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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,”Â 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 Barronâs 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 Barronâs death was made public, Jason Aldean posted on Twitter, âMy sincere condolences go out to Cory Barronâs family and friends. My heart is heavy for you all and you are in my thoughts and prayers.â 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, “Thereâs too much, to be honest with you. We canât keep talking about Fireball and Coors Light and having the tailgate down, etc. So weâll 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) -Â “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 212Â° 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 MĂ¶tley CrĂŒe 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, “Iâm the same dude, but weâre gonna start over and hit some uncharted territory here…If somebody can put a definition on what country music is, please tell me…Iâm pretty knowledgeable in country music, and Iâve never once seen where it says, âCountry music doesnât have a drum loop.’”Â
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 â Keith Urban blasting out a guitar solo â The poetry of Hank Williams Sr. on âIâm So Lonesome I Could Cryâ -Â A room full of convicts cheering on Johnny Cash as he sings âSan Quentin, I hate every inch of youâ -Â Alan Jackson speaking for the common man in the wake of September 11th -Â Feisty Loretta Lynn, and tearful Tammy Wynette -Â Roy Acuff showing off yo-yo tricks at the Grand Ole Opry -Â Miranda Lambert performing a heartfelt ballad -Â The King of Country George Strait â The showmanship of superstars Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, TimÂ McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley and Taylor Swift.
Jason Aldean goes on to tell BuzzFeed,
âItâs great to put your stuff out there and give your fans a chance to tell you what they think. But if youâre not careful, you can read way too much into what people are saying. No, [âBurninâ It Downâ] is not Hank Williams Sr. or George Jones, but this also isnât the â60s and the â70s. 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.â
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 howâŠwhat 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,â Bones told The Tennessean. âBut I have to voice my displeasure. Weâre 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 arenât 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 Sheriffâs 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.Â 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 venueâs 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 Sheriffâs 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. âHe took out a knife and started slashing them, and three of them received cuts on the arm,â SheriffÂ Kelly Shannon of the Becker County Sheriffâs 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. “Theyâre invaluable for everything they do for us,â 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 venueâs 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,
Â Country music still kind of fights the stereotypes a lot of times. And here weâre having a country music show, and itâs 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, “âItâs a young, current, hip thing thatâs happening that deserves to be in a downtown city center thatâs new and growing and feels vibrant and just feels âŠ represents the music properly. You know, this is not like your grandfatherâs country music anymore.â
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, Iâve always said country music is the only genre that hates itself. It wants to be everything else, but country music. Iâve been in it for a long, long time and Iâve seen the changes, but it always comes back. But now, I donât see it coming back. It finally found a routeÂ toÂ 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.
CambridgeÂ Township Police DepartmentÂ Chief Larry Wibbeler says a 25-year-old woman wasÂ separatedÂ 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 venueâs 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.
âHe would have died,â Skehillâs mother told a Boston news station at the time. “He had lost two liters of blood and, basically, he would have died.â
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 itâs anything but. Countryâs just changed. Iâm a country fan, but the music and the singers have a party motif about them now. Itâs 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, Iâm chillinâ on a dirt road, Laid back swervinâ like Iâm George Jones.
Smoke rollinâ out the window, Anâ ice cold beer sittinâ 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. Heâs 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 thereâs 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. âI think it had trucks, tailgates, cutoffs, tan lines and tan legs, dirt road, and the most important one, the girls. The smokinâ hot girl.â
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 âshe was afraid of what would happenâ 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. Itâs 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 lifeâcall it a Country Checklist song. In this subpar effort, Church lays it on heavy: He mentions beer, barbecue, Jack Danielâs, college football, fishing, trucks, chewing tobacco, NASCAR and cowboy boots. The only thing missing is something about hunting or tractors.
Church wrote it âalmost out of anger or spite,â says his manager, John Peets. Church had seen similar songs amass a lot of airplay, according to Peets, âand he said, âIf this is the shit that works, letâs just write one.â?â
âThat was my Hail Mary,â Church says. âAnd the sad truth is, it works.â Although âLove Your Love the Mostâ became Churchâs first top 10 single, it didnât 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. â’There are some drunk motherfuckers out there,’ says Marshall Alexander, Churchâs cheerful production manager,’” the piece says. Here are some further excerpts:
During tonightâs show, which I watch from the soundboard, the manager of one of the opening acts says heâs seen an average of three or four fights per night. A large part of Churchâs success has come from filling a niche in the country market for a rugged, masculine singer.
While watching Churchâs set that night, Moore saw a couple screwing in the audience. âA guy pulled a girlâs skirt up, and the dirty deed was going on,â Moore reports. âThat was a first for me.â
Itâs not a first for Church. He recounts a show last year in Battle Creek, Michigan where âhalf the crowd was fighting. And I saw guys who had girls bent over the rail, screwing.â His lighting designerâa guy whoâd toured with nearly every major metal band, including Van Halen, Metallica and Guns Nâ Rosesâwas shocked. âHe said to me, âYou should call this the Fucking and Fighting Tour.ââ
Compared with Battle Creekâs, tonightâs audience doesnât impress Church much. âThere wasnât mass bedlam, which is what I usually see.â 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.
I first met Caitlyn Smith and saw her perform on the 4th of July, 2011. The occasion was the confluence of Willie Nelson’s annual 4th of July Picnic, and the now defunct (seemingly) Country Throwdown Tour put on by the same promoters of the long-running Warped concerts. It all collided at Billy Bob’s Texas in Ft. Worth, and I was there covering the event, and specifically had my eyes set on up-and-comer Austin Lucas, who like Caitlyn Smith, was playing on an acoustic stage where promising songwriters took turns playing their songs in a “Nashville Round” setting. The idea was a great way to feature up-and-coming talent right beside the bigger names on the tour like Lee Brice, Jamey Johnson, and Brantley Gilbert.
Caitlyn Smith was stunning. She had a song called “Hank Drank” that knocked me flat on my ass. At the time I wrote about the young songwriter, “The other highlight from the one Nashville Round session I caught was Caitlyn Smith. She would be my #2 surprise of the day. Caitlyn had the best voice of the whole event, and well-penned songs to compliment that voice, as well as dynamic and energetic guitar playing. Beautiful girl, and certainly one to watch.”
Later as I made my way onto one of the fleet of Country Throwdown buses to conduct an interview with Austin Lucas, it was then that during brief conversations with Caitlyn and other promising Nashville songwriters that I solidified my opinions about the burgeoning trend of country “checklist” songs, or “laundry list” songs as I had been dubbing them before. Checklist songwriting is very much the foundation of what is called “Bro-Country” today, but even in 2011, the ugly trend was prevailing in country music and was the talk of songwriting circles and Saving Country Music; it just took 3 years for the rest of country media to catch on.
But back to Caitlyn Smith. Or more specifically, on to Garth Brooks, who during his July 10th press conference making his comeback official, had glowing compliments for the Nashville songwriters he was discovering when selecting new songs for his upcoming project. When asked how much songwriting Garth was doing himself, his response was, “Iâm getting my ass kicked by the level of songwriting right now âŠ Most of the stuff weâve been cutting has been outside songs.”
The sentiments from Garth are similar to ones we’ve been hearing from other industry experts like T Bone Burnett, who while acting as the music director for the ABC TV show Nashville tried to do his best to alleviate some of the glut in amazing songs going unheard because of the current focus on Bro-Country that’s dominating mainstream country music right now. The competition for songwriters in Nashville has never been more fierce, but since so few artists want to cut songs of true substance, there is an amazing stock of high-caliber song material just sitting on the shelf.Â At his July 10th press conference, Garth also said, âThe first single thatâs gonna come out âŠ might be one of the greatest statements ever.”
Now enter Caitlyn Smith. In 2011 when I was first exposed to her, she had already landed a co-write on a Jason Aldean album cut for “It Ain’t Easy”. Speaking of ABC’s Nashville, a Caitlyn co-write “Don’t Put Dirt On My Grave Just Yet” was featured prominently on the TV Show, and has become one of the most popular songs of the series. She also co-wrote the new Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers duet, “You Can’t Make Old Friends.” Caitlyn’s name had already been rumored in connection with the new Garth project, even before the press conference early in July. Now the word on the street from multiple sources is that Garth’s debut single—arguably one of the most-anticipated singles in country music in years—is the Caitlin Smith song “Tacoma”, co-written with Bob DiPiero.
Though many of Caitlyn’s songwriting credits are held by more pop-oriented performers (she has the title track on the upcoming Lady Antebellum album, and Cassadee Pope’s platinum-selling “Wasting All These Tears”), in October of 2013, Caitlyn released a single called Dream Away and apparently has a whole album of material steeped in country tradition with banjo, fiddle, and mandolin featured heavy on the tracks. She is a professional, salaried songwriter, but like Ashley Monroe or Brandy Clark, Caityln Smith has all the skills to be a striking performer as well.
Caitlyn Smith is a native of Minnesota, and grew up in a small town aspiring to be a songwriter from a young age. She first started songwriting in the Christian music world, taking trips to Nashville to work with other writers before converting to secular country music. As she grew older, her trips to Nashville became more frequent until she finally moved there to pursue her dream full time.
Below is a demo version of Caitlyn Smith’s “Tacoma”. Garth’s version is very likely to sound much different, so don’t jump to too many conclusions about how “country” Garth’s final product might be. That is why it is called a demo.
But this is where Garth Brooks could shake up the country music industry beyond simply packing sold-out stadiums. There are reams of amazing songs out there going unheard, and Garth is one of the very few people with the star power to take these songs and make them hits. And this rising tide could raise all boats, taking an artist like Caitlyn Smith to the greater notoriety her talents deserve.
Caitlyn Smith is a one-in-a-million star just waiting for her big shot. Ravenesque, articulate, poetic, insightful, and delightfully troubled, her music can strike a toll on the soul like few others.
(NOTE: Folks, it looks like the SoundCloud demo of “Tacoma” has been taken down. If another example of the song is made available, it will be posted here.)
A Keith Urban concert in Mansfield, Mass on Saturday made national headlines when 55 people were arrested, 22 were taken to the hospital, and a total of 46 were treated by medical staff in what fire officials characterized as a “mass causality” event, having to call in ambulance crews from several other communities to help deal with the incident. The âRaise âEm Upâ tour stop at the Xfinity Center also featured Jerrod Niemann and Brett Eldredge. Now the story of an alleged rape in the venue’s upper lawn is telling a deeper story to the moral depravity and transpired at the event.
According to the Sun Chronicle, 18-year-old concertgoer Sean Murphy allegedly raped a 17-year-old girl during the concert, while 15 or more concert attendees stood around and watched, many taking pictures and video of the incident. It ended when a woman attending the concert asked the girl if what was happening was consensual, and she said, “No,” and the woman pulled the suspect off the girl who then fled. Apparently Sean Murphy stood around for a short period, looking for positive acknowledgement from the crowd that had gathered about what happened, before disappearing into the lawn crowd. The girl’s friends took her to police, and the gates to the concert were temporarily closed until Sean Murphy could be found and detained.
Sean Murphy did not know the girl previously, and the two met at the concert according to police. They began kissing near a concession stand before moving to the lawn area. According to the young girl, she went with Sean Murphy because “she was afraid of what would happen” if she didn’t go. Both teens had been drinking at the concert.
According to Sean Murphy and his lawyer Neil Crowley, the sex was consensual. The lawyer pointed out that in the police report there was no mention of force being used in the incident. He said his client cooperated with police during the investigation. According to police, they overheard Sean telling his parents he “messed up” over the phone. Police have also obtained footage and photos of the incident from witnesses.
âThis was a consensual act, not a sexual assault. There are no allegations of force or violence put against him,â Crowley said in a statement. âThis was a private act that regrettably occurred in a public place. Mr. Murphy deeply regrets this incident and Iâm sure the young woman does as well.â
Sean Murphy lives with his parents who posted the $10,000 bond for the teen. Murphy has no prior arrest record. He is scheduled to be back in court September 25th.
The news comes as reports of arrests and intoxication-related injuries seem to be on the increase at country music concerts. Along with the Keith Urban concert, a Jason Aldean concert on July 18th saw 35 attendees arrested, and a man was later found dead in a dumpster. Similar numbers marred a Luke Bryan show in Pittsburgh earlier this summer. Whether the reporting is better or there truly is an elevated rash of unruly patrons at country concerts, the topic has become a hot button issue in country music. This rape allegation, and the response from many in the crowd to sit back and watch, take pictures, and video the incident is likely to take the debate to a new level.
After the concert, Keith Urban posted a short video thanking the Mansfield fans. âGosh, up on the lawn tonight? That was nutso,â Keith says. Apparently he didn’t know the extent of how “nutso” it got.
***UPDATE (7-31-14): Keith Urban has finally released a statement about the numerous incidents at the concert.
âMy team and I were horrified to learn of the events reported in Boston this past weekend and our hearts and prayers go out to all those affected. This type of behavior stands in stark contrast to the spirit of our shows.â â Keith
22-year-old Cory Barron who disappeared during a Jason Aldean concert at Progressive Field in Cleveland on Friday, July 18th, and was later found dead in a dumpster in New Russia Township just outside of Cleveland, was “extremely intoxicated” at the time of his disappearance according to a preliminary police report. Though an initial autopsy has been conducted on the body, the full autopsy including the toxicology report will not be available for another three to six weeks according to officials.
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. The man 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. Then on Tuesday, July 22nd, his body was found by landfill workers in a dumpster that was transported from Progressive Field. He still had his ticket stub in his pocket. Investigators turned their attention to a trash chute near Mr. Barron’s assigned seat that plummeted five stories down to where the dumpster was located.
Exactly how the man gained access to the chute and fell into the dumpster has yet to be determined, but investigators at this point are saying there is no evidence that foul play was involved. The death has not been called a homicide, but a “found body” case, though homicide detectives have been assisting in the investigation because of the nature of the case. 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.
The death of Cory Barron comes as reports of arrests and intoxication-related injuries seem to be on the increase at country music concerts. A Keith Urban show on Saturday, July 26th made headlines when 55 people were arrested and 22 were taken to the hospital in what the fire department described as a “mass casualty” event. Similar numbers marred a Luke Bryan show in Pittsburgh earlier this summer. The Jason Aldean concert at Progressive Field where Cory disappeared also saw 35 attendees arrested, mostly on alcohol-related charges. Whether the reporting is better or there truly is an elevated rash of unruly patrons at country concerts, the topic has become a hot button issue in country music.
Corry Barron’s funeral was on Monday (7-28). Hundreds of friends and family filled the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Fremont, Ohio to remember the young man.
Oh Jason, this is most unfortunate.
Since Jason Aldean has re-entered the single life after getting caught in a douche-soaked nightclub on the Sunset Strip handling up on some American Idol semifinalist castoff, now he thinks he’s Mr. Sexy, taking cues from Jerrod Niemann and entering the EDM space to keep the child support money streaming in.
As the first single from his upcoming album, “Burnin’ It Down” is a Casiotone piece of impersonal electronic awfulness in which any sign of true human inspiration or involvement has been so antiseptically scrubbed in lieu of animatronic tones and absolutist perfectitudes, the term “soul” has been completely and forever banished from being associated with this robotic piece of misanthropic pap. This isn’t a song, this is some guy with a MacBook Pro, a tub of Red Vines, and the cool tingle of cocaine tickling the edge of his nostrils creating an electronic sound bed to send over to Aldean’s studio so he can overlay his Auto-tune’d vocals and call it good. As Tom Petty would say, “You put your name on it, but you didnât do that.” Even the guitar tones have been been so exhaustively massaged by 1′s and 0′s they sound like the warning signals emitted from a Star Wars protocol droid right before it explosively self-destructs. A kitten aimlessly careening across a Korg keyboard in a catnip stupor could make a more compelling composition than this.
Sorry Jason Aldean, but this song isn’t sexy, it’s creepy. “…with you baby layin’ right here naked in my bed.” They should exhume Barry White and make it the sole goal of the international scientific community to revive him for the exclusive purpose of kicking Jason Aldean’s ass for this song. What does Aldean know about sexy time anyhow? Aldean ain’t got the moves like Jagger, he’s got the moves like Grimmace. Mating couples won’t find “Burnin’ It Down” sexy unless they get equally horny for the annual return of the McRib. This song is a awkward as a hard on in a Speedo. “Burnin’ It Down” isn’t for intimate couples, it’s for lonely women to get all lubed up with in anticipation of an intimate encounter with Clyde the battery-powered hammerer.
How the hell is this considered “country” in any capacity? Talk about “Burnin’ It Down”, I wish the palette of votive candles featured in the stupid lyric video would set fire to the studio that birthed this monstrosity with the masters still in it. If the couple in this video gets turned on by shadow puppets, I can make my middle finger erect and have it look just like a love bird. The best part of this song ran down Aldean’s pasty inner thigh and ended up as an embarrassing stain on his $700 sheets. He should have worn a rubber instead of inseminating our ear holes with this public health audio pandemic. No, that burning you feel in your genitals isn’t from erotic allure, it’s because this song is the audio equivalent of a pussing venereal onslaught.
Oh, and Florida-Georgia Line took time from rolling naked in their own piles of money to co-write this song. So there’s that. Yeah, Aldean should have gotten the hint when country music’s boy band was handing him down their sloppy seconds that it would result in a career embarrassment.
Come on Jason Aldean, stick to singing about the common man and their struggles. That’s what you’re good at.
You should have kept this one in your pants.
Two guns way down.
Forget Taylor Swift, and her first win for the CMA’s prestigious Entertainer of the Year award in 2009. Forget Swift’s huge pop blockbusters of 2012 like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble”. Forget Jason Aldean taking the country rap song “Dirt Road Anthem” and making it into the best selling song in all of country music in 2011. And forget Florida Georgia Line breaking the all-time record in country music for weeks at #1 with the song “Cruise”. All of these indelible moments on the timeline that slowly but surely is narrating the downfall of country are simply the stepping stones, the precursors to what is symbolized by the song written and released by up-and-coming “country” star Sam Hunt called “Leave The Night On”.
Don’t worry about how the song sounds to you. Whether at first listen you like it or not is somewhat irrelevant. Don’t worry so much about measuring it against the others songs doing well at country radio right now, or even the worst songs, or the best songs of the past few years. Don’t worry about measuring it against the other songs that have gone on to define clear lines of demarcation during country music’s downward spiral. Whether “Leave The Night On” is immediately objectionable to your music palette is of no concern. If fact, its innocuousness—its innocent, disguising, and typical nature is arguably what makes it so dangerous.
This is not a review, this is a warning. Sam Hunt’s “Leave The Night On” is a potential swan song for what we define as country music today, more than any song that has come before. I know, you’re saying, “Can you tell me this song is somehow more pop than Taylor Swift, or pushes the limit more than Jerrod Neimann’s EDM monster ‘I Can Drink To That All Night’?” Yes, that is exactly what I’m telling you.
Forget your hurt feelings of, “Hell country has sounded like pop for years,” or even your misappropriated wisdom of “country has always been influenced by pop.” Of course country has always been influenced by pop. But when country becomes pop, which it ostensibly does with “Leave The Night On”, this is a completely different matter. It is the implementation of a completely new rules regime defining what country music is, or what it is no longer.
Never before have we had a song that so recognizably belongs in the pop format get released to country radio by a non-established country artist. And yes I know, he’s signed to MCA Nashville, not MCA, and he’s written some songs for other country artists in the immediate past. No matter, “Leave The Night On” is a test; a canary sent down the country music shaft to see if truly any song can be released to the lucrative country format, and fly.
Country music is now the most dominant genre of American music. Not hip-hop, not rock, and not even pop. It is country that rules the roost. It is country that dominates radio and televised award shows, and that stamps more tickets at live events every year than anything else in music. Country music isn’t turning into pop. Country music now is pop by definition, because it is the most popular genre that exists. And what used to be known as “pop” is now nothing more than a derivative of country—a less country-sounding subgenre of pop, which is country.
A world where “Leave The Night On” can be successful on country radio is one where country will be unable to define itself or its borders, or control its destiny. It is one where country is open to intrusive infections of hyper-trends and performance histrionics from artists. It is one were everything is malleable and arbitrary, and is simply defined by what is popular today, with contempt for whatever came before.
And even worse, “Leave The Night On” will be a smash hit; a blockbuster of 2014. It has already seen one of the most astounding rises up the country charts from an unproven, unknown artist we’ve virtually ever seen. If Sam Hunt can release a single like “Leave The Night On” and have it be successful on country radio, then anyone can. And even more troubling, anyone will.
Welcome to the mono-genre.
When you live by the bit, you die by the bit. And Jerrod Niemann has just been bitten in the ass by a “Donkey.”
I remember when Trace Adkins released a song called “Brown Chicken Brown Cow” in late 2010. Adkins it can be argued is the King of modern day country music bit songs. He took “Honky Tonk Badonka Donk” to the top of the country music charts in 2005, and it put him on the country music map. “Brown Chicken Brown Cow” didn’t fare as well however. At the behest of Adkins himself, the song was released as a single. “I said, âLetâs just throw a hand grenade in the room right off the get-go.â”Â And it blew up in his face. A video was made for the song featuring puppets getting it on in a barn while farm animals watched. People were not impressed, and the song flopped. Eventually Trace was forced to admit, “I guess I went to that well one too many times.”
Jerrod Niemann was very much a middling country music star looking for his niche when he decided to release country music’s first outright EDM song “Drink To That All Night” in October of 2013. For a while it looked like the song might flop too. Maybe it was a little too fey, even for the wide berth country music is cutting these days. But with strong backing from his label and a moderately-successful video, “Drink To That All Night” eventually reached #1 on the Country Airplay chart on April 26th of this year. Niemann had taken a big gamble to be one step ahead of the competition, and that gamble had paid off for him. All of a sudden he was a trend setter, and when it was announced that a remix of the song had been made with Pitbull and a remix video was upcoming, it appeared like “Drink To That All Night” could become the “Cruise” of the summer of 2014: rising slowly, presenting a false fade, and then coming back strong on the back of a remix with a popular rapper.
A few days after the solstice however, and “Drink To That All Night” can’t be found anywhere, despite the release of the Pitbull remix, and the rumored remix video still in the offing. Part of the reason is because in lieu of continuing to push “Drink To That All Night” exclusively, Niemann’s label decided to double down on Jerrod’s new direction and release the ridiculous bit song “Donkey.” Like “Drink To That All Night”, the song has a very metro vibe, pseudo rap lyrics, and a ridiculous premise. But hey, it is a brave new world in country music. If “Drink To That All Night” can reach #1, why couldn’t “Donkey”?
But just like other candidates for country music’s worst song ever like Jason Aldean’s “1994″, Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah”, and the aforementioned “Brown Chicken Brown Cow”, Niemann and “Donkey” went too far. Even before “Donkey” was released to radio on May 19th, some radio programming gurus were sounding off. “I think we are already at a tipping point regarding ‘Bro Country’ and this song doesn’t help either way; it doesn’t advance Country music,” said Scott Husky of the influential Rusty Walker Programming Consultants. “My fear is that we have brought some new folks into the format lately with the appeal of newer music, this song might just point out why those folks didn’t listen to Country before. It will re-ignite the stereotype.”
Adam Jeffries, the Program Director at KJUG said to All Access, “I thought ‘Drink To That All Night’ was right on the line, but ‘Donkey’ is over it as far as being too rappy.”
Not according to Jerrod Niemann though. When talking to Rolling Stone Country, Niemann said, “If rap had never existed, nobody would say anything [about today's rap-influenced country] because these songs already exist in our past and are classics. People are just looking at it in the wrong way,” Niemann said, alluding to spoken word songs such as “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and “A Boy Named Sue”. “The people who are getting real upset maybe just don’t know as much about country music as they think.”
Huh. Maybe its Jerrod Niemann who needs the history lesson. As Saving Country Music once pointed out, Spoken Word is Not Rap: “Making the case that spoken word and rapping in music are the same thing is an insult to the artistic integrity and creativity of both spoken word and rap artists, and to the intelligence of anyone who that case is being made to.”
Nonetheless, “Donkey” still had its champions, apologists, and willful perpetrators in country radio, but early on when you looked at the amount of “adds” the song was getting on radio, it did not paint a very rosy picture for the song. “Donkey” was virtually dead on arrival despite a strong label backing, and this week the song went from #44 to #48 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart.
Gimmick songs and comedy have always been part of the overall country music formula, and don’t let anyone tell you any different. But there is a point where the consumer’s intelligence is insulted, whether it’s by releasing a stupid song, or by misleading them that rap and spoken word are the same thing and telling them they’re stupid for thinking otherwise. As successful as some bit songs have been, like Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” for example, they arguably have also become many artist’s swan song. The defeat of “Donkey” is definitely a win for all things right and good in country music, but it could also be a much bigger defeat for Jerrod Niemann, and a lesson to other artists that even in this seemingly “anything goes” environment in country music at the moment, apparently there still are some limits and standards.
For over half a decade now, hick-hop has been a smoldering, underground phenomenon threatening to break into the mainstream at any moment, but never quite finding the right outlet to ever pull it off. Understand we’re not talking about country rap in general here, though there is some obvious similarities between country rap and hick-hop. Country rap is a sub-genre that has seen some of country music’s top stars dabble in it quite successfully, including Jason Aldean taking the song “Dirt Road Anthem” to #1 in 2011, and eventually scoring the biggest song in the entire country genre in that year. That opened the mainstream floodgates for country rap, and now other established mainstream artists like Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan have scored #1 country rap hits.
But far away from all the glitz of mainstream country radio and big award shows is a whole other entire subculture of hick-hoppers that work in what would be considered underground circles in music. In fact, hick-hop, or RebelCore as some would have you call it, very well may be the biggest, most organized type of underground music in America right now when you see the size of the crowds at many of hick-hop’s live events, and how many hits hick-hop artists get on their online videos. The movement relies none on radio play, and beyond the Colt Ford-owed label Average Joe’s, really doesn’t have any solid infrastructure.
Colt Ford, arguably the Godfather of hick-hop, has been complaining for years that it is unfair he can’t get any radio play or other support from the mainstream country music industry. Ford wrote “Dirt Road Anthem” with Brantley Gilbert and released it three years before Jason Aldean cut the song, but it took an established, accepted mainstream personality to take the song to the big time. Big hick-hop acts like the LoCash Cowboys, The Moonshine Bandits, and Bubba Sparxxx have huge followings, but hick-hop has always been seen as off limits to the mainstream unless it is in the form of a single from an established country artist.
Well all of that might be about to change.
On Wednesday night, cable channel A&E debuted the first episode of Big Smo, a show about a hick-hop artist who is looking to try and break it big in the music business. Big Smo is already a well-established hick-hop artist, with one of his videos garnering him over 6 million views on YouTube, which is not uncommon for hick-hop performers who regularly use videos to distribute their music in lieu of radio support or labels. But now Big Smo will be following in the footsteps of Duck Dynasty, which is currently reality TV’s most successful show, amidst A&E’s redneck reality show lineup.
The appetite of Americans to peer into the lives of rednecks to point and laugh seems to be endless, and CMT and other networks are betting big on redneck reality bankrolling their future. But with A&E and their wild success with Duck Dynasty, this is a completely different game for Big Smo and hick-hop. A&E has also been marketing the Big Smo show heavily, throwing ridiculous amounts of money into advertising, clearly envisioning the show as their new blockbuster by saying “A New ‘Dynasty’ Is Beginning” in commercials for the show, and targeting their marketing directly at mainstream country music consumers.
Similar to Duck Dynasty, Wal-Mart has already thrown their support behind Big Smo, distributing his music and merchandise. The debut of Big Smo on A&E was synced up with the release of his new album Kuntry Livin’, and unlike Big Smo’s hick-hop compadres, he’s signed to a major label in the form of Warner Nashville. Kuntry Livin’ released on June 3rd debuted at #9 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, and that was before the support the new A&E show will surely give him.
All of this could put hick-hop, and Big Smo specifically, at the center stage of American culture. We’ve already seen the Duck Dynasty characters, who are not even true musicians or performers, dominate the charts when they released a holiday album, and their images permeates just about every sector of American culture. You take an artist that already has an established fan base, along with millions of underground hick hop fans in one of the strongest grassroots networks in music, and we could be seeing the launching of the next American music superstar. And that is exactly what A&E is expecting to happen, making it an underlying premise of the reality show.
And since the music business, especially country, is such a copycat world, there’s no reason to think a rising tide couldn’t raise all hick-hop boats, and the hick-hop roster of Average Joe’s, as well as other outlier hick-hop organizations and acts, couldn’t see a significant bump by the show, while new recruits come out of the woodwork to emulate the new hot reality TV star.
Of course, the extent of the Big Smo impact is yet to be seen since the show just debuted and Big Smo’s album was just released, but this is not something to be taken lightly. Big Smo, the show and the artist, could finally be the backdoor to the mainstream hick-hop has been waiting for.
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