Cork and Barrel Pub is a beautiful restaurant and music venue that combines Irish happy with Texas friendly. It blends the Irish pub experience with Central Texas cuisine. Its eclectic interior was the perfect venue for spending a few quality hours with the live music of MoPac Traffic Jams.
Bob Cartwright is the lead of MoPac Traffic Jams. He’s been playing in bands on the Austin music scene for many years. I interviewed Bob as part of Zipgig’s Spotlight Chronicles music blog. Bob talked about the band, how they came to be and the style of music they play.
Below is my interview with Bob. I’m looking forward to attending more of their shows around Austin and around Texas and beyond.
Spotlight Chronicles: Tell me about your band and how it came to be.
Bob Cartwright: My two adult kids and I formed the band MoPac Traffic Jams. My son Kevin and daughter Camille are trained musicians out of high school, and we have been playing music together for years. After an 8 year stint I enjoyed with The Stray Bullets Band in Austin, I decided to make a change and start a new band with my kids. The kids came up with the name MoPac Traffic Jams. We are an eclectic group, young to old. We keep things fresh, come up with different genres, try different tunes and we enjoy playing and singing together. My daughter and I have also done some co-writing together.
Fred Spence is our stand up bass player. Fred is a friend and he and I played in our church choir together. He has 25+ years of experience in the music industry. He comes from New Orleans. He has a solo act too. He’s been in the business a long time and has many cd’s to his credit.
Our banjo player, Jon Lundbom comes from Chicago. He made his way into the NYC jazz sound and has 8 albums to his credit. He is highly accomplished musician and nationally recognized. He has migrated back and forth from Jazz to Bluegrass and Americana. He provides input and is an Amazing musician.
When we started, we were looking for a culture fit. To go out and have some fun, be open to new genres, learn and play new tunes, and get everybody involved with a positive spin. The 5 of us as MoPac Traffic Jams have been together for 2 years now and we have had a lot of fun playing all over Central Texas.
Spotlight Chronicles: What genre of music do you most identify with?
Bob Cartwright: Americana, Bluegrass, Folk Grass and some Gospel. We have our interpretation of ‘Austin Weird’ called ‘Austin Wired’. We take songs we like, put a spin on them, and make them our own.
There are 3 singers in the group. For instruments, we have stand up bass, banjo, mandolin, guitar, cajon.
I’ve been playing with my son Kevin and daughter Camille since they were 16, now she’s 25 and he is 26.
Spotlight Chronicles: How do you approach your music?
Bob Cartwright: We play tunes that people like. In the different genres, we are always coming up with something fresh. We do The Black Lillies, Bob Dylan, Amy Winehouse, Green Day, Chris Stapleton. Somebody in the audience will identify with something we are doing. Songs from folks like Dan Fogelberg, Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Chicks, Sam Cooke, Credence, John Prine, Steve Fromholz, The Animals, etc. We also play a number of original tunes.
On our website, www.reverbnation.com/mopactrafficjams, we have a live recording we did at Brass Tap in Round Rock of House of the Rising Sun. We start it slow and come back fast and then go back slow. Definitely a crowd pleaser.
Spotlight Chronicles: What is your role in the band? How many others are in the band and what do they play?
Bob Cartwright: In MTJ, I play mandolin. I was starting to play a lot of mandolin back with the previous band and continued to migrate from guitar. Camille moved from cajon and now plays guitar and sings a lot of songs. John plays banjo and Fred is a Nashville inspired cat playing Stand-up Bass. He’s also a guitar and mandolin player but in MTJ, he plays bass and sings a few songs. Kevin, played some cajon in the previous band early on until going off to college. He now plays cajon, guitar and sings some songs with MoPac Traffic Jams.
Spotlight Chronicles: Do you write your own music and lyrics?
Bob Cartwright: We play about 8-10+ songs in a 3 hour gig that are originals – either solely written (lyrics and music) by me or have been co-written with others including Camille. Some new songs that have been fined tuned with MoPac Traffic Jams includes “Still A Lot of Livin”, “Paddy’s Redemption”, “Sam Bass – He Was An Outlaw”, and others.
There is a wide age variance in the band, bringing old and new to the stage. Between the youngest in the band to the oldest, there is a 40+ year age difference. Keeps things fresh and fun.
We typically do 2, 2.5 and 3 hour shows at various venues across Central Texas including restaurants, breweries, pubs, wineries, honky tonks, and private parties.
Spotlight Chronicles: How long has the band been together, what brought you together?
Bob Cartwright: A little over two years. Started a new adventure with family and a little help with friends. We hit our stride with some amazing bookings in early 2020 before Covid hit. When Covid hit and everything began shutting down, the music in most venues was cancelled but we stayed in touch and socially distanced with a number of practices on the back porch. We were able to stay together and started playing again at outdoor venues in early 2021.
My kids participated in nationally recognized music competitions so they had a lot of experience playing. Both Kevin and Camille participated in Pasics (Percussion Arts Society) with others from their school and won their respective competitions. My daughter also played in restaurants and other venues with a friend for a while before joining the previous band.
Spotlight Chronicles: Where are you based out of, where do you play, and in what type of venues?
Bob Cartwright: We are based out of Pflugerville, Austin. We play a lot of outdoor venues, breweries like Brass Tap, Pecan St Brewing, Cork and Barrel, Metcalf Bar BQ, Rudy’s 360, Barrow Brewing in Salado, Little Longhorn Saloon in Austin, and some private parties. We typically play 3 times a month and practice once a month.
Spotlight Chronicles: If you had to identify with a famous musician or band, who would it be?
Bob Cartwright: What makes this band so interesting is that we play songs from so many different genres that it keeps the music interesting and fun. We claim to be an “Austin Wired” band – one that attracts a wide range of audiences that can find songs to like and sing along with.
Spotlight Chronicles: What inspires you as a band?
Bob Cartwright: The talent and musicianship in this band makes it fun to experiment, try new songs, learn them quick and get them out there to be heard and enjoyed.
Spotlight Chronicles: Is there a special way you connect to your audience?
Bob Cartwright: I think sometimes in our gigs that we sneak up on our audiences and by the time we get to the middle of our performance, it seems like we capture them into our world and they join us in sharing the experience with us. We aspire to putting out good music and it inspires us to go out and have fun.
Spotlight Chronicles: Is Austin a good place for you to promote your unique sound?
Bob Cartwright: Austin and the Central Texas area are great places to promote our sound and play some music. With Austin’s reputation as the live music capital of the world, it is a very competitive place to book venues and get good gigs. We have been fortunate and very successful in booking gigs in Central Texas and have some possible offers brewing down in the Houston area as well later this year.
Spotlight Chronicles: When people leave your show, what is it that you hope they will say about you?
Bob Cartwright: Hey Mopac Traffic Jams: we loved the variety of your music and you guys have a great sound. We look forward to catching you the next time you are out playing. How do we find out where you are playing?
Spotlight Chronicles: What advice do you have for younger artists starting out in Austin, either performing originals or covers, to gain a following, advance their music, get gigs at better venues, etc.?
Bob Cartwright: Develop a good music product and persevere. It takes time to get a break at a venue and you have to be persistent. Sometimes, you have to cut bait at places you really want to play and try other places until you build up a resume and band following. Then go back to the ones you aspire to. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Write original songs and get them out there. Repetition brings followers. Be original and build a strong band culture. Strong band cultures survive over time whereas weak ones don’t last very long. You need talent, a good product and consistency to get where you want to go, in my opinion.
Thank you Bob for the interview and the rest of MoPac Traffic Jams for the excellent show at Cork and Barrel!