To paraphrase the band itself, this is Reckless Kelly’s “Last Hurrah.”
Reckless Kelly — Americana torchbearers from Idaho via Austin, a former member of the Sugar Hill and Yep Rock labels, and a group that has tied Austin rock and cowboy poetry together seamlessly for more than 25 years — is winding down its touring days.
The end will take the form of a slow march. Co-founders and brothers Willy and Cody Braun told Rolling Stone that Reckless will pare back its touring schedule to roughly 35 shows a year starting in 2023 before retiring from the road altogether in 2025. For a group that has neared or exceed 200 shows a year for most of its largely independent career, that pullback alone is a jarring change in direction.
“In a nutshell, I’ve been playing music professionally and touring since I was 7 or 8,” says Willy Braun, Reckless’ frontman and primary songwriter. “I still love playing, I still love traveling, and I still love all the guys in the band. What it comes down to, really, is I’m ready to do something different.
“By the time we hang it up in three years, I will have been on the road playing music for over 40 years,” he continues. “I’ve been at this so long, there’s not a lot of surprises anymore, and I’m ready to not have to be somewhere every weekend for a bit.”
Reckless Kelly’s three-year wind-down will begin in January at The MusicFest in Steamboat, Colorado, where the Brauns will play a high-profile set that has become a tradition for the band. The reason for the long goodbye, according to the members, is to ensure fans have opportunities to catch more shows without the pressure that a whirlwind farewell tour puts on both artist and audience.
“We’re trying to play larger venues, festivals and places that we love. We want to get back to those old haunts that we love and have played forever one more time,” says Cody Braun, the Reckless co-founder who plays fiddle and mandolin. “We’re going to try to get as close to people as we can, but people will probably have to drive a little further than they’re used to if they want to see us now.”
Aside from Steamboat, Reckless confirmed a handful of dates, including a Feb. 25 show at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, a return to Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth on May 27, a main-stage placement at Circus Mexicus — the annual festival hosted by Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers in Puerto Penasco, Mexico — in June; and a Sept. 16 co-headlining concert with Jason Boland and the Stragglers at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
Reckless has plans for at least one more full-length album — a follow-up to the 2020 double LP American Jackpot/American Girls released just as the pandemic shut down live music and scuttled a tour — along with multiple other unnamed projects, big and small, between now and 2025.
Cody and Willy are two of four Braun brothers to grow up in rural Idaho, near Stanley, who are mainstays in Americana music. Younger brothers Micky and Gary are the core of Micky and the Motorcars. Their father, Muzzie, made his living as a touring musician — influenced heavily by Idaho contemporary Pinto Bennett as well as the Outlaw country movement of the 1970s — and had all four of his sons join him in bands during their youth.
“Reckless Kelly was different, in a way that was a breath of fresh air from the norm,” Micky Braun tells Rolling Stone about his older brothers’ band. “They opened eyes in every aspect of independent music, from clubs to radio to booking agents and managers, and especially to hundreds of young musicians. It was inspiring to see what could be done on their terms. They also pushed the envelope even further by touring nonstop all over the U.S., proving that love for this style of music wasn’t just in Idaho or Texas, but it was everywhere that let them get on a stage.”
The Brauns founded Reckless Kelly in Bend, Oregon, in summer 1996 when drummer Jay Nazz (his full name is Nazziola) happened upon Cody and Willy playing a jam session in a dive bar with two other members — but no drummer. Nazz asked if he could sit in, the Brauns said yeah, and within a year the band had a name, had moved to Austin, and had a steady gig on Sixth Street at the original Lucy’s Retired Surfer’s Bar. One of the band’s early managers was Robert Earl Keen, whom Willy credits with taking Reckless on their first major tours.
Since then, Reckless has released 10 studio albums and two live albums, toured internationally, built the annual Braun Brothers Reunion festival into a three-day event that has become the bellwether for the town of Challis, Idaho, and perhaps most importantly won over its musical peers in the Texas, Red Dirt, and wider Americana genres. Cross Canadian Ragweed’s cover of “Crazy Eddie’s Last Hurrah” in 2002 cemented both bands as the torchbearers for the roots-rock party scene that overtook college towns in Texas in the wake of Robert Earl Keen. Artists like Steve Earle, Suzy Bogguss, Roger Clyne, Ned LeDoux, and Turnpike Troubadours have all played the Braun Brothers Reunion.
The 2023 Reunion, set for Aug. 10-12, is incidentally what will keep Reckless Kelly’s next chapter open-ended. The Brauns put the festival on themselves, hand-selecting every artist that plays, and Cody says the plan is for Reckless to reunite to headline it annually.
Last April, Reckless Kelly opened for Turnpike Troubadours at two sold-out shows at the venerable Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado, part of Turnpike’s return. Turnpike guitarist Ryan Engleman joined Reckless for a year when his band took an extended hiatus from 2019 to 2022. He praises Reckless for helping him re-focus as an artist.
“It was almost frightening to play with those guys for the first time,” Englemen says. “I had had a lot of stuff happen before that and was pretty unsure with my footing. It was almost humbling, and I was just very blessed that they asked me to do that when they did.”
Along with the Brauns and Nazz, Reckless’ current makeup includes Joe Miller on bass guitar and Geoff Queen on steel guitar. “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had playing music,” says Queen, one of Austin’s most in-demand session musicians who joined Reckless after Engleman returned to Turnpike. “These guys are laid back and funny, but they’re professional and incredibly talented.”
Like the Brauns, Nazz comes from a musical family. When Reckless Kelly was nominated for a Grammy in 2021 for the artwork on their 2020 double album, Jay’s brother, Tom Nazziola, was also nominated in the Best Instrumental Composition category for his own work. Having been with the band since its inception, Nazz considers himself as much a part of the Braun family as Willy and Cody.
“We’re so fortunate to have Willy as a frontman,” says Nazz, who plans to continue playing drums in some fashion after Reckless powers down. “There’s no ego. He writes 99 percent of the songs, but he’s never trying to covet them like, ‘Don’t ruin my music!’ or anything like that. He made Reckless very comfortable for me. And Cody is so effortless. The execution of his own instrument is the last thing he ever has to think about. It just comes out naturally, and that makes it really easy for me as a drummer to keep pace.”
Long popular with other artists for his willingness to sit in with nearly anyone who asks, Cody has branched out into producing over the past year. When Clyne wanted to re-record a handful of his early songs — both from the Peacemakers and Clyne’s 1990s alt-rock outfit the Refreshments — he turned to Cody to produce “Never Thought,” which Clyne released as a single in early 2022.
“Artists can be touchy when they are working with other artists or producing other artists. This was different. It was just a jam, and it was a blast,” Clyne says. “And I’ll say that Cody, on the re-do of ‘Never Thought’ that he figured out, and the turns that he took, I was so happy with it, and I was so frickin’ pissed off that I didn’t think of them!”
Most of Willy’s songwriting, meanwhile, is grounded in his own life, in the same mold as his father and Bennett, but influenced just as much by wordsmiths like Tom Petty, Guy Clark, and Bob Dylan.
“What I always liked about this band was great songs being played by great musicians,” Reckless bassist Joe Miller says. “Willy has always had something to say, and it’s not dumbed down for the lowest common denominator. You’ve got to have a brain to hear this stuff.”
There is a range in Braun’s songwriting that rivals Americana heroes such as Jason Isbell and Todd Snider. Reckless is as popular for Braun’s ballads (like the introspective “Wicked Twisted Road” and the Hurricane Katrina-inspired “Godforsaken Town,” co-written with Keen) as it is for full-on rock jams like “Ragged as the Road” and “Nobody’s Girl.” They can follow an Irish jig (“Seven Nights in Eire”) with a pointed protest song (“American Blood”) and make it all sound uniquely theirs.
The band plans to dig deep into the Reckless Kelly catalog over the next three years, unearthing music that has rotated out of setlists so that each show can act as a retrospective. It’s difficult to hear them talk about their slow walk toward the sunset and not believe them when they say their crowds are their top priority.
“I want everyone who supported us to know how much we appreciated it over the years,” Cody Braun says. “In the independent world, you survive by the kindness of others. There are people who let us sleep on couches or play their clubs when we weren’t drawing flies, and the next three years are ones we’re looking at as a thank-you to those people.”
Clyne, who has toured and released music independently with the Peacemakers since 1998, understands Cody’s sentiments on the indie scenes in Americana. He tells Rolling Stone that sometimes the best thing artists can do for their own music is take time away from it.
“Keeping the bills paid, the venues full and to keep touching the hearts of the audience — that’s Herculean stuff,” Clyne says. “I totally understand the fatigue those guys feel right now, from the weight of the career and the time they’ve had to do it, and the brass ring that is always right in front of them — but it’s also in their pocket.”
In the absence of anything that would be considered a “big break,” Willy Braun says the mark left by Reckless Kelly is in the way the band prioritized its music and won over audiences on a show-by-show basis.
“The coolest thing about our fan base is, we got them one at a time,” Willy says. “We didn’t go out there with one big hit or music video or one big tour. We literally got our fans on an individual basis. I’m pretty proud of that part: Once we got a fan, they stayed with us.”
Confirmed Reckless Kelly Tour Dates in 2023
Jan. 8-9 — Steamboat Springs, CO @ The MusicFest
Feb. 25 — Houston, TX @ Livestock Show and Rodeo
May 27 — Fort Worth, TX @ Billy Bob’s
June 10-11 — Puerto Penasco, Mexico @ Circus Mexicus
June 17 — Kaycee, WY @ Chris LeDoux Days
June 23-24 — New Braunfels, TX @ Gruene Hall
Aug. 12 — Challis, ID @ Braun Brothers Reunion
Aug. 18 — Austin, TX @ Stubb’s BBQ
Aug. 19 — Pampa, TX @ PampaFest
Sept. 16 — Nashville, TN @ Ryman Auditorium (with Jason Boland and the Stragglers)
Josh Crutchmer is the author of the 2020 book Red Dirt: Roots Music, Born in Oklahoma, Raised in Texas, at Home Anywhere, and the upcoming title The Motel Cowboy Show: Mountain Music’s Path from Idaho to Austin, and the Side Roads in Between.