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- Hear Unreleased Joe Ely and Linda Ronstadt duet "Where Is My Love"
- If You Missed It: Willie Nelson and Billy Joe Shaver on Letterman
- NPR Tiny Desk Concert with Lucinda Williams
- Titles from Willie, Hank Williams, Bob Wills Headed to Grammy Hall of Fame
- Hear New Joe Pug Song "If Still It Can Be Found"
- Houston Press: Is Country Music Ready For Sturgill Simpson?
- Blitzen Trapper Releases Free Live Album
- Eric Church's "The Outsiders" Goes Platinum
- Fatal South by Southwest Crash Brings First Wave of Lawsuits
- New Song from Cody Canada and the Departed "Easy"
- Flaco Jimenez to receive Lifetime Grammy Award
- Country Weekly's Top 10 Albums Incl. Sturgill, Old Crow, Billy Joe Shaver
- Nashville Scene Rips Into American Country Countdown Awards
- Ardent Studios Founder John Fry Dies at 69
- Windowing New Music May Not Goose Sales, Study Shows
- Engineer and Producer John Hampton Dies
- Famous Nashville Backup Singer Millie Kirkham Dies at 91
- Proof How Much The Music Industry Has Changed In The Last Ten Years
- NY Times' Jon Caramanica's Top 10 Albums Includes Sturgill Simpson
- Galleywinter's Favorites of 2014
On Monday (10-6), the ratings for radio stations were released for Nashville and other locations, and within those numbers was a bombshell for the country music radio world. In the Nashville radio market, the freshly-launched Cumulus-owned NASH Icon affiliate on 95.5 WSM-FM beat what has been the powerhouse of Nashville radio for the past year-plus, iHeartMedia-owned (Clear Channel) WSIX. In other words, a station that includes older country songs and older country artists in a purposeful attempt to return more classic-sounding country and more variety to the airwaves is beating Clear Channel’s flagship pop country station, in its home market, that is the home station for The Bobby Bones Show (the biggest country radio show ever), in the home of country music.
NASH Icon WSM-FM pulled a 5.6 rating for the month of September—its first full month in operation, making it tied for 6th overall in the Nashville market, and tied for #1 in country. Meanwhile the Bobby Bones-anchored WSIX pulled a 4.7 ranking, good for 10th in Nashville, and #3 in country. Even more interesting, the radio station that tied WSM-FM for 1st was the other Cumulus-owned NASH Top 40 country radio station, WKDF.
To simplify what this all means, though there could be a little bit of beginner’s luck or curiosity factor contributing to these numbers, overall the idea of giving consumers more classic-sounding country music on the radio is working, and in a big way.
John Dickey, the Cumulus Executive Vice President for Content and Programming, and brother of Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey said to All Access, “We’ve only got a month going so far but we are encouraged about what the month of September brought us in Nashville … In fact the results have been nothing short of spectacular in my opinion. NASH Icon on WSM-FM is the #1 country station for listeners 25 to 54 (the most desirable demographic) from 6 AM to 7 PM … That’s a pretty crazy number when you think about it. And we’re seeing appeal on the younger end too, which is not something that we figured on. We are trending big with men leading the women, who look healthy too, showing up neck and neck with WKDF and WSIX.”
The strong showing from NASH Icon in the country music holy land of Nashville bodes very well for the idea of keeping the current NASH Icon stations around, potentially growing the brand to new markets, and causing the country radio format to split into two separate formats of Top 40 country and a more classic-oriented country. If NASH Icon continues its success, Clear Channel may be forced to launch its own older country brand, and it could encourage smaller radio station companies and independently-owned stations to adopt a similar format. “It’s only a month into it but we’re happy to see the acceptance of this fragmentation of the country format with NASH Icon,” John Dickey said to All Access.
For fans of older country music and older country artists, this is all very positive news, but of course it is not all perfect. As Saving Country Music illustrated when it broke down the NASH Icon radio playlist recently, there is still a lot of newer country involved in the NASH Icon model, including a lot of artists and songs many older country fans find unappealing, if not objectionable. But the ability of a big radio network—like the one NASH Icon is looking to build—to return names like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Alan Jackson, and Dwight Yoakam to radio can only do good for these artists.
Even though John Dickey and others are finding these numbers surprising, in theory they shouldn’t. Edison Research, a radio research company which conducts deep studies of listener’s habits, has been saying for years that country radio has been hurting itself by abandoning classic country music on the radio. The success of NASH Icon in Nashville proves that this research had merit. Interestingly, the way Nash Icon eventually developed looks very much like country radio did 25 years ago, where the playlists are more diverse and don’t work in such a narrow time window. It’s only in the last decade especially when country radio really abandoned playing older music from country’s back catalog.
It is just one month, and no doubt Bobby Bones and Clear Channel will reach deep down into their bag of tricks to try and claim back the #1 spot. But for now, the return of older country to the radio waves has been a big success. It’s not just competing, it is beating its newer, younger competition. And it’s not just doing well with older disenfranchised listeners, younger listeners are tuning in too. NASH Icon may not be the ideal for a new country format, but it has started the process of country music splitting in two, and ultimately this will mean more choice for country consumers.
“You can’t just roll into town anymore. It’s a fucking arms race to find the last affordable rental. More Wayne Newton than Waylon Jennings.” — Caitlin Rose
It’s that penultimate moment—that tipping point—when a town or neighborhood known for it’s cool, rich, and creatively-vibrant culture becomes so awash with interlopers, gentrifying hipsters, and retiring baby boomers that the critical mass point is reached in redevelopment, rising rents, and real estate prices and the entire thing implodes, leaving in ruin the whole reason people desired to be in the area in the first place, and taking with it the inspiration that brews beneath the streets, the collaboration that is fostered in its venues and low rent space, and a magical time and place on the musical timeline falls victim to imported money and urban renewal, maybe to be harbored once again in another part of town or another town altogether, or maybe not.
Nashville—not Music Row Nashville—but the independent underbelly of Nashville and specifically the East Nashville portion of town, have been the rallying point for the current generation of vibrant country and Americana artists that make up the heart of what independent roots music has been all about for the last half decade to decade or so, but even going back to the 70′s when songwriters from Texas were moving to the city to be closer to artists who may cut their songs. East Nashville’s affordability gave artists the ability to be flexible with their income, allowed them to be able to only work part time, or dedicate themselves solely to their craft in a way that wouldn’t be possible amidst a higher cost of living. East Nashville was the creative generator of Music City, churning out songs that inspired the rest of the town, and the rest of the industry.
But all that might be changing, or has changed, depending on who you ask.
In late June Saving Country Music published an article entitled How Nashville’s Economic Boom Could Kill Its Creativity, later to be reposed by American Songwriter. In just the short two-month period that has since passed, as more and more development breaks ground and other massive building projects get announced, Music City may have finally reached the point of no return; at least that is what some of the artists are now saying.
On August 21st, performer and songwriter Caitlin Rose, daughter of well-known songwriter Liz Rose, went on a Twitter rant about what she sees currently going on in Nashville.
“Everyone can stop moving to Nashville now. We’re full. Thanks.” Caitlin said in part. “Did y’all hear they’re tearing down all of Nashville and putting one giant Margaritaville in its place? People come to Nashville for the music. They stay for the expensive chain restaurants and condo culture. They never leave… Everyone’s got dreams of making it in Music City, USA. Most of them don’t. Like barely any of them.”
This marrying of concerns about the percentage of independent businesses and the ability for young artists to make it in the city speaks to complexity of the gentrification issue. It’s not just the low rents, or even the concentration of creative types in a certain locale that sees the formation of a creative epicenter, it’s also the inspiration that can be drawn from cool old buildings, independently-owned business, mural art and graffiti, and a menagerie of other community elements that go into building a creative forward environment. “Just saw badass dude biking down Charlotte with a raccoon on his shoulder and a box full of blankets. Fuck new Nashville and condo culture,” Caitlin Rose tweeted out a few days later.
Justin Townes Earle, son of alt. country forefather Steve Earle, has been another vocal opponent of Nashville’s gentrification. Earle grew up in the city, and regularly takes to Twitter to complain about the bulldozing of landmarks, the building of condos, and the general scrubbing away of everything Music City is supposed to be about. Earle recently told American Songwriter, “Nashville is where I was born and raised, I never got away from the city, but the city is definitely not the city that I grew up in…It’s pretty crazy, people here think they live in New York. They live in Nashville, and it’s hard to swallow sometimes. I had a fucked up childhood so I lived in over 30 houses in the city, and I think that maybe two of them are still standing, and one of them is part of an apartment complex.“
Otis Gibbs is one of East Nashville’s most identifiable musician residents, and offers a slightly different perspective. His Thanks For Giving A Damn podcast regularly features friends and neighbors from his East Nashville haunt, and he likes to hoot and harp on the East Nashville way of living regularly on Twitter.
“Amy Lashley and I moved here seven years ago from Indianapolis, but the growth in East Nashville started long before we came along,” says Otis. “People like Chuck Mead, Skip Litz, Joe McMahan, Kevin Gordon, Sergio Webb, Mike Grimes and later Todd Snider were living here and touring the world twenty years ago, or more. Back before that people like Guy Clark, Marty Robbins, Roy Acuff, Grady Martin and a lot of others lived here. This has been a neighborhood full of creative people over the last few decades, but the national media is just now catching on.”
Otis shared a picture with Saving Country Music of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Susanna Clark on Guy Clark’s porch in East Nashville that speaks to the history of East Nashville as a bastion for creative types.
“Nashville is home to the best pickers in the world,” says Otis Gibbs. “It’s an embarrassment of riches and it’s easily my favorite part of living here. I played a venue in Zurich, Switzerland a couple of weeks ago and saw a poster advertizing my neighbor’s band. He owns the house next to mine and he’ll be playing that same club next month. The first time I ever met that same neighbor was when we both played a festival in Springfield, Illinois. He walked up to me back stage and said, “I think you live in the house next to mine.” That sort of thing happens all the time. I once learned who moved into the house down the street from me by reading his name on his road cases as he was moving in.”
Otis says home ownership for East Nashville’s musicians is one way to hold on to heart of what the community has become over the years.
“It’s always nice to see musicians in my neighborhood who own their homes. It’s cheaper than renting and if property values get as crazy around here as some people suspect, they’ll have something to show for it. I have friends in South Austin who bought their homes back in the day and have seen their homes quadruple in value.”
The problem is when those homes values increase, if the musicians aren’t already locked into ownership, they are locked out of the community in rising prices and rents, and that is the new dilemma arising for many of East Nashville’s musicians. One of the biggest points of contention in the community is the splitting of lots so that two new homes can be built on the same original lot. Along with the demolition of older apartment complexes, this has seen the inventory of older and cheaper housing in the city dry up, and with it, much of the original character of East Nashville neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods, including East Nashville’s Inglewood and Rosebank districts are looking to restructure zoning laws to help stem the tide of gentrification.
Still, growth and lot division is occurring because of the demand for more living space in East Nashville, and where there are losers, there’s winners as well. Craig Havighurst, a writer and the co-host of Music City Roots has a different take on condos and all of the commotion about Nashville growth.
Urban creative hives require urban scale and urban density, which is something I feel we’re only beginning to approach from South of Broadway all the way out to Green Hills. Two houses on one lot are a way to provide critical housing supply without sprawling. It might prove to be one of the best accidental policy ideas the city’s ever had. Because better to build in and up than out. Complaints that the houses are too large for their lots are entirely subjective and based on the look and feel of a kind of neighborhood that isn’t necessarily compatible with urban dynamism. The new people fill new restaurants and coffee shops, where those aspiring musicians find jobs while they develop. And a lot of those new arts and music professionals bought starter homes in Inglewood and Sylvan Park. We can empathize with folks who are seeing their rents rise and still acknowledge that for many, this was a good investment that will make their future more secure.
What everyone can agree on is that the cultural dynamic that exists in Nashville at the moment and has helped give rise to artists like Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Caitlin Rose, Justin Townes Earle, Cory Branan, Tristen, Lindi Ortega, many more countless names in the past, and who knows who in the future, is in every music fan’s interest in seeing preserved because of the musical riches it has afforded us for the last few years, and for decades before.
Now that the building that houses the historic Studio ‘A’ on Music Row in Nashville has been sold to Brentwood, TN-based real estate company Bravo Development, the next question is what moves do preservationists have in the playbook to help save the landmark? Ben Folds, the current renter of the studio, and someone who has spent over $1 million on the space in the last dozen years in both rent and renovations, says he is being forced out of the building because of a 124% rent increase. Bravo Development says the building is in poor shape, citing asbestos, bad plumbing and wiring, a leaky roof, and mold in the air ducts. And despite Bravo’s promises to Ben Folds that it was always in their plans to save the historic studio if it was architecturally feasible (even if they tore the rest of the building down), as soon as the company gained possession of the building they immediately put it back up for sale to whichever new developer is willing to pay their price. Saving Studio ‘A’ from the wrecking ball continues to get more complicated by the day.
Preservationists are trying to get the city to grant a zoning overlay on 30 Music Square West and many of Music Row’s other historic landmarks, but there is push back from wealthy developers and some of the property owners on Music Row not wanting to jeopardize future real estate profits by succumbing to such financially cumbersome restrictions. Though there is a lot of popularity for preserving Music Row’s landmarks in the community, it is not a given that saving Studio ‘A’ can be accomplished through the City of Nashville.
So now the question is, who, if anyone, would be in a position to purchase the property with the intent of preserving the Studio ‘A’ space, and potentially the building it occupies? As Bravo Development has stated, the building is in poor shape. All indications are that financially, the most feasible move for most any developer would be to demolish the building and build on the property footprint.
One of the problems in the fight to save Studio ‘A’ is that aside from the studio occupying part of the building, the building itself is not necessarily historic, or attractive, or architecturally significant. We are not talking about a turn of the century structure like the Ryman Auditorium with its regal exterior, or Nashville’s Downtown Presbyterian Church with its Egyptian Revival style. 30 Music Square West was built in 1964 and has a very utilitarian, austere presence indicative of mid-century modern architecture. In other words, it’s a big rectangular box with little ornamentation or imagination. It’s one part offices, one part large-scale studio, with a row of windows along half of it’s horizontal front face, and a mostly brick exterior with some stone thrown in to break the starkness. Compared to the buildings that surround the property, it is fairly nondescript, if not outdated, without being old enough to be called classic. Add on top the other infrastructural and environmental problems with the building, and the outlook is not particularly rosy.
That doesn’t mean that the building, or Studio ‘A’, couldn’t be preserved, the building renovated, and the property beautified by the right owner. But it would take an institution just as interested in preserving the historic space as they are being financially smart about how to craft a sustainable future for the property. Any developer whose plans are simply concerned with the bottom line highest valuation for the asset would likely not be interested in renovation. One of the reasons the building might be in the condition it is in is because the previous owners—the estates of Chet Atkins and Owen Bradly—didn’t see the point in putting more money into a doomed building. That also might be the reason the property was up for sale for so long without finding a buyer, until Nashville’s current boom got so big, developers started looking to gobble up any assets they could.
So who might look to take on Studio ‘A’ simply for the spirit of preserving the landmark, while still getting some functionality out of the existing space? It would have to be a not-for-profit, or a public or private institution not concerned with bottom-line financial outcomes, beyond making a sound investment on a piece of property in a desirable location. And it would have to be someone with the financial resources to purchase it.
Luckily there is precedent for public institutions taking over Music Row properties, and being very successful in that pursuit. Music Row’s Studio ‘B’ on virtually the same piece of property as 30 Music Square West is owned by the Country Music Hall of Fame and is on the National Park Service’s Register of Historic Places. It is co-operated by the Country Music Hall of Fame, who gives guided tours of the studio daily, and another private institution, Belmont University. This partnership has resulted in both the preservation of the site, and the continued use and profit from it as a Music Row institution. Of course, it helped that the studio and land were donated by previous Studio ‘B’ owner Dan Maddox in 1992, but despite the profit potential of the property, preservation prevailed and not at the complete expense of financial return. The Studio ‘B’ building is not particularly architecturally impressive or significant either, and Studio ‘A’ and Studio ‘B’ are virtually connected, making the ability to manage the studio or conduct tours between the two properties by the Country Music Hall of Fame or someone else fairly easy.
The Country Music Hall of Fame also has the resources to raise the cash to fund the acquisition. Keith Urban, who has headlined numerous concerts for the Hall of Fame that have netted millions and helped pay for a recent $100 million expansion on the Hall of Fame, has already lent his voice to Studio ‘A’ preservation. Taylor Swift also recently gave a large sum to the Hall of Fame. Like Studio ‘B’, Studio ‘A’ could continue to function as a studio, while tours could help buffer the overall income environment for the building. The Country Music Hall of Fame could also use the offices for accounting and other tasks that don’t need to be housed at the Hall itself, or open up a Music Row museum as an annex to the Hall and the studios proper.
There is another example of an institution purchasing a historic Music Row property that is much more recent, and much more relative to the situation with Studio ‘A’ since the studio will never be donated by its current owners like Studio ‘B’ was. In early July, Vanderbilt University purchased Sony’s century-old office on Music Row for $12.1 million. Vanderbilt was currently occupying 27,000 square feet of space in the building, and when it was put up for sale by Sony, who intends to move to Nashville’s “Gulch” area a couple of miles from its current location, the purchase made sense. Vanderbilt’s close proximity to Music Row made the logistics of the sale feasible, and just like Belmont University, who has numerous co-inhabited properties with Curb Records on Music Row, the university sees the Music Row campus as a natural extension of its borders and interest.
Even if a new buyer for 30 Music Square West makes promises of preserving the historic Studio ‘A’ space, and even if new zoning restrictions kick in from the City of Nashville, minds can chance, and so can ordinances. If an institution like The Country Music Hall of Fame, or Belmont or Vanderbilt University, The City of Nashville itself, or some large entrepreneurial spirit with an established footprint on Music Row such as Mike Curb or Scott Borchetta could buy the property, it seems like this would be the best option to see the long-term preservation of Studio ‘A’. Out on the open market with investors and developers dealing in the future of the property, most indicators point to the historic studio being doomed.
30 Music Square West (Studio ‘A’ Building):
Studio ‘B’ Building on Left (lighter exterior), Studio ‘A’ on Right
Inside of Studio ‘A’
The saga to save Nashville’s historic Studio ‘A’ and other Music Row landmarks sees another setback as Ben Folds says he’s being forced out of the space he’s spent over a decade renting and spent over $1 million on in rent and renovations. Because of raised rent of 124% from the new ownership, Ben Folds says he’s planning to vacate Studio ‘A’ by November. The building that resides at 30 Music Square West was officially sold on Monday (7-28) to Bravo Development, who immediately put the building back up for sale to other potential developers, and raised rents across the board for all the building’s tenants, including Ben Folds, and country artist Jamey Johnson.
Bravo Development’s assessment of the building is bleak, citing asbestos, bad plumbing and wiring, a leaky roof, and mold in the ducts. Though Bravo said initially it was their intention to attempt to preserve this historic studio even if the rest of the building was to be razed, they’re now saying their main intention is to resell the property as soon as possible to someone else. Bravo stated right after the sale went through that increased rent to the building’s tenants was on the way.
The fight to save Studio ‘A’ is very much a centerpiece in the preservation fight for many of Nashville’s historic places as development encroaches on many of the city’s cultural districts, including Music Row where Studio ‘A’ is located.
Studio ‘A’ was built in 1964 by Chet Atkins, and was originally called “RCA Victor Nashville Sound Studio.” It was built was to have a big enough studio space to record the string instrumentation that found itself onto many of the country music recordings of the time. It has since been used for many legendary recordings in country music and many other genres.
You can find the entirety of Ben Folds’ statement below.
After closing on the purchase of 30 Music Square West, home of historic RCA Studio A (of which I’ve been tenant for 12 years) Tim Reyholds of Bravo Development in Brentwood TN has just informed us that our rent will be raised 124%. Haha, okay Tim, we got it, and we’re moving out as soon as our current lease runs out. That means we will be there until end of November. He is on public record saying he will not demolish the building, though I’m not sure how any studio owner could make bottom line with rent that high.
We have and will continue to send investors and planners his way who have ideas on how to both preserve the space, keep the studio working and make everyone the money they want. I will continue to raise public awareness of the grand history of Music Row that is threatened by hasty development. Today we did Morning Joe and an NPR segment on 360 will also air soon – many more outlets to come. My hope is that all our efforts have given us a moment to pause and consider how Nashville might continue to grow, while also retaining the identity and culture that has made it Music City.
Since the rally was held at the studio on June 30, a group called Music Industry Coalition has formed, elected a Board, begun filing its official papers with the state, fashioned a mission statement and collected over 1500 members. Their mission is to give the working folks in the music industry a voice and to work with city officials on a plan for Music Row that allows our music culture to co-exist with new growth. I will continue to help them in any way I can.
Yeah, I’m sad personally, but I had a good decade plus run and will be recording as much of my new album as I can there before November, including with the absolutely incredible sextet yMusic from New York. The Nashville Symphony and I recorded my Concerto For Piano and Orchestra there recently. What other studio can handle 80-piece orchestras in one take?
This whole #SaveStudioA and #SaveMusicRow thing was never about me (or the former owners or Tim Reynolds) and that’s why the issue has resonated with people here and around the world who are concerned about retaining Nashville’s identity, culture and music economy. Thanks for reading, and for the concern and effort! It’s working. That’s all I got to say.
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, “I’m getting my ass kicked by the level of songwriting right now … Most of the stuff we’ve 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. At his July 10th press conference, Garth also said, “The first single that’s gonna come out … 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.)
Last week, one of the big stories in Nashville’s music scene became the potential bulldozing of Music Row’s historic Studio ‘A’, currently under the care of musician Ben Folds who’s been renting and upkeeping the space for the last dozen years. Studio ‘A’ has been in service since 1964, and was the site of some of country and pop music’s most important recordings, so when Ben got word that the studio was being sold to Bravo Development, the piano player feared the worst, and wrote an impassioned open letter to let people know the important landmark might be in trouble. A rally was planned for Studio ‘A’ on Monday morning (6-30, which still transpired to raise awareness about preservation in general), but the developer let it be known on Friday that it was always the plan to keep Studio ‘A’ in tact as part of any development plans.
Crisis averted, right? It was for Studio ‘A’, but it wasn’t for the Musicians Hall of Fame a few years ago. Another controversial development plan that would have put a Walgreen’s on Nashville’s historic Lower Broadway entertainment district was also shot down last week. But these might just be symbolic wins in a battle Nashville is waging that may see the erosion not just of some of its historic places and buildings, but its creative epicenters which have transformed Music City not just into the mecca for mainstream country, but has given rise to some of the most sought after dirt for artists looking to be on the cutting edge of music innovation and creativity championed by an independent spirit.
To say that Nashville is going through boom times doesn’t being to explain the half of it. Nashville has always been a draw to people with dreams of becoming big country music stars, many that end up feeding the city’s labor force for service staff at restaurants or other low skill jobs as they struggle to get a seat in exclusive songwriter circles or acoustic rooms that may help them land their big break. Some people will tell you the city’s music business is simply set up to subjugate people’s dreams, and that popular country music is just a promotional tool for the system, with millions of dollars of promotion, management, and studio time being spent by people who ultimately will never have a chance at the big time.
But with the currently popularity of country music, and the massive promotional boost ABC’s hour-long drama Nashville has given to the city, there’s parts of town that feel like they are about to burst apart at the seams, and many such neighborhoods are the places that young, aspiring artists set up shop to incorporate themselves in the creative channels running through the city. Nashville isn’t just the home of Taylor Swift and Tim McGraw, it is the home of Jack White and Dan Auerbach. It is the home of Caitlin Rose and Sturgill Simpson, of Jason Isbell and Cory Branan. It is also the home of scores of songwriters and performers that ultimately contribute to the music world creatively, even if their names are not well-known to listeners. They offer up co-writes, they influence the bigger artists that can’t take the same risks the smaller ones can. The concentration of cutting-edge talent in one place creates and environment of healthy competition that spurns everyone on to the benefit of listener’s ears, and that is what Nashville has become in the last half decade in the shadow of downtown’s big buildings, and beyond the business-oriented mindset of Music Row.
If you look at many of American popular music’s big movements and eras, they started in areas where low rents fostered the creative process. Black slums gave rise to American jazz and blues music. An abundant supply of big Victorian houses in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury neighborhood allowed entire bands to move in together and have plenty of practice space right beside other bands with who they could knock ideas around with, collaborate, and coordinate tours and network with. The urban blight of Compton gave rise to Gangsta rap, Seattle to grunge, Laurel Canyon to the sound of the 60′s, Austin to the Outlaw movement, and when WSM’s Grand Ole Opry became one of the biggest radio shows in the nation, by centralizing much of country music’s talent in one place, it allowed an entire new genre of American music to form.
The draw of traditionally-poor East Nashville as a haven for musicians looking to make it in music and collaborate with like-minded artists has been one of the ingredients not just to Nashville’s current output, but to its allure. It was an ongoing theme in the early episodes of ABC’s Nashville, and still remains a vital part of what makes the Nashville creative community work. But all that is in jeopardy now as development bulldozes much of the city’s affordable housing inventory, and rents and real-estate prices continue to spike.
Nashville’s creative working poor are getting priced out of the city, and this could spell an ebbing of Nashville’s creative influx. The Nashville Ledger recently ran a story about this very problem, written by Jeannie Naujeck.
“I’m perplexed by artists being priced out of an artists’ neighborhood,” Brian Bequette, a musician turned real estate broker told The Nashville Ledger. “It’s my greatest sadness right now that in the neighborhood where I lived for 20 years, people who are just like I was back then can no longer live here. Most of our clients are musicians and artists. That’s what we specialize in; that’s our people. And I want to see them stay in this neighborhood because I feel like if we lose them, we run a really big risk of losing what makes our neighborhood and our city great.”
Eddie Latimer, CEO of the non-profit Affordable Housing Resources says, “East Nashville has historically been what makes the foundation of our creative class. The housing boom is disappointing. It’s good for the city, but it’s disappointing because everyone who is part of those communities understands that some of our best neighbors – the core of what makes Nashville Nashville – have been priced out of the city.”
As It Is In East Nashville, So It Is In East Austin
One of the reasons East Nashville has become a haven for the creative poor is because of its affordability compared to the United States’ other entertainment centers like New York and Los Angeles. Ironically, the influence of New York and LA on the business side of Nashville’s music scene has always been given credit for why country music artists are offered less freedom by labels. Since many major labels only run satellite offices on Music Row while the big shots remain in bigger cities, it necessitates tighter controls. This is one of the reasons country music’s “Outlaw” movement of the mid 70′s was partially centered around Austin, TX.
But even before East Nashville was experiencing pricing pressure on musicians moving and remaining in the neighborhood, many were already flocking from East Austin, where the same wave of gentrification and urban renewal has been sweeping independent artists out of the city like a street sweeper. Home prices in east Austin have tripled since 2007 by some estimates, creating a steady flow of musicians from Austin to Nashville over the last few years. Nashville also seemed more inviting because unlike Austin, there was more label and business infrastructure comparatively. Now when looking at home prices and rents, it’s six one, half-dozen the other comparing the two music-oriented cities, while condominium and other residential developments encroach on both of the city’s entertainment corridors, causing neighborhood conflicts with live music venues. Same can be said for Echo Park in LA, and other creative places in the United States that are being brought under price pressure, many times by retiring baby boomers moving into condos built in creative areas, or young affluent hipsters who don’t yet have to worry about quality of of schooling, so they can justify moving into traditionally downtrodden neighborhoods.
The next question would be, where do the musicians go? Many times they’re scattered to the four winds, living in outlying, and more affordable areas, and commuting into the city when they can. And while some artists and musicians will inevitably land on their feet, and if they’re good and industrious enough, find their appropriate path to a sustainable music career, with the lack of proximity to other creative peoples, the type of energetic and competitive environment can’t thrive like it did before.
Inevitably, necessity becomes the mother of invention, and other creative epicenters crop up: Portland, OR, Athens, GA., etc. But as locales far removed from the footsteps of the industry become the new creative epicenters, artists will no longer have that ability to help influence and foster a creative environment that helps push all of music creatively, and collectively.
Ben Folds is being forced out of the Studio ‘A’ space because of increased rents.
Developer Tim Reynolds of Bravo Development has told The Nashville Scene that they have no intention of demolishing Studio ‘A’.
“We’re glad to [say] that if Bravo Development consummates its sale, it is our full intention to preserve and incorporate the studio into our design,” says Reynolds. “We are now in the early stages of the engineer work and architectural work, but if that can be achieved, we will incorporate that studio and preserve it … It was always part of the plan.”
“All I can say is that this speaks volumes about the character of Mr. Reynolds and demonstrates an appreciation and respect for our city’s great music heritage,” says Ben Folds. “Thank you Mr. Reynolds. I look forward to learning more about the studio’s ultimate fate, and will pass along any further information I receive.”
Singer, songwriter, and record producer Ben Folds is trying to save what is arguably the most important, and most historic studio in the history of country music. RCA’s famed “Studio ‘A’” located on Music Row in Nashville is where many of country music’s finest classic records were recorded by a dizzying list of the genre’s stars. Many important albums from noteworthy artists outside of the country also recorded in Studio ‘A’ over the years. It is the epicenter of the classic sound of country music.
The studio’s sister studio, “Studio ‘B’” is currently operated by the Country Music Hall of Fame, and has been preserved as a landmark. But according to Ben Folds, Studio ‘A’ is in jeopardy. The studio has been owned by the descendants of Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley—the architects of ‘The Nashville Sound”—and has been rented by Ben Folds for the last 12 years. But the property where Studio ‘A’ is located is set to be sold to Brentwood, TN-based commercial development company Bravo Development. Though the plans of Bravo for the building have not been made public, Ben Folds is concerned this could be the end of the historic studio.
Studio ‘A’ was built in 1964 by Chet Atkins, and was originally called “RCA Victor Nashville Sound Studio.” It is located at 30 Music Square West on Music Row.
Ben Folds has penned an impassioned public letter, letting people know of the sale of Studio ‘A’, hoping to engage the public in an effort to keep the studio open, and help make it a landmark for music fans. You can find the entirety of Ben’s open letter below.
Last week, on the day that would have been Chet Atkins’ 90th birthday (June 20, 1924), my office received news that the historic RCA Building on Music Row is set to be sold. This building, with the historic Studio A as its centerpiece, was Atkins’ and Owen Bradley’s vision and baby, and had become home to the largest classic recording space in Nashville. Word is that the prospective buyer is a Brentwood TN-based commercial development company called Bravo Development owned and operated by Tim Reynolds. We don’t know what this will mean to the future of the building.
First off, kudos to the estates and descendants of Atkins and Bradley for doing their best to keep the building alive. They’ve owned the property all these years and could have at any point closed it up or mowed it down. Sadly, it’s what happens in the name of progress. Studio A, which turns 50 years old next year, has a rich history.
Here are just some of the artists who have made hits here:
Peter Bradley Adams, Gary Allan, Brent Anderson, Anika, Arlis Albritton, Asleep at the Wheel, Sara Bareilles, The Beach Boys, Ben Folds Five, Tony Bennett, Amy Black, Jason Blaine, Blind Boys of Alabama, Joe Bonamassa, Wade Bowen, Eden Brent, Jim Brickman, The Brothers Osborne, Rachel Bradshaw, Brentwood Benson, David Bullock, Laura Bell Bundy, Ken Burns, The Canadian Tenors, The City Harmonic, Steven Curtis Chapman, Chocolate Horse, Brandy Clark, Brent Cobb, Jesse Colter, Elizabeth Cook, Wayne Coyne, Margaret Cho, Billy Currington, Matt Dame, Danae, Ilse DeLange, Rebecca de la Torre, Steve Earle, ESPN, Jace Everett, The Fabulous Headliners, Dani Flowers, Danny Flowers, Ben Folds, Colt Ford, The Frog Sessions, Eleanor Fye, Cami Gallardo, Billy Gibbons, Sarah Gibson, Vince Gill, Alyssa Graham, Peter Groenwald, Harlan Pepper, Harper Blynn, Connie Harrington, Hunter Hayes, John Hiatt, Faith Hill, JT Hodges, Adam Hood, James House, Sierra Hull, Alan Jackson, Joe Jackson, Casey James, Jenny Jarnigan, Jewel, Jamey Johnson, Josh Jones, Kristin Kelly, KESHA, Anna Krantz, Ben Kweller, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Sonny Landreth, Samatha Landrum, Mark Lanigan, Stoney LaRue, Jim Lauderdale, Frank Liddell, LIfeway, Meagan Lindsey, Longmont All Stars Jazz Band, Lyle Lovette, Luella and the Sun, Tayla Lynn, Amanda Palmer, John Pardi, Rich Parkinson, Alan Parson, Charlie Pate, Kellie Pickler, Pistol Annies, Pretty Lights, Mike Posner, Sean McConnell, Scotty McCreery, Kate Miller Heidke, Ronnie Milsap, Miss Willie Brown, Danny Mitchell, Allison Moorer, Kacey Musgraves, Musiq Soulchild, David Nail, the Nashville Symphony, Jerrod Neimann, Willie Nelson, Joe Nichols, Sierra Noble, Natalie Noone, The Oakridge Boys, Jake Owen, Rainfall, Johnny Reid, Thomas Rhett, Lionel Richie, The Robertson Family, Henry Rollins, Shannon Sanders, Jader Santos, Alejando Sanz, Mondo Saez, Kate Schrock, Bob Seger, Sera B., Brian Setzer, Nikki Shannon, William Shatner, SHEDaisy, Jordyn Shellart, Joel Shewmake, Sleeping With Sirens, Jake Shimabukuro, Mike Shipp, Kevin Shirley, Anthony Smith, Joanna Smith, Dr. Ralph Stanley, Chelsea Staling, Steel Magnolia, Tate Stevens, Jay Stocker, Rayburn, RED, RockIt City, Jeff Taylor, Justin Towns Earle, Josh Thompson, Those Darlins, Josh Turner, Bonnie Tyler, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Ben Utecht, Phil Vassar, Venus and the Moon, Andy Victor, Amanda Watkins, Chuck Wicks, Hank Williams Jr., Williamson Country Youth Orchesta, Alicia Witt, Lee Ann Womack, Word Entertainment and Charlie Worsham.
I had no idea of the extent of legacy of this great studio until I become the tenant of the space 12 years ago. Most of us know about Studio B. Studio A was its grander younger sibling, erected by Atkins when he became an RCA executive. The result was an orchestral room built to record strings for Elvis Presley and to entice international stars to record in one of these four Putnam-designed RCA spaces in the world. The other three RCA studios of the same dimensions – built in LA, Chicago and New York – have long since been shut down. I can’t tell you how many engineers, producers and musicians have walked into this space to share their stories of the great classic recorded music made here that put Nashville on the map. I’ve heard tales of audio engineers who would roller skate around the room waiting for Elvis to show up at some point in the weeks he booked, stories about how Eddy Arnold recording one of the first sessions in the room and one of the songs was “Make The World Go Away,” Dolly Parton (Jolene) and The Monkees recorded here, and so on. Legendary songwriter John D. Loudermilk and his bride were serenaded by a session orchestra hired by Atkins who were recording here for an artist. He recalled that they danced all the way to the loading doors and into their limo, reminiscing about the beautiful floor tiles which still line the entire space. He co-wrote countless numbers of songs with Atkins and many others in this studio.
To this day, Studio A remains a viable, relevant and vibrant space. In recent years these artists and filmmakers have recorded or worked here, to name a few:
Sara Bareilles, William Shatner, Kacey Musgraves, Ken Burns, Kesha, The Beach Boys, Wayne Cohen, Tony Bennett, Willie Nelson, Kellie Pickler, Hunter Hayes, Charlie Worsham, David Nail, Jamey Johnson, Joe Bonamassa, Word Music, Gary Allan, me and Ben Folds Five.
While we Nashvillians can feel proud about the overall economic progress and prosperity we’re enjoying, we know it’s not always so kind to historical spaces, or to the legacy and foundation upon which that prosperity was built.
My motivation for spending over a million dollars in rent and renovations over these past 12 years was simple. I could have built my own space of the same dimensions with that kind of investment. But I’m a musician with no interest in development or business in general. I only want to make music in this historic space, and allow others to do the same. I’ve recorded all over the world and I can say emphatically that here’s no recording space like it anywhere on the planet. These studio walls were born to ring with music. I just wanted to keep it alive.
Before the news of the sale I had been in recent talks with other entities on how we could collaborate on allowing visitors to Music City to see the space firsthand and hear its rich history, while also making sure that it stays busy making music history of tomorrow. No one can say now what will become of that idea.
Selfishly I’d love to remain the tenant and caretaker of this amazing studio space. I love it dearly. But if I must let it go in the interest of change, my only hope is that it remain intact and alive. A couple of years ago my co-manager, Sharon Corbitt House, promised the late, great producer Phil Ramone, while he was in town recording Tony Bennett and an orchestra LIVE in this space, that she would do what she could to keep the studio doors open. Ramone had watched the former New York RCA studio transform into office space for the IRS and couldn’t bear to see the last of this incredible acoustic design fade away.
So here’s where we’re coming from. Historic RCA Studio A is too much a part of why such incredible business opportunities exist in 2014 in Nashville to simply disappear. Music City was built on the foundation of ideas, and of music. What will the Nashville of tomorrow look like if we continue to tear out the heart of the Music Row that made us who we are as a city? Ultimately, who will want to build new condos in an area that has no central community of ideas or creatives?
We are Music City-the only city in the world truly built on music.
My simple request is for Tim Reynolds or whoever the next owners might be of this property, before deciding what to do with this space, to take a moment to stand in silence between the grand walls of RCA Studio A and feel the history and the echoes of the Nashville that changed the world. I’d like to ask him and other developers to listen first hand to the stories from those among us who made the countless hit records in this studio – the artists, musicians, engineers, producers, writers who built this rich music legacy note by note, brick by brick.
I don’t know what impact my words here will have on anything. I just play piano. But I felt the need to share, and to encourage others who also care about preserving our music heritage to speak up as well.
I believe that progress and heritage can co-exist in mutual respect. Maybe this time we can at least try to make the effort.
For the last few weeks, folks in Nashville, television viewers, and the actors that comprise the cast of ABC’s hour long drama about Music City were wringing their hands and waiting for word if Nashville would be renewed for a third season. Producers had been playing hardball with the real Nashville, trying to wring out as many tax breaks and other incentives as possible to keep the production in Tennessee.
Talk at one point had the show moving to Texas or Los Angeles to continue production, if the show continued at all. As the week drew on and the announcements came down for other shows being renewed or cancelled on ABC and other networks, the fate of Nashville remained in limbo. But finally late Friday night, right after midnight Eastern Time, at tweet from ABC Music Lounge confirmed, “It’s official! @Nashville_ABC renewed for Season 3!!!”
The renewal is also for a full 22 episode season. There was talk of a shorter production cycle being one of the bargaining chips in negotiations.
Nashville, which is partially funded by the owners of The Grand Ole Opry, has been touted as being huge boom for tourism in Music City, while also becoming a forum to showcase worthy songs and talent that doesn’t normally make it on the radio. The show often portrays the ruthlessness of Music Row’s major labels and executives, and the struggles of many of its artists in sometimes stark authenticity, and in story lines that could be ripped right out of the newspaper.
The show has also been criticized for its over-dramatic nature, and sometimes being too harsh in its portrayals of the tribulations of country music, while some Nashville natives would rather not have the additional spotlight shined on their city that is already struggling to deal with rapid growth and an expanding economy.
Nonetheless, now Season 3 is a reality, and this news also pushes the series one step closer to the financially lucrative prospect of syndication. It also helps keep country music right at the forefront of capturing and holding the American consciousness as now one of the biggest, and most popular of the American music genres.
Everywhere you turn, people are trying to take advantage of the rising interest in country music and Nashville. Country is seen as marketable, palatable to the masses, and financially lucrative from the free and easy way country music consumers spend their money. Radio and concert promoters are betting big on country, and so are television’s singing competitions that have launched many of the genre’s biggest current stars. It seemed like only a matter of time before reality TV got on the “gone country” kick, and it has recently with a slew of new shows. But unfortunately for country music’s small screen offshoots, all’s not right in TV land.
Announced earlier this week, the A&E reality series Crazy Hearts has officially been canceled. Initially announced as a “Nashville Music Docuseries”, the show followed aspiring singer-songwriters Lee Holyfield, Anthony Billups, Leroy Powell, Jimmy Stanley and Amy Wilcox, artist manager April Nemeth and media personality Heather Byrd as they tried to make it in the country music business. But ratings for the show started off poor and stayed that way, and eventually A&E moved the show from a prime weekday spot to a lackluster Saturday afternoon time. Eight episodes of the show were made, and that all there will be.
Another Nashville and country music-based reality show called Nashville Wives is also waging an uphill battle. Panned by critics and beset by poor ratings, the TNT reality show faces a rocky future. Modeled around other “wives” reality shows, Nashville Wives follows Sarah Davidson, wife of Dallas Davidson, Erika White, wife of country performer Bryan White, and four other Music City debutantes, capturing their daily lives. The problem according to TV critics is that the show is boring. But instead of canceling it, the shows producers have put out a casting call, possibly to attempt to find wives who might be more entertaining to viewers. Still, the future of the show seems very uncertain.
And though not a reality show, the flagship of Nashville and country music’s small screen invasion, ABC’s hour long drama Nashville also seems to be finding some ratings pressure, and there seems to be some question if there will be a third season as the show tries to secure government incentives to continue to shoot in Tennessee. One thing working in Nashville‘s favor is that the real Nashville believes the show is a big tourism boost. According to a recent survey, 1 in 5 Nashville tourists were motivated to visit the city because of the show. ABC also lacks another ratings blockbuster to fill Nashville‘s current spot.
But overall, the environment looks bleak for country music to breakout into reality shows, or even sustain the few it’s already started. Just like many of the popular music trends that Music Row seems to be 9 to 18 months behind on, country music may have taken too long to jump on the reality show bandwagon and it’s rolled on by. At least for now.
Membership to the Grand Ole Opry is seen a one of the most prestigious accolades a country music artist can be bestowed, and the recognition is sought after by performers both big and small, mainstream and traditional because it is one of the hardest gets in music.
The Opry currently has 66 members, and as older members pass on, newer ones are recruited. In 2013, the only new addition to The Opry was old time string band Old Crow Medicine Show—one of the few traditional-leaning bands to be asked into the institution in recent memory. Before Old Crow, it was a cavalcade of mainstream pop country music stars that as Grand Ole Opry historian Byron Fay points out in his 2013 Year In Review are not fulfilling the Opry obligations they signed up for when they accepted their invitations.
The exact requirements to keep your Grand Ole Opry membership active have been updated and altered over the years. Original Opry members made dozens of appearances a year as a matter of course. Today, artists that have “retired” like Garth Brooks and Barbara Mandrell are not always expected to make appearances, but retain their membership, mostly because of the dues they paid prior to retiring. But some artists that have just signed on are not meeting the most minimum of Opry requirements either.
In April of 1963, The Opry implemented a rule stating that members must make at least 26 appearances on the show per year to keep their membership active. Over the years, the amount of required appearances per year has dropped, though the appearance rule is hypothetically still in effect. In 1964, Opry management dropped the amount of required performances to 20. Then in 2000, they dropped the requirement to 12. Today, Opry General Manager Pete Fisher has set a goal of 10 appearances a year by each Opry member. Members, especially popular country stars, can also receive extra appearance credits by appearing on a weekend. Friday or Saturday appearances count as 3 performances according to some accounts of the current Opry rules.
The issue with big, new artists reneging on their Opry responsibilities first came up after Blake Shelton made controversial comments about country music’s classic country fans, calling them “Old Farts & Jackasses.” Opry historian Byron Faye called for the removal of Blake from the Opry ranks, not just because of the comments, but because Blake Shelton hadn’t made a single appearance in an entire year prior to his comments in clear violation of the membership rules. Shelton only became an Opry member in September of 2010, and was already shirking his responsibilities. Subsequently, Blake Shelton did make two weekend appearances on the show, but that would still put him well below the required ten appearances, even with the extra weekend credits.
Darius Rucker was the big name to be invited to the Opry in 2012, but only made four appearances on the show in 2013. Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban were The Opry’s big additions for 2011. Though Rascal Flatts appeared a moderate seven times, including some weekend shows, Keith Urban made a total of two appearances throughout 2013. Two appearances were all recent Opry members Brad Paisley and Trace Adkins could muster as well.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are older Grand Ole Opry members who would love to make more appearances if only asked, but they are getting squeezed out by younger, and non-member performers. As Byron Fay accounts for on his blog, there were a total of 227 guest appearances on the show in 2013, and a total of 42 appearances by cast members of ABC’s TV Show Nashville that receives funding and other material support from the parent company of the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Hospitality. Guest appearances on the Opry can be a big honor for up-and-coming artists and are an important part of the Grand Ole Opry culture. But they are not meant to supplant established Opry members.
Another interesting note is that long-time Opry member Dolly Parton has been absent from the Opry stage for an extended period. Though there has been no specific word of a beef between Dolly and the Opry, a theme park deal between the two parties dissolved in 2012 when the Opry was part of a sale to Marriott in the restructuring of Gaylord Enterprises to the new Ryman Hospitality Properties.
We do know that The Grand Ole Opry is willing to drop living members, or at least they did in the past. They famously threw out Hank Williams in August of 1952 for alcoholism and missing rehearsals, and Neko Case was once banned from the institution for removing her shirt. If The Grand Ole Opry membership is going to maintain the prestige that all the members approach it with when they are asked to join the institution, the rules governing membership must be maintained both by members, and the institution.
When it comes to the business of saving country music, many villains get presented by fans as the face of the erosion of country’s roots, values, and quality; usually huge country music stars like Garth Brooks or Taylor Swift. But behind-the-scenes there are other events, and other individuals that have just as much, if not more of a fundamental impact on country music than any single artist or band.
One of these such events was the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that was signed into law by then President Clinton, which for the first time allowed cross media ownership, meaning multiple media businesses like newspapers, and television and radio stations could be owned by a single person or corporation in the same market. The law was meant to deregulate the media business and spurn more competition, despite the concerns raised that the move would see the rise of big media giants and the lessening of local programming.
Within radio, these easing of the rules had a massive impact on radio station ownership. In 1996 when the Telecommunications Act first passed, Clear Channel, the largest radio station owner in the country, had a roster of 173 radio stations. In 2003 the FCC eased the ownership regulations for local radio stations even further, and by 2004, Clear Channel owned over 1,200 stations. In fact Clear Channel grew so quickly, the company incurred massive debt, and ended up going through a restructuring between 2006 to 2008 that included selling some of its stations, to where now Clear Channel owns around 850 stations total.
Since its restructuring as a private company, Clear Channel’s goal has been centralizing and nationalizing programming. The idea is instead of paying one DJ at each country station in the US for example, you can pay one DJ who can then be syndicated to all the country stations owned by the same company. Though Clear Channel’s station ownership has stayed steady, and even slowly increased in the last few years, they’ve been able to slash employees as they slowly implement a nationalized DJ roster. In January of 2009, Clear Channel laid off roughly 1,500 employees, and by May of 2009, that number had grown to 2,440 positions eliminated. Then in October of 2011, even more local positions were slashed, but the exact numbers have never been disclosed.
Then earlier this month, Clear Channel announced a partnership with CMT to create national country music programming to be distributed across 125 country radio stations, as well as some digital and television platforms. The move is meant to match a similar national syndicated format created by the second-biggest radio provider in the United States, Cumulus Media, who launched the NASH-FM national country network on 70 separate radio stations earlier this year. The deal means more programming will be created on a national level, and distributed to local stations. Though Clear Channel says the new deal will be good for local radio stations because it will give them access to national-caliber talent and programming through their syndicated network that local stations would otherwise not have access to, the move continues the trend for radio to lose its local and regional flavor in favor of programming catering to a national audience.
At the forefront of Clear Channel’s country radio ideas is a DJ named Bobby Bones. Originally from Arkansas, Bobby started with Clear Channel as a local DJ in Austin, TX for the Top 40 pop station 96.7 KISS FM, with his Bobby Bones Show eventually being syndicated to a few other regional markets. Though Bobby had big offers to move to the West Coast, he stayed in Austin and became a local favorite, winning “Best Radio Personality” by the Austin Music Awards from 2004-2008.
Earlier this year, Clear Channel finally convinced Bobby to move to Nashville, and to make the switch from Top 40 radio to country. Bobby replaced the legendary country DJ Gerry House at WSIX in Nashville who retired in 2010, though some hypothesize that Gerry, like many other DJ’s on Clear Channel stations, was forced out. Gerry was also a songwriter, and country journalist. Chet Flippo once said about Gerry that he was the “only reason I still listen to any mainstream country radio.”
Moving from pop to country, and replacing Gerry House, Bobby Bones symbolizes the changing of the guard on country radio to say the least. Bobby Bones doesn’t look country, doesn’t sound country, says he doesn’t own a cowboy hat or a belt buckle, but he reaches more country listeners than any other country music DJ.
The Bobby Bones Show started on the WSIX flagship station being syndicated to 15 other stations across the country, and in less than a year is already up to a total of 50 stations. With Clear Channel’s new syndicated country radio network coming, these numbers could dramatically increase, and Bobby Bones could cross over into television—something he has already started to do, doing spots at big awards shows, and once guest hosting on Live with Regis & Kelly in 2011. Along with his weekday show, Bobby Bones also does at weekend syndicated show, Country Top 30 with Bobby Bones. He also does a syndicated Fox Sports Radio weekend show with tennis player and friend Andy Roddick.
Bobby Bones is not your normal DJ. He doesn’t have your stereotypical DJ voice, and his quirky, yet honest personality is what endears him both to listeners, and to country artists who seem more than willing to lend their name to his show and stop by for interviews. Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, Kellie Pickler, Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum, and many more have appeared live on The Bobby Bones Show, and it is now the highest rated radio show in Nashville.
As a recent CBS feature points out, Bobby comes from very humble beginnings in Arkansas, from a very stereotypical “country” upbringing where his dad left him and his mom was a drug addict, being raised by his grandmother for part of the time. Bobby doesn’t drink or use drugs, and has a very hip, Austin-esque personality while still coming across as genuine to his listeners. Many old-school country fans and older radio listeners hate him. But with his current position at WSIX and Clear Channel’s big nationally-focused plan for country radio, Bobby Bones isn’t just poised to become the Gerry House of the next generation, he’s poised to become the biggest DJ in the history of country music.
Last month Justin Timberlake got the country music universe titillated when he said he may take a stab at country music in the future. “[I] grew up outside of Memphis, Tennessee. Listened to country music, R&B music, classic rock, you know, everything,” said Timberlake “I still got my eyes set on a Best Country Album. There is time for that.”
Well now Timberlake is doubling down, and delving even deeper into the country music conversation, and what he’s saying is hinting that his move would be a more “adult” approach to country, even more akin to the classic modes of country he grew up with, wanting to use his position in music to help guide country in a direction of more substance.
Justin Timberlake stars in the movie Inside Llewyn Davis opening today, and talked with The Tennessean about his potential, or very likely country music move.
“The next move for me is to sink some teeth in here [Nashville]. I’ve done it before. I got a taste of it,” says Timberlake, referring to the song “The Only Promise That Remains” that Timberlake wrote and produced for Reba McEntire last year. “…it reminded me of the songs that my grandfather used to make me listen to when I was a kid — in a great way. It hit me, ‘Oh I wrote this song because of my childhood.’ It ended up being this thing that country radio wouldn’t play.”
Timberlake’s comments then took an even more interesting turn, when he began to speak about Taylor Swift and how to navigate going from a “bubblegum” star to an artist entering adulthood. “There might be another calling for me out there. And it might be being a part of music in this way as a communicator and a teacher and a guide…I was in a group that was bigger than bubble gum. It’s almost like, with anything, when you do settle into adulthood is when when people respect you in a different way. But there’s no question in my mind that that’s where [Taylor Swift's] going, if she so chooses. For me I am sort of the oracle of the idea, and I’m also the communicator of it.”
Nashville seems synonymous with country music to Timberlake, and he would not want his work in the genre to be from the outside looking in.
“A good song is a good song is a good song. There’s still so much that can happen in Nashville, and I look to the future and I want to be a part of it. And I’m not just blowing smoke. I don’t say that about Los Angeles. I don’t think I would move to Nashville. I know I would move to Nashville. It’s a matter of time. And it’s what this place could offer me, to be that outlet for all these different styles.”
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Remember back in the 80′s and 90′s when the big stereotype about country music was that it was all about losing your job, your spouse leaving you, your truck breaking down, and your dog dying? Well now there’s a new set of negative stereotypes being engraved in the face of country music. With so many mainstream male artists drinking from the same well of lyrical themes and using the same select few songwriters, songs about beer and trucks are becoming our generation’s vilified country caricature.
For a few years now, distinguishing country music listeners have been sounding the alarm about laundry list/checklist songs and how their repetitiveness and permeation of the format could lead to burnout. But unwavering, their numbers have increased and their chart performance has improved as the demographics of country music shift away from its traditional audience. But like most trends and fads, especially ones that swap sustainability for the sugar rush of here-and-now success, country’s tailgate, truck, and beer songs could be reaching a critical mass point.
Much of country music’s recent criticism from artists has centered around the beer and truck thread.
Kacey Musgraves when asked what trend needed to die out, she said, “Anyone singing about trucks, in any form, in any song, anywhere. Literally just stop – nobody cares! It’s not fun to listen to.”
Zac Brown said, “If I hear one more tailgate in the moonlight, daisy duke song, I’m gonna throw up.”
And Jake Owen said, “We need more songs than just songs about tailgates and fuckin’ cups and Bacardi.”
Yes, artists like Zac Brown and Jake Owen might be hypocrites for criticizing songs that are similar to ones they’ve released themselves, but at the same time their words may even hold more weight than some traditionalist who may just come across as bitter. Hatred for truck songs has permeated the highest ranks of country stars, and as the quote from ABC’s Nashville at the top of this page illustrates, it is also becoming institutionalized in culture. Multiple stories have ran in major publications about what is being labeled by some as the “bro country” phenomenon, allowing the knowledge (and disgust) for the truck song trend to reach outside the confines of countrydom to casual music listeners.
Then you take a look at the charts where a few months ago beer & trucks songs were dominating the top spots, and we’re beginning to see some churning and turnaround. Two truck songs, Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise” and Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night” positively dominated the #1 spots on Billboard’s Country Hot 100 for the majority of 2013, but right now sitting at the top is the Keith Urban / Miranda Lambert duet “We Were Us,” making for the first time a woman has seen the top of the charts in months, with a song that bucks the trend of starting out with a hip-hop beat, and instead builds out from an acoustic rhythm. Taylor Swift also cracks the Top 5 with “Red,” and even even the Florida Georgia Line #4 entry “Stay” is a much more subdued track that focuses more on story compared to their laundry list anthems “Cruise” and “Shine On.”
Even more importantly is what country music has coming up for 2014. Where 2013 was heavy with releases from truck song titans like Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and Blake Shelton, the two biggest releases slated for country in 2014 are Taylor Swift, and a much anticipated new album from Eric Church. When Church released his latest single “The Outsiders,” he couldn’t have struck a more discordant tune to the truck song trend. Say what you will about Eric Church or “The Outsiders” specifically, but the song was a gorilla-like chest-pounding announcement from Church to not expect him to pander to the truck song formula. Though “The Outsiders” has pulled back in popularity from its bellicose debut, Eric Church’s new album may just be the monster to chase away the country truck trend.
Time will tell if we are beginning to see the erosion or burnout of country truck songs, and if so if it will usher in a new trend of more story-based music or something even more awful. But with the weight of public opinion swelling against them, it’s hard to see this trend lasting much longer.
A monument dedicated to country music legend George Jones was unveiled today (11-18-13) in Nashville at the Woodlawn Roesch-Patton Funeral Home and Memorial Park at 660 Thompson Lane in the Berry Hill portion of southern Nashville. The event was open to the public, and also included a special presentation by George Jones’ widow Nancy Jones announcing the establishment of a scholarship fund for Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) on behalf of George. George Jones died on April 26th, 2013.
The monument features a tall arch made in the likeness of a guitar fretboard that reads “Jones” at the very top, with a large mantle across the face of the monument that reads “He Stopped Loving Her Today” in tribute to one of Jones’ signature songs. On the left of the monument is an image and eulogy to George Jones, while the right of the monument is reserved for his wife Nancy. In the center is a guitar with a placard with George’s most-famous nickname, “The Possum.”
The monument was first announced in June to honor George Jones’ “life and contributions to country music.” Initially there was a plaque in the place where the new monument sits with an artistic rendering of the monument and the note, “Thank you for all your love and support shown to George and to me. God bless, Nancy.”
The unveiling comes days before a star-studded tribute to George Jones that is set to transpire on Nov. 22nd in Nashville at the Bridgestone Arena called “Playing Possum, The Final No Show” with over 70+ performers scheduled to appear.
Photo is from Chris Cannon of NBC 5 in Nashville.
ABC’s Wednesday night drama Nashville just entered its second season, and though like many network television dramas, the drama can feel over-the-top and contrived, the show’s impact on a wide range of issues that fall under the charge of Saving Country Music is undeniable, if not unprecedented. Shot within Music City, showcasing music from independent artists overseen by Executive Music Producer Buddy Miller, and barreling head first into many of the important issues facing the country music industry in 2013, Nashville is as an important player in country music politics, and is as influential as anything else in country music media right now.
Though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the show to distinguishing consumers, it’s still important to understand Nashville‘s impact on mainstream consumers who may see the music industry as a mystery. Like so many mass produced products, if consumers actually knew where their music came from and how it was made, they may not find it so appetizing. An educated consumer makes better choices, and every week Nashville pulls the curtain back and gives a surprisingly accurate portrayal of country music’s internal workings.
So let’s take an in-depth look at some of the lessons country music consumers are learning from Nashville.
How Older Artists Are Pushed Aside For Younger Artists
This is the overarching, founding theme of the show. The hot, young starlet Juliette Barnes is on the rise and pushing the aging legend Rayna James out of the spotlight. Emanating from there are more specific themes and story lines throughout the show that speak to just how callus the industry can be with aging stars. Season 2 opens up the theme where a reality TV star threatens to depose Juliette Barns as her label’s top focus.
How Artists Are Dealt With Unfairly By Labels
Main character Rayna James is pestered throughout Season 1 by label executive Marshall Evans who holds the threat of releasing a “Greatest Hits” record over her head unless Rayna does what he wants (Mike Curb anyone?). The trailer for the series shows Rayna James and Marshall Evans in a heated conflict, with Rayna walking away, quipping, “Well you can kiss my decision as it’s walking out the door.”
Also during the first season, up-and-coming country rocker Avery Barkley gets signed by a big label and producer from Atlanta, and then is subsequently forced to fire his band, and eventually burns the masters of his recordings when the producer manipulates his music to sound like something he doesn’t want.
In the first episode of the second season, main character Juliette Barns wants to delay the release of her album, but when she talks to her manager about it, her manager replies that “The label has been sucked into this massive conglomerate.”—a problem that is very real for many artists when mergers and acquisitions happen in the business and artists and their music gets marginalized. In episode 2 of season 2, a reality TV star threatens Juliette’s career.
These narratives and others throughout the show are not just very close to the realities many artists face, some of them are downright ripped from the headlines. As it is in the real music business, artists are regularly toyed with and manipulated by the industry at the expense of their creative freedom.
A Whole Other World Of Independent Artists
Possibly the most important element of the show, three of its main characters are artists that are not big time, but struggling up-and-coming musicians and songwriters: Scarlett O’ Connor, Gunnar Scott and Avery Barkley. Likely as the series progresses, these characters will continue to climb the ladder of success, but through the first season and along their ascent, viewers see the everyday struggles independent artists go through, while at the same time seeing that their talent is often equal, if not greater than the big artists playing the main stages. Nashville‘s up-and-coming artists are observed playing small shows in Nashville’s independent music joints. They’re seen scrounging for rent, struggling to write songs, etc. This exposes viewers to the reality that there’s more to the music world than mainstream radio and stadium shows.
Back in the real world, Nashville has become an invaluable outlet for independent country and roots music. Showcased in the soundtrack for the show have been up-and-coming artists like Caitlin Rose, Lindi Ortega, Shovels & Rope, Ashley Monroe, Derek Hoke, and many, many more. With original Executive Music Producer T Bone Burnett, and current Executive Music Producer Buddy Miller, the music of Nashville has an unapologetic, non-industry, independent, Americana bent. Yes, there’s mainstream music as well, but it’s not always portrayed in a positive light. Not only does a song showcased on Nashville give these artists great exposure to a national audience, it is a financial windfall. Behind-the-scenes songwriters also benefit when the main characters sing their compositions.
Nashville has also given little cameos to cool, noteworthy artists like Del McCoury, Sam Bush, and Dan Auerbach.
That Many Country Stars Don’t Write Their Own Songs
Independent, knowledgeable music consumers already know this, just like they do many of the inner workings of the music industry. But the passive fan may not realize that what they’re hearing from their favorite stars is in fact an original expression from someone else.
How The Songwriting Process Works
Nashville has gone very in-depth in its exploration on how the songwriting process works down to some of the smallest details. Viewers of the show watch main characters like Scarlett O’ Connor and Gunnar Scott navigate the entire songwriting process of getting signed to a publishing house, writing songs in an office setting on Music Row, having songs put on “hold” (meaning a bigger star is considering recording and releasing it), etc. etc. Another character, Avery Barkley goes through a struggle of whether he should sign over his publishing rights or not while in negotiations with a label. Numerous other specifics of the songwriting process that even educated music consumers may not understand the ins and outs of are illuminated in the show.
How Talent Is Developed
From shots of the Bluebird Cafe where young artists and songwriters develop their chops, to the character Scarlet O’ Conner auditioning for Rayna James’ new label near the end of season 1, Nashville gives a mostly realistic insight into how an artist goes from writing songs in their bedroom and playing dive bars, to being developed into a star. And Nashville does a good job showing both sides of the coin—the victories and the pitfalls.
How Much Side Musicians Have An Impact On Music
Whether it is on the stage or on the radio, the spotlight rarely shines on the sidemen who are just as seminal to performing, recording, and sometimes writing the music, let alone being there as friends, confidants, and psychiatrists for big stars. This very real, and very important position in popular music is embodied on Nashville by good guy Deacon Claybourne—the guitar player for Rayna James, and later for Juliette Barns, and mentor to his niece Scarlett O’ Connor and her (sometimes) boyfriend(s) Gunnar Scott and Avery Barkley.
Artists Want To Be Respected For Their Artistic Integrity
At one point in season 1, pop country character Juliette Barnes is criticized by guitar player Deacon Claybourne for being too much about show, and not enough about substance. When Deacon sees the size of Juliette’s entourage, he quips, “Johnny Cash only needed two.” This stimulates Juliette Barns to re-focus on her songwriting, and to do a solo acoustic performance at one of her concerts against the wishes of her management. The performance ends up being a success.
The History of Country Music
All of the episodes from season 1 were named after Hank Williams songs. All the episodes from season 2 are being named for Patsy Cline songs. One of the episodes in season 1 was centered around the Ryman Auditorium, the historic, original home of the Grand Ole Opry, also known as the “Country Music Mother Church.” Along with many other important country music landmarks that are featured here and there in the series, watchers are passively receiving a country music history lesson.
The Use of Auto-Tune
Though a very small thread in the series, in the pilot episode and the extended trailer for season 1, Juliette Barnes’ manager says, “Thank God for Auto-Tune” while Juliette is singing in the recording studio. This continues to help get the word out about the pitch-correction tool that some artists use as a significant crutch to make up for their vocal weaknesses.
How Much Songs Matter
Despite the spotlight being mostly on the drama between the characters in the series, songs play a seminal role in Nashville. Whether they are the setting for a dialogue between two characters, or the centerpiece of a scene at the Bluebird Cafe, songs are handled with great reverence in the series, and the series goes a long way toward educating viewers of why songs are important. Nashville shows that it is cool not just to hear, but to listen.
Country music in 2013 feels like the best of times, and the worst of times. While a few top male performers perpetrate untold atrocities on the integrity of the genre, the rise of independent music and infrastructure in the marketplace is now almost to the point where it equals its corporate counterpart. Quality songs and worthy artists are beginning to see more and more support, while current events and new outlets create avenues for substantive music to find its way to hungry ears. It is so easy to focus on the negative because it still seems to pervade the popular consciousness. But here are twelve reasons it is looking up for country music in 2013.
Yes, Kacey Musgraves. Even if you see her as some Music Row machination meant to offer an alter ego to the Taylor Swift’s of the world (Taylor equals Kacey’s noms with 6 herself), at least mainstream country is now offering a choice to consumers. What Musgraves’ symbolizes is that you don’t have to prove overwhelming commercial success to get noticed. Her biggest hit “Merry Go ‘Round” didn’t even make the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 Country Songs. Musgraves is a songwriter in a traditional sense, even if some of her best, and most-heady material didn’t make her big debut album. The reason she was able to rake up so many nominations is because of her songwriting credits, accounting for half of her CMA considerations. Kacey Musgraves’ 6 CMA nominations proves that regardless of how stupid country music’s leading males are trying to make the genre, in 2013, songs matter.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, it is getting dirty out there, and the more artists that speak out, the more other artists gain the courage to join the chorus. And not to shy away from the fight, Kacey Musgraves could be characterized as leading the charge, coming out multiple times to complain about where country music is headed. Alan Jackson also had some choice words recently, as did Gary Allan, Tom Petty, and most recently Zac Brown. Country music may be crossing more unfortunate lines than ever, but at least it’s genuine artists are being vocal about their dissent.
Yes, it was bad that Blake Shelton had to disrespect large segments of country music listeners when he ostensibly called them “old farts and jackasses,” but the backlash that ensued became a unifying element for disenfranchised country fans. Ray Price wrote a blistering letter to Blake Shelton, resulting in Blake having to make a public apology. Dale Watson wrote a song about the whole incident which has since become one of the most popular numbers of his show. An “Old Farts & Jackasses” group on Facebook boasts over 93,000 “likes,” and the list goes on from there. Blake Shelton awakened a beast, and gave it a rallying cry. Who would have thought in 2012 that people would be proudly calling themselves “Old Farts & Jackasses” ?!?
The days of inducting traditionally-leaning artists and bands seemed to be over with the Grand Ole Opry’s recent membership invitations to Darius Rucker, Keith Urban, and Rascal Flatts. But lo and behold, the Grand Ole Opry can still get it right, inducting an act that has paid their dues many times over, and deserve to be recognized as one of the forefathers to the re-popularization of string bands that has seen the rise of bands like Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers, and The Lumineers. The news is not only good for Old Crow Medicine Show, but other artists who may not be top tier names in country music, but deserve the distinction.
It’s so easy to read the headlines and see the top of the Billboard country charts and say that all is lost in the genre. But as long as Sturgill Simpson is out there touring, you can’t say country music is dead. Out on tour with Dwight Yoakam, playing the Grand Ole Opry, inspiring critics from coast to coast and overseas to sing his praises, Sturgill Simpson is giving hope for the future to country fans that has a value beyond his music specifically.
Yeah, I’m not too much for the silly cliffhanger drama-laden plot lines either, but Nashville has become an invaluable teacher of how the music business works, specifically on the songwriting side of things. An educated consumer makes better choices, and if they see and understand how backroom politics stultify the creativity and freedom of artists, and how a song goes from inspiration to the big stage, they just may make better choices, and think about where the music they enjoy comes from. Furthermore, Nashville has become a music outlet to a nationwide audience that may otherwise not be exposed to the music of independent artists like Caitlin Rose, Lindi Ortega, Ashley Monroe, Shovels & Rope, and so many more.
There are many good, independent country bands that are enjoying a rise in interest in 2013, but there may not be a bigger rags to riches story (so to speak) than Hellbound Glory landing an opening spot on a Kid Rock arena tour. Going from playing half-empty bar rooms to sold-out arenas, Hellbound Glory is seeing the recognition their quality country music has been deserving for years. And the opportunity has been paralleled by bigger crowds and better support even after the arena tour ended.
Caitlin Rose, Valerie June, Lindi Ortega, Austin Lucas, Amanda Isbell, Cory Branan, Jonny “Corndawg” Fritz, and so many more that call east Nashville home (or at least to some extent) have seen career watermarks and burgeoning interest in 2013. Forget Music Row or the circus downtown, Nashville, not Austin, is the new vibrant epicenter for independent music, and the artists there pushing and supporting each other is fostering a creative environment that regardless for how long it lasts, will be looked back upon fondly in the future as a time and place that got it right, and set the bar for artistry and substance. Add on top of that already-established and influential artists like Jack White and Dan Auerbach, and Nashville is the place to be in 2013.
“Cowboy” Jack Clement and Bobby Bare Inducted Into the Country Music Hall of Fame
Yes, two very important players in the rise of country music’s “Outlaw” movement finally got their due this year, and it was especially timely for “Cowboy” Jack Clement who would pass away only a few months after the announcement. Though there is still a long list of worthy inductees that many fans worry will never get in, these two men prove that the Outlaws will not be forgotten, and move other important country music icons one step further to being inducted themselves.
If you feel like the Outlaws of country music have not been dealt a fair deal and they need need a new institution to give them the support and recognition they deserve, your wishes were granted in 2013 when it was announced there will be a new Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame in Lynchburg, Tennessee coming soon. Nashville may have swept their legacy off the streets like common refuse, but at least somewhere the Outlaws will ride eternally.
If you desire more validation that 2013 is the “Year of the Song,” then behold the overwhelming breakout success of Jason Isbell in 2013. Bolstered by his manager Traci Thomas, a bulldog of the Thirty Tigers group, Jason Isbell is becoming the defining songwriter of our generation. If you ever wished you could go back and re-live the heyday of Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt in their prime, watching Jason Isbell and his 2013 tear is the next best thing.
With radio becoming less and less accessible through every measure of consolidation by Clear Channel and Cumulus, new outlets must open up to support independent music. And they are in 2013, and sometimes in the most uncanny places. David Letterman not only has been giving his stage over to artists like Dale Watson, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Pokey LaFarge, Shovels & Rope, and so many more, he’s been seeking out this talent to play his show as a fan of the music. Where big network TV debuts for independent artists seemed to be a thing of the past, now they seem to be a weekly occurrence.
“If there is one thing I can respect more than anything, it’s individuality in music. And I think back in the early era of country music that was so apparent. Like you could really tell your Johnny Cash from your Waylons from your Merles. They all had a distinct thing happening. And they were all really great at what they did. It was really important for me to etch out my own thing as a student of that.” — Lindi Ortega
Exquisitely antiqued and strikingly original, old school country singer and native Canadian Lindi Ortega is the northern emissary for country music’s current female revolution. A class act all around that is regarded just as highly for her self-penned songs as her heavenly (or devilish) voice, Lindi is a creative maelstrom that sends the room spinning from her ability to expose the most blinding beauty from life’s inherent darkness.
Now living in Nashville, and benefiting from some song placements in the new ABC drama series named after her new home, Lindi is starting to pack venues across the country, leaving a trail of broken hearts and positive buzz. After a rousing show at Austin’s most legendary listening room The Cactus Cafe on Monday (7-1), the gracious and arresting songwriter was kind enough to sit down and explain the inspiration behind her music.
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Trigger: There’s sort of two burgeoning movements in country music right now, and you’re part of both of them. Last year and this year we keep getting great albums from Canadians. How is it being a Canadian playing country music, as a perspective?
Lindi Ortega: I never really think about that when I do what I do. I just know what I listen to and what I’m inspired by. I don’t think about the fact that I wasn’t born in the southern United States and raised on a farm. I feel like maybe in a past life I might have been. That’s why it speaks to me. My mom was really into country music when I was growing up. She sort of planted the seed in my mind; a seed that grew into a great love and appreciation for especially old school country; you know Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn, Waylon and all of them. So I don’t really think about the fact that I’m from Canada when I’m writing songs, or paying tribute or homage to that music. I just happen to be.
Trigger: You’re also part of this revolution of young, beautiful, talented women that are giving country a shot of substance and showing respect to the music’s roots. There’s a lot of people talking about 2013 as the “Year of the Woman” in country music. Names like Caitlin Rose and Kacey Musgraves are brought up, and so is Lindi Ortega as an example. Why do you think the women are outpacing the men right now as far as substance in country music?
Lindi Ortega: I don’t know, but I’m glad that it’s happening. It’s so great because when I started doing country-inspired music in Toronto, I didn’t know anybody who was doing it. I didn’t even hear it around me. Then the more I was doing it, the more I would hear about it. And then of course I moved to Nashville and it’s all around me. It’s so great that people are appreciating the old school way. It’s nice to know that that art of live off-the-floor recordings, and not a shitload of Auto-tune and fancy stuff is going on. I’m glad that’s not a dying art. And I’m glad that females are doing it.
Trigger: So back in Toronto, you’re playing music and you had the nickname “Indie Lindi.”
Lindi Ortega: I still do!
Trigger: So you’re playing this music, and you weren’t in a scene in Toronto of rootsy musicians?
Lindi Ortega: Yeah I was a little bit autonomous. I was kind of anti-social to a fault I guess. I just stayed in my room and wrote songs. I wasn’t really part of any scene. There was a scene. When I was doing music there was much more of an indie rock scene. Now it’s a bit different, there’s a little more variety there. But there’s wasn’t a whole lot of alt-country back then. Now it’s everywhere.
Trigger: Is that what you consider yourself? Because you said “country-inspired” before and you’re saying “alt-country” now.
Lindi Ortega: Well there’s so many labels for it and I don’t know I guess. Some people don’t think I’m country at all. And I guess if you’re listening to the radio, I don’t sound country. I like to say I’m very much inspired by old-school country. And what kind of country that is in this day and age in the modern era, I don’t know. Hey, you can call it whatever you want. As long as people are listening to it is all that’s important to me.
Trigger: Did Cigarettes and Truckstops feel like your breakout album?
Lindi Ortega: In a way, yeah. I feel like there were a lot of things that led to having successful shows. One would be the Social Distortion tour that I did; the crazy pairing with me and Social D and I did two tours with them and it exposed me to a wide audience. Amazingly they were very accepting of me and the music I’ve done. And of course the Nashville TV show, and having a few song placements on there helped.
Trigger: Have you physically seen a bump from the Nashville TV exposure?
Lindi Ortega: Yeah. People tell me at shows, “I heard your song on Nashville and I checked you out.” I think it’s amazing that it was able to resonate that way. It actually led to people coming out to shows which is great.
Trigger: Attractive women are not supposed to be as talented as you are. Usually if someone is strong in one suit, they’re not strong in another. You just don’t see a lot of beautiful women that are creative dynamos. (READ if this part of the question offends you.) Where does your motivation to make music that may not appeal to everyone come from?
Lindi Ortega: You’re too kind to me. I spent my whole day going, “I’m getting old!” But my motivation comes from my influences, and people that have stuck to their guns. I read a lot of biographies. If there is one thing I can respect more than anything, it’s individuality in music. And I think back in the early era of country music that was so apparent. Like you could really tell your Johnny Cash from your Waylons from your Merles. They all had a distinct thing happening. And they were all really great at what they did. It was really important for me to etch out my own thing as a student of that.
I don’t care about money. I honestly don’t. I don’t give a shit. I could stay at a shitty motel, I think it’s more fun. And I like riding in little vans and I love doing it that way. I think there’s a story in that, and I write songs that are stories and that tell stories. My influences inspire me to have integrity and to do what I love and be passionate about it. I don’t care about making millions or any of that. Of course if it happens, like everyone says it’s icing on the cake. But I’m happy doing what I do. I love what I do, and this is a beautiful existence for me. I get to tour. I get to go to different cities and see the world. I can’t imagine a better existence than this.
Trigger: Are you a road dog?
Lindi Ortega: I love it. I get antsy when I’m not on the road. I start to miss it and I can’t wait to get back out. It gets to a point where hotel rooms feel more like home.
Trigger: How do birds inspire your music and image?
Lindi Ortega: Yeah, I’m a bird lover. And recently I guess ravens have been my thing. But I love all birds. I have a tattoo that says, “Bird On A Wire.” It’s a Leonard Cohen song. The image of a bird on a wire and that whole song just speaks to me. Something about flying in the sky and that type of free existence resonates with me. I always think my style’s a little bit of Frida Kahlo meets Wonder Woman meets Johnny Cash. The Johnny Cash thing is of course the black thing. I always think of that movie and the line and the manager saying to him, “Johnny, why are you wearing black? You look like you’re going to a funeral.” And he’d say, “Well maybe I am.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s brilliant! I want to go to that funeral too!” I’m half Mexican, so that whole Dia de los Muertos thing, and dying and death and the whole fleeting of our existence is always running through my mind. And I don’t always think of it in a morbid way. I guess I think of it in the more Mexican way, the colorful aspect.
Trigger: You mentioned Frida Kahlo and I saw a picture of your guitar case and Frida Kahlo is all over it. How did she influence your music?
Lindi Ortega: Well I saw the movie a long time ago. That was the first thing that inspired me because she was such a character. And then I learned more about her life and read biographies about her. And I thought in the midst of all her emotional pain she was so full of life, and it was so interesting to me. And her art was so incredible. Her self-portraits I found most fascinating because the expression on her face I felt was very familiar to one I’ve seen in the mirror a couple of times; moments of loneliness and it spoke to me. I love her. I think she’s an incredible artist and a strong woman, an inspiration and I’m slightly obsessed, and I have a song about her on my next record.
Trigger: Speaking of that, is there any hints of new stuff that you can tell us? Do you have a new album coming out?
Lindi Ortega: I do. I have a new one coming out hopefully in the fall. I’m really excited about it. Dave Cobb was the producer. He did Secret Sisters and Jason Isbell. We had a blast, it was a lot of fun. Everyone that played on it was awesome.
Anti-Nashville, anti-Music Row, and anti-pop country songs have a long and proud tradition in country music that stretches almost all the way back to the beginning of the genre. As long as there’s been country music, there’s been folks arguing about how to define it, what it should sound like, and speaking out when they think it’s going in the wrong direction.
The amount and the approach of protest songs seems to parallel the trends in country music. When the genre begins to move more in a pop direction, country’s traditional artists pipe up in song. After compiling this list, it was clear the majority of them were written around the early 2000′s. This was the heyday for anti-Nashville sentiment, though there’s been a recent rash of new anti songs here recently.
Let’s look back at some of the most memorable country music protest songs, and below that is a semi-complete list of all of the protest songs we could aggregate from around the web in no certain order. If you see one that is left off, please pipe up in the comments section, and if it is a song whose existence can be verified, we’ll add it to the list. And the song needs to be at least somewhat “country,” and needs to be mostly about speaking out; not just a line or two in a song. And no, this doesn’t include parodies.
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Dale Watson – Country My Ass, Nashville Rash, Real Country Song
Maybe the king of the country protest warrior poets, Dale Watson’s arsenal of anti-Nashville songs rivals anyone’s. All three of his big ones appear on his 2002 album Live in London…England. He’s since moved on somewhat from his early 2000′s orneriness, though you can still hear light jabs at Music Row in most all of Dale’s 20+ albums.
Larry Cordle – Murder on Music Row
Arguably the most successful country protest song of all time, it was written by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell, and originally appeared on an album of the same name with Cordle’s band Lonesome Standard Time in 1999. It was made popular as a duet between Alan Jackson and George Strait, first being performed on the 1999 CMA Awards, then awarded the 2000 Vocal Event of the Year award by the CMA, and then winning the CMA Song of the Year in 2001. “Murder On Music Row” was never officially released as a single, but still charted #38 on Billboard’s country chart. In 2006, Dierks Bentley and George Jones recorded a version of the song only made available on a Cracker Barrel compilation.
Hank Williams III – Trashville, Dick in Dixie, The Grand Ole Opry (Ain’t So Grand)
Probably the loudest and the most foul-mouthed of the anti-Nashville bunch, the grandson of Hank Williams pulls no punches. No, “Dick in Dixie” ain’t about a guy named Richard, nor is that what Hank3 suggests Jimmy Martin would tell the current Opry managers all to “suck” if he were still around in the song “The Grand Ole Opry (Ain’t So Grand).” Immature or not, Hank3 made tremendous strides in raising awareness about many of the issues arising in Music City.
Waylon Jennings – Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?
One of the earliest country protest songs and possibly the most potent. With two chords and the truth, Waylon lays the wisdom down thick about how country music had lost its way in 1975 while in the midst of the “Nashville Sound” era. The song became a #1 hit, and spent 16 weeks on the Billboard country chart. It remains one of Waylon’s most signature songs, and the standard bearer for country protest songs, with the lyrical theme being reworked many times (and many replacing Hank’s name with Waylon’s) in modern songs of protest. Waylon was not known as a prolific songwriter, but he wrote this one himself.
Other Waylon Protest Songs: If Ol’ Hank Could Only See Us Now, Nashville Bum, Nashville Rebel
Darrell Scott / The Dixie Chicks – Long Time Gone
Everyone got so swept up in the political blowup surrounding The Dixie Chicks, they forgot they were a serious, substantive country roots group. Their excellent album Home included the most commercially successful country protest song of all time, and the 2nd best in chart performance, only rivaled by Waylon’s “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.” Written by Darrell Scott and originally appearing on the album Real Time with Tim O’Brien, the song tells the story of a farm boy that moves to Nashville, become disenfranchised, and moves back. It became a #2 hit on Billboard’s country chart, and #7 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
The bridge begins the protest portion of the song, followed by the pointed 3rd verse: “Listen to the radio, they hear what’s cooking, but the music ain’t got no soul. Now they sound tired but they don’t sound Haggard. They’ve got money but they don’t have Cash. They’ve got Jr. but they don’t have Hank…”
George Jones- Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?
The most subtle of the protest songs, George Jones asks who will fill the shoes of all the country greats of the past. It was the title track on his 1985 release from Epic Records, and reached #3 on the Billboard country charts, written by Max D. Barnes and Troy Harold Seals. The song was also accompanied by a great video.
List of Songs of Country Protest
- Tom T. Hall – The Last Country Song
- Hank Williams Jr. – Old Nashville Cowboy
- Eleven Hundred Springs – Hank Williams Wouldn’t Make It Now in Nashville, Tennessee
- Josh Abbott Band – I’ll Sing About Mine
- Robbie Fulks – Fuck This Town
- Dough Sahm – Oh No, Not Another One
- John Hartford – Tear Down The Grand Ole Opry
- BR549 – Movin’ The Country, A-1 On The Jukebox
- Jesse Dayton – Hey Nashvegas!
- Alan Jackson – Three Minute Positive Not Too Country Up-Tempo Love Song
- Jason & The Scorchers – Greetings From Nashville
- Cory Morrow – Nashville Blues
- The Carter Family III – Maybelle’s Guitar
- Willie Nelson – Sad Songs & Waltzes, Write Your Own Songs
- Sturgill Simpson – Life Ain’t Fair & The World Is Mean
- David Frizzell & Bobby Bare – Cowboy Hat
- Vince Gill – Young Man’s Town
- Jason Eady – AM Country Heaven
- Brad Paisley, Bill Anderson, Buck Owens, George Jones – Too Country
- Dallas Wayne – If That’s Country
- Marty Stuart – Tip Your Hat (not really a protest song, but very close)
- Brigitte London – Mr. Nashville
- Hellbound Glory – Waylon Never Done It Their Way
- Jello Biafra & Mojo Nixon – Let’s Burn Ole Nashville Down
- Shooter Jennings – Outlaw You, Solid Country Gold, Put The ‘O’ Back In Country
- The Waco Brothers – Death of Country Music
- JB Beverley & The Wayward Drifters – Dark Bar & A Juke Box
- Barbara Mandrell – I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool
- Tom VandenAvond – Wreck of a Fine Man
- Cross Canadian Ragweed – Anywhere But Here, Record Exec.
- The Geezenslaws – Bad Rock and Roll
- Austin Cunningham – 15 Songs
- Corey Smith – If That’s Country
- Houston Marchman – Viet Nashville
- Kenneth Brian – Something’s Wrong with the Juke Box, Nashville Line
- Laney Strickland – Ca$hville
- The Hackensaw Boys – Nashville
- Jamie Richards – I Guess They’ve Never Been to Texas
- Those Poor Bastards – Radio Country
- The Rounders – That Ole Jukebox
- Joey Allcorn – In Nashville, Tennessee; This Ain’t Montgomery
- Brent Amaker & The Rodeo – Sissy New Age Cowboy
- Joe Buck Yourself – Music City’s Dead
- Emily Herring & Henpecked – Has Country Gone To Hell
- Heather Myles – Nashville’s Gone Hollywood
- The Skeeters – Country Pop
- Erik Koskanen Band – Ain’t No Honky Tonks
- The Gin Palace Jesters – Nashville Penny
- Tommy Alverson – Purty Boys
- Ronnie Hymes – Dueling Kazoo (a Finger for Trashville)
- John D. Hale Band – Outlaw Groove
- Bobby Bare – Rough on the Living
- Marty Stuart – Sundown in Nashville
- Merle Haggard – Too Much Boogie Woogie
- Josh Thompson – Too Country
- Daryl Singletary – I Still Sing This Way
- Gary Gibson – I’ve Had All of Nashville I Can Stand
- John Anderson – Takin’ The Country Back
- Keith Whitley – Buck
- George Jones – Billy B. Bad
- Will Hoge & Wade Bowen – Song Nobody Will Hear
- Jackson Taylor & The Sinners – Country Song
- Jarrod Birmingham – Where’d You Go Country Music
- Reckless Kelly – New Moon Over Nashville
- Red Eye Junction – Living Proof
- Rebel Son- Stereo
- Lance Miller – The Beach
- Audrey Auld – The Next Big Nothing
- Pale Horse – Outlaw Breed
- Lummox – New Country
- Tim Hus – Country Music Lament
- Tex Schutz – Put The Country Back in the Music (and the Rock Back in the Ground)
- Roger Alan Wade – Jingle Jangle Angel
- The Deep Dark Woods – The Won’t Last Long
- Tom Russell – The Death of Jimmy Martin
- Jamey Johnson – The Last Cowboy
- Jerry Kilgore – Ain’t Got One Honky Tonk
- Whitey Morgan & The 78′s – If It Ain’t Broke
- The Divorcees – You Ain’t Gettin’ My Country
- Wesley Dennis – Country Enough
- Rodney Hayden – Goodbye Country Music
- Davey Smith – Country Went to Hell
- Ernie Clifton – Goodby Country Music Hall of Fame
One of the most remarkable music events of 2012 must be how Nashville and some of its biggest, most bloated and notorious corporate citizens did the inexplicable: they began to tackle the issue of the massive talent glut in American roots music. As big record labels continue to tighten their ships, and radio companies like Clear Channel continue to buy up radio stations all around the country and nationalize programming, the ability for America’s major media companies to offer true choices in content continues to diminish. And when it comes to radio, the issue is likely effecting rural areas and country listeners disproportionately.
T Bone Burnett, renown music producer and the music director for ABC’s new television drama Nashville spelled out the problem in October, right before the Nashville series started.
Because the bottleneck of commercial country radio is so profound, there’s a wealth of incredible material laying around town. This is a big surprise to me, how many extraordinary songs we’ve been able to find. An industrial amount of bad songs, to be sure, but a surprising amount of really good, handcrafted, personal songs that people are willing to share with us because there’s no longer a platform for them to share their music at all. I hope that we become the platform for the people who are writing from their whole hearts.
And that is exactly what the Nashville show has become, pushing independent music from artists as varying as The Civil Wars, Lindi Ortega, and Shovels & Rope. In a recent article in The Tennessean, musician and writer Peter Cooper asked about Nashville, “How come the country music in a soap opera, sung by actors, is better than what I hear on mainstream country radio?”
When talking about Nashville, I often have to explain that I don’t “like” the show, and don’t even recommend people watch it. But that’s different from understanding the importance and power of an outlet like Nashville, and how its opening up tremendous opportunities for some independent artists.
And who owns ABC? Disney does, the largest media conglomerate in the world. Who is helping fund Nashville? Ryman Hospitality (previously Gaylord Entertainment), which owns The Grand Ole Opry and has been notorious for ignoring aging and emerging talent over the last few years.
And not to be outdone, another subsidiary of a massive media conglomerate based in Nashville, Viacom’s CMT, has figured out how to get on the independent music bandwagon by launching their new outlet with an emphasis on the legendary and the unknown, CMT Edge. 6 months ago, it would have been unfathomable to see an artist like Rachel Brooke featured on anything related to CMT. Now CMT Edge is digging deep, and doing what they can to shine a bigger light on music from the Americana world to aging greats.
Sony ATV, Nashville’s biggest music publisher, just announced a new program called Nashville Guitars and Bars meant to showcase budding talent coming up in the singer/songwriter ranks.
All of a sudden the big boys in the media business are playing a part in re-populating the country and roots music farm system that for years has been anemic and ignored. Why?
Because as I and others have asserted for years, there is commercial viability in independent music. No, of course it is not as financially lucrative as artists like Tim McGraw or Toby Keith, but that doesn’t mean that companies cannot create revenue by either helping to manufacture this music, or promote it or cover it. And as time goes on and the ranks of listeners disenfranchised with corporate music and its inherent lack of choice continues to grow, the trends favor independent music becoming even more popular in the coming years.
There is money in independent music, no matter how much independent fans might want to grovel over its monetization. Fans and artists have a right to be speculative of the intentions of some of these Nashville institutions wanting a piece of the action, seeing how their closed doors and derelict attitudes towards artistic expression and creative freedom is part of the reason an independent movement in music exists in the first place.
For years people have thought of Nashville as the home of corporate music, and that’s still true. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a rapidly-growing independent scene on Nashville’s east side and in other spots around the city. The word from many of the folks on the inside looking out is that Nashville has long surpassed Austin as the epicenter for independent roots music, despite Music City still being the home of Music Row and many other trappings of the mainstream music business.
I was as speculative as anyone about the intentions and viability of outlets like ABC’s Nashville or CMT Edge, and will probably continue to keep one suspicious eye turned in their direction. But for now, they appear to be working from a sincere approach of broadening musical perspectives and choices.
I’ve always said that all that independent, up-and-coming artists need is a chance. You put the good stuff right next to the stuff people are force fed through Clear Channel radio and they will begin to make better choices. Finally here in 2012, those choices are being made available through mainstream outlets, and the glut of viable artists and credible content pushing at the edges of Nashville like a balloon ready to burst is finally being alleviated by new outlets channeling real music to hungry ears. Without question more needs to be done, but this is a good start.
ABC’s new drama Nashville just signed on for a full season of shows, and has been winning its time slot in the ratings virtually every week since its inception. As canned as the drama may be, as ugly of a construct of modern TV as it may be, and as dirty as it may make anyone feel for watching it (or even enjoying it), it’s safe to say the show will be around for a while. And with its continued popularity, it will likely have a keen impact on American culture.
So what positives could come from the show? If you take away all the drama between the characters that’s really the central focus of the series, what you have is the biggest inside look into the business of country music ever released to the public through popular media, and a vehicle for presenting new music to millions of folks. The ugly trappings of Nashville go with out saying. Here are some of the positives.
I have to hand it to the show’s music czar T Bone Burnett. I’ve always been on the other side of the silly love affair the Americana world has with this man, but he’s been showing tremendous breadth of music knowledge so far in the series. I thought we’d see a healthy dose of the usual suspects of Americana in Nashville; the same names who win all the AMA awards annually and feel very much like an exclusive crowd. Instead we’ve heard from such outliers as Shovels & Rope and Lindi Ortega.
Sure he could always dig deeper, and I’d love to see some of that independent love extend to the country, Texas, and Red Dirt worlds. But we have to understand this is the big time here. The bump even a 30-second snippet of music or a quick appearance from an artist can give to their name can be immense, not to mention the mailbox money ABC pays out to use a song.
And it hasn’t just been independent, rising-stars getting love from Nashville. Oldtimers like Del McCoury and behind-the-scenes musicians like Sam Bush have enjoyed cameos, while clips from country legends like Tammy Wynette have weaseled their way onto the soundtrack. Nashville is exposing all the alternatives to mainstream country: past, present, and future.
Important Nashville landmarks, from The Country Music Hall of Fame and the Ryman Auditorium, to cool little independent night spots in east Nashville and on lower Broadway are getting favorable face time through the series, and it’s hard not to see how if the show remains popular people won’t make it a point to visit these spots when they visit the city. Sure, this can have a negative impact too, taking away the exclusivity or authenticity of some of these venues in the long term (see Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge). But the series works as one big infomercial/tourist brochure for Music City that will likely result in a positive economic impact.
UPDATE (11-29): Last night’s Episode 7 featured two very important Nashville landmarks, The Ryman Auditorium, aka “The Country Music Mother Church”, and Layla’s Bluegrass Inn, a venue that was at the very heart of the formation of underground country. It also featured a cameo of Hank3′s bass player Zach Shedd.
Terms like “opener,” “co-headliner,” “Autotune,” and “demo” are commonly used on the show, and will become familiar vernacular to the mainstream fanbase that otherwise just waits for the superstar to take center stage and generally thinks that all the rest happens by magic. The whole process of how an album is put together or a big time tour is assembled is showcased as the backdrop to Nashville’s character drama. Songwriter characters play major roles in the show, articulating to viewers the evolution of how a song goes from the page to the stage.
Let’s face it, most mainstream music lovers have little idea where music actually comes from, and standard procedure in mainstream music is to keep all of that behind the curtain. Now through Nashville, the general public sees that it takes seasoned musicians in the studio and at the back of the stage to make an album or a show happen, and that sometimes these people are just as important to the process as the stars. They now know those hit songs are written by other people, many who struggle just to make ends meet, who have to work second jobs and who aspire to be stars themselves.
Nashville has met the issues concerning aging talent head on, and how that talent is mercilessly dealt with on the business side. Sure, the show may not offer any solutions to these problems in the short term, but when people watch Nashville and then see aging artists on the stage or hear about them losing record deals or see young stars come up that may not be talented than the older ones, they will understand on a more intimate level why that is happening. And traditionally, educated consumers make better choices. Nashville is music education through osmosis. It is the music equivalent of hiding your dog’s medicine in a piece of cheese.
Excitement About Music
We are now about a year or so removed from music’s lost decade that spanned the majority of the 2000′s. There are many things to blame for what happened to the music business: the slow move to digitization, the lack of talent, a slow economy, the ever increasing mergers and acquisitions that make the majority of the corporate music world controlled by fewer and fewer people.
But during this period I think overall the American culture was evaluating what the role of music was going to be in our lives moving forward. Sure, when music is harder to get, not as good, and you don’t have as much expendable cash to spend on it, there’s going to be a pullback. But we don’t talk enough about how the entire traditional music industry was teetering on collapse, and how in the last year or two it’s completely pulled out of the tailspin. And also, that one possible way the music industry righted the ship was by offering a slightly better product.
Aside from all the specific factors, I believe part of the reason for the music industry reversal is because people want music to play an integral part in their lives, whether their tastes and dispositions lie in the independent world, the mainstream, or somewhere in between. And that’s why the music of Nashville is such an integral part of the show, and why the show represents all aspects of it.
Music is back, and the success of Nashville proves that, and is in part because of the show’s independent focus, not in spite of it, proving that the independent music world can gain widespread mainstream acceptance if only given a chance.
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