Texas Troubadour

By Wes Holtsclaw EAST TENNESSEE 2012 | Fall 2021 Issue Cover Story

Listed by Wide Open Country as one of the “Top 15 Most Iconic Artists in Texas Country Music,” Significant Sig Wade Bowen’s career journey has been filled with milestones and memories.


From his 1999 self-released debut through his most recent collaboration with his lil’ buddy Randy Rogers, Bowen, TEXAS TECH 2000, has accumulated seven top 30 albums, three inside the top 10, on the Billboard Country Albums charts, more than 20 number one singles on the Texas music charts and millions of plays on the national streaming services.


Not to mention, he has played over 4,000 shows in the United States and abroad, with multiple appearances on the Grand Ole Opry.


Bowen’s path to stardom as an artist in the Red Dirt Country Music sub-genre began while attending Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, where, at age 20, during his sophomore year of college, he and Matt Miller founded the band West 84.


It was also at Texas Tech where Bowen discovered Sigma Chi, and was initiated in Spring 1997.


“It’s funny, one of my best friends was a Phi Delt (at Tech),” Bowen said during a June interview. “I was kind of following his footsteps, then I went through rush and was immediately blown away by the guys in the (Epsilon Nu) chapter. (I) just immediately fell in love and changed my mind. I never looked back.”


The son of Jim and Glenda Bowen, Wade’s love of country music was instilled from an early age through his parents and three sisters, who took their brother to concerts as mainstream country music hit the 1990s with artists like George Strait and Garth Brooks.

In high school, after discovering a knack of writing short stories and poetry, Bowen began playing guitar, putting chords and lyrics together.

During his freshman year in college, while attending a Robert Earl Keen concert, the light bulb went off.

“I always had the dream that I would move to Nashville and wait tables, wait my turn and get a chance,” Bowen said. “Then I saw (Keen) and it changed my life forever. ‘I immediately said, ‘I don’t have to go to Nashville to do that? I can go play shows now if I want?’” Bowen and Miller found some friends over the next year and began practicing in Wade’s garage.

The new band, West 84, named after the U.S. Highway 84 that traverses from Lubbock to Bowen’s hometown of Waco, played their first show at an open mic night at Stubb’s in Lubbock. As the band grew and received opportunities elsewhere, a strong showing of support from his Sigma Chi brothers and friends gave Bowen more opportunities to hone his craft.

“When I first started my band, we were terrible,” he said. “We were trying to figure out what to do with our music, then I started writing songs. The venues, the bars wanted us to come back because we had so much support from Sigma Chi and all of the girls they brought with them.

“It really gave us a chance to learn how to put a show together, to learn how to write songs, to learn how to entertain people. My first show was at Stubb’s, and then I moved over to The Blue Light.”

It was at The Blue Light where Bowen developed the sound that endeared his early audiences.

“The Blue Light’s a small place, but they’d pack them in there for us,” said Bowen. “There were nights where it was nobody when we first started. Then there were nights where they were sneaking them in the back door and stuff. “I got to where I played every Tuesday night with (Miller), who started the band with me. We made 100 bucks and thought it was a million dollars. Then they started paying us $125 and thought we had something really cool going, and we did.

Before the band’s following and road schedule expanded beyond Lubbock, and they self-released the 1999 album, Just For Fun, Bowen was able to carve time in his academic, work and music schedule to serve the Epsilon Nu chapter as Magister.

Alongside his pledge semester, his term as Magister was among his favorite memories as a Sig undergrad. “(I had) the chance to be Magister before things got super, super crazy for me musically,” he recalled. “I was still starting the band and we were playing a lot, but I found the time, somehow, to be a Magister. That was a lot of fun. It’s fun to teach kids about the importance of Sigma Chi, and how much fun we had doing it.” Bowen graduated in 2000 with a degree in public relations and marketing, working temporarily for his family company Bowen Electric as his following and live opportunities expanded across Texas.

Thanks to the support of his brothers and friends in Lubbock, he was ready for the road ahead.

“It (still) means so much to me the support we got back then,” he said. “I don’t think any of those guys understand how special it was and how much I often think about them giving us so many more opportunities than we should’ve (received).”


Bowen’s career truly took off in 2002 with his second album, Try Not To Listen, whose title track rose into the top ten on the Texas music charts alongside a steady stream of more than 200 shows.

His follow-up 2003 live album, The Blue Light Live, recorded in Lubbock was named 2004 Album of the Year and earned Bowen Male Vocalist of the Year honors by MyTexasMusic.com. The lead song from the project, “Who I Am,” has since received more than 12 million streams on Spotify.

In 2006, Bowen headed to Nashville to record Lost Hotel. Between that album’s regional success and collaborations with a number of country music standouts, including a co-write on Pat Green’s top-40 country single “Don’t Break My Heart Again,” Bowen’s audiences grew beyond his home state of Texas where he was packing out storied venues such as Billy Bob’s Texas and Gruene Hall.

As a songwriter, the 2008 follow up album, If We Ever Make It Home, showed a more mature side of Bowen as he explored the challenges of life.

On the road and in the studio, by the close of the decade he was one of the biggest artists in the Red Dirt genre, and he began making waves on the mainstream Billboard Country Albums Chart with consecutive top-10 releases via the 2012 album,

The Given, headlined by the top 40 single “Saturday Night,” and his self-titled 2014 album, Wade Bowen. As Bowen’s popularity grew, so did that of his long- time friend Randy Rogers.

“We kind of grew up musically together and we made a pact, the first time we ever met, that we were going to stick together,” Bowen said.

By 2014, the pair had collaborated on so many acoustic shows and gigs over the prior decade-plus that a new partnership under the touring umbrella “Hold My Beer and Watch This” was born.

What began as a fun three-song studio session to add to an eventual live album turned into a full-on LP collaboration.

“We got in there and had so much fun, that we went back into the studio and did a bunch more. We were getting texts from our management companies in Nashville, ‘What are all of these studio invoices from in Austin?’ I’d say, ‘I’m not sure yet, but I’ll get back to you when we’re done.’ It really took off.”

Hold My Beer Vol. 1 was released in 2015 to wide acclaim. The often-critical country music website SavingCountryMusic.com gave it the ultimate “two guns up,” listing it as “one of the best traditional country records of the year.” The praise didn’t end there. The album rose to number four on the Billboard Country Albums Chart — Bowen’s highest to date.

The pair followed with a live acoustic album, the 2016 release Watch This, and were invited to bring their show to the world-famous Red Rocks Amphitheater as opening act for female country superstar Miranda Lambert.

“We had really done well with our shows, but once we started releasing the records it was a game- changer for us,” Bowen said. “It’s been really cool.

The whole idea behind it was one plus one equals three and I think it’s done that for us. It’s a lot of fun and we laugh about how we can’t believe we get paid to hang out about this.”


From his early youth, giving back to the community is something Bowen learned first-hand from his parents. “Growing up I was taught — my dad, he’s the one that handed me a check folded up and he’d drive up to the Salvation Army, fold up the check and tell me not to look at how much it is,” Bowen said. “(He’d) make me walk it in there and not tell them who it was from. That’s the kind of leadership I had with my dad, show- ing me those things in life. My mom’s the same way.” Those lessons throughout his formative years stayed with Bowen as his career in music took off in the early 2000’s. In 2000, Bowen called upon some friends and started Bowen MusicFest in Waco, and later added the Bowen Classic golf tournament as a way to raise funds to give back to pivotal causes impacting children and families in and around his hometown.

Over 20 years later, the concert festival is one of the hottest annual tickets in Waco, featuring an array of country and rock legends and standouts. (Although the 22nd annual event was twice impacted by the global pandemic, the event is slated to return in June 2022.) Due to the success of these events and other philanthropic endeavors, Bowen and his family were able to launch the Bowen Family Foundation in 2012.

The board, including Bowen, his parents and sisters, meet three times annually to review grant requests. “It’s something we love doing,” Bowen said. “My family loves doing it. That’s why we call it the Bowen Family Foundation. We’re that kind of family, we love to help and get other people involved to help each other.”

Proceeds from the festival and tournament, community donations and more have allowed Bowen and his family to hit beyond the $3.5 million mark in support, according to Wade, impacting such entities as the Boys & Girls Club of Waco, the March of Dimes, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for children, NICU support at the Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center and much more.

The foundation’s work was recognized amongst the Texas music community with the Humanitarian of the Year award at the Texas Regional Radio Awards in 2019. “It’s definitely the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life next to having kids.”

On a national level, Bowen and his wife, Shelby, were inspired by their own experiences with postpartum depression to advocate for PPD and give back to Postpartum Support International to help increase awareness and promote prevention and treatment of mental health issues that impact new mothers and fathers worldwide experience — one he shared at PSI’s national conference in 2009.

Bowen also spoke up publicly about the mental health issues he faced during 2018 through his 2019 documentary “Inconsistent Chaos.”

The 17-minute short film chronicled a difficult year that included a struggle with vocal cord issues that required surgery, forcing a sabbatical from singing following the release of his 2018 album Solid Ground. In a 2019 feature by Rolling Stone Country Bowen said, “Hopefully we can use [the film] to help others under- stand that you can go through a rough time and still come out on the other side okay. People don’t always see that side of us in the music business.”


After returning to the road full-time in late 2018 and 2019, Bowen and artists across the globe saw their livelihoods impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic which forced many from the road.


For Bowen, however, it was another opportunity to hit the reset button, take a break and focus on life, quality time with his wife and sons, Bruce and Brock, and his future.


“I think what I learned most was that I needed a break,” Bowen said. “I was pushing myself too hard. The silver lining in all of that — I don’t look back at it and think of it as a terrible year. I feel like it’s one of the best years of my life.


“I got to be home and see my kids, and for a guy who’s always been on the road — and I have been for over 20 years — who never stopped, kept my head down and kept working, you never stop to take a break from all of that. To have that chance to do all of that and be around my kids and wife more. Honestly, to hit the reset button on my career and rethink all of that has been wonderful.


“As much as I hate that we’ve lost so many people with this pandemic and crazy virus over the past year, me personally, I feel like I grew from it and became a better person.”


The break didn’t completely pause Wade’s career.


In May 2020, the second studio volume of the “Hold My Beer and Watch This” partnership with Randy Rogers, Hold My Beer Vol 2, was released to wide acclaim, with the video of its humorous lead ballad “Rodeo Clown” accumulating more than 600,000 views on YouTube.


He provided his fans with an opportunity to remain connected with the June 2020 launch of the Facebook Live series Wades World: The Ultimate Quaranstream, which saw Bowen reconnect with an array of friends and artists from around the music community, special acoustic performances and stories.


Secondly, Bowen surprised fans with the September release of a special extended play titled The Waiting, which included four studio versions of popular live songs including the aforementioned fan-favorite “Who I Am,” a Phil Collins cover and an original cut, “Fairest Lady,” co-written with Brent Cobb.


As COVID restrictions slowly eased in Texas into 2021, Bowen and his band returned to the road with private shows and public performances in front of socially distanced crowds, and later returned to full audience and festival shows across the state.


Bowen and Rogers released the self-titled single from their 2020 album, “Hold My Beer” with a special video including clips submitted by their fans. The single became an immediate smash, rising to the top spot on the Texas music charts three times over the course of the summer.


Then in June, while in the midst of a heavy summer touring schedule, Bowen was formally honored for his career achievements as a 2021 recipient of the presti- gious Significant Sig award.


During a special presentation ceremony in Lubbock, prior to his headlining set at William Clark Green’s CottonFest, Bowen reflected proudly upon his Sigma Chi experience.


“I want to send a huge thank you to Epsilon Nu for initiating me in Spring 1997,” Bowen told an audience of Epsilon Nu alumni, undergraduates and friends.


“I made so many lifelong friends, and memories that still make me tear up when I think about them.”


“I don’t play music to collect and receive awards, but when you do, especially ones like this one, I just want (people) to know that I’m beyond honored and do not take for granted any moment in my life that involves Sigma Chi.     To this day I still get texts, emails (and) surprise visits all over at shows (from brothers). I really believe in my life I have an unbelievable amount of respect, honor, friendship, strength, spirit, high ideals and love because of Sigma Chi. I will never ever be able to repay it for all it has given me.”


The good news continued for Bowen following a series of joint shows with Rogers, with announcement of a worldwide publishing deal with Warner Chappell Music Nashville.


Following performances at Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry, he headlined Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth, and shared the bill with rock leg- ends ZZ Top at the Born & Raised Festival in Oklahoma. “I’m older, but I feel like I’m just getting started again,” Bowen said. “It’s kind of weird. I feel like I’m now better than I’ve ever been, so I’m anxious to see what’s going to happen.”


Much like the 19-year-old writing songs in his Lubbock garage, Bowen says he feels the same drive as he completes his 24th year in the music industry.


There are many songs to write, plenty of stories to tell and thousands of fans to entertain.


“I feel like I’ve got some cool stuff left to do in my career. And that’s a real good feeling — to know I’ve been doing it this long and have that same feeling I had when I started, ‘Let’s go conquer the world and figure this out.’”


For more about Wade Bowen and a list of tour dates visit