Blue Water Highway's Zack Kibodeaux

photo of band members
Zack Kibodeaux (right) <i>Photo courtesy Blue Water Highway</i>

His roots are in Texas State opera, his band is pure Americana

By John Goodspeed

Zack Kobideaux is still at Texas State University in spirit even though he graduated in 2010 with a bachelor's degree in vocal performance, co-founded the Blue Water Highway band, and toured across the state, nation, and Europe. 

“Texas State — it’s awesome. I never really left,” Kibodeaux, 32, says.

His many university ties, memories, and lessons learned keep him rooted. He first heard the stories of the beauty of the campus and San Marcos from his mother, Julie Kibodeaux (B.S. ’85), who teaches elementary school in the Brazosport ISD. As a member of the Texas All-State Choir at Brazoswood High School, he would earn a choir scholarship and chose Texas State on the recommendation of a friend who was attending the university.

Following his freshman year, Kibodeaux moved into the Clear Springs Apartments, which once stood across from Sewell Park. It was a short walk to the San Marcos River, where he often swam. “It was like paradise,” he says. “It lived up to my mother’s stories about how great it was.She jokes that I’m one of those who leaves his hometown but never leaves San Marcos.”

He found romance too. Kibodeaux met his wife, Haley Dougherty Kibodeaux (B.M. ’15), at Our Lady of Wisdom University Parish, which serves the Texas State community. She teaches elementary school in the Hays CISD, and the couple have two young daughters.

Kibodeaux sings the praises of Texas State vocal performance and music professors such as Julie Wood, Joey Martin, and Sam Mungo. “I was seriously considering a career in opera,” Kibodeaux says.

While he played a lead role in the opera Candide his senior year, Kibodeaux felt pulled to rock ’n’ roll and Americana music. After graduating, he formed a band with fellow opera student Catherine Clarke. Greg Essington, Kibodeaux’s best friend from high school, rounded out their three-part harmonies. For their rhythm, they turned to bassist Kyle Smith (B.S. ’09), who was teaching at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, and drummer Jared Wilson. Kibodeaux and Essington, who received a music technology degree from New York University, had performed together at private shows and at songwriter nights at Cheatham Street Warehouse. That’s also where fellow Bobcats George Strait (B.S. ’79) and Randy Rogers (B.A. ’01) played.

Blue Water Highway was born in 2013. Named after County Road 257 running from Surfside to Galveston, the original band members played wherever they could and slowly built a following. Their first album, Things We Carry, would lead to bigger venues, a European tour, and a booking as the opening act for rocker Bob Seger before a crowd of 15,000. In 2017, they quit their day jobs teaching voice, piano, and guitar at music studio Curious Chords in Kyle. Blue Water Highway’s second album, 2018’s Heartbreak City, propelled them further.

The band will release Paper Airplanes this spring. “With this record, we feel like we’ve expanded on the first two albums with more interesting arrangements, three-part harmonies, beautiful melodies, and lyrics covering a variety of perspectives and human experiences,” Kibodeaux says. “Our show is not just a happy-go-lucky stomp/clap thing, although some of that is there, but we change it up with big rock and sad songs.

“It’s our own contemporary spin on American roots music. You’ll hear folk, rock ’n’ roll, blues, country, and indie rock.”

The band was forced to stop touring when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation. Kibodeaux says they found a way to entertain fans new and old using Stage IT, an online concert venue. He says this “pay-as-you-go” format not only allowed the band to reach new fans in countries such as Germany and Sweden but also helped to support nonperforming music industry workers. “We were sustained by switching our business model to online shows,” he says.

His career is intertwined with Texas State experiences. “Voice teachers prepared me for what I’m doing now. I got really good training. It pays off because I can sing for a long time without hurting myself,” Kibodeaux says. “My degree in vocal performance not only taught the technical skills of how to stand up and give an effective performance in front of people, but also how to share the message you want to convey through art.”

Post-graduate courses in history and astronomy find their ways into storytelling with such songs as “Voice in Rahma,” about the 1937 natural gas school explosion in New London that killed more than 295, and themes on the new album about the night sky.

“Those are some of the things that separate us a bit on the Americana scene,” he says. “We have a lot of influence of classic melody and structure. “We make simple songs compared to Bach. But at the same time, being in the opera world, you can’t help but be influenced by some of the most beautiful music ever created.” 

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