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Ramblin': Will Hoge returns to McAlester on heels of new album

Jan. 21—Sometimes in music things have their own kind of synchronicity.

Since Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter/musician Will Hoge is returning to McAlester for a show set for 8 p.m on Jan. 20 at Spaceship Earth, I gave him a call.

Following a brief conversation, I asked him what's coming up on his musical horizon.

"We just announced today my new album," he said.

Titled "Tenderhearted Boys," Hoge said his new release is a solo album. The album's first single, titled "End of the World," saw its release on Wednesday, probably shortly after our phone conversation.

Hoge's ticketed McAlester show is set for 8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 20, at Spaceship Earth Coffee, at 345 E. Choctaw Ave. in downtown McAlester. Doors open for the show at 6:30 p.m.

It's part of the Dancing Rabbit Music Festival's special Spotlight Series, which are ticketed venue events separate from Dancing Rabbit's outdoor festival.

Hoge said he will likely play a few songs from his new album during his McAlester performance. It's set for release in late March or early April, so those attending the McAlester show will have a chance to hear some of the new music ahead of the album's official release date.

His recording of "End of the World" is not a remake of the 1962 Skeeter Davis hit that went all the way to #2 on the Billboard pop charts, and has been covered many times, including by the UK's Herman's Hermits.

Hoge's song is his spin on the current times.

The ballad begins with Hoge playing piano chords.

"It's quiet in the kitchen and the bills are all stacked, high enough to break a working man's back," Hoge sings. Reaching the chorus he sings, " It's the end of the world, I just want to spend it with you."

When he described "Tenderhearted Boys" as a solo album, did he mean solo in the sense of an album such as "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan," Dylan's second album which featured just Dylan, along with his acoustic guitar and harmonica, on all but one track?

Or did he mean solo in the sense of "McCartney," Paul McCarney's first solo album? Except for some assists from his then-wife Linda on background vocals, McCartney played all the instruments on the album, building it track-by-track.

So which type of album is "Tenderhearted Boys" as a solo effort?

"Both," Hoge replied. On some tracks, it's just him playing guitar or piano, along with some harmonica. On others, he did like McCartney and overdubbed additional instruments he played, such as adding some bass guitar.

Hoge said he hadn't started out to make a solo album, but that's the way it turned out.

"We were taking about what 2024 would look like," he said. He was about 80% finished on a full-band album he was working on, but he also had the solo tour planned which includes the Spaceship Earth performance.

"It looked like it didn't make sense to make a band record when I was going to do some solo shows," Hoge said. "My thought was 'I'm going to do it all by myself."'

He's excited about the results, with plans to debut some of the songs in McAlester.

The last time I'd talked to Hoge had been in a back area of The Yardbird at 1896 restaurant, shortly before he was to take the stage for his 2023 Dancing Rabbit Music Festival performance.

At the time, we talked while he did some stretching exercises.

"That's what I'm doing now," Hoge said Wednesday by phone. He said he was working out in a hotel gym before heading west for performances in places such as Fort Worth, Texas, and, of course, McAlester.

Hey, we've hit upon a theme for our interviews, he quipped.

His set on the outdoor stage at the May 2023 edition of the Dancing Rabbit Music Festival proved so well-received it resulted in his invitation to return to McAlester for the Spotlight Series Spaceship Earth performance.

During the May 2023 show, Hoge played with a full band. His Saturday night Dancing Rabbit Music Festival will be a solo set, featuring Hoge alone.

I tell Hoge it's a format that's worked well on other solo shows at Spaceship Earth, where artists such as Parker Millsap, Charlie Parr and Mike McClure are among those who've delivered outstanding solo performances at the venue.

Hoge is a Grammy-nominated artist for "Country Song of the Year" for co-writing the song "Even If It Breaks Your Heart" — taken all way to #1 on the country music charts by the Eli Young Band.

In addition to the Grammy nomination, "Even If It Breaks Your Heart" also garnered "Song of the Year" nominations from the Country Music Association and the Academy of County Music.

I've seen some of Hoge's fans in the comment section of his original version of "Even If It Breaks Your Heart" say they like his version even better than the one by the Eli Young Band.

Even so, Hoge has no issues with the Eli Young Band's band's covering his song and taking it to #1 on the country music charts.

"My mortgage bills got a whole lot better," he said.

When Hoge performed in McAlester last May on the Dancing Rabbit outdoor stage, he spotted a fan holding a sign.

He asked the fan to hand the sign up to him and Hoge then showed it the audience. In bright red letters, the writing on the sign proclaimed "I Skipped My Court Date For This."

"That's a good one to remember," Hoge said.

During that previous trip to McAlester, Hoge told me before his 2023 show about he'd once found inspiration in Nashville when he felt in low spirits. I liked it so much I asked him to tell it again.

"Years ago I was stopped at a red light in Nashville," Hoge said.

He could hear music coming from speakers in the back of a car next to him, stopped at the same red light.

Hoge glanced over and saw the driver of the adjacent car deep into the music, beating on the dashboard with his hands as if playing a drum.

Then, he took a closer look and realized the driver was the legendary John Prine.

"You could hear the music and you could see the joy on his face," Hoge said.

Before the chance encounter with Prine, he had been feeling kind of down — but seeing how much Prine was into the music served as inspiration to him, Hoge said.

Hoge later drew on that memory when he wrote his song, "John Prine's Cadillac."

Within days of Hoge's Jan. 20 McAlester performance at Spaceship Earth, he will be embarking on a European tour, performing in Wisebaden, Germany on Jan. 24, followed by other performances at Liepzig, Berlin and Hamburg.

He's also slated to perform at Rotterdam in the Netherlands, followed by shows in London, Leeds and Manchester in Britain and a show in Glasgow, Scotland.

Hoge is also set to perform in Paris, France, before wrapping up his European Tour with shows in Barcelnoa and Madrid, Spain. He'll then return to the states for a show in North Carolina.

Tickets for Hoge's McAlester show are $35 each and are available from Spaceship Earth.

They are also available online at dancingrabbit.live/festival/will-hoge/.

Which does Hoge like best, performing with a full band or the closeness of a solo performance on a smaller stage?

"I really love them both," he said. When done well, a solo show gives more of an opportunity to not only perform the songs, but to tell the stories behind them, said Hoge

"There's a different level of intimacy that can be achieved."