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Panhandle Plains

Music for the soul

The vast silences of the Texas Plains have produced more than their share of American minstrels. Perhaps it is the great emptiness of the prairies that prompts men to lift their voices to dispel the silence, perhaps it is the simple pleasure of living freely under changing skies.

—Liner notes to Bob Wills Roundup, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Columbia C-128, 1947

The Panhandle Plains carry a strange and empty beauty: The earth is flat and spreads out in expansive green and rusty red sheets 360 degrees from wherever you stand. It is a solitary beauty that takes time for some to appreciate. For others, whose roots fan out wide beneath the soil, it is the life force of their inspirations. Perhaps that is why so many wonderful and cherished musicians call this stretch of Texas home.

Don’t miss the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock. The young, ill-fated musician left this world in 1959, but his legacy lives on in this small museum. His signature black-rimmed glasses—recovered from his plane’s wreckage—are on display, as is his Gibson J200, which he used to record his last songs. As his voice rings throughout the building, view clothes he wore, notes he scrawled, furniture he owned and many of his hit records. There is trivia to be learned as well: The Crickets, his backup band, almost named themselves The Beetles; Elton John forever ruined his vision by wearing glasses when he was young because he “wanted to be just like Buddy Holly”; and Buddy’s friend and a legend himself, Waylon Jennings, gave up his seat to J.P. Richardson (you probably know him as The Big Bopper) the day the music died in that tragic plane crash. Jennings, from nearby Littlefield, gave us such treasures as “Good Hearted Woman,” “Luckenbach, Texas” and a tribute song about another regional neighbor, Bob Wills.

Don’t miss Bob Wills Days in Turkey. Every April, thousands of fans trek to this little town for live music, dancing, plenty of food and even a fiddlin’ contest. Turkey is also home to the Bob Wills Museum. Entry is free (donations are accepted), and “Faded Love” and many other of Bob’s hits play from a record player as you peruse the relics of a bygone era. I liked the vast assortment of photographs that spanned much of his long career. One in particular of him—cigar in hand—and actress Penny Singleton taken in 1942 was especially charming and reminiscent of a simpler and more romantic time. People travel from their own corner of the globe to see Bob’s belongings: The guestbook boasts visitors from Austria, England and Spain. After visiting this country music treasure trove, you’ll understand why Bob Wills is still the king.

For more live entertainment, don’t miss the Texas Musical Drama in one of the greatest natural wonders of the Panhandle Plains: Palo Duro Canyon State Park, just outside Canyon. After a night in the Adaberry Inn in Amarillo—which sports an indoor theater, a pool table and iconic U.S. city-themed rooms—I made the short drive to Palo Duro Canyon. During the summer in the Pioneer Amphitheater, the play’s actors bring to life the stories, struggles and triumphs of Panhandle settlers during the 1800s, complete with dancing, special effects and fireworks.

And don’t miss the trails. One pleasantly mild, arid morning, I hiked for hours and took in the rainbow: the ranging reds of the painted canyon walls, the deep green of the fragrant pines and the brightest blue of skies. The only sound was my footsteps crunching the brick-red, rusted earth, the slosh of water in my Thermos, the whisper of wind tickling the pine needles and the hoot of a lonely owl. After a mere half-day—just Mother Nature and myself—I felt as if I had been cleansed spiritually. After so much music for my ears, it was music for my soul.

Ashley Clary is Texas Co-op Power’s field editor.