Alejandro Escovedo: Still Running

Photo of Alejandro Escovedo by Nancy Rankin Escovedo

w/ James Mastro | 05.02.24, 7:30pm | City Winery, 3730 Foundry Way | All ages | $38 – $48

When I got the chance to speak with Alejandro Esocvedo recently, I was delighted but also apprehensive about speaking with someone I’ve admired for over two decades. Though Escovedo didn’t write his first song till he was 30, in the 43 years since then, he has built a storied career. He released his first solo album, Gravity, in 1992 (on Watermelon Records), and has released almost 20 albums since then. Rolling Stone has called him a “rock and punk godfather,” which covers only two of the genres that Escovedo’s music falls into. Along his journey, he’s picked up a few accolades, including Americana Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Performing and induction into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame. 

Knowing all of that, I had to ask him—have his goals changed since that first song he wrote? “I think they are the same because I had no goals.” While that wasn’t entirely true, he assured me he never wanted to be a pop star. All he wanted was to “write good songs, have great shows, and enjoy myself as much as possible.” While it appears Escovedo has accomplished this, the enthusiasm he brings to his music doesn’t mean it lacks depth. While talking about Gravity, he told me, “I think that record kind of surprised the people around me, when that record was released. That record was a hard record to make because it was about suicide and the loss of someone very close to me.” 

Escovedo doesn’t shy away from more difficult subjects. His 2018 concept album, The Crossing (Yep Roc), focuses on the story of two immigrants, Diego and Salvo, who hail from Mexico and Italy, respectively. The two bond over their encounters with racism and the American immigrant experience as a whole—and their love of 1970s rock music. This story was important to Escovedo. His father was a Mexican immigrant and Escovedo grew up (as one of 12 children) in the southwestern United States. Despite how innocuous this topic might be to some, others took issue with it. 

“When I put out The Crossing, I lost a lot of people on Facebook and stuff, because of The Crossing and because of the stance we took politically. Like we backed Beto O’Rourke, and we lost a lot of people.” He got hateful mail, telling him to stay in his lane, and some telling him to “go back to Mexico.” Escovedo laughs, saying, “I was born in San Antonio so I’m not sure what they’re talking about.” Escovedo felt so passionately about The Crossing that he re-released it in 2021 in Spanish—La Cruzada—and the album hit Number 8 on Billboard’s Latin Pop Albums chart, despite not being able to tour in support of it due to Covid.

Other than taking a few years off from touring—or even picking up his guitar—in the early-mid 2000s, he has maintained a steady presence in American music. The break he took from touring was caused by severe illness. He collapsed on stage in 2003 and was forced into temporary retirement to give his body time to recover. Escovedo didn’t have health insurance, so other musicians banded together to help their friend by releasing Por Vida: A Tribute to The Songs of Alejandro Escovedo, with covers of his songs performed by musicians such as Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle. The way the community rallied around him shows that aside from being an exceptional musician, he’s also someone who is beloved by the people surrounding him.

In the years since then, Escovedo has gotten healthier. “I worked really hard during Covid on my running, and I even had a trainer, and we were making really great progress. I was doing half marathon trail runs.” Unfortunately, he experienced a stress fracture in his left foot that took a long time to heal. After some initial hesitation due to worry about re-injuring himself, he’s been able to start training again, and he told me about a few runs he wants to do, including a 50k on the Oregon coast. In addition to his love of running, he also tries to eat better these days and take more days off—things that will allow him to keep touring.

This current tour is in support of his most recent album, Echo Dancing, released on March 29th (Yep Roc Records). It contains new versions of fourteen songs from the last several decades of his career. “Castanets,” from 2001’s A Man Under the Influence (Bloodshot Records), has become “Castañuelas” and has a decidedly reggae feel to it. “Bury Me,” from Gravity, kept its name but picked up a steady bass drum beat—and some perspective. The lyrics, starting with, “If I should die before I turn 43, bury me beneath the justice tree,” all reference times that were, then, off in the future. 

Escovedo is 73 now, so that future is here. Knowing that, I asked if he thinks the musician he was when he wrote the original versions would like the new versions. He laughed, then responded, “I would think so.” He admits that the person who wrote songs like the aforementioned “Bury Me” might be curious why the song was changed, but they would, in the end, love it.

The current tour should help those hesitant to embrace the new versions of the songs. Escovedo’s shows have always conveyed the enthusiasm he feels for performing and music. There is a vibrancy there, no matter the tone of the song. He would be quick to tell you that’s not all coming from him. “This band is the closest you can be to being in a band without being in a band because we’re very close and I really respect these guys.” He is, in general, not hesitant to offer praise to the musicians and producers he’s worked with in the past—though he would have liked to work with David Bowie.

Lack of Ziggy Stardust aside, you can tell Escovedo is as passionate as he would have been writing those first songs. He’s talking about the tour when he says, “We’ve gotten into a groove now and it’s really cool, and it’s sounding great, and the band is sounding wonderful.” He adds, still talking about the tour but one could imagine he’s also talking about where he is in general, “I’m really happy with how things are going.” | Teresa Montgomery

Alejandro Escovedo. Photo by Nancy Rankin Escovedo

Alejandro Escovedo on tour:

04.30.24 – Englert Civic Theatre – Iowa City, IA w/ James Mastro

05.02.24 – City Winery – St. Louis, MO w/ James Mastro

05.03.24 – CMA Theater – Nashville, TN w/ James Mastro

05.04.24 – White Water Tavern – Little Rock, AR w/ James Mastro

05.05.24 – Longhorn Ballroom – Dallas, TX – w/ James Mastro

05.31.24 – Stable Hall – San Antonio, TX -with Scott Danbom, Mark Henne

06.01.24 – The Heights Theater – Houston, TX with Scott Danbom, Mark Henn

06.07.24 – Kerrville Folk Festival – Kerrville, TX

07.09.24 – Musical Instrument Museum – Phoenix, AZ

07.11.24 – SOhO Music Club – Santa Barbara, CA

07.13.24 – Lodge Room – Los Angeles, CA

07.14.24 – Belly Up Tavern – Solana Beach, CA

07.18.24 – Harlow’s – Sacramento, CA

07.19.24 – Sierra Nevada Brewing Company – Chico, CA

07.21.24 – Great American Music Hall – San Francisco, CA

07.25.24 – Midtown Ballroom – Bend, OR

07.26.24 – Wonder Ballroom – Portland, OR

07.27.24 – The Crocodile – Seattle, WA

07.28.24 – The Pearl – Vancouver, BC

09.05.24 – Ovens Auditorium – Charlotte, NC – Supporting Jason Isbell

09.06.24 – Rupp Arena – Lexington, KY – Supporting Jason Isbell

09.07.24 – The Rose Music Center – Huber Heights, OH – Supporting Jason Isbell

09.08.24 – Ravinia Festival – Highland Park, IL – Supporting Jason Isbell

09.10.24 – Jacobs Pavilion – Cleveland, OH – Supporting Jason Isbell

09.11.24 – Wolf Trap – Vienna, VA – Supporting Jason Isbell

09.14.24 – MTELUS – Montreal, QC – Supporting Jason Isbell

09.17.24 – Count Basie Center – Red Bank, NJ – Supporting Jason Isbell

09.19.24 – Chartway Arena – Norfolk, VA – Supporting Jason Isbell

09.20.24 – Durham Performing Arts Center – Durham, NC – Supporting Jason Isbell

09.21.24 – Durham Performing Arts Center – Durham, NC – Supporting Jason Isbell

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