Eight bands and an unforgettable stage.
Firehouse Saloon is located at 5930 Southwest Freeway near the Galleria in Houston.
The Wide Open are not trying to fit into a mold anyone else has cast. Crisscrossing the country in their 32-foot Winnebago armed with their blues-drenched Americana, the duo has discovered their calling––and fans of honest music are grateful for it.
“I just want you to have all of me when I sing a song, so if it’s real to me then it will be real to you,” says singer-songwriter and award-winning harmonica player Allen Rayfield, who with fellow power vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Season Ammons, forms duo The Wide Open. “I love the authenticity of Robert Johnson and all the old blues, folk, and roots music. I like to sit down with my guitar and write the song that needs to be written at the time,” says Rayfield. For Ammons, creating is deeply personal. “I love melodies and usually will form a melody around a phrase or hook,” she explains. “Then, I’ll pick up an instrument and hash out more music and phrasing to create a story based on some aspect in my life that is or once was true.”
The pair’s sophomore release Long Road Home pulses with the kind of raw immediacy Rayfield praises and craves. A tight collection of original songs driven by Ammons’ and Rayfield’s gritty chemistry, the anticipated record is the follow-up to 2015’s We’ll Get By, which netted the pair an Independent Music Award nod for Best Americana Album and was soon followed by an acclaimed appearance on Destin, Florida’s PBS affiliate.
Confident and often downright virtuosic, Long Road Home clearly benefits from the miles the road-dogging duo logs each year: at least 200 dates in roadhouses and listening rooms across the country. The Wide Open recorded the album on analog tape at Yellow Dog Studios in Wimberley, Texas, producer Dave Percefull’s Blanco-River lining vintage studio. “Dave was great in the studio and knew exactly how to capture the sound we wanted, as well as exactly how to get the performance he wanted,” Ammons says. “It was fun and intense and exciting.”
For fans of The Wide Open, such a triumphant record is cause for celebration but far from a surprise––a beautiful new chapter for two people who can’t help but inspire one another and just about everyone else who knows or merely hears them. After meeting on stage in Florida, the two began collaborating, not expecting anything more than great songs. “Neither one of us was looking for romance, but the love we shared on and off the stage became undeniable,” Rayfield says.
Ammons and Rayfield both traveled unique roads to get to one another. Dallas native Ammons cut her teeth on the Texas opry circuit before moving to Nashville to focus on songwriting. A warm reflection of the country, jazz, and blues vocalists she grew up loving, Ammons’ voice demanded attention. She was a regional finalist on talent-scouting machine Nashville Star and released a solo debut in 2011, a standout that garnered a Texas Music Awards nod, before moving to the Fort Walton Beach area in Florida the following year. Ammons’ second solo record turned heads and clinched nominations throughout Texas and Florida.
Gig after gig, album after album, Ammons became well known and beloved on the Emerald Coast as a solid guitarist, magnetic performer, and gifted writer. Then she met Rayfield.
A St. Louis native, Rayfield was known as a songwriter and gifted harmonica player within the blues community––he’d later go on to win three consecutive Best Harmonica Player trophies at the annual Beachcomber awards not long after moving to Florida in 2013. He relocated with the intention of giving songwriting and performing a wholehearted effort after weathering devastating news: in 2007 at just 30 years old, he was diagnosed with Friedreich’s Ataxia, an incurable neurological disease that affects his muscles, coordination, and causes spasms. Not even a year later, he was in a wheelchair. “I decided to do something about it,” Rayfield says. He spent two months riding 1,486 miles from St. Louis to the East Coast on a hand-powered recumbent bicycle to raise awareness about the disease. When he arrived in Ocean City, Maryland, the mayor greeted him with a key to the city.
Rayfield has since experienced a miraculous regression in the disease and regained his ability to walk. He attributes the process to his advocacy, alternative medicine, healthy diet, prayer and meditation, yoga, and staying passionate about life.
Ammons and Rayfield cut fierce figures––and more than music aficionados have noticed. New York Times bestselling author Paige Tyler based two characters in her book Wolf Unleashed: SWAT: Special Wolf Alpha Team on the couple.
Long Road Home’s title track is a perfect example why. Also the album’s lead single, the song gleefully incorporates sly banjo licks into a winking ode to doing things your own way. “It’s a fun song about taking chances and having fun––and possibly doing the wrong things for the right reasons,” Rayfield says. The pair’s muscly harmonies buoy the mood alongside playful strings.
“Feel Alright” blithely captures brash desire, while “Walton County Jail” is a bluesy masterpiece, fueled by Rayfield’s gravely lead vocals and meaty harmonica. Moody “Raining in Memphis” is a winsome stroll through regret and longing, while “Ol’ Missouri” nods to bluegrass in a sweet singalong. Haunting album standout “Rainy Day Serenade” is a hushed meditation revolving around Ammons’ stunning vocal delivery and perfect punctuations from Rayfield’s harmonica.
“I will obsess over the words and chords until I have a solid song working,” Rayfield says of his composing process. “I will usually finish it even if it takes hours because I struggle walking away from the moment I am having with the song.”
Ultimately, for both members of The Wide Open, the toiling through the years, miles, and heartbreak that had to unfold in order to create Long Road Home has been worth it. “Long Road Home captures an emotional roller coaster of real passion and truth,” Rayfield says. Ammon says “The pain and joy it took to follow our love for each other and our love of music was both transforming and overwhelming.” She pauses, then breathes deeply as she adds, “This album helped us both heal and grow in ways we never imagined.”