If 90% of mainstream country music is garbage, then it stands to reason that 10% of it is at least decent, if not good or great. That calculus hasn’t really changed much recently, even as mainstream country has improved. What has changed is that 10% is actually finding traction on radio, at awards shows, and is making fierce inroads into the 90%’s monopoly.
Though Stapleton may fall short of the touring numbers of names like Luke Bryan, or may not have the airplay of Florida Georgia Line, the incredible performance of his debut album ‘Traveller’ has put him in unprecedented territory, while still putting up a decent showing in touring and track sales too.
Strait played his first show at Gruene Hall on Saturday, February 21st, 1976—five years before releasing his first record, and only a few months removed from being honorably discharged from the Army. For his first gig, they charged $0.25 at the door, and according to Strait from the Gruene Hall stage Wednesday night, he made $7.00 total.
One of the reasons we feel so surprised at Americana’s success and so many have been so slow to recognize it is because it has been a slow and steady process. Because of Americana’s model of sustainability, the revolution has been plodding, yet purposeful. And now it’s success is palpable, and measurable by industry-standard metrics.
Jon Pardi might be one of the performers we love to point at as being a party to repatriating mainstream country music with more palatable material as part of a new wave of traditional-leaning young talent, but as his new single proves, the effort to save country music is sometimes an imperfect one.
In January of 2016, Saving Country Music published an article explaining how 2016 Could Be 1975 All Over Again in country music—how an upsurge in more traditional and substantive talent and music could really take hold in country, from the independent realm to the mainstream. And that is exactly what we’ve seen as 2016 has progressed.
With absolutely no hyperbole intended, William Michael Morgan earning a #1 on country radio for his debut single “I Met A Girl” is a historic moment in country music. It’s a point in time when an undeniably traditional country song from an undeniably traditional country artist has topped the chart after a long vacancy for a traditionalist at the top spot.
Sturgill Simpson is currently in the running and being voted on by members of the Country Music Association for three of the 50th Anniversary presentation’s biggest prizes. Also surprising since she’s not on a major label, Margo Price has made the top 20 females being considered for Female Vocalist of the Year.
Released way back on September 14th, 2015, “Head Over Boots” has traced a slow but steady build until this week it was officially named the #1 song on country radio. Yet beyond some other singles that have recently been awarded this distinction, the numbers behind “Head Over Boots” speak to a true groundswell of appeal and interest.
Finally we get some forward movement on one of the most anticipated mainstream traditional albums in a good while. Curb Records-signed singer and songwriter Mo Pitney will release his debut album ‘Behind This Guitar’ featuring 10 of 12 co-written songs by Pitney himself, and contributions from folks we though the rest of Nashville had forgotten.
Once again the success of California Sunrise demonstrates that traditional country fans are more likely to vote with their dollars and support their favorite artists compared to many mainstream performers. Jon Pardi has also been helped with the continued success of the album’s first single “Head Over Boots.”
If country music is ever to be saved, it’s not going to be by the hands of just one artist. Chris Stapleton can win all the awards he wants, but without a more broad movement represented by multiple artists doing well, and real inroads into country radio, progress remains mostly symbolic. That is where someone like Jon Pardi comes in.
Three of the most promising male artists in the mainstream are William Michael Morgan, Jon Pardi, and Mo Pitney. If there’s a traditional country insurgency looming in the wings, it might be carried on their backs. But with so many albums getting delayed, the big question was if any of them would see a proper album release, or be stuck in limbo like so many other artists. Luckily, there’s been some movement.
The country music Outlaw movement didn’t happen overnight either. It took years and years of gnawing away at the obtrusive oligarchy that had set up shop on Music Row to get to the point where many of the genre’s most prominent stars could call their own shots, and the music could finally open up to new ideas and fresh faces.
Billy Joe Shaver, Bobby Bare, Brandy Clark, Chris Stapleton, Dave Cobb, Florida Georgia Line, Hillbilly Central, Holly Williams, Jason Isbell, Jessi Colter, Jon Pardi, Kris Kristofferson, Luke Bryan, Merle Haggard, Miranda Lambert, Mo Pitney Williams Michael Morgan, Southern Family, Sturgill Simpson, Sugar Hill, Thirty Tigers, Tompall Glaser, Wanted The Outlaws, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Zac Brown
Whether it will actually happen or not remains to be seen, but if country music in the mainstream decides to swing back more towards the traditional side, many of Music Row’s major labels will be ready to take advantage with a new generation of young, fresh, and traditionally-leaning talent already signed to contracts, already getting experience on the road and on big stages, and even finding some success with singles.
“Head Over Boots” is not a great song, but it’s country, and it’s Jon Pardi, and it suits the ears just fine. The key for Pardi and Laird was to put something together that was positive in nature, but still native to Pardi’s sound, and something still traditional enough to delineate Pardi from radio peers. So they headed to the dance halls of Texas for inspiration.
From the “If 90% of mainstream country music sucks, then 10% of it must be good” file, songwriter and performer Jon Pardi has just released an EP called The B-Sides 2011-2014 through Capitol Nashville, and it’s not a bad listen at all. Billed as a tide over for fans until a new album is ready to go, the release includes what was left when the final track listing was accumulated for his January 2014 debut.
Independent music fans love to say “90% of what they play on the radio is crap!” Well then it would stand to reason that 10% actually has some value. And in the interest of pragmatism and inclusiveness that is vital to the charge of Saving Country Music, it is important to not ignore when Music Row and mainstream artists get it right, but to celebrate these moments.
Brett Eldredge, Bridges, Caitlyn Smith, Carrie Underwood, Dave Grohl, Dierks Bentley, Dirt, Eric Paslay, Everything To You, Florida Georgia Line, Garth Brooks, Jon Pardi, Kellie Pickler, Maddie & Tae, Man Against Machine, Mary Sarah, Riser, Something In The Water, The Grohl Sessions Vol. 1, The Mavericks, Tim McGraw, Zac Brown Band