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Country music in the second half of 2013 is going through some of the most historic changes the format has ever seen, with hip-hop influenced songs, albums, and artists dominating the charts, female artists being excluded like never before, and a litany of songs with laundry list lyrics or that are purposely written to be stupid garnering the lion’s share of attention. The ever-present erosion of what the term “country” defines has never been greater, and the charge of preserving the roots of country music has never been more dire.
As a symptom of all the change and upheaval, big-time artists are speaking out about the direction of country music like never before. We’re not talking about the usual suspects of country criticism like Dale Watson and friends, we’re talking about artists at the very top of the mainstream country food chain. Over the last three months, an average of 3 artists per month have spoken out about the direction of country—an overwhelming number when you consider these bouts of outspokeness would usually happen only a few times a year. And there’s no reason to believe this trend won’t continue.
So below we have aggregated a timeline of some of the music world’s top artists speaking out against the direction of country. In all likelihood, this timeline will continue to grow.
Speaking to American Songwriter, Kacey Musgraves said:
“My voice is undeniably country, and I love country. Do I love what it’s turned into? No, not all the way. It’s a little embarrassing when people outside of the genre ask what I sing and I say country. You automatically get a negative response, a cheese factor. My favorite compliment ever is when someone says, ‘I hate country music but I love your music.’”
During an in interview with Rolling Stone, Tom Petty said:
“Well, yeah I mean, I hate to generalize on a whole genre of music, but it does seem to be missing that magic element that it used to have. I’m sure there are people playing country that are doing it well, but they’re just not getting the attention that the shittier stuff gets. But that’s the way it always is, isn’t it?
But I hope that kind of swings around back to where it should be. But I don’t really see a George Jones or a Buck Owens or any anything that fresh coming up. I’m sure there must be somebody doing it, but most of that music reminds me of rock in the middle Eighties where it became incredibly generic and relied on videos. I don’t want to rail on about country because I don’t really know much about it, but that’s what it seems like to me.”
When asked by GQ what music trend needed to die out immediately, Kacey Musgraves said:
“Anyone singing about trucks, in any form, in any song, anywhere. Literally just stop – nobody cares! It’s not fun to listen to. I thought dubstep was cool for two seconds - but that can go away now too. It sounds like a malfunction of some kind.”
Kacey also said when asked what the best-dressed men in Nashville are wearing these days, “Nothing by Affliction. Just burn the warehouse down. It’s just douchey and really gaudy.”
While speaking with Reuters, Sheryl Crow, who just made a move to the country format and released a country album called Feels Like Home, said about her country move:
“The country format is more pop than pop was when I came up two decades ago,”
In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Alan Jackson said:
“Right now, it seems like it’s gone. It’s not that I’m against all that’s out there. There’s some good music, good songwriting and good artists out there, but there’s really no country stuff left. It’s always been that constant pop-country battle. I don’t think it’s ever going to change. What makes me sad today is that I think the real country, real roots-y traditional stuff, may be gone. I don’t know if it’ll ever be back on mainstream radio. You can’t get it played anymore.”
During an interview with Larry King, Gary Allan was asked if Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood were country, and he said:
“You know, I would say no. I would say they’re pop artists making a living in the country genre. I also feel like we lost our genre. I don’t feel like I make music for a genre anymore, and I did, you know, 15 years ago. But I think since the Clear Channel’s and the Cumulus’s and the big companies bought up all the chains, now it’s about a demographic. You know, so they’ve kind of sliced everything up, feeding it to the public in demographics.
“Like if you want to get to the young kids, you put it on the alternative station. We’ve sort of ended up in this…we’re nicknamed the soccer mom, like 35 to 45 year-old woman I think is what our demographic is. So it’s very different. You used to be able to turn on the radio and you knew instantly it was the country station just by listening to it, and now you’ve got to leave it there for a second to figure it out…. To me, country music is still Monday through Friday, and pop’s about what happens on the weekends.”
Gary Allan later clarified his statements, saying his words were taken out of context, and that he appreciated country radio and everything it had done for his career.
When speaking to Barbara Beam of 93.7 JR FM in Vancouver, Canada, Zac Brown said:
“I love Luke Bryan and he’s had some great songs, but this new song is the worst song I’ve ever heard. I know Luke, he’s a friend. ‘My Kind Of Night’ is one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard. I see it being commercially successful, in what is called country music these days, but I also feel like that the people deserve something better than that. Country fans and country listeners deserve to have something better than that, a song that really has something to say, something that makes you feel something. Good music makes you feel something. When songs make me wanna throw up, it makes me ashamed to even be in the same genre as those songs.
“If I hear one more tailgate in the moonlight, daisy duke song, I’m gonna throw up. There’s songs out there on the radio right now that make me be ashamed to be even in the same format as some other artists. You can look and see some of the same songwriters on every one of the songs. There’s been like 10 number one songs in the last two or three years that were written by the same people and it’s the exact same words, just arranged different ways.”
When speaking to “The Barnyard Show” on 92.5 in Connecticut about why there is so few women on the country music charts, Sheryl Crow said:
“I do think that in the last ten, fifteen years art has gone the way of commerce. Whenever there’s money involved, then you figure out what’s going to bring in sponsors, and what’s going to resonate with people and what’s going to sell records….I’d love to see that change.”
When talking to Rolling Stone about his new album, Jake Owen said:
“We need more songs than just songs about tailgates and fuckin’ cups and Bacardi and stuff like that. We need songs that get ourselves back to the format that made me love it . . . [like] when guys like Randy Travis released songs like ‘He Walked on Water’ – songs that meant something, man!”
When speaking to Country Weekly about country rap, Toby Keith said:
“You hear the hip-hop thing start kicking in, and you start going, ‘Is that what we gotta do now to have a hit?’ I don’t know how to do that. Is that what I need every one of my songs to sound like now?…You start playing [deep songs] to a twenty-something audience, and it’s like, ‘Naw, man, there ain’t no mud on that tire. That ain’t about a Budweiser can. That ain’t about a chicken dancing out by the river. That ain’t about smoking a joint by the haystack. That’s about somebody dying and sh-t.’”
37 years ago, Austin City Limits was founded to be the visual accompaniment to a book called The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock by Texas author Jan Reed. The book set out to chronicle the formation of the Austin, TX music scene that transpired in the late 60′s and into the 70′s, along with its many artists and side characters.
As time went on and it became evident that what was happening in Austin wasn’t just a “scene,” but one of America’s most important and influential movements in music, Studio 6A on the University of Texas campus was commandeered to help capture these amazing artists in their own time in hopes of further preserving the legacy of Austin’s musical heritage. The tapings were shown on the local PBS affiliate KLRU, and as interest in the Austin City Limits program expanded, eventually it began to be broadcast nationwide.
Over the years ACL branched out to include many national acts, but up until recently, the program rarely strayed from their duties of preserving the legacy of Austin music, and stuck mostly to the country and roots realm. During the early 2000′s, “Austin City Limits” began to be seen as a powerful, nationally-recognized music brand despite its not-for-profit, PBS roots, and ACL launched a big music festival and began bringing in larger, non roots acts for show tapings—artists and bands that didn’t need the ACL boost, and didn’t have ties to Austin like Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, Cheap Trick, and Coldplay—while some artists seminal to the Austin music scene seemed to be ignored.
ACL brought on big corporate sponsors like Budweiser, Lexus, and Dell Computers. During their 30th season, they axed their long-running theme song: Gary P. Nunn’s “London Homesick Blues.” They also moved out of the small studio on the UT campus into a multi million-dollar facility in downtown Austin, complete with luxury boxes for the show’s corporate donors and Austin’s power elite. ACL Fest is now a two weekend festival, rivaling in size, revenue, and attendance any of the massive corporate music festivals around the country.
But continuing on the 2013 theme of positivity, Austin City Limits has decided to finally give a taping to arguably one of the most important performers in Austin’s current country scene, Dale Watson. On November 25th, ACL will bring in what they call “Austin’s king of country music” in a show that will also include fast-rising country star and native Texan Kacey Musgraves.
Over the last few years, Dale Watson has become synonymous with Austin music, playing multiple gigs a week when in town at some of Austin’s most legendary venues and honky tonks like The Broken Spoke, The Continental Club, and Ginny’s Little Longhorn that Dale Watson recently paid to keep open. But the Austin City Limits invite always alluded him except for a small appearance on a songwriter showcase, despite being an obvious pick for a featured artist on the show. A Facebook page was even started over the issue. Just like another Texas legend, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Dale made his initial network television debut this year not on the Austin City Limits stage, but some 1,800 miles away in New York City on the Late Show with David Letterman (though Hubbard did appear as Hayes Carll’s guest once on ACL), showing just how juxtaposed the television outlets for country and roots music have become.
Recently another roots show that still caters to up-and-coming acts called Music City Roots, located at The Loveless Cafe in Nashville announced they will begin to be broadcast through PBS stations. A lot of the same spirit that initially surrounded Austin City Limits seems to be embodied in what Music City Roots is trying to build today.
Without question Austin City Limits still, and has always showcased excellent country and roots talent from Austin and beyond, regardless of the big, international names they may court in any given broadcast season. But doesn’t it always seem the way of things—when something gets swept up in growing, they lose their focus, and the heart and spirit of where they started. But just like Old Crow Medicine Show being asked to join the Grand Ole Opry, or Dale Watson’s ACL show mate Kacey Musgraves getting nominated for as many CMA Awards as anyone this year, 2013 has been a year full of re-trenchings, of re-affirmations and reflections on what is important in roots music, and making sure what is most important is being preserved and pushed forward by entities not always known for doing so.
To artists from Texas and beyond, the Austin City Limits stage is a hallowed as any. Kudos to ACL for finally giving Dale Watson his due. Now if we could just get Ray Wylie Hubbard….
The son of Hank Jr. and the grandson of Hank Williams known as Hank3 is poised to release two new albums next week, and embark on an extended tour of Texas, the West Coast, and upper Midwest. Brothers of the 4X4 and A Fiendish Threat come on the heels of an extended touring hiatus after Hank3′s drummer Shawn McWilliams required shoulder surgery. Hank3 was gracious enough to talk with us ahead of the tour and releases to let fans know what they can expect, and about other issues around the independent music world.
You can listen to the entire interview below. For those who prefer a written form, the meat of the interview is transcribed below as well.
Trigger: On Octobers 1st you’ll be releasing two new albums, Brothers of the 4X4 on the country side of things, and A Fiendish Threat on the punk side. These come out of an extended period when you were not touring because your drummer needed shoulder surgery. Was it your plan to put out new albums now, or did they come out of the tour void?
Hank3: Basically, I always record records in the winter time. So since Shawn was down for a while, I picked up the pen at the end of January and everything was written and recorded and done by April on both records. So they came pretty naturally. A couple of the songs that in my eyes are more of the traditional roots, songs like “Loners For Life” or “Deep Scars,” we’re getting a little more old school. “Possum In A Tree” was specifically written for Leroy Troy, a clawhammer banjo player. I had him in mind when I wrote that song, and went over to his place and had some fun and captured the sound we were going for. At least on Brothers of the 4X4, it gives you a a couple of the old roots ones, it gives you a couple of songs like “Lookey Yonder Commin’” that at least the first part of the song has some of the bluegrass feel on the drive of it. And then you have a couple of songs that are not necessarily country, like “Ain’t Broken Down” is almost like your Spaghetti Western / Pink Floyd kind of sounding song. So there’s quite a few different moods on it.
With your last country-ish album Ghost to a Ghost, you went out of your way to say that you really didn’t think it was country. With Brothers of the 4X4 you’re saying there’s traditional country tracks on it. Can people expect to hear something more similar to what they heard on your earlier records as opposed to the more recent ones, or is that simplifying it?
I still think every record has its own different sound, and a different approach. The players change, I change. Even though it’s different, it will have the roots on it. If you put it up against and pop country radio song, yeah, it has a lot more of a traditional feel in my eyes. I always make sure I have the banjo and the stand up bass, stand up steel guitar, the acoustic, and fiddle, and just have that foundation there.
As time has gone on, you have assumed more and more responsibilities in your album making process to the point where now you’re doing most everything on the country record except for playing the lead instruments. You’ve talked before about how you hate producers. Do you feel like you’re missing out on something by not engaging in the collaborative process of music, or do you feel like you work best by yourself?
I don’t hate producers. I hate it when people are trying to tell you, “You need to do this to make your song better.” I’m totally in to people who know a million things about sound and all that stuff. But I know my sound, I know my songs, I write songs for myself. Buzz from The Melvins is the exact same way. He totally agrees with that same philosophy. Some people don’t want to have anything to do with the songwriting process, and want people to tell them, “Hey, do this.” But when you’re dealing with someone as creative as me or as creative as Buzz, we know our sound, we know our riffs, we know what we’re going for. So that can be a problem. If I wake up at 5:30 in the morning and I’m ready to start playing drums, especially on the punk rock record where there’s pretty intense moments, if I have to wait two hours for somebody to show up, then the spark is usually gone by the time they get there and get everything set up. I like being able to play when I’m ready to play. And sometimes I pull some pretty long days. That’s pretty much the reason, for now, I’m taking on everything. Some producers are good to work with, and some aren’t. It just depends the environment. But most of the time I’m into just going for it.
Speaking of collaborations, you recently had a song come out with David Allan Coe. It seemed like a long time coming, but it finally did. How did “The Outlaw Ways” come about?
I’ve known him since I was a child. I’ve always looked up to him on stage and touring, and he’s been a good friend to me, and a hero. Basically we talked about it, and over time we were able to get some lyrics where we wanted them, he came by the house, and we got it sounding how he was envisioning the song. It was a fun process, and glad to be able to give back to one of my heroes.
I’ve only heard a couple of people talk about it. It is what it is. Hopefully they’ll get it up and running. I know opening up any kind of business is always tough to do. Good luck for them, and hope for the best for it.
Have you heard about Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan movement, and have any thoughts on that?
I’ve been kind of out of the loop just trying to get all the new players and new drummers and trying to get the road crew, and everything lined up for the tours. That’s been basically 24 / 7 so I’m kind of out of the loop on that right now.
Despite going on some pretty long tour hiatuses over the last few years, you still seem to be drawing pretty consistently live—still selling-out decent-sized venues. What do you attribute this to?
I would just say hard work, paying respects to the fans, and always keeping the hard working men and women in mind on the money. Trying to give them the longest show for the cheapest ticket price. I’ve always gone out of my way to fight for that. A lot of times when you show respect, you get respect back in return. I would just say a hard work ethic has paid off.
Along those same lines, Shooter Jennings recently started charging people $85 for meet and greets before his shows. Is that something you would ever do?
No. The old country way is you do your show and you say “hello.” That’s the way I’ve done it ever since I’ve been on the road. Why would I change it now? I think if I did that, my fans would definitely would be like, “What’s this?” I’ve always done the show, and after I shake every hand, take every picture, and I make my fans feel connected to what we do.
You seem to be a guy who is really big into artifacts, whether it be your boots that you wore for a long time that you had duct taped, I know you had a hat that was important to you stolen a few years back, and you’ve been wearing the same pants and vests. Why do you think you have such a draw to artifacts of your life?
It’s just like a frame of mind. A lot of different people and crews have worked on those. You got a lot of drifting kids, a lot of train kids. Basically it’s just like art. You create, and then you destroy. So a lot of people over the years have helped me rebuild a lot of that stuff. So it has a lot of heart to it, and a lot of meaning to it. Those are my work clothes for right now.
I recall a recent comment of yours that there might be some upcoming activity on your attempt to get Hank Williams reinstated into the Grand Ole Opry. Do you have any updates for us?
All we can do is just talk about it. As long as we talk about it, you know, we’re not asking for a $100,000 statue, we’re just asking for one night, paying some respects, and that’s basically it. As long as we talk about, sometimes people come and go in the business, and all it takes is one person to be re-hired in a position, and there you go, it could happen as simple as that.
On August 15th, the plans for the upcoming Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame and an accompanying Outlaw Music Association were made public. 5,000 sq. ft. of space has been allocated for the new Hall of Fame in Lynchburg, TN, and a Board of Directors has been formed that includes Jeremy Tepper of SiriusXM, Terry Jennings of Korban Music Group, author of Outlaws Still At Large Neil Hamilton, Joe Swank at Bloodshot Records, mayor of Lynchburg Sloane Stewart, Professor of Entertainment Law David Spangenburg, architect Thomas Bartoo, and CEO of Sol Records Brian DeBruler.
The announcement stimulated a lot of speculation about what direction the upcoming Hall of Fame would take, but not many serious answers. So Saving Country Music reached out to Gary “Sarge” Sargeant, the spearhead of the Outlaw Country Hall of Fame, to try and clear up many questions about what folks can expect from the upcoming institution.
Sarge is also putting on a charity event coming up October 25-27 for Troy Rector who suffered a debilitating medical accident. The event will be at Chopper Hill in Altamont, TN (More information). The inaugural class of inductees to the Outlaw Hall of Fame will be announced during the event.
You can listen to the entire interview below. For those who prefer a written form, the meat of the interview is transcribed below as well.
Gary Sargeant: I’m a lifelong fan, 55 years old, of Outlaw music, independent artists and labels, and just firmly believe in people who stay true to themselves and their music, and don’t compromise. It all started at a David Allan Coe benefit that I attended back in June. He was in an accident and wasn’t able to tour. I was kind of upset that David Allan Coe required a benefit. That at 73, he had to tour just to pay his bills because back in the day, things happened and he doesn’t own his catalog. And I was trying to think of a way we could support legends, and recognize people like David, or any number of people that have contributed so much to this music, and have never compromised. I wanted to make sure we had a place to recognize those folks who will never get recognized by anybody else, and then also be able to support today’s Outlaws—the Pete Berwick’s, the Gurf Morlix’s. Its time has come, and we’re going to do this.
When you announced the Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame, you included a Board of Directors. Why have a Board of Directors?
Well, again it goes back to me being just a fan. I’m a fan with an idea. But I knew if we were going to do this and be taken seriously, and if it was going to be successful, I needed to put together a group of industry professionals.
The term “Outlaw” has already been taken by Music Row and used for marketing purposes. It’s safe to say that there’s music consumers out there that think Outlaw means Justin Moore, Eric Church, and others. How do you distinguish yourself from Music Row’s version of Outlaws when Music Row’s reach is so vast?
Nashville can tell somebody to dress in black jeans, grow a five day stubble, put on these boots, act all bad boy. That doesn’t make you Outlaw. Outlaw to me is not a genre of music. Outlaw is an attitude. Outlaw is a refusal to compromise your music or your beliefs in order to make a dollar. It is traveling up and down the roads, thousands of miles a year, traveling 500 miles to play a $150 show. True Outlaws are doing it for the love of the music only. I believe there’s going to be a lot of defections from Nashville music once the Outlaw Music Association and Hall of Fame are established and up and running. The definition of Outlaw should be made by those that are truly Outlaw, not some publicist sitting in an ivory tower in Nashville thinking that this will sell records.
Some may say the term Outlaw is outmoded because Nashville is taking it and using it with very prominent artists like Justin Moore—that the term doesn’t hold the same sway or meaning it once did. Are you saying that term needs to be fought for?
I’m saying it needs to be clearly defined. Of course Nashville is going to try and take anything successful and try to co-opt it. But them jumping on the bandwagon doesn’t make them independent artists. They’re playing to a formula. But the formula doesn’t work. Listen to the stuff coming out of Nashville.
How do you feel about Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan movement, and how does it fit in your plans for the Outlaw Music Association? Will there be overlap? Could there be potential conflict? Is it splitting the independent-minded or Outlaw populous of country music into two segments?
I wouldn’t think so. My hope would be that people going in that direction, because that’s very narrowly focused right now, I hope they would go, “Hold on a second, here’s something that has come along, that is exactly what we’re trying to do, but encompasses even more people, and hopefully is a very inviting and open Association.” Because I believe if we start putting restrictions on who is going to be in it, then we’re no better than the CMA or anybody else. Great music is great music, whether it be Texas Swing, or Southern rock country, or traditional country. If you’re an artist and you believe in what you’re doing, and you’re good at what you do, we’re going to give you all the support in the world, whether it be Dale Watson, or Shooter Jennings who can go off in different tangents and experiment with different music, or Hank3 who is so excellent. There’s so many artist out there that don’t have a place to call home, and that’s what the Outlaw Music Association is gonna be. It’s gonna be a place where independent labels and artists can receive support, promotion, and have a place they can call home and feel welcomed for who they are instead of something somebody else wants them to be.
We’ve seen in the past, for example with Shooter Jennings’ “XXX” movement and Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan movement, there’s been a lot of conflict and dissension with these attempts to unify the music behind a common purpose. I think that may be what is at the root of some fear and concern of what the Outlaw Music Association and Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame will become. There’s a history of trying to find a uniting element apart from the CMA in the history of country music. Back in the 70′s there was “ACE” that was set up after Olivia Newton-John and John Denver had won CMA Awards. Traditional country artists met at the house of George Jones and Tammy Wynette and tried to form a new thing. The Academy of Country Music was set up because West Coast entertainers felt like the CMA was bias against California country artists. ACE never really took off, and the ACM just became a doppelganger of the CMA….
…and you forgot to mention the AMA, the Americana Music Association.
Sure, which I personally have said in the past is very narrow in focus, even though a lot of the artists they help promote are great artists.
I couldn’t agree with you more. To me, there is an extreme hunger and thirst out there to have an alternative to what’s being pushed down everybody’s throats by Nashville, the record labels, and the conglomerate of radio stations that are out there. Our focus is not narrow. I don’t care if it’s Dale Watson, or Hellbound Glory, or Jamey Johnson, it doesn’t matter. There’s a whole group of artists out there that deserve to be supported. We are not going to impose conditions. If you’re talented, and your music speaks for itself, and your music speaks to fans, our goal is to make sure that we support you. We’re not guaranteeing success for anybody. But we’re not going to say, “You’re not worthy.” Everybody’s worthy if they’re a musician, and they work hard, they write their own music and stay true to it, and they have some fans and are successful, we’re going to make sure they have an opportunity to be even more successful. We are a non-profit. Our proceeds go to supporting the legends, and also supporting the independent artists of today.
The narrowing of perspective seems to be a really big challenge of independent music right now, whether it is with the Americana Music Association, or just these little scenes that have popped up in independent music. How do you insulate yourself from that trend?
Technology is changing by leaps and bounds every month, let alone every year. The money to be made in today’s world is through touring…touring and merchandise. So we are going to support tours. As a non-profit—it’s kind of being dubbed the Outlaw iTunes—where independent artists can upload their music, and we will turn around and allow it to be downloaded for 99 cents a download, and we give all of it back to the artists while not taking 63 cents. We will be asking for a small donation that will go back to the legends. Technology is changing so quickly, and we have some very good people who are up to speed on today’s technology and the future of music distribution. Those are the areas we want to educate independent artists and labels on, and assist them in giving them an outlet to distribute their music, and use the Hall of Fame to support tours, and get [artists] out in front of the people. Are we going to be the savior? Hell no. But are we going to do everything that we can to help these folks who are working so hard and believe in what they’re doing? Yes, we’re going to do everything we can. Is it guaranteeing success? No. Is it guaranteeing effort? Yes.
There’s a lot of people out there touring and writing their own songs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that their music is valuable enough to be heard by the masses. What’s to keep people who may not embody the Outlaw spirit from just becoming part of this if there’s no governor to keep anybody and everybody from applying?
The fans of Outlaw music are by far the most discerning fans in the world. Otherwise, these artists wouldn’t have any success. An artist will make it if his fans want him to make it. The fans are going to decide if you make it or not, not the Association.
The assertion about Music Row is that they choose who is going to be the stars, and then they push that to the fans. What you’re saying with the Outlaw Music Association is the fans would choose the stars, and the OMA just gives them the platform and the support so that the fans can make that choice.
Eloquently put. And shouldn’t that be the way it is? Shouldn’t the fans be able to say what they like and don’t like? They shouldn’t be told what’s good and not good. With the focus being so narrow and money dictating who is going to be the next star, we’re all robbed. The fans are robbed, the artists are robbed, everybody is robbed of the next potential star. It’s not my job to decide who is good and who’s not good.
Tompall Glaser recently passed away. Right after he died, I posted a quote that came from him back in the 70′s that goes, “Damn it, the fight isn’t in Austin and it isn’t in Los Angeles. It’s right here in Nashville, right here two blocks from Music Row, and if we win–and if our winning is ever going to amount to anything in the long run–we’ve got to beat them on their own turf.” And I’ve heard some similar criticisms about Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan genre where it seems like, “Okay, were going to give up on Nashville and country music, and we’re just going to call it what we want to call it.” What would be your rebuttal to that as far as setting up something that’s apart from Nashville and Music Row?
Lynchburg, TN is not but 55 miles south of Nashville. It’s close enough to pull resources from the Nashville area, but still far enough away and separated enough to say, “Hey, this is separate. This is an alternative.” The people, the demographics that are visiting Lynchburg on a daily basis are the same people that are going to visit our Hall of Fame. It’s all about inclusion. This country is based on freedom, and I believe artists ought to have the freedom to practice their music the way they want without the almighty dollar driving their product.
In closing, I would just like to say to all the fans of Outlaw country music, thank you, and if you really want to make a difference, you have an opportunity. But you have to express your voice. You can’t just sit in your truck or in your house and say, “This sucks,” and expect it to change. If you want change, this is your opportunity. This is a grass roots movement. This is your Hall of Fame. This is your Association. If you want to support artists that made the music what it is today, and those that are continuing in that same vein, support the Hall of Fame, support the Association. Let your artists know that you support us, that you support them by supporting us. This is only going to work if the average fan stands up and says, “I’ve had enough. I want a hand in what I listen to.”
Country music in 2013 feels like the best of times, and the worst of times. While a few top male performers perpetrate untold atrocities on the integrity of the genre, the rise of independent music and infrastructure in the marketplace is now almost to the point where it equals its corporate counterpart. Quality songs and worthy artists are beginning to see more and more support, while current events and new outlets create avenues for substantive music to find its way to hungry ears. It is so easy to focus on the negative because it still seems to pervade the popular consciousness. But here are twelve reasons it is looking up for country music in 2013.
Yes, Kacey Musgraves. Even if you see her as some Music Row machination meant to offer an alter ego to the Taylor Swift’s of the world (Taylor equals Kacey’s noms with 6 herself), at least mainstream country is now offering a choice to consumers. What Musgraves’ symbolizes is that you don’t have to prove overwhelming commercial success to get noticed. Her biggest hit “Merry Go ‘Round” didn’t even make the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 Country Songs. Musgraves is a songwriter in a traditional sense, even if some of her best, and most-heady material didn’t make her big debut album. The reason she was able to rake up so many nominations is because of her songwriting credits, accounting for half of her CMA considerations. Kacey Musgraves’ 6 CMA nominations proves that regardless of how stupid country music’s leading males are trying to make the genre, in 2013, songs matter.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, it is getting dirty out there, and the more artists that speak out, the more other artists gain the courage to join the chorus. And not to shy away from the fight, Kacey Musgraves could be characterized as leading the charge, coming out multiple times to complain about where country music is headed. Alan Jackson also had some choice words recently, as did Gary Allan, Tom Petty, and most recently Zac Brown. Country music may be crossing more unfortunate lines than ever, but at least it’s genuine artists are being vocal about their dissent.
Yes, it was bad that Blake Shelton had to disrespect large segments of country music listeners when he ostensibly called them “old farts and jackasses,” but the backlash that ensued became a unifying element for disenfranchised country fans. Ray Price wrote a blistering letter to Blake Shelton, resulting in Blake having to make a public apology. Dale Watson wrote a song about the whole incident which has since become one of the most popular numbers of his show. An “Old Farts & Jackasses” group on Facebook boasts over 93,000 “likes,” and the list goes on from there. Blake Shelton awakened a beast, and gave it a rallying cry. Who would have thought in 2012 that people would be proudly calling themselves “Old Farts & Jackasses” ?!?
The days of inducting traditionally-leaning artists and bands seemed to be over with the Grand Ole Opry’s recent membership invitations to Darius Rucker, Keith Urban, and Rascal Flatts. But lo and behold, the Grand Ole Opry can still get it right, inducting an act that has paid their dues many times over, and deserve to be recognized as one of the forefathers to the re-popularization of string bands that has seen the rise of bands like Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers, and The Lumineers. The news is not only good for Old Crow Medicine Show, but other artists who may not be top tier names in country music, but deserve the distinction.
It’s so easy to read the headlines and see the top of the Billboard country charts and say that all is lost in the genre. But as long as Sturgill Simpson is out there touring, you can’t say country music is dead. Out on tour with Dwight Yoakam, playing the Grand Ole Opry, inspiring critics from coast to coast and overseas to sing his praises, Sturgill Simpson is giving hope for the future to country fans that has a value beyond his music specifically.
Yeah, I’m not too much for the silly cliffhanger drama-laden plot lines either, but Nashville has become an invaluable teacher of how the music business works, specifically on the songwriting side of things. An educated consumer makes better choices, and if they see and understand how backroom politics stultify the creativity and freedom of artists, and how a song goes from inspiration to the big stage, they just may make better choices, and think about where the music they enjoy comes from. Furthermore, Nashville has become a music outlet to a nationwide audience that may otherwise not be exposed to the music of independent artists like Caitlin Rose, Lindi Ortega, Ashley Monroe, Shovels & Rope, and so many more.
There are many good, independent country bands that are enjoying a rise in interest in 2013, but there may not be a bigger rags to riches story (so to speak) than Hellbound Glory landing an opening spot on a Kid Rock arena tour. Going from playing half-empty bar rooms to sold-out arenas, Hellbound Glory is seeing the recognition their quality country music has been deserving for years. And the opportunity has been paralleled by bigger crowds and better support even after the arena tour ended.
Caitlin Rose, Valerie June, Lindi Ortega, Austin Lucas, Amanda Isbell, Cory Branan, Jonny “Corndawg” Fritz, and so many more that call east Nashville home (or at least to some extent) have seen career watermarks and burgeoning interest in 2013. Forget Music Row or the circus downtown, Nashville, not Austin, is the new vibrant epicenter for independent music, and the artists there pushing and supporting each other is fostering a creative environment that regardless for how long it lasts, will be looked back upon fondly in the future as a time and place that got it right, and set the bar for artistry and substance. Add on top of that already-established and influential artists like Jack White and Dan Auerbach, and Nashville is the place to be in 2013.
“Cowboy” Jack Clement and Bobby Bare Inducted Into the Country Music Hall of Fame
Yes, two very important players in the rise of country music’s “Outlaw” movement finally got their due this year, and it was especially timely for “Cowboy” Jack Clement who would pass away only a few months after the announcement. Though there is still a long list of worthy inductees that many fans worry will never get in, these two men prove that the Outlaws will not be forgotten, and move other important country music icons one step further to being inducted themselves.
If you feel like the Outlaws of country music have not been dealt a fair deal and they need need a new institution to give them the support and recognition they deserve, your wishes were granted in 2013 when it was announced there will be a new Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame in Lynchburg, Tennessee coming soon. Nashville may have swept their legacy off the streets like common refuse, but at least somewhere the Outlaws will ride eternally.
If you desire more validation that 2013 is the “Year of the Song,” then behold the overwhelming breakout success of Jason Isbell in 2013. Bolstered by his manager Traci Thomas, a bulldog of the Thirty Tigers group, Jason Isbell is becoming the defining songwriter of our generation. If you ever wished you could go back and re-live the heyday of Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt in their prime, watching Jason Isbell and his 2013 tear is the next best thing.
With radio becoming less and less accessible through every measure of consolidation by Clear Channel and Cumulus, new outlets must open up to support independent music. And they are in 2013, and sometimes in the most uncanny places. David Letterman not only has been giving his stage over to artists like Dale Watson, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Pokey LaFarge, Shovels & Rope, and so many more, he’s been seeking out this talent to play his show as a fan of the music. Where big network TV debuts for independent artists seemed to be a thing of the past, now they seem to be a weekly occurrence.
In 2013, there is only one music artist who can say they’re officially banned for life from country music’s most storied institution: the Grand Ole Opry. No, it’s not David Allan Coe, Hank Williams III, or some other hothead, firebrand artist quick to call out the Opry and other mainstream country music institutions at any perceived slight. No, the offending party is none other than alt-country luminary Neko Case.
This may not be completely surprising seeing how Neko got her start in music as the drummer for a punk band, and has regularly collaborated with artists and bands outside of the country fold like The New Pornographers. But like many of the artists making up the alt-country movement in the mid 90′s, it can be argued that Neko had more respect for the roots of country music, and for country music institutions like the Grand Ole Opry, than many of country music’s artists did at the time, and certainly do today.
In October of 1998 when Neko’s first album The Virginian was blowing up in the alt-country realm, the Las Vegas Sun interviewed the young songstress, where she professed her philosophy behind country music, and her love for the Grand Ole Opry, in an article appropriately titled “Neko Case’s Quest for the Grand Ole Opry.”
I don’t play “alternative country” music; I just play country music. I want to have the same outlets, the same goals that all my heroes in country/western music have had. I want to play the Grand Old Opry in my grandmother’s lifetime, you know what I mean? I want to be played on mainstream radio. I’m not willing to change my music to get there faster, but I’ll fight for it anyway. I don’t think anyone gives a shit about country radio. It’s bullshit. It just makes me mad that (country radio) is using the term “country music,” when it doesn’t belong to them.
I think now is the time for change in country music; hopefully it’ll change for the better. It really burns that all the bands that inspired me were part of a national country music culture that was really admirable and fairly diverse at one time. I want to have the same avenues open to me. It’s like having this beautiful old building in your neighborhood and coming back to find that they’ve torn it down and built a Wal-Mart in its place.
Neko Case would get close to having her Grand Ole Opry wish granted when she was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry Plaza Party just outside the Grand Ole Opry House in the summer of 2001. Playing the Plaza Party was seen as a precursor to being able to play the Opry proper, and is the place where many Opry mainstays like Old Crow Medicine Show and Dale Watson got their Opry starts. With the respect Neko Case had for the Opry, she was excited for the opportunity.
“People who have gone to the Opry or are on their way to the Opry come by and check you out while they’re coming and going,” Neko explained to the Denver Westword that summer. “You get to go backstage at the Opry, which is the really cool part.”
Everything seemed to be going well for Neko and her Opry dream until one afternoon performance in July at the Plaza Party that was especially sweltering. The stage the Opry had set up for their Plaza performers was black, and right beside it was a barbecue pit that was pouring heat out onto the performers. With dreams of making it onto the Opry’s main stage, Neko Case persevered through the heat during her show, but it began to get unbearable and she started to wilt.
Neko Case started making requests for water from surrounding staff, but they went unfulfilled and she began to get dizzy. As Case began suffering from the effects odf heat stroke, she asked the staff if she could take a short break, and was told no. The situation became desperate for Neko, who was on the verge of passing out or suffering from some serious, long-term damage if she couldn’t resolve her rising body temperature. So in a panic, Neko removed her shirt to help cool off. As you can imagine, the family-friendly Opry did not look favorably upon this.
Exacerbating the shirt removal was the weight of Neko Case’s past in music and her statements about country, seeming to imply to the Opry and others that this wasn’t just an instance of heat exhaustion, but that Neko was making some symbolic statement by bearing her womanhood in public (though she still had a bra on beneath). As the stories swirled about Neko’s shirtless set, it was taken by some as an obscene gesture to cause a sensational outcry, or to stand against the direction of country music, or some other counterculture statement.
But that wasn’t the case. I wasn’t trying to be sexy or rebellious — I was just getting heatstroke up there,” Neko later explained to Rolling Stone. “I didn’t do anything obscene. I wouldn’t want to see me with my shirt off, either.” But the explanation didn’t do much good, and the incident resulted in a lifetime ban from the Grand Ole Opry—the institution Neko cherished so.
Neko has since come to peace with her fate. “I was pretty depressed for a couple of months after that happened, but I got over it,” Neko told The Guardian. Neko later memorialized the incident by naming her 2002 album Blacklisted.
She still hopes to return to the Opry some day and fulfill her dream. “They’ll forgive me one day,” she told Fairfax Digital. “I still love them.”
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Neko Case just released a new album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You.
A big battle ground in country music right now is the presence of so many songs about trucks. Everywhere you turn, there is a song being released by a big country music personality that drones on and on about tailgates, Chevy’s, lift kits, mud flaps, etc. etc. Though this recent popularity trend seems especially sinister in its simplistic, incessant nature, it is not necessarily unprecedented in country. From the early 60′s into the mid 70′s, songs about semi-trucks and truck drivers were all the rage, with big names like Merle Haggard, Del Reeves, and Buck Owens getting in on the action, and professional country songwriters writing songs to specifically to capitalize off the trend similar to what is happening in country music today.
The difference of course was many of these classic trucker songs were considered very well-written, with many of them delving into deep issues like death, loneliness, loss of family, etc. Country music’s new crop of truck songs and their respective songwriters and performers could learn a thing or two about storytelling and soul from these traditional country truck driving songwriters and performers.
Maybe the best known of the country trucking crooners, with the most-recognized, most-covered trucking song in “Six Days On The Road,” Dave Dudley is an overlord of the country music truck driving music subset. Holding an honorary solid gold membership card to the Teamsters Union, he broke out with “Six Days On The Road” in 1963 and never looked back. Other great country trucker classics like “Truck Drivin’ Son-Of-A-Gun,” “Trucker’s Prayer,” and “Keep On Truckin’” are also attributed to Dudley, but like many of the old truck singers, he had his standard country hits too. Dave Dudley was actually the first to cut Kris Kristofferson’s song “Viet Nam Blues” that first put Kristofferson on the songwriting map, and Dudley’s only #1 song was the Tom T. Hall-written number “The Pool Shark.” Dudley had hits for over a decade, with his last big single “Me and Ole C.B” peaking at #12 on the charts in 1975.
Red Sovine was known for his trucking songs, but his particular twist was how he would talk in prose instead of singing his songs in rhyming verses. Sovine’s speaking style would have significant influence on the rest of country outside the trucking sub genre, while his trucking songs set the bar for emotional impact and storytelling. Sovine’s #1 “Teddy Bear” is right up there with Dave Dudley’s “Six Days On The Road” as one of the most well-recognized country trucking songs, and Sovine also charted another #1 with “Giddyup Go.” His song “Phantom 309″ wasn’t a huge hit, but it found a new audience when Tom Waits included a live version of it on his album Nighthawks At The Diner. Sovine also had a non-trucking #1 hit in a duet with Webb Pierce in 1955 with the song “Why Baby Why.”
With a patch over his right eye, Dick Curless was considered a throwback even in his own time. He was one of the pioneers of country trucking music, with his first big hit “A Tombstone Every Mile” making an appearance as a top five country hit in 1965. Songs like “Traveling Man,” “Highway Man,” and “Big Wheel Cannonball” established Dick’s persona as a man constantly on the move, and won him a spot on the nationwide Buck Owens All American tour. Like many of country’s trucker song stars, Curless spent a lot of time in California and was signed to Capitol Records, though he was known to frequently go back to his home in Maine to recover from a grueling schedule of touring and performances.
While Red Simpson may have not had the huge hits of his trucker song counterparts, he was also the one most dedicated to the specialized version of country. With only a few exceptions, virtually all of Red Simpson’s songs are about trucking or the highway patrol. He was the trucker songwriter other trucker songwriters listened to, and wrote many trucker hits for other artists. Based out of Bakersfield, he co-wrote songs with Buck Owens, and became a hot commodity when trucker songs became popular. The trucking song “Sam’s Place” that went on to become a #1 for Buck Owens was written by Red, and in 1975, Red landed his own big hit with “I’m A Truck.” At 79, Red is the last of the original country trucker song stars still around. In 1995, he recorded two duets with Junior Brown, “Semi Crazy” and “Nitro Express.” He is still recording, recently doing a duet with underground country artist Bob Wayne, and rumored to have an album called The Bard of Bakersfield in the works.
C.W. McCall got a late start in the trucking genre, joining the second wave of the movement in the mid-70′s. But his contribution was significant, especially with his #1 hit, the trucking song standard and generally epic “Convoy.” The song inspired a movie of the same name that starred Kris Kristofferson in 1978, and McCall was regarded in some circles as the “Outlaw” of the country trucker song performers. “Convoy” became so big, some consider McCall a one hit wonder, but he had numerous successful songs, inside and outside the trucking realm. His first charting single was “Old Home Filler-Up an’ Keep On-a-Truckin’ Cafe,” and he also had a #2 single with “Roses For Mama.” C.W. McCall’s popular career was pretty short, ranging from roughly 1974-1978, but his impact, especially with “Convoy” cannot be understated.
Though Del Reeves is known for contributing much more to the country music genre than just trucking songs, his two significant cuts, the #1 hit “Girl On The Billboard” from 1965, and the top 5 hit “Looking at the World Through a Windshield” from 1968 make Del Reeves and honorary trucking song god if there ever was one, and an important performer in the development of the sub genre. Reeves also put out an album called Trucker’s Paradise in 1973.
…and to an extent their sister band Asleep At The Wheel deserve honorary mention for being inspired and a part of the 70′s-era trucker song revolution, though it is widely considered they were somewhat on the outside looking in. Nonethess, Commander Cody’s second album that consisted mostly of covers called Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Truckers Favorites from 1972 might be one of the most prized albums of the sub genre.
Not really known exclusively as singer of truck driver songs, but his albums The Truckin’ Sessions (1998) and The Truckin’ Session, Vol. 2 certainly deserve mention, with the first one considered by many to be the album that launched Dale’s career. Dale has also been known to drive trucks and his own bus upon occasion.
Another artist not primarily known for trucker songs, but Junior Brown has them scattered throughout his discography, including the title track off of his 1996 album, Semi Crazy. Junior’s signature song “Highway Patrol” rekindles the symbiotic relationship between trucker songs and highway patrol songs first started by Red Simpson, who he recorded two duets with in 1995.
Aaron Tippin may be best known for his more patriotic songs, but he’s peppered trucker songs here and there throughout his career. In 2009, Tippin released an album called In Overdrive that included many truck driving cover songs and closed out with two originals. His truck driving cred is helped by the fact that he was a real-life truck driver before launching his career in country music.
A lesser-known underground country artist, but one who includes trucker songs (usually of a pretty seedy nature) on every one of his albums, including his 2nd album 13 Truckin’ Songs. Bob Wayne recently performed and recorded a duet with Red Simpson after re-discovering him in a Bakersfield trailer park.
Merle Haggard & Buck Owens as part of the Bakersfield Sound both had quite a few big trucker anthems. One of Jerry Reed’s signature songs is “East Bound & Down” from the Smokey & The Bandit movies where he played a trucker. Tom T. Hall wrote and recorded a few trucking songs. And there’s many other artists who’ve recorded more than one trucker song. Who are some of your favorites?
On Monday night the Twitterverse blew up around the occasion of songwriter Jason Isbell recording an upcoming episode of Austin City Limits. The taping was streamed live online, and drew a remarkable amount of attention and praise from the online participants who took the time to tune in. Usually music confined to the online format is at such a distinct disadvantage, it is barely worth your time, and though Austin City Limits’ production value is world-class, this wasn’t what made the event special. Jason Isbell is quite the capable singer, and since he started out as a guitarist for the Drive By Truckers, it’s hard to denounce his musicianship either. His band The 400 Unit was sensational as well, and so was his wife Amanda Shires who sang and played fiddle for the set. But none of this is why the event became a singular experience for those who tuned in.
It was Jason Isbell’s songs and his songwriting that made so many online watchers walk away with one of those feelings you get after watching a stellar movie—where your mind gets so immersed in the experience it is hard to return to the real world. Jason’s songs are also why the event was able to cross traditional barriers of genre and taste. Jason Isbell is on a meteoric rise right now, and even though he finished off the night’s performance with a mostly instrumental cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” Isbell’s ability to evoke story is at the center of his success.
Another artist who is seeing success in 2013 is Sturgill Simpson. I once dubbed Sturgill the “Stevie Ray Vaughn of Country Music” because of his incredible guitar playing. But one of the keys to Sturgill’s rise has been his decision to set the Telecaster down and retool his music to be more about his songs.
Everywhere in the independent music world you’re seeing songwriters who have struggled for years finally starting to get signed to record labels and releasing career-caliber albums: Valerie June, Caitlin Rose, Austin Lucas, Amanda Shires, and the list goes on from there, and they are all in the middle of this emerging and relevant rise of independently-minded Nashville songwriters that more established songwriters like Jason Isbell and Justin Townes Earle are the leaders of. Whereas other sectors of the music industry seem to be gripped by the fear that digitization and streaming may ultimately doom the business of music, talented songwriters are benefiting from the search for the next writer to break out with bold and fresh material, and a renewed belief by the independent industry that songwriting is important, even if it is marginally profitable. Nobody wants to pass up the next Jason Isbell.
The biggest divide between active and passive music listeners might be the conscious awareness of songwriting. Passive listeners just subconsciously connect with a song either physically or emotionally without giving it much thought, while active listeners attempt to determine why. Popular music consistently offering less and less choice and substance is not hindering this trend, it is enhancing it as many listeners are fleeing the mainstream ranks for more thoughtful music, and in turn are becoming aware of what truly makes a song worth hearing. Even ABC’s new prime-time drama Nashville broaches the subject of how songs are written on a regular basis—many times delving into great detail on the process—making consumers more enlightened and engaged about how a song is constructed and why songwriting is important.
The Nashville show has also become a new outlet for original songs as the industry attempts to address the dramatic glut of songwriter material worthy of a wider audience. Many Nashville songwriters in this new, up-and-coming crop were featured on the series’ inaugural season, including Caitlin Rose, Lindi Ortega, and Shovels & Rope. Sales of music may be declining sharply, but royalty rates, especially for songwriters whose material appears on television and movies, remain substantial. And this songwriter resurgence is not just confined to the independent music world. Even in the mainstream, songwriters with more substantive material like Kacey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe made their big debuts in 2013. David Letterman has been featuring more songwriters on his show, including ones who’ve never had a network TV break like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Dale Watson, and Pokey LaFarge.
For every era in music, there is a defining element that sets the standard of what is tasteful and relevant. It could be the presence of a powerful guitar riff, a certain style or tone to the music, a specific thematic thread like feelings of melancholy or happiness, or even a stylistic visual element that has little to do with the music itself. In 2013, in the independent music world and beyond, that defining element appears to be the well-written song.
Of all the people you could have picked to become an outspoken dissenter to the direction of country music, Rodney Crowell would have been pretty far down the list. Not that he doesn’t have the skins on the wall to say such things and have them carry weight, or that he doesn’t practice what he preaches when it comes to his own approach to music. Rodney is in the direct lineage of legacy-caliber songwriters like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, and came up playing in Emmylou Harris’s “Hot Band.” He and Emmylou recently released a duet’s album together, but he always seemed to be more of a reserved soul when it came to such things as saying country music is headed in the wrong direction.
Well he’s not being very reserved at the moment, taking his second opportunity in the last month to decry the direction of country in a recent interview:
I watch these young country artists come in and burst onto the scene, and I always have to remind myself that these artists didn’t experience Hank Williams Sr. or Big Joe Turner or Kris Kristofferson, who was able to bring the bedroom and sensual poetry into country music. These artists came from a different set of archetypal images. If I took the old school curmudgeon approach, I would say these guys are really missing the boat.
A couple of weeks ago, Crowell made similar disparaging remarks about the direction of country, carefully worded, coy, and cunning in the way the words cut right to the heart of the problem, saying in part:
Ever since country music entered the back door of main stream commerciality—most noticeably in the early sixties—the debate over who possesses the more noble heart, the purists or the popular entertainers has never stopped. (Remember the credibility scare of the late 80′s.) Generally speaking, the purists make the more timeless music.
Pop culture is a disposable culture, therefore it stands to reason that those who want the big bucks and the power are inclined to produce slick and disposable music. I don’t see anything wrong with artists getting rich by pigging out at the trough of poor taste.
Rodney Crowell may be no Dale Watson when it comes to the temper he brings to his country music dissent, but the more voices speaking out and reaching different audiences, the better. By saying many of today’s pop country artists are “missing the boat,” Crowell is showing the leadership country music needs to help right the ship.
Welcome to Saving Country Music’s 2013 Pickathon LIVE blog! We will out at Pickathon just outside of Portland, OR all weekend, leaving our thoughts, posting pics, and other bits of information from the fest all weekend.
Check The LIVE Blog below for comments, reviews, and pictures!
The 2013 Pickathon lineup includes names many folks are used to seeing around Saving Country Music, names like Dale Watson, Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Sturgill Simpson, Devil Makes Three, Caleb Klauder, JD McPherson, and many more. But the best part about the Pickathon experience is discovery of new bands. Somehow Pickathon always seem to put together the best combination of artists you already know and love, artist you’ve heard of before and want to check out, and artist you have no idea about but once you give a chance, make you a fan.
It’s also a great mixture between country, bluegrass, folk, rock, indie, jazz, Cajun, and everything else. The other unique thing about the Pickathon experience is there are multiple stages that each has its own specific character, and every artist that performs at Pickathon performs at least twice, and some three times. This makes it hard to miss someone you want to see, while the artists you really want to experience, you get a chance to see them in multiple settings. The Mountain View and Fir Meadows Stages are what you would maybe consider your typical big festival stages, except at Pickathon, you feel like you’re walking around in one big piece of art. The Woods Stage as it sounds, is out in the woods. The Galaxy Barn is like the intimate venue space where all the energy is captured between artist and crowd. And the Workshop Barn is where artists and patrons can interact and you can ask artists questions.
***Please note, all times are Pacific Time. We won’t be offering a play by play of the entire fest, but will do our best to offer frequent updates.
Monday 12:35 PM: Thanks to Terry, Zale, the entire Pickathon crew, all of the hundreds of volunteers, all the amazing bands and artists that once again made the Pickathon the most enjoyable festival experience out there. Aside from getting pretty hot on Sunday, this year’s Pickathon had the best weather of any Pickathon I’ve been to over the years.
They continue to find creative ways to deal with people problems. Their use of projection screens for The Galaxy Barn and supplying monitors for artists and workers backstage kept you engaged with the music even when you couldn’t be right in front of the stage. One of the big concerns last year was dust, which you’re going to have at any festival. This year seemed to be an improvement, and this was probably helped by the weather leading up to and during the fest. Still more could maybe be done, but it was certainly better than last year. Their new performance space, the Pickathon Cafe was probably too much of a success to the point where it needs to be bigger. Instead of being a relaxed environment where people could sit, drink coffee and listen to music, it became like a bullpen as folks scrunched in to watch the music.
But aside from these very minor concerns, they continue to astound you in the forward-thinking and intelligent design of their fest, both in the grounds, and in the lineup and scheduling.
Two guns up!
10:15 PM: Welp folks, we have officially left Pickathon for 2013. Later tonight or tomorrow, we will post some final thoughts. Thanks everyone for following along!
8:52 PM: Bradford Lee Folk & the Bluegrass Playboys in the Galaxy Barn putting the “pick” in Pickathon.
8:49 PM: Tift Merritt wins the award for “Best Guitar At Pickathon” 2013. It is Gibson, probably B25. They started out cherry red, but fade to the color seen over time. The color might be my favorite part about it besides the holes.
6:06 PM: The Felice Brothers tearing up on the main stage right now! Lake Street Dive and Caleb Klauder coming up in the Galaxy Barn.
6:00 PM: We’ve been running around like crazy, taking in as much music as we can before we have to leave town. Below is Leo Rondeau who played an inspired set earlier today in the Galaxy Barn. He had the folks dancing!
4:07 PM: Bradford Lee Folk & the Bluegrass Playboys in the Galaxy Barn were real good. They have a a T-shirt that says, “Sex, Drugs, & Flatt and Scruggs.”
3:07 PM: This front man for The Builders and the Butchers reminds me of Austin Lucas. Not just because he looks like him, but because he sings straight from the gut.
2:55 PM: Foxygen canceled, so we’re getting a set by the Builders & The Butchers from Portland!
1:34 PM: Hanging out with Dale Watson’s band watching Leo Rondeau in the Galaxy Barn. That makes 5 Austin bands seen in 24 hours at Pickathon. Gift Merritt coming up on the live stream.
12:12 PM: Stuff to look forward to today: Leo Rondeau in the Galaxy Barn, Tift Merritt and The Felice Brothers out on the main stages, and if we hold out that long, Lake Street Dive and Caleb Klauder back in the Galaxy Barn! Shinyribs playing right now!
11:00 AM: After 10 PM at night, Pickathon shuts down its main stages and opens the Starlight Stage in the main field by the food court. Sometimes this is an intimate performance, but last night Kurt Vile & The Violators destroyed it on the Starlight stage. Cool band.
10:53 AM: Some more followup from last night.
I want to hate Shinyribs. I really do. I saw them at the Lone Star Music Awards a few months back, and didn’t get it. Watching an old man with a rotund gut swinging around trying to be sexy and playing funky rock & roll just isn’t my thing, and his band looks like it is cobbled together from castaways from the Red Dirt scene (they’re good, but seem out-of-place). It’s just a silly concept that on so many levels doesn’t work. Hell they cover TLC’s “Waterfalls.”
But they have a big following that’s getting bigger, and I’ll be damned last night if they didn’t pull me in. Kev Russell just knows how to put on a show and make you enjoy the music for enjoyment’s sake. They had the Galazy Barn rocking. Great show. (Sorry for the cell phone pic.)
10:34 AM: Camera found! Below is Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole from last night in the Galaxy Barn. Pickathon makes sure to represent all the different parts of the roots world, and you can’t do that without some Cajun music. Cedirc plays accordion and Cajun fiddle (cradling it in his arm, not under his chin), and sings in both English and Creole French. The girl playing washboard also sang a little bit. Good band!
One cool feature they added this year was projection screens outside the Galaxy Barn. At night, the Galaxy Barn would get so packed, not everyone could see. Also this is where they normally have a fire pit, so folks can relax outside around the fire, and watch the music going on right inside.
1:30 AM: Funny picture of Wayne Hancock from Hearth Music: http://instagram.com/p/ckTGrKQtD6/
12:35 AM: The Austin music scene is dead? With Shinyribs, that makes four top-notch acts from Austin that played Pickathon today.
Also, the Saving Country Music official camera is officially lost at the moment. Fault of a faulty zipper on the official Saving Country Music backpack. Maybe it will find its way back, but that piece of gear should have probably been put out to pasture a while ago. The worst part was losing the Cedric Watson photos and a few others. Got some other pics save on the phone, so we’re not dead in the water. We may procure a new camera for tomorrow.
11:00 PM: JD McPherson delivered once again. As much as the punk inside of me wants them to let loose even more, what is cool about JD is he goes right up to the line of punk, but never crosses it. Straightforward, no frills rock & roll, all analog, old school, and awesome.
10:20 PM: Great Cajun music going down in the Galaxy Barn with Cedric Watson. Shinyribs from Austin is watching, ready to go on next. Devil Makes Three just finishing up on the Woods Stage. More pictures coming up!
9:35 PM: JD McPherson and band positively murdered it! Wow.
8:35 PM: Really enjoyed d Andrew Bird’s stuff with Tift and the band. His solo stuff come across as a little too self-indulgent for my tastes.
6:50 PM: Shakey Graves from Austin, TX is a really cool music specimen. Like fellow Austin musician Lincoln Durham, sonically he probably belongs in the underground roots scene. He’s a one man band who plays a suitcase for a bass drum, and bules-style fingerpicking guitar. But he’s grown up outside of those Deep Blues, or underground roots scenes, and if his crowds at a music festival outside of Portland are any indication, his name is getting out there quite well. Pickathon booked him in the their two smallest venues–the Workshop Barn, and the Pickathon Cafe, which is supposed to be a small little spot to relax, drink coffee, and listen to music. Both places were as packed as they could be. I don’t think Pickathon appreciated the draw of Shakey.
6:45 PM: Some follow up from the Dale Watson set: He also said, “We love coming to Pickathon. Every year they seem to improve something.” He also played a new song “Jonesing for Jones” (or at least that’s the lyrical hook). It is a tribute to George Jones.
4:37 PM: We got Shakey Graves coming up! And don’t forget Andrew Bird & JD McPherson are going to be coming up on the broadcast starting at 7:20 PM Pacific!
4:30 PM : Dale Watson just put on what might be one of the best sets so far at this year’s Pickathon. I normally don’t think of Dale Watson as a festival guy. His haunt is more the honky tonks. But being used to playing for three straight hours at The Broken Spoke, or some other honky tonk in Texas, Dale can condense his set down to a potent hour of non-stop fun and country music. And the best part might be that he took time to do his silly Lone Star Beer bit, and a couple of other things to keep the crowd laughing. He went in depth about the whole “Old Farts & Jackasses” story, and explained Ameripolitan for folks. Excellent, excellent set in the Galaxy Barn, which if Pickathon had a honky tonk setting, that would be it.
2:44 PM: Pickathon has a new performance space this year called the Pickathon Cafe. It is between the main field and the Woods Stage, right before you enter the woods around a gaggle of food vendors. Amidst the brambles are The Cactus Blossoms, a great neotraditionalist-style country band. They came recommended by “Lunchbox” down in the comments. Excellent stuff!
2:40 PM: For those of you that missed Wayne Hancock on the live stream, here’s a couple of shots of him on the main stage. The second one is for the bass player’s sweetheart Gigi whose been watching the live blog. That’s Jimmy Karow on bass.
2:36 PM: Tift Merritt was excellent. Another example of women leading country music in the right direction. Amazing band too, great listeners. Perfect, tasteful arrangements to her songs. Also loved her old Gibson guitar.
2:25 PM: Look what just arrived a while ago on the Pickathon grounds! Bunch more pictures and info from around the fest coming up!
12:00 PM: Remember all those pictures we saw from a recent Kenny Chesney concert and all the trash? Well Pickathon generates no trash. None. At all. Maybe a granola bar wrapper here and there, and that’s it. They have all reusable dishes. It’s also a great place to bring your kids, with dedicated kids activities all day.
11:00 AM: Things just getting stirring in earnest around the Pickathon site. Today we’ll be checking out Tift Merritt, Shakey Graves, Dale Watson, JD McPherson, and most importantly, some artists we’ve never heard of before. If you’re watching the live stream: You can find a link to the broadcast schedule above, but most notably don’t miss Wayne Hancock at 1:30 PM Pacific, then Andrew Bird at 7:20 PM, and JD McPherson at 8:40! And don’t forget, part of the Pickathon experience is discovery, so try and watch some folks you don’t know as well!
9:15 AM: No sleep ’till Sunday! We’re shaking the cobwebs out and getting ready to take in Day 2 of Pickathon.
First, some more pictures from last night. Andrew Bird on the Wood’s Stage was phenomenal. Maybe a little fey for some, but he’s a fiddling bluegrass maestro who has one of the best use of dynamics you will find. You also won’t find a better whistler in bluegrass. Joining him on stage for the set was Tift Merritt, who will be playing her own set of music today.
Since we arrived late to the show, we could only get far away and very close up, but hopefully it captured the vibe of a bluegrass show in the deep Pacific Northwest woods at night.
Andrew Bird on Wood’s stage. Tift Merritt with her back to the camera.
1:50 AM: JD McPherson tearing it up at the Galaxy Barn! Hope some of you are watching out there.
12:05 AM: Big picture dump!
Wayne “The Train” Hancock in the Galaxy Barn. Two lead guitar players, and a trumpet. One of the best bands I’ve seen him use outside of Austin. The younger guitar player is Zach Sweeny. Wayne shares him with Lucky Tubb. Zach continues to be one of the best, most unheralded guitar players out there.
The Pickathon canopy over the main stage when it is lit at night.
Devil Makes Three delivered a perfect set. They really deserved this headliner position. Over the last few years they’ve really polished up their live show presentation, and have become one of the most enjoyable bands to see. Simple and honest string music, with just enough of a punk attitude and kick.
Members of the Foghorn String Band and Caleb Klauder Country Band administrated a country square dance in the main field after Devil Makes Three left the stage.
11:00 PM: Been a crazy last hour and a half! Will be dumping down a ton of pictures here in a while. Devil Makes Three for those who missed it live, Andrew Bird, and much more. For those late night revelers, JD McPherson will be coming up on the live stream at 1 AM.
9:30 PM: I’ve seen Devil Makes Three go though some phases. They are on it more now than ever. They also gave a cool shout out to Sturgill Simpson from the main stage.
9:05 PM: Wayne Hancock just let out, heading over to see Devil Makes Three! Will post some more pics soon!
7:30 PM: Caleb Klauder just finishing up in the Workshop Barn, and we’re headed over to the Galaxy Barn to save our spot in front of the stage for Wayne Hancock!
7:22 PM: Pictures! Sturgill Simpson chopped his hair. So did the rest of the band. Pics from Pickathon’s Woods Stage.
Lake Street Dive really killed it on the Woods Stage.
6:20 PM: I didn’t think it was humanly possible for Lake Street Dive to be better than they were last year, but they are. They said they’ve had the best year ever last year, and it started with last year’s performance at Pickathon.
6:00 PM: Wayne Hancock coming up at 8PM, and for those watching online, at 8:50 you will be able to see Devil Makes Three.
5:45 PM: Shakey Graves was so packed, couldn’t get in. We’ll have to catch him at his next set tomorrow. Back at the Woods Stage to see the great Lake Street Dive. They were one of the biggest takeaways from Pickathon 2012.
5:00 PM: Watching Sturgill Simpson tear it up on the Woods Stage. No lead guitarist, it’s just a three piece.
3:20 PM: To wet your whistle a little bit, here is a video I took of Sturgill Simpson in Sunday Valley from Pickathon 2011 in the Galaxy Barn: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAtbG4l6AiE
3:15 PM : Here’s a cool video of how the main Pickathon grounds look from the air: http://youtu.be/BL7yrB7PVjM
During Johnny Cash’s legendary concert at San Quentin Prison in 1969, photographer Jim Marshall said to Johnny backstage, “John, let’s do a shot for the warden.” The result was the photograph above that mostly remained under wraps until 1998. That is when producer Rick Rubin decided to use the iconic photo in an ad in Billboard magazine decrying country radio’s lack of love for Johnny’s second album on Rubin’s American label called Unchained. Despite no industry support, Unchained went on to win the 1998 Grammy for “Best Country Album.”
Since then the image of the angry face and the raised middle finger has become an iconic symbol of defiance against the direction of country music. As indecent as a raised middle finger happens to be in the first place (and the propensity for some seedy country fans and artists to over-saturate its use in every single photo of them), it has come to mean much more than its vulgar connotation in the fight to save country music.
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Willie Nelson’s middle finger photo was shot by a photographer named Sean Moorman on Willie Nelson’s tour bus on July 26, 2002. The title of image is “Willie Nelson Sending Jim Marshall Regards.” Both the Jim Marshall photo of Johnny Cash and the Sean Moorman photo of Willie stimulated litigation when Urban Outfitters printed up Johnny Cash middle finger T-shirts without permission, and Spencer Gifts did the same with Willie.
Dale Watson doing his best Johnny Cash impression:
Hank Williams III and David Allan Coe in younger days:
Jonny (Corndawg) Fritz telling a fan they’re #1 (Kayley Luftig – Photographer):
Bob Wayne, adding the stink eye for extra emphasis:
Jeff Austin of the Yonder Mountain String Band doing the double bird (Chad Smith Photography):
Keith Richards’ middle finger is insured for $1.6 million. Yes, that one he’s point at you. And no, I’m not kidding.
The wet cigarette of country music, Kid Rock. And Saving Country Music friend “Pointer” from a downtown Nashville excursion in 2011 getting his picture with Kid Rock on the front of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.
Townes Van Zandt, from the back cover of his 1972 album The Late Great Townes Van Zandt.
Kellie Pickler telling Kanye West “Fuck You!” for not liking country music (see video).
Lenny Kravitz giving the crowd at the 2013 CMA Fan Fest the double bird because they “couldn’t get with love” during his elongated set that left the crowd underwhelmed.
A sign hanging up in the Johnny Cash themed bar and music venue in Austin, TX called the Mean Eyed Cat.
The ad Rick Rubin placed in Billboard Magazine after Johnny Cash won the 1998 Grammy for Best Country Album:
If you needed any more proof that The Svengali of Country Music, one Shooter Jennings is all about creating a cult of personality and pursuing his name as product, just sit back and appreciate that in this recessionary economy when many artists are slashing ticket prices and making themselves more accessible, Shooter is now asking his hard working fans for $85 simply for the opportunity to shake his hand right before his show and walk away with a tote bag. Yes, quite a hefty price tag for someone who has recently been touting himself as a proponent for independent, grassroots music.
Announced a few days ago, “VIP meet & greet packages” are being offered at many of Shooter’s upcoming appearances, including at the Muddy Roots Festival this late August. What do you get for your $85? A T-shirt, a tote bag, 5 guitar picks (that grand total will cost Shooter less than $12-$15 wholesale), and this is my favorite one, an “Invitation to pre-show private shopping experience.” That’s right folks, for your hard earned $85, you get the exclusive opportunity to spend even more money on Shooter’s merch. What you don’t get for $85? Actual admittance to the show. That will cost you extra. So will the tacked on fees for buying the VIP ticket. After a transaction and convenience fee, the actual cost for a Shooter photo op is $90.64.
For an artist of Shooter’s size, and even ones many steps above him on the music food chain, this type of arrogant cash grab from fans is absolutely unparalleled. Furthermore, Shooter Jennings specifically asking to be dealt with in this manner of privilege at the Muddy Roots Festival is a complete insult to the standing culture and spirit of that particular festival, and all grassroots festivals for that matter. One of the things that makes grassroots festivals such an enjoyable experience is that nobody is above anyone, there are no VIP perks, and fans and artists interact freely.
Even more curious, the Muddy Roots Festival is one of the few events that Shooter has decided to purposely promote this $85 package for.
In May of 2011, SCM interviewed the Galaz brothers who are the promoters of Muddy Roots. They spoke specifically about the access the festival gives fans to the artists:
Anthony: The fans and bands were together. There was no barricade, no barrier, no VIP sections backstage. And that’s what gave the people who made the pilgrimage to Cookeville from whatever state or country such an experience, because all the bands they listen to, they could just go up and talk to them and hang out with them. There’s was nobody that was “too cool.” There were no pedestals.
Jason: I like that, there were no pedestals. It wasn’t, “Hey, there’s rock stars, let’s look at them, but we can’t talk or touch them.”
In August of 2011, SCM interviewed Zale Schoenborn, the promoter of the Pickathon Festival in Portland that this year is featuring Dale Watson, Wayne Hancock, Sturgill Simpson, Caleb Klauder, and many other country acts in a diverse lineup. Zale spoke specifically on how separating artists from fans and setting up VIP perks erodes the festival experience for everyone.
We designed the (Pickathon) space to where you come in and relate to the space without a lot of barriers. And that includes the artists. We don’t wall them off, we don’t have VIP sections, but we do create some communal spaces, and when the artists come out they’re part of the audience. It’s very common sense type stuff. It’s like what you would do if you were hosting people at your house. When people are planning it from X’s and O’s, those decisions about the human element fall to the numbers side. It’s unfortunate because those little things are what people tend to take away.
At last year’s Muddy Roots fest, the 86-year-old country music icon Ralph Stanley stayed after his set and signed every piece of memorabilia brought before him, and took pictures with anyone that wanted one, with no time limit, and no money changing hands for the autographs or photos. So did many of the other bands that played the festival. At Pickathon, after each performer plays, they go to a designated merch area where fans can get memorabilia signed and take pictures with the artists.
The meet and greet marketing tool is traditionally only reserved for large corporate country music festivals and top headliner names way beyond the sphere of Shooter Jennings who is a mid-level club draw at best. Many artists selling out arenas don’t even ask for this type of cash for meet and greets, if they even give their fans the option at all. Many times the meet and greet is for certain members of a fan club or an artist’s message board who have proved their fandom over the years. Even Taylor Swift has a system that rewards the loyalty of fans instead of wealth. At each concert, Swift has a team of people that fan out across the venue looking for attendees that show the most spirit, and hand select them for a free meet and greet opportunity after the show.
Kid Rock made headlines recently announcing he was charging only $20 for tickets for his summer tour, and was also working with venues and promoters to lower prices on food, beverages, and merchandise. “It’s gotten out of hand, price of concerts, the price of entertainment, period,” Kid Rock says. “I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve always tried to keep prices what I think are fair, and I’ve always said I’m proud that I can walk around with my head held high and look someone in the eye, knowing that I haven’t taken an un-honest dollar from a working man. I make a lot of money, I can take a pay cut. All my friends are taking pay cuts, that are in unions, that are farming in Alabama, whatever it is. I can surely take a pay cut, too.”
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Expect the next thing from Shooter to be an explanation of how this was all the result of a snafu between him and his marketing arm, or that he will offer even more incentives now, drop the price, or donate the proceeds to charity, and make a big point of shaking people’s hands at shows who didn’t pay the exorbitant fee, because like all of Shooter’s gross missteps, they’re always followed by a cavalcade of excuses and explanations that his surrogates, sycophants, and toadies always believe, while his underlying approach to selling himself as product and using the names of others as stepping stones remains the same.
Like I have always said to independent and underground music entities, you don’t need Shooter Jennings, Shooter Jennings needs you. Like a politician, Shooter has been out kissing babies. Taking artists out to Chuck E Cheese and buying bloggers drinks, playing artists on his radio show and shaking hands with fans over the last few years was simply setup to an opportunity to cash out on the backs of well-meaning underground roots artists, fans, and entities. And if this latest evidence doesn’t prove this to Shooter apologists, nothing will.
I once heard the worse thing a man could do is draw a hungry crowd
Tell everyone his name, pride, and confidence, but leaving out his doubt
I’m not sure I bought those words, when I was young I knew most everything
These words have never meant as much to anyone, as they now mean to me
Since Saving Country Music is in tune with the plight of the common man, and know many of Shooter’s fans would love to get their picture with him but can’t pay the exorbitant fee, we are manufacturing a life-sized, transportable photo-op of the picture below, to be provided at Shooter Jennings’ live performances. Poor, hapless Shooter fans and their friends can simply stick their faces through the provided holes, and have the next best thing to getting their picture taken with the Country Music Svengali himself. And it’s all free! (sorry, no tote bags will be given away)
(7-11-13 9:20 PM CDT): Shooter Jennings and/or his management have decided to drop the offer of VIP packages at festivals. As I said above, “Expect the next thing from Shooter to be an explanation of how this was all the result of a snafu between him and his marketing arm,” and on cue, Shooter surrogate Jon Hensley explains, “There was a miscommunication between myself and the company that makes these VIP upgrades possible.” You can read Jon Hensley’s entire statement below.
With no malice or mincing of words, I commend Shooter Jennings and/or his management for seeing that these VIP upgrades at grassroots festivals were unfair, unfeasible, and against the spirit of independent country and roots music. Though I still believe the price Shooter is asking for his VIP upgrade is egregious and unparalleled for an artist his size, and that the whole culture of VIP treatment has no place in independent roots music, the elimination of the option for festivals helps preserve the camaraderie and the independent spirit that makes these festivals so enjoyable for fans, and gives them a unique experience in music where all patrons are treated equal.
Jon Hensley’s statement:
Just to clarify…we are not offering any VIP ticket upgrades at any festival Shooter Jennings is playing this year or any year. There was a miscommunication between myself and the company that makes these VIP upgrades possible. But, they will ONLY be available for club and theater dates. To any son of a bitch that has a problem with us offering these upgrades you should talk to any of the fans that have actually purchased one. Ask them if they felt like their money was well spent. It is totally laughable that some stupid asshole hiding behind a computer thinks he has the right to tell Shooter’s fans how they should or should not spend their own hard earned money. This is a business and at the end of the day we all have to make smart business decisions to survive. Offering an optional concert ticket upgrade to loyal fans is not wrong or unheard of and no matter what anybody thinks about it we will continue to offer the upgrades until the world comes to an end. And, if any “blogger” has a problem with them they can address it face to face. All you have to do is purchase the ticket upgrade and see us at the meet and greet.
I have no problem meeting someone face to face and explaining my grievances with Shooter’s VIP package, but to act like not doing this initially is some sort of move of cowardice is pretty high school. Where is Jon Hensley at the moment? Is he within driving distance? I don;t have a problem meeting him, but maybe the matter is more practical to deal with through the miracle of internet. Also, nobody is hiding behind a screen. Last weekend I was out in public at Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic for 12 straight hours. I’ve been at 4 of the last 5 Pickathon Festivals, the last 2 Muddy Roots Festivals, SXSW a dozen or so times, and live events on a regular basis. If someone wants to come and speak to me in person, I am very accessible, wherever I am. And I don;t say anything on this website that I wouldn’t say to anyone’s “face.”
With such a glut of great roots music material starving for bigger outlets, it was only a matter of time before new avenues began to spring up to meet the demands of both substantive artists looking for more love, and salivating fans seeking something real. Surprisingly, television has become one of those new outlets, with shows like ABC’s Nashville featuring artists that never before would be given a shot in prime time, and late night perennial David Letterman giving a leg up to artists who previously had never been afforded a national television opportunity.
And Letterman’s recent run of supporting independent country and roots artists like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Dale Watson, Shovels & Rope, and many more is not the result of some crack team of publicists and booking agents working together to peddle these artists to the right people, it is coming from David Letterman himself listening to these artists and wanting them to be featured on the show. In other words, David Letterman is a fan of roots music, of artists like Dale Watson and Ray Wylie Hubbard, and is reaching out to them, wanting to give them an opportunity, just like he did last night (6-24) to Austin, TX’s Dale Watson.
“I don’t remember exactly if Dave heard Dale on Sirius XM or on “All Things Considered,” but it was one of the two, and they called us up and said, ‘We want Dale Watson on the show, and we want him to play “I Lie When I Drink.”‘ explains Beth Friend of Red House Records–the label that released Dale Watson’s latest album El Rancho Azul. “It was such a surprise because you try for years to get the attention of people, and then all of a sudden you receive a phone call from them. It’s a really happy story for us. We love Dale.”
Ray Wylie Hubbard tells a similar story, how it was Letterman reaching out to them, not vice versa, and that Letterman requested Ray play a specific song.
“About 4 months ago my booking agent receives a phone call and this girl said she was Jennifer from Worldwide Pants, and Dave would like to know if Ray would do his show.” Hubbard explains. “She didn’t know what Worldwide Pants was so she goes, “Dave who?” And Jennifer goes, “Dave Letterman, January 9th.” And the booking agent goes, “Well let me make sure he’s not playing a happy hour gig in Waco, those things are hard to re-schedule.” So Dave said he wanted us to play the song “Mother Blues” but we only had 3 minutes and 35 seconds. So we take out a couple of verses and then we get up there and after we finish and he says, “Thank you, goodnight,” he asks if we’ll do “Screw You, We’re From Texas.” And I said, “Man, you’re from Indiana.” And he said, “Yeah, but I like the attitude.” So we did the extra song for the website which was really really cool of him.”
The opportunity to get to play to a national audience is one thing, but when Letterman is not simply announcing the band slotted to play, but one he purposely sought out from a sincere love of the music, this is the type of endorsement that can not only give an artist more exposure, but can give them a sense of validation that this craft they have been working at for years is worthy of a greater audience.
“Once people hear the music, they love it.” says Beth Friend from Red House. “They just need the opportunity.”
Over the last few months we have finally begun to see a few success stories be made of some excellent songwriters that sat under the radar for way too long—folks like Sturgill Simpson and Leroy Virgil of Hellbound Glory. If you were looking for another name of a songwriter that’s been criminally overlooked for too long, and has that uncompromising honky tonk sound like Dale Watson and Whitey Morgan, then the man you seek is North Carolina’s Eric Strickland, and his backing band The ‘B’ Sides.
Eric Strickland is Country with a capital ‘C’ and couldn’t make a bad album if he tried. He may be more locally-oriented than the other big names in honky tonk music, but gives up nothing to his more well-known comrades when it comes to cutting songs and records.
At the heart of Strickland’s appeal is his ability to take what on the surface may seem like tired, clichè country themes, and give them a fresh, new feel. Take “whiskey” for example, maybe the most worn out word in country music. His last album Honky Tonk Till I Die ends with the song “Drinkin’ Whiskey” that went on to be nominated for SCM’s 2012 Song of the Year. Strickland starts off I’m Bad For You right where the last album ended, with the excellent booze-drenched “The Whiskey Seems To Always Change My Mind,” pulling you in with its walking bass line in the chorus and cutting, true lyrics.
Strickland serenades even harder stuff later on the album with another standout, the chicken-picking “Methamphetamines.” This leads into the album’s best ballad, “Brandy On My Mind” written by ‘B’ side guitarist and harmonizer Gary Braddy. The song “I’m Bad For You” is another great honky tonk classic belted out with just as much bravado as honesty.
The album concludes in two rousing live tracks–a real treat because as Eric Strickland fans can attest, as good as his albums are, his live show may even be better. His backing band The ‘B’ Sides are more seasoned than some bands that play 280 shows per year. All you you need to do is listen to their rendition of Little Richard’s “Lucille” and you’ll hear it for yourself. It’s got some of those moments that make it feel like a feather is being raked on the back of your neck. It’s followed by an excellent live version of “18 Wheel of Hell On The Highway” from Eric’s last album.
One concern with I’m Bad For You is that after the first song, the album slows the tempo down, and stays there for quite a while. No song is bad, but this doesn’t really allow the album to suck you in. But with the overall line up of stellar songs on this album, it rivals any other released so far in 2013.
Real deal, true blood, hard driving, but daring to be sweet in moments, Eric Strickland and The ‘B’ Sides are doing their part to save country music. Now it’s time to do your part by giving them your ear and attention.
Two guns up.
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This Saturday, April 20th is the 2013 installment of Record Store Day–the annual event started in 2007 to help struggling independent record stores. As the event has grown over the years and has expanded to include an event on Black Friday before Christmas, artists and labels have stepped up to help with the cause, releasing limited-edition collectible pieces of vinyl to entice the public into visiting their local mom and pop music sellers.
2013 has some juicy releases, including some super rare Willie Nelson demo sessions, a split with Waylon Jennings and the Old 97′s, some cool live albums from Gram Parsons and Sarah Jarosz, and a re-issue of Justin Townes Earle’s first album, the Yuma EP. The below list are Record Store Day’s country and country-ish releases in alphabetical order.
Black Jack EP
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
Previously unreleased recordings by this guitar master
Midnight, Boo Boo Stick Beat, Blackjack, Blue Moon of Kentucky
Music From CMT Crossroads
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: Warner Music Nashville
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
Limited edition split single. Randy Travis covers the Avett Brothers’ “February”, The Avett Brothers covers the Randy Travis song, “Three Wooden Crosses.
The Last Waltz
Format: 12″ Vinyl
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
3 180 Gram LPs, Numbered RSD Edition. All original packaging with Embossing and two foils. All original inner sleeves plus 12-page booklet. Out of print for more than a decade.
Blitzen Trapper Deluxe Reissue
Format: 12″ Vinyl
Label: LidKerCow, LTD
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
Blitzen Trapper’s debut album from 2003 will be available for the first time on vinyl in celebration of it’s 10th Anniversary. The record was remastered by Bruce Barielle and the lacquers were cut by Jeff Powell at Ardent Studios in Memphis, TN. A very limited edition run, the record is pressed on 180g vinyl with a free digital download of the entire record with five previously unheard bonus tracks from the original sessions.
Format: 12″ Vinyl
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
Includes songs from ALGIERS as well as the Calexico catalog recorded live in Germany in June 2012 with the Radio Symphonic Orchestra Vienna and the Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg.
Format: 12″ Vinyl
Label: Sugar Hill
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
A staple of the Americana genre, this release marks the first collaboration for these Australian husband-and-wife superstars. First time on vinyl.
Complete Paramount and Brunswick Recordings
Format: 12″ Vinyl
Label: Tompkins Square
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
All sides recorded in New York, 1929. Liner notes by Poole authority Kinney Rorrer
I Lie When I Drink
Format: 45 Vinyl
Label: Red House
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
Featuring fan-favorite songs “I Lie When I Drink” and “Thanks To Tequila,” 3,500 copies of the record were pressed on high quality red vinyl. The free 45 is only available at select independent record stores on Record Store Day.
Tecumseh Valley b/w Pancho & Lefty
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: 31 Tigers
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
“Tecumseh Valley” b/w “Pancho & Lefty”
Studio versions of both artists covering Townes Van Zandt. They originally performed these songs on Late Night with David Letterman
Too Pretty To Work
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: Cooley Records
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
Record Store Day 7″ featuring 2 live tracks recorded at shows in 2012.
1 – Self Destructive Zones (3:36)
2 – Get Downtown (3:12)
Format: 10″ Vinyl
Label: Bloodshot Records
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
Previously released debut EP from Justin Townes Earle, now on vinyl for the first time. 10″ vinyl. Colored vinyl (opaque gold). Limited to 1000 copies, for RSD.
The Ghost of Virginia, You Can’t Leave, Yuma, I Don’t Care, Let the Waters Rise, A Desolate Angels Blues
Alejandro Escovedo/Chris Scruggs
78 rpm 10
Format: 10″ Vinyl
Label: Plowboy Records
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
78 rpm 10″ A/B single release of two covers of Eddy Arnold standards by Alejandro Escovedo (A side) and Chris Scruggs (B side) for upcoming “You Don’t Know Me: Rediscovering Eddy Arnold” album project due in May 2013
a side : “It’s a Sin” by Alejandro Escovedo – B side: “Just A Little Lovin’ (Will Go A Long Way” by Chris Scruggs
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: New West
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
This is a single A-side 7” pressed on heavyweight vinyl. The vinyl is black, hand-numbered 1-500, and Patty will sign Side B on 25 of the records, which will be randomly distributed. This song is from her forthcoming album, American Kid, due out 5/14/13. This will come in an all white sleeve with a stamped logo and a stickered UPC.
Live At The Troubadour
Label: Sugar Hill
Release type: ‘RSD First’ Release
Recorded in August of 2012, Live at the Troubadour finds the Grammy-nominated acoustic wunderkind in pristine form and marks Jarosz’s debut live recording.
TRACK LISTING: 1. Tell Me True 2. Kathy’s Song 3. Mansineedof 4. Shankill Butchers 5. Broussard’s Lament
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
SIDE A: Fire Bug / SIDE B: A Gentle Awakening
Format: 12″ Vinyl
Label: Yep Roc
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
4-song 12″ featuring an unreleased track, a live track and two acoustic tracks from Traveling Alone. Covered with a tactile cross-stitched/embroidered record cover.
Live at Bull Moose
Format: 10″ Vinyl
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
“””I Will Wait”” “”Ghosts That We Knew”” “”Where Are You Now”” “”Awake My Soul”” — 3 or 4 songs from their bull moose instore – CD version”
Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
7″ Green Colored Vinyl, Numbered.
Side A – feat guest vocals by Snoop Dogg, Jamey Johnson & Kris Kristofferson
Side B – previously unreleased Willie solo version
Crazy: The Demo Sessions
Format: 12″ Vinyl
Label: Sugar Hill
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
When Willie first got to Nashville he cut some demos for Ray Price and Hal Smith’s publishing company, Pamper Music. Though these cuts were used to pitch songs to artists (including ‘Crazy’ for Patsy Cline) and producers, many weren’t released. These 1960-1966 tracks are raw, real and really good, clearly the work of an artist/songwriter headed for stardom.
Old 97s/Waylon Jennings
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: Omnivore Recordings
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
2 x 7″ Two tracks from Old 97s sessions with Waylon Jennings, and two additional Old 97s demo tracks. Cover art by Jon Langford of the Mekons and Waco Brothers, and famed painter of country icons.– Iron Road, The Other Shoe, Visiting Hours (1996 demo), Fireflies Take 2 (1996 demo)
Gram Parsons & The Fallen Angels-Live 1973 7
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
Originally released in 1982 as a bonus 7″ EP to Sierra Records “Live 1973″ LP release of Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris with full color sleeve.
Side One: Medley- Bony Moronie, 40 Days, Almost Grown Side Two: Conversations, Doing It in the Bus, Broken EBS Box, Hot Burrito #1
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: New West
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
This is a single A-side 7” pressed on heavyweight vinyl. This song is off of the releaseElectric (2/5/13). The vinyl is black, hand-numbered 1-500. Richard will sign Side B on 25 of the records, which will be distributed randomly.
Yonder Mountain String Band
Format: 12″ Vinyl
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
Available for the first time on vinyl.
Interstate 35 runs like a zipper down the gut of Texas, and acts like an unofficial border where the American South meets the West. The highway is also a musical corridor, being the main conduit in and out of Austin, TX, aka the “Live Music Capitol of the World.” Willie Nelson’s hometown of Abbott resides right beside I-35, and so did his massive truck stop/music venue/and museum called Willie’s Place near the town of Carl’s Corner, that has since been retrofitted into a much less impressive and generic Petro station.
Carl’s Corner also was the home to a few of Willie’s famous 4th of July picnics, and a place many musicians made a habit of stopping at over the years. Same can be said for the Czech Stop bakery in West, TX a few miles down I-35 from Carl’s Corners, with many autographed photos of famous musicians lining its walls.
Up and down that ribbon of I-35 are places that have been regaled in song by the musicians who’ve passed by them or had memorable experiences there. Some of these places take on the lore of those songs until they become living monuments of the songs themselves. Here are a few.
Papa Joe’s from Dale Watson / Whitey Morgan & The 78′s “Where Do You Want It?”
1505 Interstate 35, Waco, TX, 76705
The best country songs write themselves, and that’s what happened when Billy Joe Shaver shot a man behind Papa Joe’s Texas Saloon, just south of Waco on the Interstate 35 access road. On March 31st, 2007, Billy Joe was in Papa Joe’s drinking when a man by the name of Billy Bryant Coker came up to Shaver and stirred Shaver’s drink with a knife. After some words were exchanged, Shaver decided it was time to leave, and Billy Coker followed. Out in the parking lot, Billy Joe Shaver was overheard asking Coker, “Where do you want it?” while brandishing a handgun. Shaver later testified in court he actually said, “Why do you want to do this?” to Coker, but eventually Shaver shot Billy Coker in the face and the news made it down to Austin where Dale Watson decided to write a song about it.
“We were making jokes about what kind of song he’d write about this ’cause he writes songs about everything,” says Gloria Tambling, the owner of Papa Joe’s that’s been an I-35 landmark for around for 19 years.
Billy Coker’s wound was not life-threatening, and Shaver was arrested on April 2nd, 2007 for aggravated assault, later to be found not guilty for acting in self-defense in a trial that saw Willie Nelson called as a character witness. Dale Watson wrote the song, but Whitey Morgan & The 78′s were the first to cut it on their self-titled album with Dale’s blessing. Dale’s latest album El Rancho Azul includes his version.
Dorsett 221 Truck Stop from Scott H. Biram’s “Truck Driver”
15201 I H 35 Buda, TX 78610
Off of Scott H. Biram’s 2005 record Dirty Old One Man Band is one of his signature songs called “Truck Driver.” Whenever Hiram Biram plays the song live, he dedicates it to “all of the truck drivers down there at the Dorsett 221 Truck Stop in Buda, TX.” Yes, the Dorsett 221 Truck Stop actually exists, or at least it did until 2005 when it was closed down. Opened in 1979 just south of Austin and right on I-35, Dorsett 221 was a trucker’s favorite and was famous for its chicken fried steak, breakfast tacos, and because it was built to look like a castle with parapets and corner towers.
Started by Tim and Lenora Dorsett, it was operated by their four sons who each were in charge of a specific part of the truck stop. The restaurant was a nice place for families to come and eat, but as time went on Dorsett 221 became somewhat famous for its crop of lot lizards that could be found lounging around. The existence of “glory holes” that Scott Biram refers to in “Truck Driver” could not be independently verified, but over time Dorsett 221 became one of central Texas’s most famous truck stops for its endearing character, and the characters it attracted.
It all went downhill for Dorsett 221 when a fire was started in one of the restrooms. During the restoration process, the four sons quarreled on how to proceed. Eventually one son took sole possession of the embattled truck stop and decided to close it. But the memory of Dorsett 221 still lives in Scott H. Biram’s song, and can still be seen on the side of the east side of the interstate as you’re passing through Buda, TX.
The Snake Farm from Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Snake Farm”
5640 Ih 35 S New Braunfels, TX 78132 – Photo courtesy mysanantonio.com
Did you hear what Scott H. Biram also referenced in the song above, and what shirt he was wearing? Yes there actually is a Snake Farm, and it went by the simple name “Snake Farm” for many of its 40 years in operation until settling on the much more docile, “Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo.” Located right off the Interstate 35 access road, the strange attraction and Texas landmark opened in 1967 (when I-35 was still Route 81) and currently sees around 400,000 annual visitors perusing its more than 200 species of snakes. The Snake Farm now features other exotic animals in its petting zoo and outdoor area, including monkeys, lemurs, hyenas, parrots, and a pond filled with alligators and crocodiles.
Ray Wylie Hubbbard’s album from 2006 is named Snake Farm, and includes the song “Snake Farm,” but Hubbard wasn’t the first musical homage to the reptile house. The Ramones discovered the Snake Farm when on tour in Texas in the late 70′s, and regularly wore Snake Farm T-shirts as part of their garb on and off stage. Oh, and did you notice the name of the female character in Hubbard’s “Snake Farm”? Yes, the Snake Farm has truly come full circle, and coils its way down the spine of good American music as an indelible artifact.
On February 4th, Outlaw Magazine published an interview with Dale Watson where the Texas-based honky-tonk singer submitted his plan for how to deal with the problem of what to call “country music” since, according to Dale, that term has been co-opted and irreversibly corrupted by Music Row in Nashville. Dale’s been throwing around his “Ameripolitan” term for years, but as Outlaw Magazine finds out, Dale is now working to organize behind the name.
“I’ve felt for a long time that the nomenclature, not just the name but the entire genre was successfully changed right under our noses and we couldn’t stop it,” Dale tells Outlaw Magazine’s Brandy Lee Dixon. “There is absolutely no way to get Nashville to stop calling their music country. They believe that it is a natural progression of country music and it’s theirs. I thought if our music is going to be allowed to grow it needs a new genre. Americana is original music with prominent rock influence, Ameripolitan is original music with prominent ROOTS influence.”
When asked why we should abandon the “country” term and not fight for it, Dale responded…
“Nashville has that term and it has been forever tainted. The reason I insisted that the new name NOT have the word country in it, is because it would always be thought of as a step child to Nashville Country.We need to start fresh. Also it’s not just about traditional country music either. Ameripolitan embraces Rockabilly, Western Swing, Hillbilly, Honky Tonk, Soloist, Duos and Instrumentalist. I think they all relate to each other and share the same roots whereas New Country has it’s roots planted in mid air and came from someones wallet.”
The main idea behind Dale’s Ameripolitan at the moment is the formation of an Ameripolitan awards show that would transpire in February 2014 in Austin, TX. The awards would be voted on by three divisions: 1) Fans. 2) Industry. 3) 100 Ameripolitan “captains.” More specific rules and a website are currently in development.
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Saving Country Music’s thoughts on Ameripolitan.
To begin by playing a little devil’s advocate, Ameripolitan could be a slightly confusing term. “politan” as a suffix means “city,” and “city” is the antonym of “country.” The suffix “politain” has also been used before in country in the term “countrypolitan.”
Countrypolitan was an offshoot of The Nashville Sound created in the 1960′s that featured heavy, polished production with strings and choruses. Countrypolitan was producer Billy Sherrill’s version of The Nashville Sound that competed directly with Outlaw country, similarly to how The Nashville Sound competed with The Bakersfield Sound.
The term “Ameripolitan” may lead some to think that the roots of Ameripolitan music are in country’s countrypolitan past. Countrypolitan showcased artists like Charlie Rich and Charley Pride, as opposed to Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson that rebelled against the polished countrypolitan sound.
At the same time, one lesson we’ve learned over the years of trying to find a new name for true country music is that no term is going to be perfect. You just have to find one that fits, and go with it. Americana continues to fight to define itself (or to defy definition), yet it has seen tremendous growth over the last few years and has built remarkable consensus and infrastructure despite the ambiguity. A term Saving Country music once can up with, “Anti-Country” had its baggage too. In the end, to hold back the idea of unifying the music under a common term until a perfect term can be agreed upon is probably not smart, because that perfect term may not exist.
Shooter Jennings’ now defunct “XXX,” though not in the same sonic vein as “Ameripolitan” sonically, was a logistical mess and caused fracturing and chaos in the country music underground it was meant to unite. After its initial formation over two years ago, Shooter’s givememyxxx.com website was only updated twice in a 1 1/2 year period, and now the site is completely offline, neglected like the lark many charged Shooter would treat XXX as when it was initially proposed. The idea created more drama and infighting than consensus, and never even came close to forming the nationwide “XXX” radio format that was at the heart of the idea.
The other issue is the idea of relinquishing the term “country” to Music Row. I would be lying if I said this is something that I am comfortable with. At the same time I can’t see why Ameripolitan can’t move forward while the battle rages on for the heart of country music in a different theater. The fight for country music has always been one to transpire on multiple fronts, and Ameripolitan might create the infrastructure and strength in numbers true country needs to finally create a counter-balance or a legitimate alternative to Music Row.
A lot is still to be determined, but Dale Watson’s leadership has created an opportunity. By giving Ameripolitan a 1 year lead time to form a system gives Ameripolitan the benefit of a broad, unrushed perspective. By setting simple guidelines to make sure Ameripolitan’s formation has constructive input from fans, the industry, and a select group of people who will keep a watchful eye on the purity and direction of the term gives it strength and a pathway to consensus building.
Ameripolitain will not be perfect, but nothing is except the airbrushed faces and Auto-tuned voices of Music Row, and who wants to hear or see that? We should all move forward with an air of pragmatism and an understanding that discussion and constructive criticism is necessary to creating a healthy environment, but I don’t see any reason not to give Ameripolitan a chance to develop.
“Country must evolve” is the way it is sold to the country music public when pop and hip-hop influences are invited into the country music fold. What these folks fail to point out is that country has been trying to evolve for 30 some odd years right under their noses, and instead of incorporating this creativity and innovation into country that could spurn a broadening of the country music tent, these artist who’ve crafted ways to both respect the roots of country yet push them forward have been excommunicated for years to alt-country, and are now being gobbled up by the all-encompassing “Americana” term, robbing country of some of the most premium talent the roots world has to offer.
And when you look at the gaggle of artists that are combining the country roots of the past with the present and future, it tends to be strong, beautiful, and talented women leading that charge. Where the trend started may depend on who you ask. I would point to Emmylou Harris‘s Wrecking Ball era with the atmospheric approach, but I’m sure some other jumping off points could be found. Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, Neko Case, and Iris Dement certainly deserve some credit as well. The men of progressive country, like Béla Fleck and the current-era Punch Brothers are impressive specimens of musical aptitude no doubt, but tend to lack the accessibility the women are able to display without compromising artistic expression or prowess.
Many of these women started out as young promising talents, many specifically as musicians, before being forced out by the mainstream country genre that seems to be obsessed with male machismo and the women that pander to it. There are strong women in country no doubt, but in the progressive country world, strong women rule the roost.
Are you looking for true progress and evolution in country music? Look no further than the list of women below.
The former fiddle player with Chris Thile (The Punch Brothers) in Nickel Creek, Sara put out an excellent progressive country album in 2012 called Sun Midnight Sun that showcased progressive elements mixed with classic country roots influences, maybe best displayed in the opening instrumental track, “The Foothills.” Sara shined amongst the boys, but away from them, she bloomed.
As the gentler half of the Americana super couple with Jason Isbell (I think they also secretly fight crime in their free time), Amanda Shires was a country music fiddle prodigy that veered toward Americana as she matured. Amanda has become a major influence of how to integrate a true love and passion for country’s roots with a new-school, progressive understanding of where roots music is going. You couldn’t take the country out of her voice if you tried, and integrating it with an atmospheric approach to music stimulates sheer wonder.
With her song “Merry Go ‘Round” stuck in the Billboard charts for what seems like an eternity, and a summer tour coming up with Kenny Chesney, Kacey Musgraves proves that progressive country can be commercially viable if it is only given a chance. Kacey Musgraves gives you hope for country music, and the non-conforminst, non-formulaic music that she composes.
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This sister duo from Sweden is an example of how country is missing out on a lot of commercial potential and the possibility of creating beach heads in other countries and cultures. Seen as pop stars in Scandinavia, their ability to conjure up the close harmonic bliss of The Carter Family in songs that still communicate new-school, relevant sensibilities, First Aid Kit can appeal to country fans of all ages.
The “Queen of Underground Country” whose risen with her last album A Killer’s Dream to become one of Americana’s most promising upcoming women, Rachel’s timeless voice could be a tireless resource for country music on her own music, and as a contributor to the music of others. Influenced just as much by Hank Williams and The Carter Family as Tom Waits and The Beach Boys, Rachel Brooke proves there’s still many avenues under the “country” umbrella still left to explore.
Coming from a strong songwriting pedigree (hit maker Liz Rose is her mother), Caitlin Rose and her singular voice is capable of stunning the listener, while their heart is captured by Caitlin’s sincere stories. Steel guitar and a strong country background mixed with influences from the indie rock world create Caitlin’s unique approach that is only limited in commercial success by the power brokers on Music Row letting it through.
Like Amanda Shires and Sara Watkins, Abigail Washburn is a musician first; a master of the clawhammer banjo discipline who steered toward the more progressive side of country as she came up through the ranks. Starting off in the all-girl quartet Uncle Earl on Rounder Records, and then releasing her first solo album Song of the Traveling Daughter produced by Béla Fleck, Washburn is an example of how country instrumentation and a more reserved, intelligent approach can intermix into a sustainable future for country music that integrates more refined listeners.
Yet another young female fiddle prodigy who was the youngest invited fiddle player ever on the Grand Ole Opry, she grew up sharing the stage with Willie Nelson, Asleep At The Wheel, and Dale Watson. Ruby has now moved to the more progressive side of the roots world as possibly one of the one of the most-talented violin players in the world. Her potential is endless.
The smoky, jazzy, Houston, TX native with a unique voice has an impressive catalog of songs that illustrate the heavy handed, yet spatial mark of progressive country. A founding member of the Be Good Tanya’s, Jolie Holland is the artist other progressive country artists listen to, winning the praises of many of her peers, including fellow ANTI label mate, Tom Waits.
Another young, up-and-coming artist whose worth watching, Paige has played for years in her family band Anderson Family Bluegrass as a front person and a flat-picking guitar maestro. Her latest project with her brother and sister called The Fearless Kin just released a new EP. Having played the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and on Chuck Ragan’s “Revival Tour,” Paige Anderson is versatile if nothing else, and when it comes to writing songs, she pulls from a varying tapestry of influences–the mark of the progressive country approach.
The Austin, TX native has already signed to Sugar Hill Records and been nominated for a Grammy at only 21. A superb talent on the mandolin that can also handle the banjo, guitar, and just about anything with strings, her debut album Song Up In Her Head featured Chris Thile, Stuart Duncan, Darrell Scoot, and Jerry Douglas. Béla Fleck appeared on her follow up, Follow Me Down. An excellent songwriter, Sarah has a bright future in the realm of progressive country.
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Other women helping to evolve country music: Zoe Muth, Lydia Loveless, Lindi Ortega, The Trishas, Kasey Chambers, Brandi Carlile, Star Anna, The Secret Sisters, Those Darlins….
Who are some other women leading the evolution of country?
If there’s one guy you can count on in country music, it is Dale Watson. No, he’s not going to lick his proverbial finger and stick it in the air to find out what to say or what to play. He’s going to be himself no matter how much money it makes him, or how many enemies he garners. Suave, slick, super-cool and confident. Maybe even a little bit arrogant. But he can afford to be, because the ghosts of country music have his back.
Take when Blake Shelton decided to make some disparaging comments about the “old farts and jackasses” that populate Dale’s side of the country music world. Dale and his Lone Stars were mere ticks away from having to embark on a 20-day European tour, and Dale figures out how to squeeze out an anti-Blake song and post a video for it before his boarding time at ATX. No Mr. TSA officer, that ain’t a six shooter setting off the metal detector, those are Dale’s big steel cajones hanging down in his Texas tweeds.
You know what you’re going to get with a Dale Watson album–good old-fashioned honest-to-goodness honky tonk country music. He never veers off the path too far. There was his last album, the Cash-esque Sun Sessions, and the long-rumored Dale/Elvis concept album Dalevis that apparently is finally going to see the light in February. But a Dale Watson album usually holds few surprises. You aren’t going to see him in hipster glasses chasing the uke and Theremin craze to expose a lot of “vulnerability” in his music. Dale Watson is all about keeping the honky tonk traditions alive, and that is what he channels in El Ranco Azul.
Bred for dancing, El Rancho Azul is taken straight out of the honky tonks Dale Watson plays 8 nights a week while home in Austin. Drinking and heartache are the prevailing themes, and maybe not just because this is a country album, but because Dale just recently went through a breakup and a divorce himself. “I Lie When I Drink” and “I Drink to Remember” reinforce the idea that these eternal country themes will never wear thin, while Dale’s supple country drawl delivered with breadth, emotion and control breathe new life into old, familiar narratives.
Maybe Dale is being sarcastic, but one of the fun songs on the album is “We’re Gonna Get Married,” chased by one of the album’s standouts, the tearful and touching “Daughter’s Wedding Song.” Then it’s on to two songs whose purpose for dancing is thinly veiled, “Quick Quick Slow Slow,” and “Slow Quick Quick” meant for two-stepping and waltzing respectively. Then it’s on to more drinking songs, then a few more drinking songs, and another drinking song to close the album out. But the direction never feels stale because of Dale’s country gold voice, and the little bits of character Dale adds to each one of his compositions.
Another El Rancho Azul offering worth note is “Where Do You Want It?” A story song about the time Billy Joe Shaver shot a man at the Papa Joe’s Bar in Waco, TX, it originally was given to Whitey Morgan & The 78′s. Since it has become one of Whitey’s signatures, the Dale version may come across a little strange to an ear used to the other, but nonetheless it is a cool edition to this song’s legacy from its original writer.
My concern about Dale has always been that he writes so many songs and releases so many albums, not one song or one album stands out as a signature. At the same time, it’s hard to find a bad Dale Watson album or song. You certainly won’t find one here with El Rancho Azul, only the genuine, real deal country music that Music Row has forgotten, and all of Blake Shelton’s “old farts and jackasses” crave.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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For years fans of Dale Watson have been anticipating an album release from a Dale’s alter ego called “Dalevis,” a mix of Dale and Elvis. Well friends and neighbors, the wait is over. Dalevis is now officially available digitally, with physical copies to be made available in mid February. It includes 12 new songs recorded at the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis. Along with Dale, the album also features Chris Crepps on upright bass, and Mike Bernal on drums among others.
This is not the first Dalevis album Dale Watson has released. As he told Saving Country Music in October of 2011, “Back in 2000 I did a Christmas record there (Sun Studios). I didn’t make a big deal about recording at Sun, it’s just what we did. Then I did a little vanity project I just sold off the stage, 1,000 copies of a thing called “Dalevis”, kind of like what Chris Isaak is doing, but raw, more in the style of old Sun.”
Dale Watson’s last record The Sun Sessions was recorded at Sun with a distinct Johnny Cash vibe. “Elvis and Johnny were the biggest influences on me of the Sun folks. When I wrote the songs I kept that in mind.”
Dale’s latest release El Rancho Azul is also being released today (1-29-13).
1. Big Frank
2. I Love Too Much
3. That’s All
4. It Was Us
5. Lord I’m Proud
6. Color Me Gone
7. Forever Valentine
8. Rich In Love
9. You Can’t Undo The Wrong
10. I’m Gonna Start Livin’
11. You’ll Cry Too
12. Hit The Road
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