Flatland Cavalry Are at the Fore of the Red Dirt Renaissance. Their Ryman Debut Proved Why

Flatland Cavalry frontman Cleto Cordero has pretty sound advice for Red Dirt bar bands making the sudden leap into theaters and onto festival main stages.

“Keep your ears open whenever you walk on stage,” Cordero tells Rolling Stone. “We have in-ear monitors, and those things change how you’re perceiving reality. Pop them off, experience the room for 30 seconds, and then get to work.”

Cordero, seated on a couch this past weekend in one of the half-dozen or so dressing rooms at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, reflected on the band’s journey to keep his nerves at bay. Mostly, he was talking through how he would approach Flatland’s first-ever performance at the venerable theater Saturday night.

But the Ryman debut felt more like a victory lap for Flatland than something to worry over. Cordero kept every eye in the house on him for nearly two hours, as the band played tracks from their four studio albums, including October’s breakthrough Wandering Star. Kaitlin Butts, Cordero’s wife and duet partner on “A Life Where We Work Out,” surprised him onstage as he sang the song, then hung around for a mid-set ceremony certifying the track as gold — Flatland’s first such honor. When the band closed their set, opener Colby Acuff emerged to trade verses with Cordero on “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” a tribute to Toby Keith.