Musicians across the country have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic but a local husband-and-wife duo from Salado continues to thrive, with weekend gigs consistently filling their calendar.
Angela Curlee Kay and Bryan Smith – known together as Wayworn Traveler – have been married for three years, a couple for 10 years, and playing an eclectic mix of folk-based and easy-listening music for four or five of those years.
“Wayworn Traveler is actually the name of an old Carter Family song,” Bryan explained. “I have been playing music since 1986 and when I met up with Angela, she started playing the mandolin and we just kind of started playing together.
“I started playing guitar at 17 after seeing Ozzy Osborne and Metallica in concert. I played metal music for a long time, but I also grew up listening to country, bluegrass, whatnot, so I always had that in me. We had a couple of bands and then as we developed our sound, eventually we just turned into a two-piece, because it was more convenient for us – and we could play whatever we want to play.
“It’s hard to find anybody that can dedicate the kind of time that we dedicate to it.”
Angela, who plays mandolin, started her musical journey about eight years ago.
“Bryan has a lot of musicians in his family. I didn’t have any in mine, but both my parents were big music fans,” she said. “I grew up listening to Motown with my mom and dad. Mostly pop, but I picked up the mandolin because Rod Stewart was mine and my mom’s favorite to listen to together.
“That’s my instrument of choice because it brings back good memories.”
Gigs at area wineries and breweries have become a sort of mainstay for the couple, who both work full-time and play music on the weekends. They also perform at places like restaurants, coffee shops, churches, weddings, private parties, and recently finished another gig at one of their favorite venues, Robinson Family Farm.
On July 11, Wayworn Traveler will be at the Red Barn Ranch in Florence; July 16 at the food court in Jarrell; July 30 at Hot Summer Sounds in Temple.
For more information and to follow the band, go to: www.facebook.com/WaywornTraveler.
They play a variety of music, including 30 to 40 original songs and 100-plus cover tunes. For Bryan, he favors old Carter Family music and the legendary duo, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Angela leans more toward ‘70s and ‘80s pop, including Creedence Clearwater Revival, Peter Frampton, Fleetwood Mac and many more.
As they have developed their own sound and style over the years, Wayworn Traveler has incorporated background rhythm tracks recorded by Bryan into their sets to help produce a fuller sound.
“When we first started, it was just the acoustic guitar and mandolin,” Bryan says. “When you do that for four hours, it just starts to become kind of monotonous – everything sounds the same.
“If I could see Flatt and Scruggs play for four hours, I’d be begging them to do four more. But for us, we needed that variety to keep people entertained for three to four hours, which is what we usually play. It’s great to have that variety. A bunch of older and newer songs.
“I think people love our folk element because they identify with the melodies, the rhythms, and the grooves. People love that stuff even though some of the songs we play are a hundred years old.”
“I think who is mostly fascinated with the music are the little children,” she said. “When we play at Robinson Family Farm – they have all kinds of little events for the kids – and they walk by the stage and hear live music, they walk to us like the Pied Piper.
“Their parents are having to drag them away sometimes. It may be the first time they’ve ever heard live music. We’ve had a couple little bitty ones who have just walked on stage and the parents had to run up and get them. I think that’s so fun.”
Bryan is the primary songwriter, although Angela does her part as well in what is a somewhat unique approach to songwriting.
“He had many of our songs written before we ever knew each other,” Angela said. “Now what we do – he is still the major writer – is Bryan will write a melody and we’ll record that on our phone. Then we’ll take a spiral notebook and just go for a ride on backroads in the country, and come up with rhymes. We might change things 15 times, but before we get back home, we’ve got a song written.
“We’ve written some at the house, but we’re mostly inspired by riding out in the country – just being out.”
“I grew up listening to the heartache songs; the sad songs of Merle Haggard and George Jones, Flatt and Scruggs, and all that. I love that kind of stuff, so I write a lot about that. My commute to work every day is an hour there and an hour back, so that’s another time I’ll write songs.
“I like to write about love and loss and all that stuff. If a song moves you, then you know it’s good. When I write, I don’t try to make other people feel something. If it gives me goosebumps, then I feel like it might hit somebody else that way.”
Angela says she has seen their songs move an audience plenty of times.
“We have a song called, ‘Forever is Just a Day,’ and when we play it, you’ll see people crying. Or some of the venues, we have some followers who know our original songs and will sing along. Sometimes, even if someone has never heard one of our originals and the chorus catches their attention … they’re singing songs with us the very first time they’ve heard it.
“When it’s a cover song … OK, they already know it. But when it’s an original and they’ve never heard it before and they’re singing it, that’s so much fun. It’s great.
“A lot of times, you are background music and people are talking and visiting, but then you see them tapping their hand on their leg or tapping their toe, and you know they’re listening. That’s awesome to me, too.”
As they continue their busy summer schedule, Bryan and Angela say the local music scene from their perspective is “healthier than it’s ever been.” They plan to continue building their following and playing music together for a long time.
“It’s who and what I am. If I couldn’t play the guitar, I would struggle,” Bryan said. “We play almost every weekend and we just want to continue doing what we’re doing.
“We’ve got three albums of original music that we’re working on recording. We have a little recording studio here at home, but we both work all week, then we play almost every weekend, so it’s hard for us to find time to really work on the albums. One of them is an acoustic concept album. The other is pop, and the other one is going to be a true bluegrass type album.”
Angela calls music her “therapy.”
“It’s my medicine. I would be completely lost without it.
“It’s so uplifting, playing for people. It gets your mind off anything else that’s been negative during the day. It’s just gone – at least for a while. It really does change your perspective on the whole day.
“I just want to retire and do music, but that’s not in the cards right now. We don’t have much time to practice because of working full-time, but when we get home in the evenings, we sit down to relax and watch television and Bryan’s got his guitar in his hand. He practices the whole time until it’s bedtime. He’s playing to commercials … whatever music is on TV, he is playing rhythm to it. He’s constantly practicing, and we try to work through songs.
“I never dreamed I would have the life I have right now playing music. I’ve loved it my whole life, but never in a million years would I have dreamed I’d be in a band actually playing music for people who are coming to see me and Bryan. I’m still floored by it all the time. It’s awesome.”