had high praise for Plemmons’ guitar chops: “According to Nashville guys, Seth’s one of the best guitar players in Nashville,” Mark said.
Mark said he enjoys having his father in the band. “When you play play music full-time, your weekends are shot. If I didn’t have Dad on the road, I’d never see him. … I love it. I think it’s really cool. … We have a neat chemistry, and having him around helps keep me grounded. He’s been in music for so long, and he’s humble, always smiling, which makes it easy. He’s someone I still look up to.”
The family chemistry obviously works well as Mark has collected a number of honors, including the Academy of Western Artists 2013 Song of the Year and a nomination for 2013 Male Vocalist of the Year as well as 2008 Top Texas Swing Band. Powell is up for more honors this year, including two Big Star awards ‒ Male Vocalist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year.
Mark said the band is eager to chalk up its first performance in the Ark Valley. “We’re pumped to play there.” And just how did he land the Lariat gig? “It was odd. Jesse Raub Jr. had played in Avon. He lives in Houston, and coming back from Avon, he stopped along the way and met this guy,” who turned out to be Lariat owner Court Johnson.
Raub mentioned Mark to Johnson, and after hearing Johnson describe his efforts to restore the historic downtown venue, Mark knew he wanted to play there. “I love what he’s done. We’re all excited. … It’s all about supporting these types of venues. There are historic dance halls in Texas closing their doors. It’s sad. In fact, I just wrote a song about that with Randall Keene called “This Bar Needs a Town.”
While Mark grew up in Abilene, he moved to Parker Aug. 1 and loves being in Colorado. Bt the move proved a bit hectic. “Dean Dylan and I partnered on a music festival in Avon. We finished up the 2-day festive, and the day after we cleaned up, left Vail and closed on the sale of our house in Abilene. Then we closed on our new house in Parker and left to play in Denmark the next day. We still have a 100-acre ranch near Abilene. That’s where we hold the Outlaws and Legends Music Festival, which just finished April 1.”
Looking ahead, Mark said he’s “been doing a lot of writing. … I’ve got a ton of great material so we’ll be going into the studio this summer.”
So look for a new album from Mark Powell and Lariat later this year, but in the meantime, pull on your two-steppin’ boots and get down to The Lariat Friday night for some authentic Texas country music.