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The only problem with calling The Great Divide’s latest breakthrough a storybook ending is, there’s no end in sight. After more than thirty years as a band, and more than a decade since reuniting in the wake of a turbulent breakup, The Great Divide is a group in its prime. On the stage and in the studio, The Great Divide has re-established itself as the torchbearer of Oklahoma’s Red Dirt scene, making it clear even to the legions of veteran artists and rising stars they have influenced that — this time — there will be be no passing this band on the left or the right.


In 2023, The Great Divide emphatically shed any notion that “comeback” is a fitting description. The Divide landed three Texas Country Music Awards, including Country Band of the Year. Providence, the group’s first new studio album in two decades, saw its first two singles — “Good Side” and “Infinite Line” top the Texas Music Chart. Throw in sold-out homecoming shows at Tulsa’s Cains Ballroom and Stillwater’s Tumbleweed Dance Hall — plus a sellout at another old stomping ground, Gruene Hall — and this is a group fresh off of a career year. And their barnstorming is not about to stop.



“I have been super busy and super happy,” says frontman and lead guitarist Mike McClure. “Putting out Providence, our first record in 20 years, and having two number one singles in Texas, that just felt good. Having this moment of relevance again, you know, it’s one thing to do it in 1998. It’s a whole other thing to do it now, and in a lot of ways, I think we are way better than we were back then.”



The Great Divide’s original lineup is McClure, bassist Kelley Green and brothers Scotte and JJ Lester on rhythm guitar and drums. Recently, they added keyboard player Bryce Conway — and all he did was pick up the 2023 Texas Music Award for Keyboard Pianist of the Year. Along with Country Band of the Year, The Great Divide saw “ Good Side” honored with the Texas Music Award for Country Single of the Year. 



“We added Bryce Conway on keys, and he became the glue that we needed, and the excitement that we needed,” McClure says. “He was The Great Divide’s biggest fan, and when we brought him in the band, he starting bringing that excitement every time we get together, and it’s really contagious.”



If you were remotely invested in the roots music scenes in Oklahoma and Texas in the early 2000s, you knew who The Great Divide was and likely had seen them play a time or two – whether it was their own show or as part of a festival lineup. The band played 200 shows a year and released five albums together; they eventually signed a record deal with Atlantic Records in Nashville and garnered some chart success. Garth Brooks even recorded one of their songs.



When McClure left for a solo career in 2003, marking the end of the band as its original lineup—the break seemed definite. McClure moved on, releasing nine albums on his own, and for anyone who knew of their turbulent end, it was assumed the band would never reunite, let alone restore faith in one another.



A decade later, however, The Great Divide found themselves playing shows together again, a starting point in moving past the chaotic time surrounding the band’s breakup.



Providence, documented how far the band has come, as a group and individually, in the time since their last albums—and spends even more time looking ahead. “The overall arc of the record is dealing with time; it asks how much time we have left in our lives and how we want to spend the remaining years,” McClure says. “It’s about admitting the areas where work is needed and putting in the effort to do something about it.”



That they are experiencing this comeback at a time when Red Dirt artists are finally receiving recognition on the national level seems appropriate. If you were to talk to virtually anyone making music in the Red Dirt scene in the early 2000s, The Great Divide was on their list of influences. They weren’t just one of the first bands to forge their way down this path; in many ways, they were some of its originators.



“Few chapters in Red Dirt history are as important as The Great Divide’s…” Josh Crutchmer’s 2020 book, Red Dirt asserts. “The band blazed a path out of Stillwater that artists still follow to this day…multiple generations have come and gone without realizing the significance of the four-piece ensemble.”



“There are musicians playing tonight…who are marketing their show as Red Dirt—a label that can instantly multiply attendance by factors of two, three or ten—without realizing that the rock they’re leaning on was placed there with the blood and sweat of The Great Divide,” he continues.



"If anyone ever cares to study the lineage of Red Dirt music, it will need to be separated into two distinct eras: pre and post-Great Divide,” fellow Red Dirt pioneer and Oklahoman Jason Boland says. “Their impact on the alt-country scene cannot be overstated. They continually blazed up in the halls of convention, and hurled bottle after bottle at the mainstream monolith."



Within the 10 tracks on Providence, the rules they’re breaking these days seem to center more around the idea that anything and anyone outlaw-adjacent can’t also be happy, seek balance and want more from their lives and legacies.



“[Back in the 90s], we would talk about how we miss good country music—not the line dance stuff that was coming out of Nashville at the time, “ JJ Lester says. “We decided we would try to save country music.”



Providence begins with “Wrong Is Overrated,” a direct conversation between McClure and the rest of the band. “I’m asking them if they still have it in them to give this thing another go,” he says. “We’ve been technically re-united since 2012, but it hasn’t necessarily felt that way until recently when we decided to make this record.”



“‘Wrong is Overrated’ is a call to arms. It’s also an admission of my part of the blame on what led to the break up in the first place. I made a mess of things – too much booze and too many drugs mixed with ego and frustration. The classic combination of downfall for so many musicians. Luckily though, I have a new lens of sobriety to look through, and I’m coming from a place of healing, forgiveness and rebirth.”



There’s more where that came from. With momentum, excitement, and clarity, The Great Divide is looking with nothing other than big things in store for fans and band alike.



“There is a coming full circle aspect for us as a band; as performers and people,” McClure says. “Everyone is bringing their best to the table for the first time in years, and when that happens, The Great Divide is a force.”


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