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Defendants of the adverse trends corrupting mainstream country music will give you many reasons why the trends aren’t really adverse at all, including that if you don’t like the music, you should simply exercise your right to not listen, and that the music isn’t necessarily affecting behavior so in the end it’s harmless. But part of the problem with popular country music these days is that it is so effusive throughout society. You turn on a college football game or watch a wrestling broadcast, and there Florida Georgia Line is singing the intro or taking you into a commercial break. Country is now the most popular genre of American music, meaning it’s being piped into grocery stores, being played at schools, and is ever-present in cars being driven by moms and dads all across the country as their kids sit in the back seat soaking it all up and singing along to catchy songs with simplistic rhythms and repetitive themes perfect for getting stuck in the heads of youngsters.
Compounding the problem is that just a few short years ago, country was one of the safest places on the radio dial for parents with small kids in the car. Think about the “soccer mom” effect that country music was cultivating in the late oughts, when artists like Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Rascal Flatts were dominating the country airwaves. Country radio was full of fluffy pop country songs that parents could feel fine, if not proud of playing in front of their kids compared to the filth pervading Top 40 radio at the time.
Now the entire radio field has been reversed, even though parent’s presets may still be on the country station. Country is where the perverse sentiments of popular culture have come to roost, and the endless droning in songs about drinking, drug use, materialism, and misogynistic views towards women are nearly required to get your music at the top of the country charts. It’s been theorized by Saving Country Music that part of the reason for this trend is a backlash from the mid-00′s when the rising sentiment became that country music was becoming woosified. That’s when you had artists like Eric Church, Jason Aldean, and then later Brantley Gilbert and Florida Georgia Line beginning their ascent, purposely focusing on many non family-friendly themes and constantly trying to prove how country they were in their lyrics.
However we got here, country music is now a haven for filth on the radio, easily giving pop and even hip-hop stations a run for their money. And as mom and dad find their own personal preference on the country station, the themes in the music get incessantly pumped into the young skulls riding in booster chairs and holding sippy cups in the back seat. It’s not that drinking themes haven’t always been present in country—you could argue they’re one of the foundations of the genre. It’s more about who they’re being played to and in front of, and how these themes are being portrayed (glamorous instead of cautionary). Even if you choose to avoid the music yourself, you can’t help but worry how it is affecting society as a whole when so many young people are being subjected to this music.
This was illustrated just about perfectly on Friday (11-21) by CBS Evening News reporter Steve Hartman when he took a deeper look into how his two young kids were computing the lyrics of country songs in their developing brains as they sat and listened to popular country music in the family motor carriage.
Steve Hartman’s conclusion? “I’ve got some sobering news — Nashville is alcohol-poisoning the minds of our young people,” he says in his report.
Hartman goes on to illustrate just how deeply popular country’s drinking themes have burrowed into his two son’s brains as they recite titles and lyrics to popular country songs effortlessly. Hartman turns his blame to Kix Brooks, the host of the syndicated American Country Countdown, where apparently the majority of the Hartman kids’ exposure to popular country music comes from as they listen to the weekly show on the way to swimming lessons. So papa Hartman took the kids to Kix Brooks’ studio and asked the man himself what he thought about the trend of drinking songs in country, and Kix initially drew a blank, illustrating the sort of “deer in headlights” moment many parents feel when faced with the reality that what their kids are listening to might affect them adversely in the future.
Reporter Steve Hartman did a good job of explaining how kids listening to popular country songs can be a good teaching opportunity for parents to explain the ideas behind responsible drinking, etc., but it may be a little too much to expect this from most busy parents who listen to popular country song’s party themes as their own form of escapism. And as Hartman says, these lessons were something he was hoping to avoid until “after 1st grade.”
And Steve Hartman can’t be painted as some modern country hater or alarmist. After all, he was voluntarily listening to the American Country Countdown himself, and many in the industry, including Big Machine Label Group CEO Scott Borchetta have seen their own dilemma with so many drinking songs, saying in December of 2013, “Everybody in Nashville must be drinking 24-7. We’re a bunch of drunks down here. There’s too much, to be honest with you. We can’t keep talking about Fireball and Coors Light and having the tailgate down, etc.”
Of course all of this is anecdotal. There’s no direct data corroborating that five-year-old’s are hitting the sauce too early because they listened to Little Big Town’s “Day Drinking.” But it does illustrate how when people show concern for the themes of country songs, even if they’re not inclined to listen themselves, they’re concerned that it could be having adverse effects on society as a whole. Like teachers in a madras, with a lack of variety, these popular country songs drive home the same themes over and over until it can be recited effortlessly by impressionable minds. It also make one wonder if the underlying reason is to make young consumers for country’s principal advertisers, like the Joe Camel effect of 2014.
Hartman’s report only deals with the drinking aspect of popular country songs, but really you could do a similar experiment dealing with sexual themes, possibly with very young female listeners. This all doesn’t mean these songs are patently evil. Music made for adults who (hypothetically) have the ability to rationalize what they’re listening to and not let it affect them adversely is fine. But just like drinking itself, the music should be consumed by an age-appropriate audience, and as with all things, in moderation. However mainstream country at the moment is on the drinking song binge of its life, even if the substance of the songs is slowly improving, and the question remains if it’s having an effect on the behavior of listeners, or if it will shape the behavior of listeners in the future.
On Monday, November 17th when Garth Brooks appeared on Access Hollywood promoting his upcoming tour dates and the release of his new album Man Against Machine, he was pretty loose lipped about his hatred for certain elements of music technology, and how it has taken a lot of the power out of the hands of artists. This philosophy is what is behind the country singer refusing to release his music to iTunes and streaming services, and is the theme behind his “Man Against Machine” album title and opening track. Brooks has set up his own iTunes rival called GhostTunes which allows artists to sell their music however they want, including as whole albums or in bundle packages.
When Garth was asked what he thought about Taylor Swift’s public feud with Spotify, he responded,
I think a lot of people are going to start following. (If) music starts standing up for itself, it’s going to get a lot better. And you know guys, there’s some big friends of ours in music that we need to stand up to to. I mean, if iTunes is going to tell you how to sell your stuff, and it’s only going to go this way, don’t forget who’s creating the music and who should be doing the stuff. And I’m telling you, the devil? Nice people…YouTube. Oh my gosh. They claim they’re paying people a lot, but they’re not paying anything either. And people get millions and millions and millions of views and they don’t get squat. Trust me, songwriters are hurting, so I applaud Ms. Taylor, I applaud everyone for standing up for the songwriters because without them music is nothing.
Garth then talked about a meeting he had with YouTube where he tried to persuade them to completely remove anything having to do with him from the format. None of Garth’s music or videos can be found on the video giant, but live videos from concerts, etc. have made it on the service from his recent concert appearances.
You can’t get out of it. I had a sweet meeting with them. They were all fired up. They were the sweetest, and they’re all like twelve. They’re the sweetest kids. So young. And so I got the first question, “How do you get out?” And silence. You don’t. You don’t get out. Thanks for our wonderful someone judging on this one on the government. But yeah, it’s totally backward right now. But music, if the artists will just keep hammering away, unify, stick together, then music will become the king again, which is where it should be. Music should always be first.
YouTube has just launched its own subscription service to rival Spotify and other streamers, after a prolonged period of trying to negotiate for music rights from organizations representing independent artists and other publishers.
Whether it’s ultimately successful for Garth Brooks or not, he appears to be bound and determined to do music his way and fight against the current in the way technology is serving music to the public. But with Taylor Swift, and now Jason Aldean and Justin Moore pulling music from Spotify, Garth Brooks is no longer alone, and country is the genre emerging as the one leading the charge.
Have you ever wondered who actually listens to those awful songs they play on pop country radio? Here are the six primary Archetypes, or as Music Row refers to them, the “target demographics” that make up the audience of the pop country world.
PLEASE NOTE: This is a revised version of the original 6 Pop Country Archetypes published in 2011. The new version takes into consideration country music’s changing demographics. Basically, pop country has become even more of a bastion for sexism and troglodytes.
The Objectified Pop Country Girl
She thinks being condescended by country’s hot young Bro-Country stars is sexy. She used to like female country artists like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood, but now she is mostly obsessed with male singers, and bases who her favorite acts are at any given time strictly off of who is the hottest. Shirt tied in the front, daisy dukes, boots, bronzer, blonde or heavily-highlighted hair under a cheap Panama Jack straw cowboy hat, she’s an automaton of patriarchal rule wanting to present herself as the perfect country girl to be talked down to just like the ones portrayed in Bro-Country songs. Technologically inept and “so totally going” to every mainstream country concert that comes through town, she is the economic catalyst still keeping corporate country alive by buying deluxe edition CD’s and $350.00 front row tickets on the secondary market. She lives to put her hands in the air and scream when the band tells her to. She won’t dance with you at the honky tonk, but as soon as the DJ starts playing hip-hop, she’s out with her seven friends in the center of the dance floor, twerking and taking selfies. Her face is buried in her phone.
Tight spandex-blended T-shirt, designer jeans, backwards baseball cap, and a Medusa of wallet chains clanking from his waist, he’s the bullseye of Music Row’s target demographic. Those rips in his jeans didn’t come from running barbed wire, but a 70-year-old Laotian woman working at an Armani factory making .36 cents an hour. On UFC stats and Florida Georgia Line lyrics, he’s a expert. He shaves his testicles so his panty-cut underwear won’t chafe, and he treats women like objects. He likes to listen to laundry list country songs about dirt roads and pickup trucks, but his idea of “roughing it” is not dousing himself in Axe body spray before hitting his suburb’s corporate country bar. Don’t mess with him or his frat buddies or they’ll call you a fag right before vomiting in the bushes. He wants to show you his tribal tattoos.
Morbidly obese, woefully unemployed, and draped in whatever his local Wal-Mart stocks in XXXL, he thinks he’s a gangster, but instead he’s just an overweight loser land locked in a small town in America’s breadbasket. If you don’t like Big Smo or Bubba Sparxxx, you’re clearly a dumb, city-dwelling Yankee liberal who drives a Prius and doesn’t get what it’s like down in the South. He got a title loan on his 1994 Grand Am so he could get a tattoo of an alien smoking a joint on his neck. He would move to a bigger city, but he doesn’t have the gas money to even make it to the county seat, and besides, the real gangsters would kick his ass within five minutes. He likes to snort Dr. Scholls foot powder and pretend it’s cocaine because he can’t afford meth. He knows a guy in LA that he sent his demo to, and once he hits it big, he’s getting the hell out of this town. He knocked up some girl that works at Dairy Queen just so he could bitch to his friends about his “baby mama drama.” His problems are everyone else’s fault.
The Red-Blooded ‘Merican
He can’t wait for Armageddon to come so he can start mowing down Muslims unilaterally with his stockpile of guns and ammunition hoarded before the Obama Administration makes all guns illegal and enacts Sharia Law. You’re damn right he likes Toby Keith, and only REAL country like Justin Moore and Jason Aldean. Any opinion that is in opposition to his will be spun into an insult to American troops in combat. He swears he knew the Dixie Chicks were commies way before everyone else did, but he had the plump one sign his Stetson in Sharpie in 2001 (he keeps it hidden in the bottom shelf of his gun safe). He’ll shoot at you if any portion of your tire touches his property line when you’re making a U-turn out on the highway, and if you’re one of them towel-heads, he’ll shoot to kill. He thinks Garth-era printed button up collared shirts are still hip.
The Adult Contemporary Divorcee
Three grown kids, thrice divorced, she’ll elbow a legion of glitter-faced pop country girls out of her way to get eye level with Luke Bryan’s crotch as he does “The Move” on the edge of the concert runway, hoping he waxes out yet again and her ample bosom pads his gorgeous fall. Fueled by boxed wine and Lean Cuisine, the older men of mainstream country such as Tim McGraw and Keith Urban make up the cast of her sultry romance novel-style fantasies that she lives out during elongated bubble baths and bunkerings in her queen-sized bed with bon bons and ice cream pints. Celebrity gossip that surrounds her favorite country stars fuels her obsession, especially stories of heartfelt Cancer deeds and kindness towards animals, reinforcing her misguided view that these artists are altruistic heroes as opposed to plastic personas making calculated publicity stunts. She obsessively posts pictures of her cats/dogs on social media and lives in a mess of animal hair.
The Windshield Cowboy
Always sporting a brand spanking new F-250 truck or bigger, he needs this heavy equipment as a middle management quality control paper pusher in a cubicle farm located in white flight Suburbia. He listens to songs about dirt roads, but’ll be damned if he takes his baby off the blacktop and gets a brush scratch in the paint. Similar politics and mindset to The Red Blooded ‘Merican, but instead of spending his weekends target practicing, he’s towing his bass boat, ATV’s, jet skis, or other recreational vehicles to the lake. Similar to the The Wallet Chain Douchewad, his material objects mean everything to him. He believes owning a truck is a validation of manhood, and whoever is in that rice burner in front of him is ignorant and weak and better get the hell out of his way. He’d like you to think he owns a ranch, but a rancher’s wage wouldn’t even pay his truck’s interest. No, he cannot use his truck to help you move next weekend, he has to wash his truck. He likes songs about trucks.
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Turnabout is fair play, so a revised version of The 6 “Other” Country Archetypes is on the way.
As said by Saving Country Music in the review for Taylor Swift’s new 1989 album, “It is the most relevant, most important album released in country music in the entirety of 2014, let alone in music overall…even though it’s not country….Thinking otherwise is vanity, and ill-informed.” Now we are seeing this play out as a host of country artists have pulled their newest albums from Spotify, following Taylor Swift’s lead of leaving the streaming giant, and making country music the genre leading the Spotify exodus.
Taylor Swift’s 1989 was never released to Spotify, and this is being given credit by many in the industry for Swift putting together the best sales week for any album since 2002—in a rapidly-depreciating sales environment mind you. Now her former country music bunk mates are following suit.
On Monday, Jason Aldean pulled his latest record Old Boots, New Dirt from Spotify—a big loss for the company from one of country’s biggest stars, and one who has set streaming records. Old Boots, New Dirt set a new record for best-ever debut week for a country album with more than 3.04 million streams. Aldean and his label have yet to speak publicly about the decision.
Subsequently, Brantley Gilbert, whose 2014 release Just As I Am has been receiving surprising sales numbers, has also been pulled from Spotify. All that remains on the streaming service is his single “Bottom’s Up.” Gilbert shares the same label as Taylor Swift. They both operate under Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Label Group.
And another Big Machine artist, Justin Moore, has also scrapped his latest album, 2013′s Off The Beaten Path from Spotify. This has put both Spotify, country music fans, and the entire industry on watch to see what country artist may be next to diss the music streamer, while there has yet to be any major names from the pop or rock worlds make similar moves.
It also should be pointed out that another big release, Garth Brooks’ Man Against Machine will not be making it to Spotify, though we’ve known for a while the superstar would be going his own route with GhostTunes. Nonetheless, it is another landmark release from a country artist that won’t be featured in the service. As country music continues to dominate the overall music marketplace, these developments can’t be good for Spotify.
One wonders however what material gain Jason Aldean, Brantley Gilbert, and Justin Moore expect to land by pulling their albums from Spotify now. Will this move stimulate higher physical and download sales like it did for Taylor Swift? That hardly seems likely, since most core country fans will have already either purchased the album, or streamed it on Spotify previously.
Something else going under-reported about the Spotify exodus is that it is not happening to music streaming overall. For example, Taylor Swift’s 1989, and all the other country albums pulled from Spotify still remain on the streaming service offered by Beats. The issue is not necessarily streaming in general, but with Spotify specifically, whose free option and minimal payouts was causing controversy way before the Taylor Swift decision.
Taylor Swift explained to Yahoo why she decided to pull her music from Spotify.
all I can say is that music is changing so quickly, and the landscape of the music industry itself is changing so quickly, that everything new, like Spotify, all feels to me a bit like a grand experiment. And I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music. And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free. I wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal this summer that basically portrayed my views on this. I try to stay really open-minded about things, because I do think it’s important to be a part of progress. But I think it’s really still up for debate whether this is actual progress, or whether this is taking the word “music” out of the music industry. Also, a lot of people were suggesting to me that I try putting new music on Spotify with “Shake It Off,” and so I was open-minded about it. I thought, “I will try this; I’ll see how it feels.” It didn’t feel right to me. I felt like I was saying to my fans, “If you create music someday, if you create a painting someday, someone can just walk into a museum, take it off the wall, rip off a corner off it, and it’s theirs now and they don’t have to pay for it.” I didn’t like the perception that it was putting forth. And so I decided to change the way I was doing things.
Spotify responded to Taylor Swift, saying they have paid out over $2 billion dollars to music makers.
“Taylor Swift is absolutely right: music is art, art has real value, and artists deserve to be paid for it,” says Spotify CEO Daniel Ek. “So all the talk swirling around lately about how Spotify is making money on the backs of artists upsets me big time…We’re paying an enormous amount of money to labels and publishers for distribution to artists and songwriters, and significantly more than any other streaming service.”
Spotify also says that without their service, Piracy would become an issue again. “Here’s the overwhelming, undeniable, inescapable bottom line: the vast majority of music listening is unpaid. If we want to drive people to pay for music, we have to compete with free to get their attention in the first place.”
However Taylor Swift’s rebuttal has been that there needs to be an overhaul of the cultural mindset revolving around music. When her album 1989 leaked online, her fans confronted people downloading the album illegally, asking why they would want to steal someone’s creative work. Judging from the sales of 1989, the pirated leaks did little to hurt overall sales, though this might not be the case for other artists.
Meanwhile the Spotify watch is up for country music and beyond. Who will be next to vacate the streaming service, and are we seeing a brand new era emerge in how music is bought and sold?
Mostly known by industry types as a songwriter whose pen to paper has resulted in some very memorable cuts, including the recent Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers duet “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” one of the most recognizable songs from ABC’s drama Nashville called “Don’t Put Dirt On My Graves Just Yet,” and even some songs from bigger names such as Jason Aldean and Lady Antebellum, Caitlyn Smith steps out from the songwriting shadows to release a seven song EP full of wide ranging emotions, slickly-penned sentiments, and spectacular vocal performances worthy of wider attention.
When you talk about an artist known as a songwriter first, you tend to look for the strength in the lyric. But Caitliyn Smith is very much a multi-tool performer, and her vocals can rival any in country music’s top tier, and she’s a great musician as well. Her style is very sensible—country pop in the traditional sense, with rising choruses, juicy melodies, and familiar themes of love, loss, and hope. But similar to how Caitlyn Smith songs are the ones artists and managers gravitate toward when they’re looking for something with more body beyond a smash radio hit, instilled in all of Caitlyn’s work is a sincerity, authenticity, and the ends of country roots sticking out from the surface.
Though it may be a stretch to call this Everything To You EP traditional, the amount of banjo on this album is surprising, and really comprises the sonic base for a few of these songs. And I’m not talking about the six-string version of the banjo with a Stratocaster head stock and flames painted down the side, these are songs bred from inspiration, not formula, even if a few songwriting hands were employed before calling them finished. Fiddle and mandolin float in and out as well, as does some heavier guitar riffs when the composition calls for it. But really the focus of Everything To You is squarely on Caitlyn, her songs, and her voice, which is where it should be, and this is where this album will build its greatest consensus amongst listeners with country sensibilities.
Everything To You starts out with the driving “Fever” with its two-part chorus and towering requests for Caitlyn to immediately hit top-register notes and nail them, which she does with ease. This leads into the more subdued and acoustic “Dream Away”—an empowering testament about sticking to your dreams; something Caitlyn can speak about from the experience of being a small town girl from Minnesota desiring to be a songwriter and now singing along to some of her co-writes on the radio.
“Wasting All These Tears” takes a more somber pitch, almost like a jilted Taylor Swift song from earlier in her career, then the autobiographical “Everything To You” immediately shifts gears to a more happier tone. “Grown Woman” finds Caitlyn evoking the common “I’m a woman, hear me roar” attitude we’ve been hearing often from mainstream women, while the yearning and wrenching of “Novocaine” cuts at the listener’s emotional stability. The album ends with the thankful and sweet “All My Lovers” about Caitlyn finding her way to her husband.
Though Everything To You never turns you off, it never really takes any chances either, or sails into the uncharted waters beyond the familiar harbors of co-write country. The songs all seem to authentically emanate from Caitlyn’s life story and this feels like a very personal album, but you can’t escape the feeling that you’ve heard a version of some of these songs before. Slick arrangements, production, and instrumentation make Everything To You accessible, though not necessarily challenging. However Caitlyn Smith and Everything To You very much embody the idea that there are artists out there with mainstream-caliber chops who if just given a chance could shift country in a more substantive, and even sustainable direction.
2013 was considered by many to be the “Year of The Woman” in country music from the concentration of forward-thinking and nourishing projects proffered to the public by females who could nip at the edges of the mainstream, but still find friendly ears in the independent world. Caitlyn Smith may be a year too late to be considered in that class, but she belongs with the other ladies of country music leadership trying to keep at least a modicum of respect in the genre, even if those women struggle compared with their male counterparts in chart performance and cash flow.
Before Garth Brooks decided to go with “People Loving People” as his first single after coming out of retirement, another song on his new album called “Tacoma”—written by Caitlyn Smith and Bob DiPiero—was scheduled to be the return single. Only stands to reason “Tacoma” will be released as a single eventually, and with the timely release of this EP, it very well may deliver an extra bit of interest to a well-deserving and hard working songwriter with a voice worthy of much more than the audience listening song pitches on demo tapes.
1 1/2 of 2 Guns Up.
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With the rise in popularity of country music recently comes a rise in both the demand and prices for concert tickets. And with so many sold out shows and high-priced tickets comes the opportunity for counterfeiters to take advantage of fans looking for entry to see their favorite artists. Counterfeit concert tickets are on the rise in country music, and fans are being taken advantage of more than ever before as they resort to the secondary market and rely on sites like Craigslist to get tickets.
27-year-old Geoffrey Dean Minton from Tampa, Florida is currently sitting in the Hillsborough County jail on $20,000 bail after being arrested on Tuesday (10-14) on six counts of grand theft, eight counts of possessing forged documents, and two counts of communications fraud. The charges stem from a sting local police set up after Minton sold at least two separate parties counterfeit tickets to Luke Bryan’s concert at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Sept. 28, according to tampabay.com.
Both parties who purchased tickets from Minton on Craigslist took pictures of his drivers license and noted his license plate during the purchases that were originally set up through a Craigslist ad. “If these are fake, I’m going to find you and you’re going to pay for this,” Chris Vazquez, one of the frauded patrons told Minton at the time of the purchase. Sure enough, when Vazquez arrived at the Luke Bryan concert, just like another concertgoer Marvin Mendez who purchased four tickets from Geoffrey Minton for $400, they were told they were counterfeit.
This prompted Tampa police to set up a sting for the Jason Aldean concert on Oct. 10th at the same Tampa venue. Officers arrested Geoffrey Minton in a CVS parking lot where he set up a meeting with a local ticket broker as part of the sting. He was found with eight counterfeit Jason Aldean concert tickets in his car. Police know of an additional five victims of Geoffrey Minton’s counterfeiting, but think there could be as many as a dozen.
Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean have been country concert counterfeiter’s favorite artists, due partly to the fact that their sold out shows send floods of fans looking for tickets on the secondary market that are willing to pay top dollar.
On Saturday, September 6th, West Springfield, CT police arrested two men for allegedly selling counterfeit tickets to the Luke Bryan concert at Hartford’s Xfinity Theatre. At the time, the concert was sold out. A man sold a family four tickets for nearly $700. Since the tickets were made of card stock, were perforated, and had bar codes, the family wasn’t worried. But with the sophistication of today’s counterfeiter’s, seeing is not always believing.
This summer’s tour with Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line also faced counterfeiting issues. On August 29th, a New York City man by the name of Cy Ismeal Rivera was arrested at a mall in Albany, NY for selling fake tickets to the Jason Aldean / Florida Georgia Line concert at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Police contacted the man on Craigslist and offered to purchase six tickets. When they met the man at the local mall and confirmed the tickets were counterfeit, they arrested him on charges of first-degree “scheme to defraud.”
The Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple Sr. later posted on Facebook, “Attention!!! This is a warning to those of you who feel the need to jump on those $10 buses and travel from downstate to the Capital District to try and prey upon us ole’ country folk here in upstate…..our investigators will find you just like we did today when your friend travelled up here to sell my investigators fake tickets for Jason Aldean. Dozens of people have been scammed to date, and we now have the subject responsible!”
On May 28th, three people were arrested in Farmville, North Carolina for selling counterfeit tickets to a Luke Bryan concert in Raleigh on June 7th at the Walnut Creek Ampitheatre. Greenville, NC residents Michael Corrigan, Martin Luna Jr. and Russell Brooks were charged with obtaining property by false pretense and felony conspiracy.
In September of 2013, four people were arrested at a hotel in Green Tree, NY for selling fake Luke Bryan tickets to a concert at the First Niagara Pavilion. According to Green Tree Police Chief Bob Downey, the counterfeiters were selling tickets at a price of $300 for two, and $600 for four. After one group of individuals bought counterfeit tickets from the sellers on Craigslist and realized they’d been duped, they arranged to purchase more ticket and brought police with them. Four men from the Bronx were arrested. “Some of the equipment that we found in their possession was indicative of a counterfeit-making operation,” Police Chief Downey said. A total of 20 people were believed to be scammed in the operation.
Scalping and scamming are symptoms of the high demand for country concert tickets at shows that sometimes sell out within a matter of minutes. Eric Church has been actively taking on scalpers during his current concert tour, warning them “Don’t even mess with us.” Meanwhile the desire to keep ticket prices down and make sure everyone gets a seat is the strategy behind Garth Brooks’ current world tour where he’s played as many as eight concerts in the same location, including multiple concerts on the same day. The idea is simply to to flood the market with tickets so scalpers and scammers have limited demand. Because of this, the price for Garth tickets on the secondary market has been staying closer to face value for many of the concert stops.
In March, Ticketmaster posted a notice to fans of how to spot counterfeit tickets. “With many high-demand shows throughout the summer, it’s important for us to remind you about counterfeit tickets,” the ticket selling giant said. “We have heard heartbreaking and devastating stories from fans that didn’t make it into a big show and were turned away at the door with counterfeit tickets. We don’t want this to happen to you!”
Silly me for thinking that the experience of having his home ripped apart by his own selfish actions, and his entire life smattered across tabloid covers would elicit at least a slight recalibration of priorities for Jason Aldean, or for goodness sakes, at least stimulate a few moments of introspection or something close to the semblance of a deep thought. But instead what we get with Old Boots, New Dirt is a doubling down of Aldean’s errant behavior. The album is the singer breaking free of the repressive sexual bonds of marriage and country music’s rigid moral regime to reclaim his wild 16-year-old post-adolescent oats at the age of 37. On Old Boots, New Dirt, Jason Aldean proclaims the world his oyster, and presents such a flaunting of the human id, even Charlie Sheen would cock an eyebrow and give it a nodding approval.
Bad mouth Jason Aldean’s previous accomplishments all you want, but heretofore his career has been defined by the defiant spirit of interior America’s lost populous—disenfranchised and forgotten in the age of technology as they unflinchingly continue on with their way of life inherited down from generations. It was the rumination on water towers and wondering what if they could talk, the troubling thoughts at watching grain silos slowly run empty and fall into disrepair just like the towns that sit in the shadows of them. It was starring at the dirt underneath your fingernails every evening and the age slowing cracking across your face, while you brood in the same house your grandparents lived in. And yes, it was even driving down dirt roads, swerving like your George Jones, with memory lane up in the headlights, and pondering your place in this fast-changing world and the intimidating passage of time.
Now what do we get from Jason Aldean? A simple enumeration of his sexual conquests one after another, with very little respite.
“I knew the minute that I picked you up, it was gonna be a wild ride,” the very first song “Just Gettin’ Started” starts off. “You kissed me like you couldn’t get enough. Barely made it out of your drive.”
The second song “Show You Off” unfolds just about as you would expect it to. “I just want to show you off. Drive them all crazy, watch all the boys hate me. This ain’t so wrong, come on.” This is what passes for Aldean being “sweet.” This leads into the lead single from the album, the already much maligned and ultra-sexualized “Burnin’ It Down,” …and on and on from there.
And all of this is punctuated with these softcore-style bubbly, smooth jazz R&B electronic sex beats that are the sonic foundation for this album. Jason Aldean has apparently morphed into the country music equivalent of the classic Saturday night Cinemax lineup—showing just enough skin to get you somewhat steamy-feeling, but not conveying enough of either truly revealing material or depth of story to leave you either satisfied or fulfilled. It’s all froth.
Old Boots, New Dirt sees Jason Aldean doing what he did with “Dirt Road Anthem,” which went on to become a landmark moment for rap in country music. Where artists like Jerrod Niemann and Sam Hunt tried to push country music aggressively towards an EDM era, Aldean and his production team understood that to truly take the idea mainstream, you have to smooth off the edges and homogenize it so when you serve it up en masse to the public, they don’t gag as it is getting shoved down their throat. That was at the heart of the success of “Dirt Road Anthem,” and that is what’s at play here. Country rap had already been around for years, but Aldean figured out how to make it palatable for white America’s corporate country consumer. “Burnin’ It Down” (which has been widely successful) and Old Boots, New Dirt do this for country’s new EDM/R&B era.
This all begs the question of what mainstream country music is going to do next since it’s burning through genre bending ideas at about one genre per year. Before we know it, someone will be figuring out how to work polka into pop country (and god knows it would probably be an improvement). But for now, EDM/R&B country is likely to be very financially lucrative for Aldean and others.
There are a couple of moments where Jason tries to evidence some vulnerability and depth on this album. “Tryin’ To Love Me” seems to talk about reflecting back on relationship fights and understanding that the conflict was really coming from love and not spite, and could be taken in the context of Aldean’s recent marital troubles as something true to his personal experiences. But of course this is immediately followed up with “Sweet Little Somethin’” that makes the sentiment behind Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song” feel so very timely, and songs like “Laid Back” and “Tonight Looks Good On You” are every bit as awful as their titles imply.
The second half of the album is a little better though, and ends with the best song, “Two Night Town,” which is so classic and well-written, it’s a shame someone like Aldean had to cut it and bury it as a final track. But it is too little too late for this epilogue to Aldean’s era of enumerating the simple virtues of the Heartland ideal and the everyday injustices perpetuated against it through the march of time. Old Boots, New Dirt is Jason Aldean’s Benedict Arnold moment. It is the moment the corn farmer’s son comes home wearing a flat-brimmed baseball cap and listening to Wiz Khalifa. It’s inevitable, but still somehow a shame—not because Wiz Khalifa is evil necessarily, but because it symbolizes the end of an era. Once upon a time, this was something that made for good Jason Aldean songs.
Two guns down.
Just over two months since the body of 22-year-old Cory Barron was found by a landfill worker in New Russia Township, OH after the young man had gone missing at Jason Aldean’s July 18th concert at Progressive Field in Cleveland, and friends and family still don’t have any answers as to the circumstances surrounding his death, and maybe never will. It is believed that while at the concert, Cory somehow gained access to a garbage chute at one of the top levels of the ballpark and fell five stories into a dumpster. The dumpster was then transported days later to the landfill where the body was discovered. But just how and why the young man ended up in the garbage chute remains a mystery.
Last week the long-awaited autopsy report from the Lorain County Coroner was released to the public. Dr. Stephen Evans found that the cause of death was multiple blunt force impact from the five story fall, and that Barron died immediately. But what he was unable to come up with was any conclusive evidence of why the fall occurred in the first place. According to the autopsy, there were no signs of foul play, and no signs that the fall wasn’t accidental. Dr. Evans says he is “less than happy” that the autopsy did not provide and more conclusive results.
“We’ll never know the circumstances of how he wound up in the trash chute,” says the Lorain County Coroner. “I wish I had that for the family.”
The autopsy also concluded that there was alcohol in Cory Barron’s system, but because of the time that lapsed between when Cory died and the autopsy, it was not possible to conclude Barron’s blood alcohol level at the time of death. However according to police, the concertgoer was “extremely intoxicated” when he disappeared. The information about Cory Barron’s level of impairment came from police interviewing friends of the Bowling Green State University senior who were also attending the concert. Cory disappeared around 9:30 PM after visiting some friends in a different section of the concert from his assigned seat. He never returned, and in the following days a full search for the man turned up nothing.
According to Action News 19 in Cleveland, sources say that Cory may have also engaged in an argument with another man or group of men right before he disappeared. They also say the only way someone could have accessed the chute was to crawl into it. However a complete investigation by homicide detectives has turned up nothing, and police say they have obtained no new evidence in the case since the body was found. Unless something miraculous turns up, it is very likely the specifics of Cory Barron’s death will remain a mystery.
After the news of Cory Barron’s death was made public, Jason Aldean posted on Twitter, “My sincere condolences go out to Cory Barron’s family and friends. My heart is heavy for you all and you are in my thoughts and prayers.” Barron death came during a period this summer when the amount of arrests and hospitalizations at country concerts was making headlines and stirring debate about what impact country music’s new party atmosphere might be having on behavior.
Recently Jason Aldean spoke to Rolling Stone Country about the problems at country concerts, saying,“You want people to come out to your show to enjoy it and everybody to wake up the next day and talk about what a great time they had. You don’t want somebody to come to the show and never make it home. Unfortunately that kind of stuff is out of our hands. People are adults and are responsible for their own actions. You come to a show and plan on drinking, get a driver. Call a cab. That’s things that adults should just know. We can’t make people do that stuff.”
Trust me when I say if you go ambling through American college towns, you won’t find anything resembling a dearth of string bands with a bunch of young men and their banjos and fiddles stomping and shouting on stage. What you will find a dearth of are these bands that are actually worth listening to, at least outside of the context of a drunken college town barroom. It is in that spirit that I present to you the Whiskey Shivers and their brand new self-titled album that enlists the speed we haven’t heard since .357 String Band, The Dinosaur Truckers, and early Trampled By Turtles, yet entails a completely different vibe from the dark or emotional mood of those efforts.
The best way to describe The Whiskey Shivers is as a bluegrass party band. Oh but don’t worry you Stanley Brothers and Bill Monroe bluegrass Bible thumpers, they’re not going out of their way to call themselves pure bluegrass, and there’s a lot more to their show than just a party. What makes the Whiskey Shivers special though is it just seems like five guys on stage having tons of fun while you get to listen in. It’s this vibe they bring to the building that leaves cadres of rabid fans behind at every stop.
The Whiskey Shivers have been around for a few years now, and the Austin-based band has some national tours with bigger names such as Scott H. Biram, Larry & His Flask, and Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers under their belt. They played at Stagecoach this year right beside artists like Jason Isbell, to as high as Eric Church and Jason Aldean. They appeared at ACL Fest last autumn. And the whole time they’ve been building up a grassroots fan base from their infectious and fun live shows.
What the band was lacking heretofore was a really good record to represent the energy they ignite on stage for the folks who wanted to take the Whiskey Shivers home with them. The few homespun offerings available at the merch table over the years had a lot of spirit, but did not do their live show justice. So for this effort they solicited the services of rising Americana star Robert Ellis as a producer, and set out to make what they hoped to be their definitive studio album that would set them apart from the string band hordes. I’m happy to report this album does just that.
In fact this album doesn’t just capture what the Whiskey Shivers do live, it elevates it. The wild-eyed and dirty sound of the band is what makes them so lovable, but that also leaves room for improvement in composition and arrangement that could elevate their game that much more. That was the trick for producer Robert Ellis—get these boys to behave just a tad, clean up and arrange those five-part harmonies properly, cinch up those licks a little tighter, etc., but do this all while not polishing away the magic at the Whiskey Shivers’ core. And in turn this could also improve the live show from the band by being that much more mindful of arrangements and boundaries.
Just a look at the Whiskey Shivers’ multi-cultural lineup and you see this isn’t you’re typical string band. Some consider fiddle player Bobby Fitzgerald as the frontman, but really each player brings something unique to the table that is important to the Whiskey Shivers’ magic. Where the band had originally leaned on covers, all but one of the songs on this self-titled album are originals, allowing each member to have their voice be heard.
Though some of the songs on the album still feel like they’re trying with some degree of difficulty to capture the live feel in the recorded context like “Been Looking For” and “Hot Party Dads,” many of the songs came to life in a way the live show could never afford. Their droning spiritual “Graves” is one of those songs that feels immediately timeless, and you could see this being embedded in some big Hollywood movie, or even have one built around it. The trapping of a band that relies on speed is they tend to be known for speed and speed only, but in songs like “Friends” and especially “Pray For Me” they show they can thrive in the mid-tempo, and adding the steel guitar texture to the latter turned out to be a really savvy call. And though you wouldn’t traditionally consider the Whiskey Shivers as super pickers or compositional masters (this is no Punch Brothers, but that’s the point), the last song “Swarm” illustrates a lot more depth than some may expect from this project.
Taming the beast without destroying its wild wonder is what this self-titled LP accomplishes, and it should frame the Whiskey Shivers as one of the string bands worthy of more wide, national recognition as young band on the rise.
1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.
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On Monday, September 22nd, the subset of American country music known to many by its nickname “Bro-Country,” died at its home in Nashville, TN. It was three-years-old. Bro-Country is survived by its family and close friends, including Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, Brantley Gilbert, Cole Swindell, Chase Rice, Thomas Rhett, Dallas Davidson, and dozens of other lesser-known country music artists and songwriters. Though the specific cause of death has yet to be ruled on by the local medical examiner, preliminary findings appear to show that Bro-Country had been exhaustively over-utilized over the last few months and years until it finally passed away from overexposure. Bro-Country’s death is definitely being considered the result of “foul play”.
Though the exact date of birth of Bro-Country has never been specifically determined, many place its origins in early 2011 with what was initially called “checklist” or “laundry list” country music. Regularly listing off mundane artifacts of country living such as ice cold beer, pickup trucks, tailgates, dirt roads, hot girls, cutoffs, moonshine, mud, and many other country calling cards, songs like Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” and Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” went on to become some of the biggest country music songs during Bro-Country’s life. The name “Bro-Country” wasn’t coined until August of 2013 when culture writer Jody Rosen’s dissertation on the subject described Bro-Country as a, “tatted, gym-toned, party-hearty young American white dude.”
Florida Georgia Line’s song “Cruise” very much typified Bro-Country’s life and legacy, and when the single became the longest-running #1 song in the history of country music, the troubles for Bro-Country began. Predictions of Bro-Country becoming a hyper trend that would grow old prematurely began to spread, and so did public dissent about Bro-Country in what became known as the Season of Discontent. Things began to look especially bleak for Bro-Country when Big Machine Records CEO Scott Borchetta said in December of 2013, “There’s too much, to be honest with you. We can’t keep talking about Fireball and Coors Light and having the tailgate down, etc. So we’ll task our writers and artists to dig a little deeper.”
In 2014, enemies of Bro-Country began to emerge from the country music industry itself, and anti Bro-Country songs like Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song” were released to radio, exacerbating Bro-Country’s health problems. Even Bro-Country proponents who had recently given a rosy prognosis for its future, like Sony Music Nashville’s CEO Gary Overton who once said Bro-Country’s demise was “nowhere in the foreseeable future” is now saying “There’s a saturation point.” New albums from Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney purposefully avoid Bro-Country. In some ways it seems fitting that Bro-Country would pass away on the last official day of summer, since the party themes and good times of Bro-Country seemed to be perpetually stuck in the year’s warmest months.
Of course there will be some who will not be able to come to grips with the death of Bro-Country, especially many of Bro-Country’s friends who made lots of money during Bro-Country’s life—many of the same people who refused to acknowledge the problems Bro-Country was facing in the first place. There will be people who attempt to carry on Bro-Country’s legacy by singing about the things Bro-Country loved like beer and tailgates, and they may even find some success in the short term. But eventually they will have to face Bro-Country’s death, or be like the mullet-wearing uncle stuck in the glory days.
Bro-Country is scheduled to be buried in the rubble of the historic RCA Studio ‘A’ building set to be bulldozed on Music Row in Nashville. And in Bro-Country’s memory, an edifice to gentrification and homogenization will be erected in the form of a 147,000 square foot condominium complex on the location.
R.I.P. Bro-Country, you smelled extremely manly.
Though we’re still only a few months removed from George Strait’s final show as a touring performer, it’s pretty safe to say that the record breaking concert will go down as one of the biggest concert events in the history of country music, especially for an event centered around a single performer. From shattering the indoor attendance record, to all the special guests, to the circular stage, to the songs and performances themselves, country music may never top what happened on June 7th, 2014 as a farewell to a legendary country performer.
When it came to how the show would be sold to those who couldn’t attend, we knew to anticipate that commercial interests would be considered heavily in the deal. When a selection of the performances from the concert were broadcast via CMT on August 29th, it was no surprise there was a heavy dose of Jason Aldean, Sheryl Crow, and other performers that could attract eyeballs to the broadcast, even though they would also attract the ire of some of George Strait’s traditional country fans. And the same could be expected for the album The Cowboy Rides Away: Live from At&T Stadium when it was released on September 16th.
But what nobody could anticipate is that a George Strait album would be the vehicle for the most excessive, and most blatantly obvious use of the pitch correction software known as Auto-Tune that I have ever, ever heard in the history of recorded music, barring projects purposefully using Auto-Tune as a special effect. The use of Auto-Tune on The Cowboy Rides Away is egregious, and embarrassingly obvious to the point where I can’t believe that a project like this would ever be released for public consumption, especially when such a legendary performer, and such a legendary event, are involved. This is outrageous. It is an abomination. And whomever is responsible for mixing in and mastering this Auto-Tune hatchet job should be marched into someone’s office, forced to listen to King George’s masterful vocals getting transmogrified by 1′s and 0′s like lambs to the slaughter, and then be unceremoniously fired. Then a new version of The Cowboy Rides Away sans the Auto-Tune should be offered to anyone who spent good money on this album. And all this should be done posthaste.
What the hell were they thinking? Who approved this? Who believed that they could slather such excessive Auto-Tune on this project, and people simply wouldn’t notice?
Beyond the deceit that the use of Auto-Tune presents in itself, it is especially difficult to employ in this particular context where you have a live performance, and a performer who doesn’t use Auto-Tune on a regular basis. George Strait sings at times with a cadence that Auto-Tune can’t keep up with. Many times he purposefully sings by beginning a note out-of-tune to eventually bend it back into place in an attempt to squeeze the emotion out of a lyric. This is called “Twang,” and is a critical part of the George Strait experience that someone in a studio decided to destroy because of some silly notion that George Strait’s singing must be perfect. Performers who regularly sing with the aid of Auto-Tune like Rascal Flatts, they know what to do to make sure to not send the program into overdrive. When you add Auto-Tune on to a live performance after the fact, it almost always results in obvious artificial electronic sounds that erode the authenticity of the listening experience.
Auto-Tune was never meant to be used in the way it was used on The Cowboy Rides Away. As audio engineers will tell you, “Everyone in Nashville uses Auto-Tune,” and to an extent, this is probably true in the studio. But the point of Auto-Tune originally was to take errant notes here and there in an otherwise excellent vocal performance, and fix them slightly and harmlessly so an entire new vocal take wasn’t necessary. It was a tool, not a crutch. Almost immediately of course, artists like Cher, and eventually T-Pain began to use it as a vocal enhancement. But when it is administered en masse as it is on this album, the result is something much worse than what a few missed notes would ever sound like. No care, no love was put in the vocals on this album and how the Auto-Tune was administered. Even if some Auto-Tune correction was decided to be used here and there, to the extent it was used on this album is an insult to the listener’s ears.
Veteran producer Chuck Ainlay is given credit as a producer on The Cowboy Rides Away: Live from At&T Stadium. So is George Strait. I have no idea if George Strait had any say so with what happened with this album and the Auto-Tune or not. But even if George Strait himself doesn’t have a problem with it, many fans do. And those fans should demand either their money back, or an unadulterated version of this album. Because this artist, and this concert were too important to mar in such an unnecessary manner.
One of the things that can be so frustrating for distinguishing country music fans is knowing many of country music’s current stars can do so much better. Many of them have sensational voices, and can write great songs when they set their mind to it. And many times you can hear examples of this when listening to their albums. The garbage that artists and labels release as singles these days usually constitute the absolute worst an album has to offer. When listening to the albums of even some of country music’s worst acts, you’re regularly surprised by the substance and the amount of sincerity they exhibit in some songs.
A few months ago Saving Country Music published and article called “Before They Sucked: Big Country Music Stars At The Start.” As a similar exercise, let’s look at some of the album cuts of the biggest stars, and see the kind of heart, and country-sounding material they’re capable of when they set their mind to it.
PLEASE NOTE: This is not a recommendation of any of these songs. This is simply an exercise to illustrate that returning more substance to country isn’t necessarily tied to recording different songs, it could simply be tied to releasing different singles. Florida Georgia Line’s recent single “Dirt” is an example of how a big mainstream act can have a chart-topping success with a song with substance if they just make the conscious choice to do so.
And this is just the very tip of the iceberg of examples. The truth is most any top tier country artist is going to have songs of substance on their album.
Brantley Gilbert – “That Was Us” and “I’m Gone”
Brantley Gilbert might be the best example of an artist who releases the most vile detritus as singles, but when you actually listen to his records, you are surprised to find songs that are not just serious and sincere, but that are downright powerful. Gilbert is the mainstream artist with a grassroots following. He’s one of the few mainstream artists left who can sell albums, primarily because his ultra-loyal fans know there are going to be some really deep songs there that the radio will never play. These songs are one of the reasons his fan base seems to be ready to jump off a cliff for him if he ordered it, and will argue for days how great he is.
Brantley Gilbert’s last album Just As I Am is culpable for two of the crappiest singles found on country radio today: “Bottom’s Up” and “Small Town Throwdown.” But there are also a couple of tracks that show a lot of substance and heart, and even capture Brantley breaking away from his mumbling singing style. “That Was Us” starts out feeling like you’re average four minute laundry list pablum, but it reveals itself as a waltz-timed memory trip that includes moments of vulnerability and even self-effacing honesty. “I’m Gone” is another one from Just As I Am that is driven by mandolin and steel guitar, and aside from a Richie Sambora guitar wank-off bisecting the song, it’s a good reminder that Brantley Gilbert is a songwriter that writes his own stuff, and can write in story form with very strong results.
Justin Moore (w/ Miranda Lambert) - “Old Habits”
Maybe a little too sappy for some, while others won’t be able to get past what they consider Justin Moore’s fake accent, but boil this one down at 212° F and you’ve got an old-fashioned country heartbreaker that could jerk tears from some of the most hardened mainstream country haters. Why in the hell wasn’t this released as a single instead of Justin Moore’s Mötley Crüe screech fest tribute? You have Miranda Lambert on the track who is a hot commodity, and a hell of a lot more feeling than anything we’ve heard from Justin Moore in a long time. I fail to see how this wouldn’t perform much better than “Home Sweet Home” which stalled out on the charts in the 30′s. Give this song a chance as a single, and mainstream country steps up its game immediately.
Blake Shelton – “Lay Low”
There’s a few songs on Blake Shelton’s Based On A True Story that are not nearly as bad as “Boys ‘Round Here.” Truth is, Blake Shelton has never defined the worst country has to offer, especially when it comes to his album cuts. It’s that his alligator mouth gets ahead of his hummingbird ass more often than not. Songs like “Do You Remember” and “Grandaddy’s Gun” get brownie points for effort, and so should “Lay Low.” What’s good about this song is it really revitalizes the mood of mid to late 80′s country before everything went Garth crazy. It’s smooth and laid back. It doesn’t say much, but what it does say fills the spirit with a warm, relaxed feeling. It reminds you of what country sounded like before … you know … people like Blake Shelton came along.
If you want an example of an artist with one of the greatest voices ever to grace the genre, and who threw his talents away by defining his career through stupid singles, look no further than Mr. “Honky Tonk Badonka Donk” himself. The simple fact is Trace Adkins has entire albums of songs that are way more substantive that what is symbolized by “Brown Chicken Brown Cow” and the other bull he’s released to radio. This guy once won the ACM for Best New Male Vocalist, and is a member of the Grand Ole Opry. His last album Love Will… is full of serious love songs, and as one would expect, it virtually flopped despite being arguably his most mature album yet. The Trace Adkins career arch is one that conveys that you may get hot with big singles, but you can also die by them when you become a joke to many listeners.
Jason Aldean – “Church Pew or Bar Stool”
Jason Aldean has never been a songwriter; he’s always been a pure singer and performer. But one thing he has done over his career is establish a theme surrounding his music of the small town identity that looks at the world through the simple eyes of the forgotten people in America’s heartland and hometowns. Songs like “Amarillo Sky,” “Water Tower,” and “Flyover States” speak very specifically to people forgotten by time and technology, and that struggle to find their identity in a challenging new world while still holding on to who they are.
We have to remember that Jason Aldean wasn’t a huge star until “Dirt Road Anthem,” and his label Broken Bow wasn’t a big deal until Jason Aldean. As time has gone on, just like so many stars who get overtaken by the Music Row machine, Aldean has backslid into chasing trends and losing touch with what made him unique when he first entered the business. But throughout his discography, you can hear the sentiment that gives a solemn assessment of lost America and its forlorn residents.
This post has been updated (at bottom).
When the CMA Awards nominees were announced on Wednesday September 3rd, one of the most high-profile snubs in years occurred when Jason Aldean was left in the shade with zero nominations. As one of country music’s few stadium draws, and as the reigning Male Vocalist of the Year of the rival ACM Awards, the snub seemed somewhat curious, even to those who may count themselves as Jason Aldean detractors.
It was definitely curious to Jason Aldean’s father Barry Williams, who took to his Facebook account to vent about his son’s snubbing.
Ok, somebody help me out here. We have a country artist who has had at least a dozen number one singles, is the most downloaded country artist of all time, consistently sells out stadiums, has broken attendance records set by George Strait, Kenny Chesney, and even Paul McCartney. Yet he doesn’t even get one nomination for the CMA awards this year. He has been consistently shunned by the Academy the last couple of years when it was obvious that he was deserving of the Entertainer of The Year Award, based on statistics, not popularity of the Academy. This current failure to recognize Jason for his accomplishments only furthers my opinion that the CMA’s are a joke and a farce. I don’t want this to sound like “sour grapes”, but the statistics should speak for themselves.
This citing of statistics is the same argument Clear Channel DJ Bobby Bones used when he complained about his snubbing by the CMA’s. Bobby Bones also asserted, “Jason Aldean got screwed too!”
First, let’s dispense of this idea that Jason Aldean has been “consistently shunned by the Academy…” No, Jason Aldean has never won Entertainer of the Year, but he’s been nominated three times, and has been recognized by the CMA’s just as much as any male artist over the last three years.
In 2013, Jason Aldean was nominated by the CMA for Male Vocalist of the Year, Entertainer of the Year, and Vocal Event of the Year. In 2012, Aldean was nominated for Male Vocalist, Entertainer of the Year, and Single of the Year. In 2011, Aldean was nominated for a total of five awards, including Entertainer of the Year, Single of the Year, and he won Vocal Event of the Year for “Don’t You Wanna Stay” with Kelley Clarkson, and Album of the Year for My Kinda Party. You combine this with Jason’s nomination for the Horizon Award in 2010, and that is twelve total CMA nominations, and two wins—hardly a shunning by the CMA.
Something else to be factored in is this was an off year for Jason Aldean due to his album cycle. Aldean’s last release was 2012′s Night Train, which was not eligible along with many of the album’s biggest singles for this year’s awards. Aldean’s new album Old Boots, New Dirt is about to be released and will be eligible next year. And let’s face it, Night Train was a step down from Aldean’s previous album My Kinda Party, which set the pace commercially for country music in 2011. My Kinda Party has sold over 3 million copies, while Night Train only reached 1.6 million.
Boiled down, what happened in 2014 was Keith Urban and Dierks Bentley both re-entered the CMA Awards top male tier because of big years. Dierks Bentley’s Riser album has been quite successful both commercially and critically, and Keith Urban’s new album and American Idol judgeship probably caused him to be more prominent in the minds of voters. It does seem a little strange Urban would be up for Entertainer of the Year and not Aldean, but it’s not so out of the realm of possibility that it should be taken as a sign of impropriety any more than the dozens of other reasons we already know the CMA is flawed.
But favorable “statistics” or “popularity” is not a guarantee of anything. That’s why people vote for CMA nominees and winners instead of using stats to determine the outcomes. Critical reception and other intangibles always must factor into these types of decisions, and that is where Jason Aldean may have shot himself in the foot this year. In the midst of the initial rounds of CMA voting, Jason Aldean released his latest single, “Burnin’ It Down.” Though the song quickly revealed itself as a commercial blockbuster, it was heavily criticized in its initial reception, including by many of Jason Aldean’s core fans. “Burnin’ It Down” symbolized such an abandonment of country music’s sonic values, it may have compelled many of the CMA voters to shudder at the idea of putting a check mark beside Aldean’s name. Jason Aldean has a history of stretching country music’s borders with singles, including country rap tunes like “Dirt Road Anthem” and “1994.”
On September 1st, Jason Aldean streamed his new album through the viral site BuzzFeed. Simply using that forum to preview his new music speaks to just how low brow Aldean seems to be aiming with this new project. Aldean states, “I’m the same dude, but we’re gonna start over and hit some uncharted territory here…If somebody can put a definition on what country music is, please tell me…I’m pretty knowledgeable in country music, and I’ve never once seen where it says, ‘Country music doesn’t have a drum loop.’”
Actually Jason Aldean, country music does have a definition, and drum loops are nowhere to be found. Songs like “Burnin’ It Down” go strictly against how country music is defined by the CMA for example, which defines country as…
…the sound of Jimmie Rodgers yodeling – Keith Urban blasting out a guitar solo – The poetry of Hank Williams Sr. on “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” - A room full of convicts cheering on Johnny Cash as he sings “San Quentin, I hate every inch of you” - Alan Jackson speaking for the common man in the wake of September 11th - Feisty Loretta Lynn, and tearful Tammy Wynette - Roy Acuff showing off yo-yo tricks at the Grand Ole Opry - Miranda Lambert performing a heartfelt ballad - The King of Country George Strait – The showmanship of superstars Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley and Taylor Swift.
Jason Aldean goes on to tell BuzzFeed,
“It’s great to put your stuff out there and give your fans a chance to tell you what they think. But if you’re not careful, you can read way too much into what people are saying. No, [“Burnin’ It Down”] is not Hank Williams Sr. or George Jones, but this also isn’t the ’60s and the ’70s. As great as that music was, you have a new wave of artists that were influenced by a whole different world of music, and country music is gonna evolve just like any kind of music.”
See, this is the justification all of these artists give for releasing music that is not country. They know it’s wrong, and so they try to justify it to themselves and the public as “evolution,” and then expect the country industry, like the CMA, to snap to and help serve it to the public.
Country music is in the identity crisis of its life. Left and right, artists are trying to turn country music into something it isn’t for the short-term commercial gain. There’s no better examples of this than Jason Aldean’s “Burnin’ It Down” and “Dirt Road Anthem.” If any entity is in a position of leadership to at least set some moderate boundaries around what country music actually is before its sound is lost to the monogenre forever, it would be the CMA. “You can read way too much into what people are saying,” Jason Aldean says, but perhaps Aldean isn’t reading enough.
As many of country music’s other big acts at the moment are turning to more substantive material in the face of growing negative sentiment about the direction of country music—including Florida Georgia Line who helped write “Burnin’ It Down”—Jason Aldean decided to take a different approach. And perhaps that cost him, as it probably should have. An institution like the CMA should not reward someone who is so flippant about defining country music. The CMA should reward artists who excel at showing the public the beauty of what country music truly is.
***UPDATE (9-9-14): Jason Aldean has responded to his CMA snubbing. He told Rolling Stone Country in part,
Obviously it’s disappointing. We’re still out there selling out shows. With maybe the exception of Luke [Bryan], I don’t think there is anybody else out there that is doing the kind of touring numbers that we’re doing. It’s frustrating, man, but at the same time, I don’t know how…what do you do? Things like that are out of your hands.”
“When [the nominations] came out, everything stirred up a hornet’s nest with everybody. All the DJs on the radio were talking about it and everything else. Which is cool. I do appreciate the fact that there are people out there who do realize what we’re doing. It sort of validates my reasoning for being upset.”
It is what it is. You can bitch and complain about it, or you just go and keep doing things the way you always did.
In fairness, George Strait has also been selling out shows and breaking attendance records, not just Luke Bryan.
Why doesn’t this asshat move on to hosting game shows already?
On Wednesday morning (9-3) the nominations for the 2014 CMA Awards were unveiled, including the nominees for the CMA’s National Broadcast Media Personality, of which apparently Bobby Bones though he was a shoe-in for. And when his name didn’t show up on the ballot, he took to Twitter to bitch like the spoiled, self-entitled, self-centered prick he is.
Of course he began by putting the onus on his fans, like he always does. “Everyone calm down. I dont have to win every award. Getting 1000, ‘how are you not up for CMA personality of the year’.” he said.
Bullshit. The only people paying attention to the broadcaster awards yesterday were broadcasters and media. The broadcast nominees were not published by any major media outlet. Bobby is trying to shield himself by using his fans. He was butt hurt when he wasn’t nominated, and proved this as time went on. Bobby Bones continued,
“its not an ‘injustice’. I simply don’t play the political games the format is known for. Also Jason Aldean got screwed too! Id like to thank the almost 500 radio stations Im on & you the listener for the millions of $$$ we’ve raised for charity this year,”
This charity card is another indolent, insulting, and misrepresenting card Bobby Bones overplays predictably. Just because you give to charity doesn’t absolve you of all your sins. Why doesn’t Bobby Bones set up a charity for the hundreds of local DJ’s he’s put out of work, or the thousands of people laid off by Clear Channel in the most historic and sweeping homogenization and nationalization of a cultural institution since the dawn of American media? Give all the money to charity you want. It will never make up for the damage of poisoning people with the cultural filth broadcast on the Bobby Bones Show to millions every morning.
Bobby Bones continues, “going to need a lot of old people in this industry to retire or die before the Nashville “guard” lets something new get recognized.” And then he caps off what appears to be a threat. “Im going to find out who you are. Don’t worry.“
On this final thread, Bobby Bones does have a point. The CMA oligarchy is a cloistered and inbred bunch who is generally non-conducive to letting outsiders in. But in the case of Bobby Bones, they’re just trying to protect their own. The reason the CMA is not showering Bobby Bones with accolades is because he’s put so many of their own out of work, and out of business. The reason the CMA is seen as the most important governing body in country music is because it is tied deeply to radio, not just labels, making it the widest representation of the country music body. If Clear Channel and Bobby Bones had their way, there would be no other country music morning DJ in the entire nation other than Bobby Bones, and this dream is quickly becoming a reality as more local DJ’s who have very personal relationships with their communities and do many great charitable services for their locales are being lost to national syndication.
“I somewhat expected it,” Bones told The Tennessean. “But I have to voice my displeasure. We’re the biggest morning show in the country, killing the other stations in Nashville.” That’s right, “killing” is the optimum word there. There’s no competition when it comes to Bobby Bones. Bobby Bones has no respect for the cultural institutions of country music, including its legendary stations and DJ’s. They’re all just a bunch of old farts that need to get out of his way because he’s so awesome. And that’s the reason he wasn’t nominated, and shouldn’t have been nominated.
And then Bobby Bones really showed his ass by saying, “Awards in the end aren’t anything but dust collectors.”
But wait a second. If they’re just “dust collectors,” why all the hubub? Why even address the situation? Why does it even matter? Why did Bobby Bones make such a huge deal about winning the Academy of Country Music Country Music On-Air Personality of the Year in April? In fact, Bobby Bones shoved his ACM trophy in Saving Country Music’s face in April. If you have so little respect for the CMA’s distinction to call it a “dust collector,” why would the CMA ever consider bestowing it to you?
Bobby Bones is the single-most driver of cultural homogenization in America, and is the scourge of the airwaves. Hats off to the CMA for recognizing this, and not giving him a distinction he doesn’t deserve, and admittedly, doesn’t respect. A CMA Award is supposed to be about quality, not quantity. And that’s something Bobby Bones, and Clear Channel don’t get.
At a Luke Bryan concert at the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center in Darien Center, NY on Saturday, 8-16, Genesee County Sheriff’s Deputies arrested 20 concertgoers for numerous violations, while another nine were cited for having either fake I.D.’s or wrong I.D.’s.
Among the arrested was 28-year-old David P. Mayne who allegedly grabbed a woman he was with by the throat and punched her in the face. Mayne then struggled with officers as they attempted to detain him. He was charged with disorderly conduct, harassment, and resisting arrest.
Among the other arrests, there were multiple charges against concertgoers for harassment and disorderly conduct stemming from fights and assaults, including multiple assaults on security officers at the venue. Other charges included trespassing and marijuana possession. 17 people also received medical treatment and four were taken to the hospital, though Emergency EMS spokesperson Wade Schwab says these numbers are not out of the ordinary for a summer concert.
The Batavian posted a rundown of the concert’s arrests.
David P. Mayne, 28, of James Street, Medina, for is charged with disorderly conduct, harassment, 2nd, and resisting arrest after allegedly being involved in a physical altercation inside the concert venue after grabbing a acquaintance by the throat and punching her in the face. Mayne then allegedly resisted arrest. Mayne was arraigned in Darien Court and remanded to jail in lieu of $500 bail.
Michael R. J. Fiumano, 20, of Glenn Avenue, Pulaski, is charged with harassment, 2nd, after he allegedly punched and pushed a Live Nation Security Officer.
Kassidy R. Watson, 19, of Lake Avenue, Hilton, is charged with tampering with physical evidence and unlawful possession of marijuana after allegedly being found in possession of marijuana and then attempted to conceal the evidence in her shirt.
Ariana M. Watson, 20, of Lighthouse Road, Hilton, is charged with unlawful possession of marijuana after allegedly being found in possession of marijuana.
Mark A. Buldyke, 22, of Amber Court, Port Perry, Ontario, Canada, is charged with trespass after allegedly jumping a fence into the venue.
Kirstia M. Dlugosz, 19, of South Prince Drive, Depew, is charged with trespass after allegedly reenentering the concert venue after being ejected and told not to return.
Stephen J. Hayes, 24, of Saya Road, Weedsport, is charged with criminal trespass, 3rd, after allegedly jumping a fence onto the Darien Lake property.
Corey J. Hinman, 25, of Ryan Road, Weedsport, is charged with criminal trespass, 3rd, after allegedly jumping a fence onto Darien Lake property.
Jacob R. Andol, 19, of East Blood Road, Cowlesville, is charged with disorderly conduct after allegedly causing a disturbance in the medical tent inside the venue.
Lucas R. Logsdon, 19, of Dunkley Road, Leicester, is charged with disorderly conduct after allegedly fighting inside the concert venue.
Trey G. Henderson, 22, of Terry Hills Drive, Batavia, is charged with disorderly conduct after allegedly fighting with concert security while being ejected from the venue.
Samuel A. Musolino II, 23, of Hyde Park, Niagara Falls, is charged with criminal trespass, 3rd, after allegedly jumping a fence into the concert venue.
Angela M. Pompeo, 23, of Hillpine Road, Cheektowaga, is charged with trespass after allegedly reentering the concert venue after being ejected and told on to return.
Jordan M. Coulson, 23, of McMurchy Avenue, South Brampton, Ontario, Canada, is charged with trespass after allegedly jumping a fence on Employee Road into the back area.
Danielle B. Russell, 19, of Floren Tine Way, Chili, is charged with trespass after allegedly reentering the concert venue after being ejected and told not to return.
Matthew H. Coe, 22, of Route 62, Frewsburg, is charged with trespass after allegedly jumping a fence into the concert venue.
Ryan M. Hanes, 25, of Cleveland Drive, Cheektowaga, is charged with disorderly conduct after allegedly fighting with Live Nation Security.
David D. Carpes, 27, of Nelson Road, Clyde, is charged with harassment, 2nd, after allegedly pushing a Live Nation Security Officer.
Bryan T. Mogle, 23, of Englewood Avenue, Buffalo, is charged with trespass after allegedly reentering the concert venue after being ejected and told not to return.
Gabrielle L. Frey, 20, of Boyce Road, Corfu, is charged with disorderly conduct after allegedly causing a disturbance on Sumner Road.
A Jason Aldean concert at the First Midwest Bank Ampitheatre in Tinley Park, IL on Saturday, August 9th also saw numerous arrests and incidents according to police reports obtained by Saving Country Music.
Michael Patitucci was arrested for domestic battery in the parking lot after he allegedly grabbed his girlfriend by the hair and rammed her head into the steering wheel multiple times, resulting in facial injuries. Witnesses say the woman was in the passenger seat when she got into a verbal argument with concert goers in another car. When the male she was with who was driving exited the vehicle to confront the other vehicle, the woman told him to get back into the car as she got into the driver’s seat. The man reacted angrily, bashing the woman’s head into the steering wheel. The man was taken into custody for domestic battery.
Another concertgoer was thrown out twice by security at the venue for being intoxicated and rude to the staff and other attendees only to return a third time. When security tried to forcibly remove her, she resisted heavily, calling the security staff “bitches” and “whores” and telling them how much money she made. She was eventually detained by police.
Another individual struck a fellow attendee in the back of the head with a beer can from behind. The man was cited for disorderly conduct. Another woman claimed she was hit in the back of the head by a flying beer can, and she confronted the woman she believed threw it, punching her her in the face with a closed fist. Another patron in the VIP section of the venue allegedly assaulted a security officer and had to be forcibly removed from the venue.
Multiple hit and runs were also reported as fans exited the First Midwest Bank Ampitheatre, including when a gray Chevrolet struck a white Kia Optima before speeding away from the scene.
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These most recent events add to a growing rap sheets from mainstream country concerts this summer. On August 2nd, a drunk driver ran over a police officer at a Jason Aldean concert, and 30 concertgoers were taken to local hospitals. Earlier in the summer, 55 people were arrested, and 22 taken to hospitals at a Keith Urban show at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Mass. Later it was also revealed that an alleged rape happened in the venue’s lawn section while as many as 15 people stood and watched and took video of the incident. There was also a report of a gang rape at the Faster Horses Festival in mid July. An annual event in Pittsburgh became a national story when pictures of trash and drunken patrons went viral in late June. And a 22-year-old man was found dead in a dumpster in late July after a Jason Aldean concert in what is thought to be an alcohol-related incident.
The annual “WE Fest” country music festival in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota was marred by a triple stabbing in a campsite adjacent to the festival early Thursday (8-7) morning. The three-day music festival at the Soo Pass Ranch began Wednesday and featured headliners such as Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, Brad Paisley, and The Zac Brown Band.
According to the Becker County Sheriff’s Department, at 1:45 AM Thursday morning, a heavily-intoxicated concert goer at the Hilltop Campground across the road from WE Fest began shocking people with a handheld Taser. When the man was confronted by people in the campground, he brandished a knife, stabbing three men from Canada who were trying to stop him. All three men were transported to a local hospital via ambulance.
The accused stabber is 32-year-old Aaron Williams from Minot, North Dakota who was immediately arrested. “He took out a knife and started slashing them, and three of them received cuts on the arm,” Sheriff Kelly Shannon of the Becker County Sheriff’s Department told Detroit Lakes News. The three Canadian victims all received treatment at the hospital, and were later released.
Aaron Williams was arraigned in a local court Friday afternoon, pleading not guilty to the assault charges, and was released on bail. He is due in court again for a hearing on August 25th.
As of late Friday afternoon, the festival had also seen three other assaults, six DWI charges, five disorderly conduct charges, and 12 people arrested on warrant charges. However while the theme of many of the summer’s country music festivals and concerts in 2014 has been a spike in the amount of arrests, violence, and alcohol-related hospital visits, Becker County Sheriff Kelly Shannon tells InForum that the amount of incidents at WE Fest were actually down this year compared to previous years, despite the triple stabbing. Sheriff Shannon cites in part the strong police presence local authorities dispatched to the festival. At any time, 25 sheriff’s officers or Minnesota State Police were on the site, and police had a command center set up near the east gate of the fest.
Sheriff Shannon also says that the festival does a great job assisting law enforcement and concert goers by being conscious of safety and offering emergency medical services and chaplain crews for people in need. “They’re invaluable for everything they do for us,” Shannon told InForum.
WE Fest began in 1983 in a barn and drew approximately 9,000 people. Since then it has become one of the biggest country music festivals in the United States, and one of the biggest that offers camping as a major part of the experience. On Friday, the crowd swelled to nearly 50,000 attendees.
News of country concerts getting out of hand have been in the headlines this summer. Last weekend a drunk driver ran over a police officer at a Jason Aldean concert, and 30 concertgoers were taken to local hospitals. 55 people were arrested, and 22 taken to hospitals at a Keith Urban show at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Mass. Later it was also revealed that an alleged rape happened in the venue’s lawn section while as many as 15 people stood and watched and took video of the incident. There was also a report of a gang rape at the Faster Horses Festival in mid July. An annual event in Pittsburgh became a national story when pictures of trash and drunken patrons went viral in late June. And a 22-year-old man was found dead in a dumpster in late July after a Jason Aldean concert in what is thought to be an alcohol-related incident.
It’s been a working theory for years here at Saving Country Music that country is constantly trying to apologize for itself, and explain away all of the stereotypes of the genre to garner wider acceptance. Country spends all of its energy trying prove that it’s not a bunch of rednecks and racists and old people’s music, instead of educating people on the beauty of country in both its traditional and contemporary forms. I remember a couple of years ago when Jason Aldean said right before the ACM Awards,
Country music still kind of fights the stereotypes a lot of times. And here we’re having a country music show, and it’s in one of the glitziest cities in the world, so it just shows you that were not still sitting on hay bales passing out awards at these shows.
And you see this attitude play into the production of country music’s annual award shows and other large events more and more as time goes on. They invariably start off with the most non country performance as possible, attempting to lure viewers in by proving how not country the genre really is. This was especially evident during Tuesday (8-5) night’s broadcast of the CMA Music Fest special on ABC. There was little to nothing country about it. It came across as nothing more than an infomercial about how non-country the music of country really is. Dierks Bentley spelled it out before the night even started when he said, ““It’s a young, current, hip thing that’s happening that deserves to be in a downtown city center that’s new and growing and feels vibrant and just feels … represents the music properly. You know, this is not like your grandfather’s country music anymore.”
In an interview with Country Weekly, classic country artist Sammy Kershaw, who’s promoting his new Do You Know Me? George Jones tribute album had some poignant things to say about country music’s poor self-esteem.
Look, I’ve always said country music is the only genre that hates itself. It wants to be everything else, but country music. I’ve been in it for a long, long time and I’ve seen the changes, but it always comes back. But now, I don’t see it coming back. It finally found a route to go.
Hopefully Kershaw is wrong about country music coming back, but what he’s most certainly right about is country music wanting to be everything else than what it’s supposed to be. Whether the circle is truly broken forever, or it will eventually come back around again like it has done before in the past, there’s no doubting country is farther out on the loop than ever before.
The Cambridge Township Police Department in south central Michigan is looking for information from anyone who may know about an alleged gang rape that occurred on the grounds of the Faster Horses Festival on Saturday, July 19th right as Tim McGraw was finishing his headlining set.
Cambridge Township Police Department Chief Larry Wibbeler says a 25-year-old woman was separated from her group in the parking lot of the Michigan International Speedway at around 12:05 AM where the 3-day Faster Horses Festival was being held, when she was confronted and allegedly raped by three men. The woman was trying to make her way to the parking area near the U.S. 12 entrance. “She was attacked in the dark near the parking area, and there didn’t happen to be anyone around in that parking area,” Chief Wibbeler told Mlive.com.
The woman suffered multiple injuries as part of the sexual assault including contusions, scrapes, and scratches. After the rape, the woman was able to get the attention of other concertgoers who offered her assistance and called police. The woman was then transported to Allegiance Health hospital in Jackson, MI by ambulance where a rape kit was conducted. The rape kit is currently at the Michigan State Police crime lab for evidence gathering and analysis.
Manager of media relations at Michigan International Speedway Brad Kuhbander says the speedway is cooperating with the investigation. “Safety is our No. 1 priority. We work with police, fire, homeland security and the FBI on a regular basis to ensure the safety of all our guests,” he tells mlive.com.
Cambridge Township Police have been unable to identify any witnesses or suspects in the case. The alleged rape happened in a dark area, and beyond the description of “three white males,” investigators have no leads. The incident went unreported by local news until authorities felt they had sufficient evidence a rape had occurred and were lost for leads in the case. Authorities are asking for anyone who may have information on the alleged rape to contact Cambridge Township Police Department at 517-467-4737.
The news comes as stories of country concerts getting out of hand have been in the headlines this summer, including over the weekend when a drunk driver ran over a police officer at a Jason Aldean concert, and 30 concertgoers were taken to local hospitals. During the previous weekend, 55 people were arrested, and 22 taken to hospitals at a Keith Urban show at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Mass. Later it was also revealed that an alleged rape happened in the venue’s lawn section while as many as 15 people stood and watched and took video of the incident. An annual event in Pittsburgh became a national story when pictures of trash and drunken patrons went viral in late June. And a 22-year-old man was found dead in a dumpster in late July after a Jason Aldean concert in what is thought to be an alcohol-related incident.
At the Jason Aldean “Burn It Down” tour stop at the Xfinity Theater in Hartford, CT on Saturday (8-2), 19-year veteran police officer Joseph Fargnoli Jr. was struck by a drunk driver leaving the concert while the officer was pursuing the driver on motorcycle. While the Hartford Police Traffic Division was running traffic for the 21,000 attendees exiting the venue, one concertgoer was observed driving erratically, almost hitting one of the officers directing traffic. After witnessing the incident, Officer Farnoli Jr. pursued the drunk driver on motorcycle and was then struck by the suspect with his vehicle. Farnoli Jr. was transported to Hartford Hospital by ambulance, and was treated and later released.
51-year old David Mascuto was arrested on charges of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, evading responsibility, and failure to obey and officer’s signal. Bond for Mascuto was set at $25,000.
The statement from the Hartford Police Department:
OFFICER HIT FOLLOWING CONCERT:
Last night following the Jason Aldean concert, the Hartford Police Department Traffic Division was conducting the outbound traffic detail at the Xfinity Theater. Officers spotted a driver driving erratically, nearly striking an officer. A Hartford Police motorcycle officer attempted to stop the vehicle and was struck.
The officer was taken to Hartford Hospital via ambulance, treated and released. The operator was stopped and arrested.
Accused: David Mascuto, 51 of Fairfield CT
2. Evading Responsibility
3. Failure to Obey Officers Signal
The traffic officer was not the only one to take a ride to the hospital Saturday night. A total of 30 concertgoers were taken to local hospitals for medical treatment during the show, including eight individuals under 21. A total of 55 summons were also handed out at the concert for underage drinking. There was also an assault reported during the concert, and one man was arrested in the incident.
Florida Georgia Line and Tyler Farr opened the show for Jason Aldean.
The news out of Hartford comes as stories of country concerts getting out of hand have been in the headlines this summer, including when 55 people were arrested, and 22 taken to hospitals at a Keith Urban show at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Mass. Later it was also revealed that an alleged rape happened in the venue’s lawn section while as many as 15 people stood and watched and took video of the incident. An annual event in Pittsburgh became a national story when pictures of trash and drunken patrons went viral in late June. And a 22-year-old man was found dead in a dumpster in late July after a Jason Aldean concert in what is thought to be an alcohol-related incident.
So here we are. It’s the summer of 2014, and the headlines that dominate the country music world have to do with mounds of trash and numerous arrests in Pittsburgh, a man found dead in a dumpster in Cleveland, a “mass casualty” event called by the local fire chief in Mansfield, Mass. at a Keith Urban concert, and then an alleged rape. Where exactly did mainstream country music go so wrong to where it is the new home for irresponsible behavior at concerts? How did a genre seen for over half a century as the bastion for family values and down home fun become one of the worst-behaved crowds in music?
First some perspective might be needed. Though the racy headlines might allude otherwise, how widespread this trend has become is somewhat inconclusive. As some have pointed out, the biggest stories of country concert problems have happened north of the Mason-Dixon Line for whatever reason. Also, numerous arrests for underage drinking, fights, and ambulance rides for numerous ailments are not out of the ordinary for music events by any stretch. The concern is how out of the ordinary they are for country music, at least historically, and how they’re clearly on the rise.
Part of this is simply a symptom of country music becoming the biggest, most dominant genre of American music. The crowds are bigger, younger, and the lowest common denominator is represented en masse. Country music is no longer a community, it is mass marketing. And like rock music of previous eras, it is attracting the most attention, and the most problems. However the idea that all the headlines of problems at country concerts is simply the media making hay upon a problem that has already existed for years is not fair either. Country music is changing, and a deeper discussion should be broached about how to manage those changes, and what the long-term effects those changes could have on the genre as a whole.
If you wanted to point to one single event where the current downward spiral started, you might consider the country concert in Mansfield, Mass. in late July. No, I’m not talking about Keith Urban’s concert on Saturday, July 26th, I’m talking about a Tim McGraw’s show on July 24th, 2011 at the same Mansfield venue.
During the middle of the concert, a 19-year-old attendee named Michael Skehill was jumped from behind by four men who proceeded to beat Skehill to within an inch of his life. The four men were heavily intoxicated, and though the dispute was said by some to be over a woman, the assault came completely out-of-the-blue to Skehill.The 19-year-old was a big man—a football player at Catholic University in Washington D.C.—but was blindsided in the lawn section and never had a chance to defend himself. If it wasn’t for a security guard and ENT responding to the assault as quickly as they did, doctors believe the assault would have resulted in murder.
“He would have died,” Skehill’s mother told a Boston news station at the time. “He had lost two liters of blood and, basically, he would have died.”
Michael Skehill was airlifted to the Boston Medical Center where he immediately underwent surgery. To save the young man, doctors had to remove his spleen. Skehill also suffered a severe concussion and other internal injuries. The four men were arrested and arraigned the next day, and eventually all four plead guilty to assault. It also came out in the investigation that in the lawn section of the venue that is now called Xfinity Center (and was then called Comcast Center), there is a section where young people from Mansfield congregate, and if you try to come into the area, you could be assaulted. In this area, underage drinking and other illicit activities are common. Whether this culture was still in place when the alleged rape of a 17-year-old girl happened at this year’s Keith Urban show—sheltering the incident from outsiders and allowing it to occur longer than necessary—has yet to be revealed in the investigation.
The good news is Michael Skehill was able to recover, and besides a missing spleen, is getting along just fine. But the brutal incident went to symbolize the rise of violence, excessive drinking, and other embarrassing behavior for country music’s summer concerts that was trending upwards all across the country. The Mansfield Police Chief Arthur M. O’Neill after the Michael Skehill incident said at the time:
Country used to be an easy night for us. Now it’s anything but. Country’s just changed. I’m a country fan, but the music and the singers have a party motif about them now. It’s all about drinking … These kids, especially the girls, are getting drunker and sicker faster.
Just appreciate, this isn’t the Mansfield Police Chief circa 2014. This is in 2011. At the time, CMT’s Alison Bonaguro asked, “Is ‘Drunk and Disorderly’ the New Rule at Concerts?” in a story that looks eerily similar to ones running over the last few weeks amidst all of the high-profile incidents at mainstream country concerts.
One of the other significant events in country music in 2011 was the rise of the “Country Checklist” song. Though the term “Checklist” never stuck like its later replacement “Bro-Country”, the music the terms describe had been around years before “Bro-Country” was adopted at large. The music style was already monopolizing mainstream country music by 2011, and forcing women into minor roles in the format like never before. As pointed out by the late Chet Flippo in August of 2011, country music found itself for the first time in recent memory with no women in the Top 30 of the songs charts. Many of the trends that would dominate country music headlines in 2013 and 2014 were already in place in 2011, there just wasn’t a universally-recognized name for it, country media was mostly complicit about it, and the backlash was simmering, but not striking out in earnest.
And what was the biggest song of 2011? Jason Aldean’s landmark “Dirt Road Anthem”. The breakthrough country rap song glorified many of the elements that have gone into much of the lewd behavior seen on the rise at mainstream country music concerts. On August 7th of 2011, Saving Country Music asked if “Country Music Checklist Songs Were Causing an Erosion of Values,” citing the Michael Skehill case and songs like Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” specifically.
Yeah, I’m chillin’ on a dirt road, Laid back swervin’ like I’m George Jones.
Smoke rollin’ out the window, An’ ice cold beer sittin’ in the console.
Where ya learned how to kiss and cuss and fight too, Better watch out for the boys in blue.
Ya better mind your business, man, watch your mouth, Before I have to knock that loud mouth out.
But words and actions are two different things, right? They’re just songs.
Well, not really when it came to the culture that was becoming the norm at some of the country music concerts that featured artists that sang these checklist songs. In 2011, “Dirt Road Anthem” co-writer Brantley Gilbert was on the Country Throwdown tour with many other medium and up-and-coming performers. When interviewing another Thowdown Tour artist named Ausin Lucas, he explained how the checklist culture and fighting were beginning to coincide in the live country music experience.
He [Brantley Gilbert] is one of the most popular people on this tour. He’s really doing well for himself, but the thing is, his fans, they cause, they have a lot of fights. And this is nothing against Brantley Gilbert, who I think is a really nice guy. All the guys in his band are amazing people, and a lot of his fans are really cool. But there’s also this element, that country pissing contest, that checklist of things that make you more country, and one of them is fighting.
Fighting, excessive drinking, and other such behavior that were essentials on country’s checklist was beginning to show up in country crowds. Interesting that when the new country female duo Maddie & Tae sat down to write what is considered mainstream country’s preeminent Anti Bro-Country tune “Girl In A Country Song”, they said they made a checklist of all the things stereotypical country songs have. “I think it had trucks, tailgates, cutoffs, tan lines and tan legs, dirt road, and the most important one, the girls. The smokin’ hot girl.”
Maddie & Tae also spoke about how the current male-dominated country trend sets subservient roles for young women that they feel they must follow to be considered pretty or popular by men. In the police report of the alleged rape of the 17-year-old girl at the Keith Urban show in Mansfield, Mass., the alleged victim told police that she went with the man because “she was afraid of what would happen” if she didn’t, speaking to the subordinate role many women are taking in corporate country’s current culture.
But are women really emulating the girls in country songs, and are the men really fighting and drinking to excess because they hear about it in the music they listen to? This seems to be an eternal debate, a chicken and the egg argument in music, that there’s probably not an easy answer for beyond pointing out that in the past, country music sang about drinking, fighting, and killing in a cautionary context, where now it is glorified to the point of being used for marketing specifically.
In the June 2013 issue of Playboy Magazine, writer Rob Tannenbaum wrote an extended feature on Eric Church called simply “The Badass.” In the piece, Eric Church and his manager John Peets reference the “Country Checklist” style of writing by name.
For his second album, Church wrote a song he knew was dumb. It’s in the same mold as other predictable rural-pride songs that work well on radio because they celebrate the consumer goods that are iconic in Southern life—call it a Country Checklist song. In this subpar effort, Church lays it on heavy: He mentions beer, barbecue, Jack Daniel’s, college football, fishing, trucks, chewing tobacco, NASCAR and cowboy boots. The only thing missing is something about hunting or tractors.
Church wrote it “almost out of anger or spite,” says his manager, John Peets. Church had seen similar songs amass a lot of airplay, according to Peets, “and he said, ‘If this is the shit that works, let’s just write one.’?”
“That was my Hail Mary,” Church says. “And the sad truth is, it works.” Although “Love Your Love the Most” became Church’s first top 10 single, it didn’t boost his career, because it was so generic. Radio play was up, but record and ticket sales were flat.
Then the Playboy feature took an even more interesting turn. In it, Church and his camp seem to glorify the excesses of his shows—how the crowd is drunk towards the point of incapacitation, fights break out everywhere, and rampant sex occurs right out in the open. “’There are some drunk motherfuckers out there,’ says Marshall Alexander, Church’s cheerful production manager,’” the piece says. Here are some further excerpts:
During tonight’s show, which I watch from the soundboard, the manager of one of the opening acts says he’s seen an average of three or four fights per night. A large part of Church’s success has come from filling a niche in the country market for a rugged, masculine singer.
While watching Church’s set that night, Moore saw a couple screwing in the audience. “A guy pulled a girl’s skirt up, and the dirty deed was going on,” Moore reports. “That was a first for me.”
It’s not a first for Church. He recounts a show last year in Battle Creek, Michigan where “half the crowd was fighting. And I saw guys who had girls bent over the rail, screwing.” His lighting designer—a guy who’d toured with nearly every major metal band, including Van Halen, Metallica and Guns N’ Roses—was shocked. “He said to me, ‘You should call this the Fucking and Fighting Tour.’”
Compared with Battle Creek’s, tonight’s audience doesn’t impress Church much. “There wasn’t mass bedlam, which is what I usually see.” Tomorrow will be wilder, he predicts.
So here was Church, openly bragging about how his concerts had become bedlam where “half the crowd is fighting,” bragging about open sex that from the stage could be hard to determine as consensual, and how this behavior is worse than what is normally seen at Van Halen, Metallica, and Guns N’ Roses shows, speaking deeply to the descent of the country genre compared to other genres. This was part of the Eric Church marketing—the image he wanted to portray: live experiences full of madness that people wanted to see and be a part of. And all of this is coming from one of the most commercially-successful artists in country music, and one whose album at the time had won Album of the Year from both the CMA and ACM—a true leader of the genre. After a while, whether the rowdiness of his concerts started as fact or fiction, the trend began to perpetuate itself and spread to other artists and other concerts.
But I know what some of you are thinking: “Is Eric Church really Bro-Country?”
One of the most curious aspects of the issues a Keith Urban’s recent Mansfield, Mass. concert is that Keith Urban is not one of these typical Bro-Country entertainers who constantly sing about getting drunk and fighting. Urban is from a earlier era, when soccer moms were country music’s primary demographic. His latest single “Cop Car” may veer slightly in the newer direction, but his American Idol judgeship spot notwithstanding, Keith Urban is not the type of artist that appeals to underage drinking fans or Bro-Country knuckle chuckers. So why was it his show that got so out of hand?
Because of the way the country music live experience is set up, it almost doesn’t matter what Top 15 pop country act you go to see, the same culture exists nearly at every concert. Of course there is some variation between every crowd, but not as much as one might expect. This is a symptom of the homogenization of the country format from radio consolidation and the dominance of male stars at the top of country ranks. But it is also facilitated by Live Nation’s Country Megaticket multi-concert package as pointed out by Windmills Country. The Country Megaticket is like a season pass for concert goers that covers most of the major country acts and the venues they play, including Keith Urban, and Mansfield’s Xfinity Center. Buy the ticket, and you not only have access to Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean, but Keith Urban and Lady Antebellum. This Country Megaticket culture facilitates the spreading of the undesirable elements to country music shows that they would normally not appeal to. The fans show up for the party, with the music as the backdrop. Country music is the only genre that Live Nation offers the Megaticket for, because it is the only genre that can support it. Once again, country music’s size and dominance is hindering its ability to control and define itself.
One of the reasons the adoption of the term “Bro-Country” last summer was so unfortunate is because it symbolized in many people’s minds the start of a new era when in truth it was the continuation of a trend begun in earnest in 2011, and goes back even farther than that. Saving Country music declared 2011 “The Year of the Country Checklist Song.” This was before Florida Georgia Line had even signed a publishing deal, and six months before they released their first EP. The reason this is important is because to understand what is going on in country music in 2014, you have to understand these trends go back much farther than Jody Rosen coining the term in August of 2013. “Bro-Country” was also a more palatable way to couch the trend compared to “Checklist Country” which explained what the problem with the trend was right in the term. And now Bro-Country has been adopted by the very people it was meant to criticize.
So what can be done? Do venues need to beef up security? Should the artists get involved somehow?
One of the most surprising things about all of the recent headline-grabbing country music concert fiascoes is how silent the headliners have been about them. In 2013, when Kenny Chesney’s name was at the top of the marquee for the first wave of trash that filled the parking lots of Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, the singer was curiously silent as the controversy raged. Same can be said for Luke Bryan who was the headliner at the same venue, and at the same annual event when it happened again this year, despite the media swarming the event in anticipation of problems. To Jason Aldean’s credit, he did send his heartfelt condolences out to the family and friends of the man found dead in a dumpster at his Cleveland show, but Keith Urban has said nothing about the most recent incident in Mansfield, Mass.—either about the arrests and hospitalizations, or the alleged rape. In fact Keith Urban removed a video in which he praised the Mansfield crowd, saying at one point, “Gosh, up on the lawn tonight? That was nutso.” So we know Urban’s PR team is on the case, they just simply don’t want to acknowledge what happened.
There are no easy answers here, and it is made harder because of all the money being made at these concerts. It is boom time on the country music touring circuit, and many of the tours are underwritten by the country’s major alcohol suppliers, from Budweiser to Jack Daniels. Though coolers are checked at gates, and ID’s checked at concession stands, there’s clearly a wink-and-nod culture when it comes to underage drinking at concerts, similar to how many venues have a wink-and-nod acceptance of marijuana. Teenagers are going to drink, and that’s an issue beyond country music or country music concerts. But when teenagers are in public places, it makes the situation more perilous, and results in injuries, arrests, and recently, alleged rape. The 22-year-old man who fell five stories into a dumpster at Jason Aldean’s Cleveland concert was said to be “extremely intoxicated.”
The problem can only be solved if there is an acknowledgement of its existence. But as Eric Church evidenced above in the Playboy Magazine piece, what may be bad publicity for some makes for good marketing for others. The lack of even acknowledgement of the issues from the headliners or their management seems to be almost a default approval, or at least a complicit posturing to the problem. The mentality appears to be that as long as the money is flowing and nobody gets killed, let’s keep the party going.
But now, somebody has been killed, and somebody’s daughter has been allegedly raped. Country music cannot afford to turn a blind eye any more.
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