Editor’s Note: Tennessee-based comedian Trae Crowder, who’s best known for the comic monologues he releases on YouTube as The Liberal Redneck, will open for the Drive-By Truckers on Friday, Feb. 17—the second night of the band’s annual HeAthens Homecoming series. Flagpole writer Marc Schultz invited Crowder to share the story of how a funny guy like him ended up opening for one of the South’s most serious rock bands.
I’m not gonna lie: I don’t remember how I found out about the Drive-By Truckers, and I don’t remember the first time I listened to them. But I remember the first time my dad did.
My pops was this old rock-and-roll redneck, an absolute purist when it came to music. The maddest I ever saw him was when he heard Limp Bizkit’s cover of The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes,” so I was always nervous when I played him anything I was into. But one day, I put on “Let There Be Rock,” off Southern Rock Opera, and he smiled through the whole song. When it ended, he just said, “Them boys get it.” (Which meant, by proxy, I also got it! Right?) We shared a love for the band for the rest of his days.
I already liked what I heard out of the Truckers, but once they got Dad’s official stamp of approval, they occupied a higher echelon. As I got deeper into their catalog, I started realizing just how personal it all felt: “Holy shit, I’m not alone! You can be a real Southerner without playing into all the old clichés! You don’t have to be ashamed of your accent! There is a way to be Southern and also not terrible! Hell yeah. Them boys do get it.”
As I got into comedy, I made a conscious decision to follow their lead—to do in comedy what they have done so successfully in music. I wanted to be proudly Southern, but without the stereotypes so often used by Southern comics—to get the job done without gettin’ ’er dun.
So that’s what I did, and man, I stood out like a sore thumb. But I kept doing my own thing, and along the way, I met a couple other country-boy joke-offs, Corey Ryan Forrester and Drew Morgan, who felt the same way I did. Despite our sparsely-attended shows, we knew there was a place for highbrow, highly accented Southern comedy. Hell, look at the Truckers! If they can do it with music, then by God, we can do it with dick jokes.
For years, we toiled in obscurity, made no easier by the fact that it was both expected and, frankly, justified. We met old pros who had been chipping away at the same block we had, only for much longer—guys like Athens resident Stewart Huff, an utterly brilliant and progressive hillbilly comedian from rural Kentucky, who had been at it for the better part of our lives. Stewart’s genius inspired us, but also made us wonder: If a guy that smart and talented, working at such a high level for so long, hasn’t broken through… Well, shit.
Not that any of us were about to quit, but man, there were times. Like April 2015, when Corey and I co-headlined an Atlanta show where there were eight people in attendance. After accounting for gas, we made negative-15 bucks. On the trip back to Tennessee, we were both wondering what in the hell we were doing.
But less than two months later, we returned to Atlanta for the first night of our WellRED Tour, featuring all three of us: Corey, Drew and me. It was a Sunday night at The Punchline, and we sold out two shows. Atlanta comedy legend George Wallace came onstage to do a set and hung out with us afterwards. And it was all because of some comedy videos I made on my back porch that went viral.
In under a year, we hit more than 75 cities and sold out over 90 percent of our shows. We published our first book, The Liberal Redneck Manifesto: Draggin’ Dixie Outta the Dark (!); I appeared on “Real Time with Bill Maher” (!!); and I’m developing a sitcom based on my life (!!!).
Despite all of that, when someone asks me what the coolest part of this year has been, I tell them it was getting to meet the Truckers after their show in Lexington last summer. Whoever said, “Never meet your heroes,” they sure as shit didn’t know the Drive-By Truckers. Since then, Patterson Hood and I have kept in touch, and one night last fall, he called to ask me to open for the band at this year’s HeAthens Homecoming (!!!!!).
Performing with the Truckers is a dream come true. It’s also this whole thing coming full circle. While I can’t say that DBT has been a huge influence on me in terms of joke-writing, they’ve had a colossal influence on my approach to comedy. Now that I’m having the unbelievable good fortune of that approach paying off, it’s amazing to be able to thank the Truckers in person for the part they’ve played.
Of course, I’ve also got to thank my pops, who knew the truth from his very first listen—them boys get it.
See y’all in Athens.
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