Browsing articles tagged with " Tim McGraw"
Sep
22

R.I.P. “Bro-Country” (2011-2014)

September 22, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  106 Comments

bro-country-rip

On Monday, September 22nd, the subset of American country music known to many by its nickname “Bro-Country,” died at its home in Nashville, TN. It was three-years-old. Bro-Country is survived by its family and close friends, including Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, Brantley Gilbert, Cole Swindell, Chase Rice, Thomas Rhett, Dallas Davidson, and dozens of other lesser-known country music artists and songwriters. Though the specific cause of death has yet to be ruled on by the local medical examiner, preliminary findings appear to show that Bro-Country had been exhaustively over-utilized over the last few months and years until it finally passed away from overexposure. Bro-Country’s death is definitely being considered the result of “foul play”.

Though the exact date of birth of Bro-Country has never been specifically determined, many place its origins in early 2011 with what was initially called “checklist” or “laundry list” country music. Regularly listing off mundane artifacts of country living such as ice cold beer, pickup trucks, tailgates, dirt roads, hot girls, cutoffs, moonshine, mud, and many other country calling cards, songs like Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” and Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” went on to become some of the biggest country music songs during Bro-Country’s life. The name “Bro-Country” wasn’t coined until August of 2013 when culture writer Jody Rosen’s dissertation on the subject described Bro-Country as a, “tatted, gym-toned, party-hearty young American white dude.”

Florida Georgia Line’s song “Cruise” very much typified Bro-Country’s life and legacy, and when the single became the longest-running #1 song in the history of country music, the troubles for Bro-Country began. Predictions of Bro-Country becoming a hyper trend that would grow old prematurely began to spread, and so did public dissent about Bro-Country in what became known as the Season of Discontent. Things began to look especially bleak for Bro-Country when Big Machine Records CEO Scott Borchetta said in December of 2013, “There’s too much, to be honest with you. We can’t keep talking about Fireball and Coors Light and having the tailgate down, etc. So we’ll task our writers and artists to dig a little deeper.”

In 2014, enemies of Bro-Country began to emerge from the country music industry itself, and anti Bro-Country songs like Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song” were released to radio, exacerbating Bro-Country’s health problems. Even Bro-Country proponents who had recently given a rosy prognosis for its future, like Sony Music Nashville’s CEO Gary Overton who once said Bro-Country’s demise was “nowhere in the foreseeable future” is now saying “There’s a saturation point.” New albums from Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney purposefully avoid Bro-Country. In some ways it seems fitting that Bro-Country would pass away on the last official day of summer, since the party themes and good times of Bro-Country seemed to be perpetually stuck in the year’s warmest months.

Of course there will be some who will not be able to come to grips with the death of Bro-Country, especially many of Bro-Country’s friends who made lots of money during Bro-Country’s life—many of the same people who refused to acknowledge the problems Bro-Country was facing in the first place. There will be people who attempt to carry on Bro-Country’s legacy by singing about the things Bro-Country loved like beer and tailgates, and they may even find some success in the short term. But eventually they will have to face Bro-Country’s death, or be like the mullet-wearing uncle stuck in the glory days.

Bro-Country is scheduled to be buried in the rubble of the historic RCA Studio ‘A’ building set to be bulldozed on Music Row in Nashville. And in Bro-Country’s memory, an edifice to gentrification and homogenization will be erected in the form of a 147,000 square foot condominium complex on the location.

R.I.P. Bro-Country, you smelled extremely manly.

Sep
22

Album Review – Tim McGraw’s “Sundown Heaven Town”

September 22, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  22 Comments

tim-mcgraw-sundown-heaven-town-album-coverI write these proceeding words fully knowing that many will roll up to this Tim McGraw dissertation looking for a bowl of blood as recompense for the emotional direst recent Tim McGraw singles such as “Truck Yeah” and “Lookin’ For That Girl” have waged on the mental state of many innocent country music fans. But the simple truth is Tim McGraw’s new album Sundown Heaven Town deserves to be spared the most sinister strokes from the poison pen—not because it is “good” by some stretch of that flattering term, but because it symbolizes a turning of the page for Tim McGraw, and potentially, is a symptom of the turning of the page for the entire country music genre.

Welcome to the post “Bro-Country” age ladies and gentlemen—an era that we probably shouldn’t entertain as being filled with audio offerings that will in any way compare in quality with the greater historical panorama of country music, but one where we’ll see a clearly defined and much welcomed improvement overall in the music being offered for consumers’ listening edification.

Tim McGraw’s Sundown Heaven Town is an example of this. By golly Tim McGraw is actually learning. After he broke from the bonds of institutional subjugation at the autocratic hands of Curb Records which did everything they could to choke every last bit of life force out of Tim’s once high flying career—as accidentally or purposefully as it may have been—he ran to the open and cradling arms of Scott Borchetta and Big Machine to press restart. And almost as if to make up for the half decade he ceded to Curb, Tim started releasing the most ridiculous, panic-driven panderings to young people radio pop as possible in an attempt to regain his relevancy. However the results were so ghastly, even the deficient country music masses saw through it.

Tim’s first post-Curb single was “Truck Yeah,” and immediately McGraw announced there was no floor to the depths he would fall through to regain his pertinence. And for the most part, the single fizzled, especially considering the muscle Big Machine put behind it to reignite Tim’s career. The biggest single to come from Tim’s first Big Machine album came nearly a year later with “Highway Don’t Care.” As a much more nutritious offering, and one that sat much more comfortably in the confines of the adult contemporary style of pop country that has buttered Tim’s bread for years, it became a #1 hit, and the biggest hit on the Two Lanes of Freedom album.

The same story has played out so far for McGraw’s new album Sundown Heaven Town. The first single “Lookin’ For That Girl” was so far outside of Tim’s comfort zone and anything that could be considered “country” it was laughable, and on cue it stalled in the charts. That stuff may fly for Florida Georgia Line, but not for McGraw’s established brand. Then McGraw released his latest single “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s.” Once again a song with more substance did much better, making it to #2 in the charts.

The lesson here, at least for Tim McGraw, is that even in this bereft country music landscape we find ourselves in, it’s still better for him to be himself—that guy that makes moms all around the country swoon with his tight shirts and sentimental ballads. Tim can’t run with the young pups, and he shouldn’t try. And whether that was the purposeful approach to Sundown Heaven Town or the accidental result, you get Tim being Tim on this album, which means rooting out some of the best adult contemporary compositions the country industry has to offer and doing them justice.

What surprised me was the lack of drum machine intros, loud overdriven guitars, and ploys for radio play on this album. I was also surprised at the amount of steel guitar. No doubt Sundown Heaven Town still affords some creatively anemic moments, and others moments that are downright awful, but they are nowhere near in the measure you would expect from a Tim McGraw album, or really any mainstream album in 2014. The song “Dust” is probably the album’s laundry list “bro” offering if there was one, and still it’s hard to hate too vehemently. “Keep on Truckin’” trying to capture the vibe of the band Train in the country context, and probably should have been left on the cutting house floor. And songs like “Words Are Medicine” and “Sick Of Me” find McGraw striking out boldly to evoke soaring moments, but the lyrical impact seems to be just a little too flat to achieve those heights.

But even the worst song on the album by a long shot “Lookin’ For That Girl” gets relegated to the next-to-last spot on the track list, where it used to be tradition for track arrangers to bury what they believed was the project’s weakest offering. What McGraw seems to understand with Sundown Heaven Town is that albums are for the hardcore fans these days anyway, so you might as well make them count. You might as well make them where they say something and entice people to listen instead of simply being a landing place for hyped-up singles.

Sundown Heaven Town starts off quite strong with “Overrated,” which is something completely unexpected from Tim, and probably one of the best songs on the album. “City Lights” is also strong, and so are the more traditional “Diamond Rings & Old Barstools” duet with Catherine Dunn, and “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s” with better half Faith Hill. “Last Turn Home” achieves that high emotional response McGraw regularly looks to achieve with his song selections, and even though “Portland, Maine” has some people in that city a little upset (however playfully so), its expedition into the terrible head space proceeding a breakup is effective and resonant.

Tim McGraw’s Sundown Heaven Town does not come recommended, but nonetheless comes with praise for affording a template for how mainstream country albums should be made moving forward, and from showing improvement from the artist. Passive consumers who only pay attention to singles anyway shouldn’t be regarded when making albums. And an artist like Tim McGraw is much better off being who he’s always been, from both a commercial and a critical standpoint. Make good albums and you will be on the right side of where country music is headed, and create separation from the lost era when country believed clichés about beer and trucks would line their pockets forever.

1 1/4 of 2 Guns Up.

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Purchase Tim McGraw’s Sundown Heaven Town

Aug
30

George Strait, Willie Nelson & Garth Brooks Make Poll of Favorite Artists

August 30, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  30 Comments

garth-brooks-george-strait-willie-nelson

Harris Interactive has just released a new poll that queried the American public about their favorite music artists, musicians, and bands, and some noteworthy country music names made the list. When pollsters asked for unprompted responses to the question, “Who is your favorite singer/musician or band?”—George Strait was the 5th highest answer, and the highest amongst country music stars. Garth Brooks also made the top 10, coming in tied for 7th with The Eagles, Celine Dion, and Neil Diamond.

Willie Nelson also made the top of two of the lists broken down by demographics, even though he did not make the top 10 overall. Willie was the favorite artist of “Mature Adults” (69 or older), and was tied with The Beatles for the favorite musical artist amongst Republicans (despite Willie’s left-leaning politics). The Beatles came in #1 overall in the poll, right in front of Elvis at #2.

What is even more interesting for country music fans is who is not on the list, and who slipped off the list since the same poll was conducted the last time in 2010. Four years ago, Tim McGraw was #5, Rascal Flatts was #8, and Alan Jackson was #9. None of these country artists made the top 10 again. In 2010 George Strait was #7 in the poll.

With all three of the country entries into this year’s poll being more classically-oriented artists, and none of them being current stars (where is Taylor Swift in this poll?), it speaks to the continued appeal of older country artists and classic country music we’ve seen in similar studies by Edison Research, and in the move to split the country format to give more radio representation to older artists.

The younger artists that made the top 10 of the poll were Beyoncé at #3, and Bruno Mars at #6 who was potentially boosted by his recent Super Bowl appearance.

The Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between July 16th and July 21st, 2014 among 2,306 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

TABLE 1

FAVORITE SINGER/MUSICIAN/BAND

“Who is your favorite singer/musician or band?”

Unprompted responses

Base: All adults

2010

2014

Beatles

=3

1

Elvis Presley

=3

2

Beyoncé

*

3

Led Zepplin

*

4

George Strait

7

5

Bruno Mars

*

6

Neil Diamond

*

=7

Eagles

*

=7

Celine Dion

1

=7

Garth Brooks

*

=7

DROPPED OFF OF LIST IN 2014

U2 (was No. 2), Tim McGraw (was No. 5), Lady Gaga (was No. 6), Rascal Flatts (was No. 8) and Alan Jackson and Frank Sinatra (both ties for No. 9)

TABLE 2

TOP MUSICIAN AMONG DIFFERENT GROUPS

AMONG:

2014

Men

Beatles

Women

Beyoncé

Millennials (18-37)

Beyoncé

Gen X (38-49)

Metallica

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Beatles

Matures (69+)

Willie Nelson

Republicans

Beatles/Willie Nelson

Democrats

Beatles/Bruno Mars

Independents

Beatles

East

Beatles

Midwest

Bruno Mars

South

Beatles

West

Beatles

Parent of child under 18

Bruno Mars

Not parent of child under 18

Beatles

 

 ***See Complete Harris Poll***

Aug
5

Gang Rape Reported At Michigan’s Faster Horses Festival

August 5, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  23 Comments

faster-horses-festivalThe Cambridge Township Police Department in south central Michigan is looking for information from anyone who may know about an alleged gang rape that occurred on the grounds of the Faster Horses Festival on Saturday, July 19th right as Tim McGraw was finishing his headlining set.

Cambridge Township Police Department Chief Larry Wibbeler says a 25-year-old woman was separated from her group in the parking lot of the Michigan International Speedway at around 12:05 AM where the 3-day Faster Horses Festival was being held, when she was confronted and allegedly raped by three men. The woman was trying to make her way to the parking area near the U.S. 12 entrance. “She was attacked in the dark near the parking area, and there didn’t happen to be anyone around in that parking area,” Chief Wibbeler told Mlive.com.

The woman suffered multiple injuries as part of the sexual assault including contusions, scrapes, and scratches. After the rape, the woman was able to get the attention of other concertgoers who offered her assistance and called police. The woman was then transported to Allegiance Health hospital in Jackson, MI by ambulance where a rape kit was conducted. The rape kit is currently at the Michigan State Police crime lab for evidence gathering and analysis.

Manager of media relations at Michigan International Speedway Brad Kuhbander says the speedway is cooperating with the investigation. “Safety is our No. 1 priority. We work with police, fire, homeland security and the FBI on a regular basis to ensure the safety of all our guests,” he tells mlive.com.

Cambridge Township Police have been unable to identify any witnesses or suspects in the case. The alleged rape happened in a dark area, and beyond the description of “three white males,” investigators have no leads. The incident went unreported by local news until authorities felt they had sufficient evidence a rape had occurred and were lost for leads in the case. Authorities are asking for anyone who may have information on the alleged rape to contact Cambridge Township Police Department at 517-467-4737.

The news comes as stories of country concerts getting out of hand have been in the headlines this summer, including over the weekend when a drunk driver ran over a police officer at a Jason Aldean concert, and 30 concertgoers were taken to local hospitals. During the previous weekend, 55 people were arrested, and 22 taken to hospitals at a Keith Urban show at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Mass. Later it was also revealed that an alleged rape happened in the venue’s lawn section while as many as 15 people stood and watched and took video of the incident. An annual event in Pittsburgh became a national story when pictures of trash and drunken patrons went viral in late June. And a 22-year-old man was found dead in a dumpster in late July after a Jason Aldean concert in what is thought to be an alcohol-related incident.

READ- How We Got Here: The Subversion of Country Music

Aug
4

Keith Urban Is A Big Sturgill Simpson Fan

August 4, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  42 Comments

keith-urbanDespite a rough start to Keith Urban’s week last week when one of his concerts in Mansfield, Mass. descended into a 55-arrest, 22-taken to the hospital & rape allegations kind of night, you could make the argument the country music superstar won the week.

I’ve always believed that character isn’t defined in people during their great moments, but during their bad ones. Keith Urban wasn’t any more responsible for what happened at his concert than anyone else beyond the troublemakers themselves. Even if you like to draw the parallel between the rash of bad behavior at country concerts and the corrupting nature of country music’s current crop of “Bros”, it’s hard to lump Keith Urban into that category (even if you think Keith Urban’s music is a big “lump” of something else). Still, Keith Urban made it a point to offer condolences about what happened at the concert; something that Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, and others have refused to do after their own recent concert incidents.

“My team and I were horrified to learn of the events reported in Boston this past weekend and our hearts and prayers go out to all those affected,” Keith said in a statement. “This type of behavior stands in stark contrast to the spirit of our shows.”

Then by golly, Keith Urban took of his personal time to write an op-ed in The Tennessean about the preservation of Music Row’s historic places. The topic has been a hot button issue in and around the sale of the Studio ‘A’ building in Nashville and the studio’s caretaker Ben Folds being forced out. So Urban, whose also known for lending his name to preservation efforts like his big fundraisers for the Country Music Hall of Fame, picked up his pen to show support for Studio ‘A’ and other important landmarks in a piece called “Keep Music Row’s Past For The Future.”

Evolution is a constant part of music and life, but for me what’s always been at the heart of country music is simplicity and community. Music Row is where the past, present and future meet, and that’s a vital part of keeping balance. You can feel it as you drive along 16th and 17th avenues and see so many original buildings, including RCA’s Studios A and B; the house where Warner Brothers first opened their doors; Quad Studios, where Neil Young recorded “Harvest”; and Hillbilly Central, where Waylon Jennings and the boys transformed the status quo by revolutionizing the way artists could take creative control. … Not to mention the countless publishing houses where classic songs were and are written, pitched and demoed….

Nashville’s growth is exciting, but not at the risk of losing the creative epicenter that is Music Row and that truly makes Nashville Music City….

And then late last week, a tweet from Keith Urban (actually composed 10 days ago) started making the rounds on the retweet circuit hard and heavy. Apparently Urban is a big Sturgill Simpson fan, and Jake Owen is to blame. “Have to thank @jakeowen for hipping me to the one and only @SturgillSimpson…the new record will knock your #%^€ in the dirt – SERIOUSLY!!!”

keith-urban-jake-owen-tweet

sturgill-simpsonSo not only is Keith Urban a big Sturgill Simpson fan, Jake Owen is too apparently, and they’re both willing to proselytize their Stugill Simpson love to others. Then during a show in Indianapolis on Saturday (8-2), Keith Urban gave a shoutout to Sturgill from the stage to the 20,000 attendees, dropping the line “Turtles All The Way Down” into one of his songs. This similar type of peer recognition is how a fellow Kentucky native named Keith Whitley became a big country music player. Whitley was the kind of cool all the other country stars wanted to be, until eventually the Keith Whitely influence could be found everywhere in popular country music. Not saying that will happen with Sturgill, but if artists like Keith Urban and Jake Owen are actively listening to his music, it can’t hurt. And it certainly couldn’t hurt if one of them decided to cut a Sturgill song in the future.

Who knows, maybe we’ll hear Keith Urban singing about reptile aliens made of light in the not too distant future.

Yeah, probably not.

But it does symbolize that Sturgill Simpson is securing his place as a cult icon in country music. And this could eventually lead to bigger things.

***UPDATE (8-12) – Keith Urban has tweeted his Sturgill Simpson love again.

keith-urban-sturgill-simpson-tweet-2

READ: The Metamodern Rise of Sturgill Simpson (A Timeline)

Jul
31

From Checklist to Bro-Country: The Subversion of Country Music

July 31, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  107 Comments

kenny-chesney-eric-church-heinz-trash-4

So here we are. It’s the summer of 2014, and the headlines that dominate the country music world have to do with mounds of trash and numerous arrests in Pittsburgh, a man found dead in a dumpster in Cleveland, a “mass casualty” event called by the local fire chief in Mansfield, Mass. at a Keith Urban concert, and then an alleged rape. Where exactly did mainstream country music go so wrong to where it is the new home for irresponsible behavior at concerts? How did a genre seen for over half a century as the bastion for family values and down home fun become one of the worst-behaved crowds in music?

First some perspective might be needed. Though the racy headlines might allude otherwise, how widespread this trend has become is somewhat inconclusive. As some have pointed out, the biggest stories of country concert problems have happened north of the Mason-Dixon Line for whatever reason. Also, numerous arrests for underage drinking, fights, and ambulance rides for numerous ailments are not out of the ordinary for music events by any stretch. The concern is how out of the ordinary they are for country music, at least historically, and how they’re clearly on the rise.

Part of this is simply a symptom of country music becoming the biggest, most dominant genre of American music. The crowds are bigger, younger, and the lowest common denominator is represented en masse. Country music is no longer a community, it is mass marketing. And like rock music of previous eras, it is attracting the most attention, and the most problems. However the idea that all the headlines of problems at country concerts is simply the media making hay upon a problem that has already existed for years is not fair either. Country music is changing, and a deeper discussion should be broached about how to manage those changes, and what the long-term effects those changes could have on the genre as a whole.

If you wanted to point to one single event where the current downward spiral started, you might consider the country concert in Mansfield, Mass. in late July. No, I’m not talking about Keith Urban’s concert on Saturday, July 26th, I’m talking about a Tim McGraw’s show on July 24th, 2011 at the same Mansfield venue.

Michael Skehill

Michael Skehill

During the middle of the concert, a 19-year-old attendee named Michael Skehill was jumped from behind by four men who proceeded to beat Skehill to within an inch of his life. The four men were heavily intoxicated, and though the dispute was said by some to be over a woman, the assault came completely out-of-the-blue to Skehill.The 19-year-old was a big man—a football player at Catholic University in Washington D.C.—but was blindsided in the lawn section and never had a chance to defend himself. If it wasn’t for a security guard and ENT responding to the assault as quickly as they did, doctors believe the assault would have resulted in murder.

“He would have died,” Skehill’s mother told a Boston news station at the time. “He had lost two liters of blood and, basically, he would have died.”

Michael Skehill was airlifted to the Boston Medical Center where he immediately underwent surgery. To save the young man, doctors had to remove his spleen. Skehill also suffered a severe concussion and other internal injuries. The four men were arrested and arraigned the next day, and eventually all four plead guilty to assault. It also came out in the investigation that in the lawn section of the venue that is now called Xfinity Center (and was then called Comcast Center), there is a section where young people from Mansfield congregate, and if you try to come into the area, you could be assaulted. In this area, underage drinking and other illicit activities are common. Whether this culture was still in place when the alleged rape of a 17-year-old girl happened at this year’s Keith Urban show—sheltering the incident from outsiders and allowing it to occur longer than necessary—has yet to be revealed in the investigation.

The good news is Michael Skehill was able to recover, and besides a missing spleen, is getting along just fine. But the brutal incident went to symbolize the rise of violence, excessive drinking, and other embarrassing behavior for country music’s summer concerts that was trending upwards all across the country. The Mansfield Police Chief Arthur M. O’Neill after the Michael Skehill incident said at the time:

Country used to be an easy night for us. Now it’s anything but. Country’s just changed. I’m a country fan, but the music and the singers have a party motif about them now. It’s all about drinking … These kids, especially the girls, are getting drunker and sicker faster.

Just appreciate, this isn’t the Mansfield Police Chief circa 2014. This is in 2011. At the time, CMT’s Alison Bonaguro asked, “Is ‘Drunk and Disorderly’ the New Rule at Concerts?” in a story that looks eerily similar to ones running over the last few weeks amidst all of the high-profile incidents at mainstream country concerts.

One of the other significant events in country music in 2011 was the rise of the “Country Checklist” song. Though the term “Checklist” never stuck like its later replacement “Bro-Country”, the music the terms describe had been around years before “Bro-Country” was adopted at large. The music style was already monopolizing mainstream country music by 2011, and forcing women into minor roles in the format like never before. As pointed out by the late Chet Flippo in August of 2011, country music found itself for the first time in recent memory with no women in the Top 30 of the songs charts. Many of the trends that would dominate country music headlines in 2013 and 2014 were already in place in 2011, there just wasn’t a universally-recognized name for it, country media was mostly complicit about it, and the backlash was simmering, but not striking out in earnest.

And what was the biggest song of 2011? Jason Aldean’s landmark “Dirt Road Anthem”. The breakthrough country rap song glorified many of the elements that have gone into much of the lewd behavior seen on the rise at mainstream country music concerts. On August 7th of 2011, Saving Country Music asked if “Country Music Checklist Songs Were Causing an Erosion of Values,” citing the Michael Skehill case and songs like Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” specifically.

Yeah, I’m chillin’ on a dirt road, Laid back swervin’ like I’m George Jones.
Smoke rollin’ out the window, An’ ice cold beer sittin’ in the console.

Where ya learned how to kiss and cuss and fight too, Better watch out for the boys in blue.

Ya better mind your business, man, watch your mouth, Before I have to knock that loud mouth out.

But words and actions are two different things, right? They’re just songs.

Well, not really when it came to the culture that was becoming the norm at some of the country music concerts that featured artists that sang these checklist songs. In 2011, “Dirt Road Anthem” co-writer Brantley Gilbert was on the Country Throwdown tour with many other medium and up-and-coming performers. When interviewing another Thowdown Tour artist named Ausin Lucas, he explained how the checklist culture and fighting were beginning to coincide in the live country music experience.

He [Brantley Gilbert] is one of the most popular people on this tour. He’s really doing well for himself, but the thing is, his fans, they cause, they have a lot of fights. And this is nothing against Brantley Gilbert, who I think is a really nice guy. All the guys in his band are amazing people, and a lot of his fans are really cool. But there’s also this element, that country pissing contest, that checklist of things that make you more country, and one of them is fighting.

Fighting, excessive drinking, and other such behavior that were essentials on country’s checklist was beginning to show up in country crowds. Interesting that when the new country female duo Maddie & Tae sat down to write what is considered mainstream country’s preeminent Anti Bro-Country tune “Girl In A Country Song”, they said they made a checklist of all the things stereotypical country songs have. “I think it had trucks, tailgates, cutoffs, tan lines and tan legs, dirt road, and the most important one, the girls. The smokin’ hot girl.”

Maddie & Tae also spoke about how the current male-dominated country trend sets subservient roles for young women that they feel they must follow to be considered pretty or popular by men. In the police report of the alleged rape of the 17-year-old girl at the Keith Urban show in Mansfield, Mass., the alleged victim told police that she went with the man because “she was afraid of what would happen” if she didn’t, speaking to the subordinate role many women are taking in corporate country’s current culture.

But are women really emulating the girls in country songs, and are the men really fighting and drinking to excess because they hear about it in the music they listen to? This seems to be an eternal debate, a chicken and the egg argument in music, that there’s probably not an easy answer for beyond pointing out that in the past, country music sang about drinking, fighting, and killing in a cautionary context, where now it is glorified to the point of being used for marketing specifically.

eric-church-playboy-magazineIn the June 2013 issue of Playboy Magazine, writer Rob Tannenbaum wrote an extended feature on Eric Church called simply “The Badass.” In the piece, Eric Church and his manager John Peets reference the “Country Checklist” style of writing by name.

For his second album, Church wrote a song he knew was dumb. It’s in the same mold as other predictable rural-pride songs that work well on radio because they celebrate the consumer goods that are iconic in Southern life—call it a Country Checklist song. In this subpar effort, Church lays it on heavy: He mentions beer, barbecue, Jack Daniel’s, college football, fishing, trucks, chewing tobacco, NASCAR and cowboy boots. The only thing missing is something about hunting or tractors.

Church wrote it “almost out of anger or spite,” says his manager, John Peets. Church had seen similar songs amass a lot of airplay, according to Peets, “and he said, ‘If this is the shit that works, let’s just write one.’?”

“That was my Hail Mary,” Church says. “And the sad truth is, it works.” Although “Love Your Love the Most” became Church’s first top 10 single, it didn’t boost his career, because it was so generic. Radio play was up, but record and ticket sales were flat.

Then the Playboy feature took an even more interesting turn. In it, Church and his camp seem to glorify the excesses of his shows—how the crowd is drunk towards the point of incapacitation, fights break out everywhere, and rampant sex occurs right out in the open. “’There are some drunk motherfuckers out there,’ says Marshall Alexander, Church’s cheerful production manager,’” the piece says. Here are some further excerpts:

During tonight’s show, which I watch from the soundboard, the manager of one of the opening acts says he’s seen an average of three or four fights per night. A large part of Church’s success has come from filling a niche in the country market for a rugged, masculine singer.

While watching Church’s set that night, Moore saw a couple screwing in the audience. “A guy pulled a girl’s skirt up, and the dirty deed was going on,” Moore reports. “That was a first for me.”

It’s not a first for Church. He recounts a show last year in Battle Creek, Michigan where “half the crowd was fighting. And I saw guys who had girls bent over the rail, screwing.” His lighting designer—a guy who’d toured with nearly every major metal band, including Van Halen, Metallica and Guns N’ Roses—was shocked. “He said to me, ‘You should call this the Fucking and Fighting Tour.’”

Compared with Battle Creek’s, tonight’s audience doesn’t impress Church much. “There wasn’t mass bedlam, which is what I usually see.” Tomorrow will be wilder, he predicts.

So here was Church, openly bragging about how his concerts had become bedlam where “half the crowd is fighting,” bragging about open sex that from the stage could be hard to determine as consensual, and how this behavior is worse than what is normally seen at Van Halen, Metallica, and Guns N’ Roses shows, speaking deeply to the descent of the country genre compared to other genres. This was part of the Eric Church marketing—the image he wanted to portray: live experiences full of madness that people wanted to see and be a part of. And all of this is coming from one of the most commercially-successful artists in country music, and one whose album at the time had won Album of the Year from both the CMA and ACM—a true leader of the genre. After a while, whether the rowdiness of his concerts started as fact or fiction, the trend began to perpetuate itself and spread to other artists and other concerts.

But I know what some of you are thinking: “Is Eric Church really Bro-Country?”

One of the most curious aspects of the issues a Keith Urban’s recent Mansfield, Mass. concert is that Keith Urban is not one of these typical Bro-Country entertainers who constantly sing about getting drunk and fighting. Urban is from a earlier era, when soccer moms were country music’s primary demographic. His latest single “Cop Car” may veer slightly in the newer direction, but his American Idol judgeship spot notwithstanding, Keith Urban is not the type of artist that appeals to underage drinking fans or Bro-Country knuckle chuckers. So why was it his show that got so out of hand?

2014_SHO_CountryMegaticket_10SHOWS_full_colorBecause of the way the country music live experience is set up, it almost doesn’t matter what Top 15 pop country act you go to see, the same culture exists nearly at every concert. Of course there is some variation between every crowd, but not as much as one might expect. This is a symptom of the homogenization of the country format from radio consolidation and the dominance of male stars at the top of country ranks. But it is also facilitated by Live Nation’s Country Megaticket multi-concert package as pointed out by Windmills Country. The Country Megaticket is like a season pass for concert goers that covers most of the major country acts and the venues they play, including Keith Urban, and Mansfield’s Xfinity Center. Buy the ticket, and you not only have access to Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean, but Keith Urban and Lady Antebellum. This Country Megaticket culture facilitates the spreading of the undesirable elements to country music shows that they would normally not appeal to. The fans show up for the party, with the music as the backdrop. Country music is the only genre that Live Nation offers the Megaticket for, because it is the only genre that can support it. Once again, country music’s size and dominance is hindering its ability to control and define itself.

One of the reasons the adoption of the term “Bro-Country” last summer was so unfortunate is because it symbolized in many people’s minds the start of a new era when in truth it was the continuation of a trend begun in earnest in 2011, and goes back even farther than that. Saving Country music declared 2011 “The Year of the Country Checklist Song.” This was before Florida Georgia Line had even signed a publishing deal, and six months before they released their first EP. The reason this is important is because to understand what is going on in country music in 2014, you have to understand these trends go back much farther than Jody Rosen coining the term in August of 2013. “Bro-Country” was also a more palatable way to couch the trend compared to “Checklist Country” which explained what the problem with the trend was right in the term. And now Bro-Country has been adopted by the very people it was meant to criticize.

So what can be done? Do venues need to beef up security? Should the artists get involved somehow?

One of the most surprising things about all of the recent headline-grabbing country music concert fiascoes is how silent the headliners have been about them. In 2013, when Kenny Chesney’s name was at the top of the marquee for the first wave of trash that filled the parking lots of Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, the singer was curiously silent as the controversy raged. Same can be said for Luke Bryan who was the headliner at the same venue, and at the same annual event when it happened again this year, despite the media swarming the event in anticipation of problems. To Jason Aldean’s credit, he did send his heartfelt condolences out to the family and friends of the man found dead in a dumpster at his Cleveland show, but Keith Urban has said nothing about the most recent incident in Mansfield, Mass.—either about the arrests and hospitalizations, or the alleged rape. In fact Keith Urban removed a video in which he praised the Mansfield crowd, saying at one point, “Gosh, up on the lawn tonight? That was nutso.” So we know Urban’s PR team is on the case, they just simply don’t want to acknowledge what happened.

There are no easy answers here, and it is made harder because of all the money being made at these concerts. It is boom time on the country music touring circuit, and many of the tours are underwritten by the country’s major alcohol suppliers, from Budweiser to Jack Daniels. Though coolers are checked at gates, and ID’s checked at concession stands, there’s clearly a wink-and-nod culture when it comes to underage drinking at concerts, similar to how many venues have a wink-and-nod acceptance of marijuana. Teenagers are going to drink, and that’s an issue beyond country music or country music concerts. But when teenagers are in public places, it makes the situation more perilous, and results in injuries, arrests, and recently, alleged rape. The 22-year-old man who fell five stories into a dumpster at Jason Aldean’s Cleveland concert was said to be “extremely intoxicated.”

The problem can only be solved if there is an acknowledgement of its existence. But as Eric Church evidenced above in the Playboy Magazine piece, what may be bad publicity for some makes for good marketing for others. The lack of even acknowledgement of the issues from the headliners or their management seems to be almost a default approval, or at least a complicit posturing to the problem. The mentality appears to be that as long as the money is flowing and nobody gets killed, let’s keep the party going.

But now, somebody has been killed, and somebody’s daughter has been allegedly raped. Country music cannot afford to turn a blind eye any more.

Jul
28

Brad Paisley Rebelling Against Sony Music? My Ass.

July 28, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  54 Comments

brad-paisleyBrad Paisley has been making quite the spectacle on Twitter over the last two days, claiming to be leaking bits and pieces of his upcoming album Moonshine In The Trunk against the will of his label Sony Music. Or so he says.

The frivolity started Saturday night (7-27) as Brad Paisely took to the social network site to post YouTube links to players that featured 2-second snippets of his new songs, all while supposedly stirring the ire of the “suits.”

“I’m going rogue.” Paisley said. “The label doesn’t know I’m doing this. Seriously. But I made a Moonshine Preview teaser. Don’t tell. Better listen to this while you can. I bet the label tries to pull it down. Clock’s ticking.”

Brad then posted links to the Youtube players, and later screen shots of supposed communications from Sony who was apparently trying to “shut him down” as he continued on his quest to release the teasers. “Hurry up and Listen. I’m going to dentention. Breakfast club!!! Here I come.”

Later Brad Paisely posted, “I really do love my record label. Especially for puttin’ up with my $h@t. But I love y’all even more. Ha! Priorities. Okay suits. Catch me if you can. Take 2: enjoy.”

And this continued with subsequent tweets as Brad Paisley complained that the YouTube players were getting yanked by Sony, and posted further players to circumvent them.

Then similar hijinks happened again on Sunday night. After Brad claimed he was restricted from posting the YouTube previews by Sony, Paisley supposedly recruited Ludacris—rapper and co-judge of ABC’s new reality singing competition Rising Star—to post the players for him. “I promised I wouldn’t post the link myself. Me. Myself. I. I’d love to post another link but they’re watching me like a hawk but I bet they’re not watching Ludacris.”

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All of this was happening with ABC’s broadcast of Rising Star bisecting Sunday’s Twitter event. “OK great show everybody! Now back to the rebellion!” Brad said afterwards, along with more screen shots of supposed emails and texts from management.

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Normally an artist rebelling against their label, even if that artist or their music doesn’t particularly fit the style of what Saving Country Music would condone, would receive nothing but cheering and steadfast support here. And it isn’t as if the Brad Paisley/Sony Music relationship is without problems. Brad has ongoing court dealings with Sony over the amount of royalties he’s been paid, but even in his “rebellious” tweets Brad said, “I really do love my record label,” and there’s never seemed to be a strain in the working relationship between Brad and Sony.

This Brad Paisley leaking episode is not him acting out against his label, it is pure marketing. Maybe Sony did not know that Brad was planning to leak the 2-second snippets, maybe they did. But either way, the entire episode was planned out, choreographed, and carefully executed by a marketing team assembled by the Brad Paisley camp. Whether Sony was in on the ruse really is inconsequential.

Normally when an artist rebels against their label, there’s a means to an end. All we have here is two seconds snippets of songs, and a remix of his already-released single “River Bank” with Colt Ford. There’s no freedom gained by Paisley, or any particular value for the consumer by posting two-second bits of songs. This is all to create a stir in the public, and by attempting to portray Brad Paisley’s actions as spontaneous, let alone rebellious, it is an insult to the intelligence of the country music fan. The lines in the tweets and texts are clearly canned, and it’s no surprise Brad was in cahoots with DJ Bobby Bones to release the “River Bank” remix. Bobby Bones is another character who is apt to fabricated attention grabs full of canned jargon an ambiguous gripes about “suits” shutting him down.

There are artists in country music and elsewhere that truly labor under unfair, unethical, and sometimes illegal conditions from labels, sometimes with tongue-tying clauses in their contracts that don’t even allow the artists the ability to speak on the matters publicly. Many artists were, and are resigned to this fate under Curb Records, and have to fight protracted and costly legal battles to gain the ability to release their own music, including Tim McGraw, Hank Williams III, and others, sometimes having to wait half a decade between releases as their careers lose momentum. To use this unfortunate reality of country music for many artists as marketing is in poor taste, and Paisley’s own potential short changing by his label for royalties should have made this even more top-of-mind.

Once again Brad Paisley is resorting to headline-stealing histrionics to try to remain at the top of the country music mindset in a move that undermines his natural talents, and his standing as one of mainstream country music’s good guys.

Rebellion my ass.

Jul
27

Tim McGraw Fan Wants Apology, Hires Lawyer in Slapping Incident

July 27, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  32 Comments

tim-mcgrawThe Tim McGraw fan who has caused quite the stir over the last couple of weeks after video surfaced of her ripping Tim McGraw’s jeans and then Tim rearing back and slapping her across the face or head is now saying she might sue. Jesslyn Taylor and her lawyer, Georgia personal injury attorney Eric Hertz, say that Tim McGraw acted too aggressively, and that at the least Jesslyn deserves a public apology. Hertz says his client is furious that Tim McGraw is “slinging mud” and publicly humiliating her.

The incident happened in Atlanta on 7-13 at Aaron’s Ampitheatre at Lakewood, and was captured by numerous camera phones. Clearly seen in the video, a woman in the crowd reaches out to touch Tim multiple times before grabbing Tim’s jeans near his left pocket and causing a large rip. When the video surfaced, it outraged for some to see Tim slap the woman so aggressively, while others said he was justified after the fan touched him numerous times, and eventually ripped his jeans right before the slap. A spokesperson for McGraw said about the incident, ““He instinctively swatted to try and keep them from ripping his jeans (which they succeeded at doing), and so he could get to more fans who were trying to slap hands with him before the end of the show. He didn’t know who had grabbed him and was trying to keep his pants from being torn.” Tim was singing his song “Truck Yeah” as an encore performance at the time.

Tim McGraw did not personally respond to the incident until eight days later when he told ET Canada:

Sometimes things can lose context and perspective. I reacted in an instinctive, defensive way from my perspective of what was going on.  I think it was an unfortunate situation, I think all the way around. But it happened, it happened in a split second, it was pure instinctive reaction, I think you just got to move on. It is one of those things that happen, nobody feels good about it, but there’s nothing that could be done about it. You are in that position, you are out there, you are vulnerable, things happen and sometimes you react. There’s nothing to be said about it.

Jesslyn Taylor was removed from the crowd by security immediately after the incident happened and detained at the venue. Eventually she was let go. Atlanta police have said no charges will be filed in the incident but Jesslyn could still file a civil suit.

Jul
21

Tim McGraw Responds to Fan Slapping Incident

July 21, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  54 Comments

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***UPDATE (7-27-14): Tim McGraw Fan Wants Apology, Hires Lawyer in Slapping Incident

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Tim McGraw has responded to an incident that happened at a concert in Atlanta on Sunday (7-13) at Aaron’s Ampitheatre at Lakewood, where after a female fan touched him multiple times, including grabbing hold of his jeans and causing a significant rip in them, Tim responded by slapping or shoving the female fan across the head. The incident has Tim McGraw in hot water with many fans for laying his hands on a woman.

Tim McGraw told ET Canada:

Sometimes things can lose context and perspective. I reacted in an instinctive, defensive way from my perspective of what was going on.  I think it was an unfortunate situation, I think all the way around.

But it happened, it happened in a split second, it was pure instinctive reaction, I think you just got to move on.

It is one of those things that happen, nobody feels good about it, but there’s nothing that could be done about it. You are in that position, you are out there, you are vulnerable, things happen and sometimes you react. There’s nothing to be said about it.

Footage of the incident has spread across the internet on sites such as The Huffington Post and TMZ. Clearly seen in the video, a woman in the crowd reaches out to touch Tim multiple times before grabbing Tim’s jeans near his left pocket and causing a large rip. Some also discern from the grainy videos available that the woman was trying to touch Tim’s genitals. The woman either didn’t let go, or her hand gets caught on Tim’s jeans, and when he goes to pull away is when the “instinctive” slap occurred.

Tim was singing his song “Truck Yeah” as an encore performance at the time. The woman was later escorted out of the concert by a security guard.

Though the woman was clearly being aggressive and putting her hands on Tim, the question for some fans remains why Tim felt the need to slap the woman, and so aggressively, instead of waiting for security to diffuse the situation. As can be seen in the videos of the incident, security arrives very shortly afterwards. At the same time, Tim was clearly reacting to the situation, and not acting out against the woman unilaterally. A spokesperson for McGraw had said late last week about the incident, ““He instinctively swatted to try and keep them from ripping his jeans (which they succeeded at doing), and so he could get to more fans who were trying to slap hands with him before the end of the show. He didn’t know who had grabbed him and was trying to keep his pants from being torn.”

Late last week Atlanta police said that Tim McGraw would not face charges in the incident. The woman who was slapped and later detained after the incident, has not pressed charges.

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Jul
18

Tim McGraw Slaps Woman Across The Face At Concert – UPDATED

July 18, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  75 Comments

tim-mcgraw***UPDATE (7-21-14): Tim McGraw has finally responded to the incident, and Atlanta police have weighed in.

This story has been updated.

Tim McGraw is in hot water with some fans after video surfaced of the country star aggressively slapping a woman in the face at a concert in Atlanta on Sunday (7-13) at Aaron’s Ampitheatre at Lakewood. Footage of the incident has spread across the internet on sites such as The Huffington Post and TMZ, and has Tim McGraw in hot water with some fans in a genre where laying your hands on a woman is considered forbidden.

But McGraw slapping the female fan only tells part of the story. Clearly seen in the video, a woman in the crowd reaches out to touch Tim’s leg twice before grabbing Tim’s jeans near his left pocket and causing a large rip, potentially looking for a threaded souvenir, or trying to touch Tim. Some also discern from the grainy videos available that the woman was trying to touch Tim’s genitals. The woman either didn’t let go, or her hand gets caught on Tim’s jeans, and when he goes to pull away is when the “instinctive” slap occurred according to Tim’s spokesperson. Tim was singing his song “Truck Yeah” as an encore performance at the time.

“At the end of the night during the encore, Tim was singing out in the audience and someone firmly grabbed onto his leg and wouldn’t let go as he was moving through the crowd,” says McGraw’s publicity firm The GreenRoom. “He instinctively swatted to try and keep them from ripping his jeans (which they succeeded at doing), and so he could get to more fans who were trying to slap hands with him before the end of the show. He didn’t know who had grabbed him and was trying to keep his pants from being torn.”

The woman was later escorted out of the concert by a security guard.

Though the woman was clearly being aggressive and putting her hands on Tim, the question for some fans remains why Tim felt the need to slap the woman, and so aggressively, instead of waiting for security to diffuse the situation. As can be seen in both videos of the incident, security arrives very shortly afterwards. At the same time, Tim was clearly reacting to the situation, and not acting out against the woman unilaterally.

READ: Tim McGraw Responds to Fan Slapping Incident & Police Weigh In

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UPDATE (7-18-14 11:00 PM CDT): Yet another video has surfaced from the incident, showing the woman who was slapped in a blue top smacking Tim McGraw on the butt multiple times as he walks down the walkway.

Jun
30

How Nashville’s Economic Boom Could Kill Its Creativity

June 30, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  22 Comments

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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.

READ: Nashville’s New Independent Nucleus

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.

"This is where my grandfather's house used to be" native Nashville resident Justin Townes Earle tweeted out last year.

“This is where my grandfather’s house used to be” native Nashville resident Justin Townes Earle tweeted out last year.

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.

Jun
26

Why Jerrod Niemann’s “Donkey” Was His Waterloo

June 26, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  64 Comments

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When you live by the bit, you die by the bit. And Jerrod Niemann has just been bitten in the ass by a “Donkey.”

I remember when Trace Adkins released a song called “Brown Chicken Brown Cow” in late 2010. Adkins it can be argued is the King of modern day country music bit songs. He took “Honky Tonk Badonka Donk” to the top of the country music charts in 2005, and it put him on the country music map. “Brown Chicken Brown Cow” didn’t fare as well however. At the behest of Adkins himself, the song was released as a single. “I said, ‘Let’s just throw a hand grenade in the room right off the get-go.’”  And it blew up in his face. A video was made for the song featuring puppets getting it on in a barn while farm animals watched. People were not impressed, and the song flopped. Eventually Trace was forced to admit, “I guess I went to that well one too many times.”

Jerrod Niemann was very much a middling country music star looking for his niche when he decided to release country music’s first outright EDM song “Drink To That All Night” in October of 2013. For a while it looked like the song might flop too. Maybe it was a little too fey, even for the wide berth country music is cutting these days. But with strong backing from his label and a moderately-successful video, “Drink To That All Night” eventually reached #1 on the Country Airplay chart on April 26th of this year. Niemann had taken a big gamble to be one step ahead of the competition, and that gamble had paid off for him. All of a sudden he was a trend setter, and when it was announced that a remix of the song had been made with Pitbull and a remix video was upcoming, it appeared like “Drink To That All Night” could become the “Cruise” of the summer of 2014: rising slowly, presenting a false fade, and then coming back strong on the back of a remix with a popular rapper.

A few days after the solstice however, and “Drink To That All Night” can’t be found anywhere, despite the release of the Pitbull remix, and the rumored remix video still in the offing. Part of the reason is because in lieu of continuing to push “Drink To That All Night” exclusively, Niemann’s label decided to double down on Jerrod’s new direction and release the ridiculous bit song “Donkey.” Like “Drink To That All Night”, the song has a very metro vibe, pseudo rap lyrics, and a ridiculous premise. But hey, it is a brave new world in country music. If “Drink To That All Night” can reach #1, why couldn’t “Donkey”?

READ: Jerrod Niemann’s “Donkey” (Review & Rant)

But just like other candidates for country music’s worst song ever like Jason Aldean’s “1994″, Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah”, and the aforementioned “Brown Chicken Brown Cow”, Niemann and “Donkey” went too far. Even before “Donkey” was released to radio on May 19th, some radio programming gurus were sounding off. “I think we are already at a tipping point regarding ‘Bro Country’ and this song doesn’t help either way; it doesn’t advance Country music,” said Scott Husky of the influential Rusty Walker Programming Consultants. “My fear is that we have brought some new folks into the format lately with the appeal of newer music, this song might just point out why those folks didn’t listen to Country before. It will re-ignite the stereotype.”

Adam Jeffries, the Program Director at KJUG said to All Access, “I thought ‘Drink To That All Night’ was right on the line, but ‘Donkey’ is over it as far as being too rappy.”

Not according to Jerrod Niemann though. When talking to Rolling Stone Country, Niemann said, “If rap had never existed, nobody would say anything [about today's rap-influenced country] because these songs already exist in our past and are classics. People are just looking at it in the wrong way,” Niemann said, alluding to spoken word songs such as “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and “A Boy Named Sue”. “The people who are getting real upset maybe just don’t know as much about country music as they think.”

Huh. Maybe its Jerrod Niemann who needs the history lesson. As Saving Country Music once pointed out, Spoken Word is Not Rap: “Making the case that spoken word and rapping in music are the same thing is an insult to the artistic integrity and creativity of both spoken word and rap artists, and to the intelligence of anyone who that case is being made to.”

Adam Jeffries

Nonetheless, “Donkey” still had its champions, apologists, and willful perpetrators in country radio, but early on when you looked at the amount of “adds” the song was getting on radio, it did not paint a very rosy picture for the song. “Donkey” was virtually dead on arrival despite a strong label backing, and this week the song went from #44 to #48 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart.

“I think we are already at a tipping point regarding ‘Bro Country’ and this song doesn’t help either way; it doesn’t advance Country music. My fear is that as we have brought some new folks into the format lately with the appeal of the newer music, this song might just point out why those folks didn’t listen to Country before. It will re-ignite the stereotype.” – See more at: http://www.allaccess.com/here-all-week/archive/18962/is-country-ready-to-ride-that-donkey#sthash.hDCXG3rC.dpuf
“I think we are already at a tipping point regarding ‘Bro Country’ and this song doesn’t help either way; it doesn’t advance Country music. My fear is that as we have brought some new folks into the format lately with the appeal of the newer music, this song might just point out why those folks didn’t listen to Country before. It will re-ignite the stereotype.” – See more at: http://www.allaccess.com/here-all-week/archive/18962/is-country-ready-to-ride-that-donkey#sthash.hDCXG3rC.dpuf

Gimmick songs and comedy have always been part of the overall country music formula, and don’t let anyone tell you any different. But there is a point where the consumer’s intelligence is insulted, whether it’s by releasing a stupid song, or by misleading them that rap and spoken word are the same thing and telling them they’re stupid for thinking otherwise. As successful as some bit songs have been, like Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” for example, they arguably have also become many artist’s swan song. The defeat of “Donkey” is definitely a win for all things right and good in country music, but it could also be a much bigger defeat for Jerrod Niemann, and a lesson to other artists that even in this seemingly “anything goes” environment in country music at the moment, apparently there still are some limits and standards.

Jun
17

The Worst “Country” Songs of 2014 So Far

June 17, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Down with Pop Country  //  89 Comments

florida-georgia-line-luke-bryan-this-is-how-we-roll

WARNING: Language

The middle point of 2014 finds so called “bro-country” in full throat, with its death grips around the neck of the country music genre and threatening to throttle the very life out of it with no prayer for resuscitation. As you can expect, the assailants are the usual suspects of putrid country music specimens selling out to the lowest common denominator for commercial success. Here are your worst “country” music songs of 2014 so far.


Florida Georgia Line (w/ Luke Bryan) – “This Is How We Roll”

“Like one of those stationary rides in the front of Wal-Mart for toddlers, ‘This Is How We Roll’ makes a lot of noise, has a bunch of flashing lights, bumps up and down a little bit, but in the end, goes absolutely fucking nowhere. The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers soundtrack has more sincerity, depth, and nutritional value than this explosion of diarrhea in country music’s bikini cut man briefs.

“An environment of sexual perversion and sheer stupidity permeates ‘This Is How We Roll’ and its respective video from stem to stern, including a scene near the start of the video with a dollop of hussies having consensual sex with a Kenworth. I sure hope these chicks have their Tetanus records in order. And then of course we have Tweedledee and Tweedledum from Florida Georgia Line riding on top of the semi like Teen Wolf, with the same display of doltishness and disconnect with self-awareness many mid 80′s movies like Teen Wolf were horrifically beset with.” (read full rant)


Jarrod Niemann – “Donkey” 

“‘Donkey’ is an uprovocated ass raping of the ears, and if any Niemannites come here preaching to me the virtues of this song because ‘country music must evolve,’ I will personally take a pair of donkey balls and use them to tea bag each and every one of their bedroom pillows when they’re not looking. “Donkey” isn’t just bad, it defines the catastrophic trainwrecking of the entire human evolutionary timeline. 800,000 years of homo sapien progress brought to a screeching halt because one pudgy douchebag wants an arena-sized “country” career before his pubes turn gray. “Donkey” is a harbinger for a dark age for arts, entertainment, and intelligence that humankind is on the precipice of plummeting headlong into.

“The worst song ever? I’m tired to doling out this distinction only to have to offer a revision every six weeks when some other pop country asshole finds a new gradient for rock bottom, but Jerrod Niemann’s EDM-encrusted, braying ass certainly deserves to be in the discussion for that most disgraceful of honors.” (read full rant)


Tim McGraw – “Lookin’ For That Girl

“What kind of fresh hell has Tim McGraw unearthed here? Apparently the once high-flying country star has been inadvertently inoculating himself with inebriating bronzer agents from his incessant chemical tan treatments that have now seeped into his blood stream. And combined with an undiagnosed eating disorder that has rendered McGraw’s figure to that of a 55-year-old Venice beach female body builder succumbing to a lifetime of melanoma, Tim has robbed precious nutrients from his gray matter, stupefying him into such an absolute scientifically-infallible vacuum and void of self-awareness that physicists want to employ it to see if it is the ultimate key to tabletop fusion. ‘Lookin’ For That Girl’ isn’t a cry for relevancy, it is a barbaric yawp, a banshee scream, a cacophonous ode to the onset of monoculture and wholesale mediocrity.

“The icing on this urine-drenched urinal cake topped with cigarette butts, spent gum, and used inside-out prophylactics oozing their venereal slurry out on the diarrhea-infested floor is the fact that through the entire drum machine-driven song Tim McGraw is singing through an Auto-tune filter turned to 11. T-Pain, eat your top hat-wearing heart out. I’ve been saying for years now that Tim McGraw is more machine than man, but not even I could have predicted this unmitigated rejection and headlong flight from anything analog or authentic. Hell, why do we even need a human to sing this fucking song? We should just have one of those iRobot floor cleaners sing it. At least that way it would be on hand to swab up the hurl this monstrosity will invariably evoke from enlightened music listener’s disgruntled guts. And like an iRobot incidentally, ‘Lookin’ For That Girl’ will also freak the everliving shit out of your dog.” (read full rant)


Jake Owen – “Beachin’”

“What’s going on here folks is now that Kenny Chesney has been put out to pasture by the country music powers that be, somebody has to step up and fill the void for swaying, stupid, sand between the toes sonnets of suburban escapism for 40-something women with skin Cancer on their shoulders to hold their Corona Lights high in the air to and scream ‘Whoooo!’ while breathing in the smoke of their Home Depot citronella tiki torches … Now Jake Owen and others are stepping up to fill this void of what apparently is a must-have staple of the American country music radio dial.

“As much as hearing even the opening stanza of a corporate country beach song can make a distinguishing music listener pucker harder than trying to down a cheap Mexican beer without lime or salt, Jake Owen and ‘Beachin’’ makes this exercise even more excruciating by featuring him rapping, yes, rapping the verses … yo yo. And to this end, Owen delivers what has to be the worst white boy rap performance that has ever been proffered to human beings for public consumption that isn’t meant to be taken as ironic. I guess his voice is supposed to be all low and sexy, but the ultra-monotone and lifeless pitch makes Charlie Brown’s teacher sound like Loretta Lynn. Is the term ‘Beachin’’ supposed to be a lyrical hook that delivers some sort of payoff? Because it’s about as unfulfilling as Daytona Beach when you’re dreaming of Cancún.” (read full {semi} rant)


Cole Swindell – “Chillin’ It”

“Cole Swindell is the most not-having-any-bit-of-soul-or-culture human being I think I have ever observed on God’s whole creation. He’s the human equivalent of a piece of bleached white bread with the crust cut off, served with a glass of room temperature tap water. He’s more milk toast than Caspar, and more boring than a bowl of vanilla. It’s like a thermonuclear holocaust of culture and personality-scrubbing destruction swept over Cole Swindell while he was swimming in the very fissile material of the root detonation agent, leaving a man that is so vacant of anything interesting or distinguishable that he is the utmost purified and scientifically-verifiable essence of Miriam Webster’s unabridged definition of ‘generic’ that could ever be procured as an example or proffered as evidence.

“’Chillin’ It’, just like Cole Swindell himself, is the refined, filtered, and homogenized version of something that was rapaciously trite and disappointing to being with. The first thing that pops in your head when hearing ‘Chillin’ It’ is that it’s pretty blatantly Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Cruise’ version 2.0. Except somehow, inexplicably, Swindell discovered how to do them even one worse by engineering something so aggressively vapid that labeling the song ‘bad’ even seems to bestow this spiritless, prosaic waste of effort with more personality and distinction than it actually contains or deserves.” (read full rant)

NOTE: Was released officially in 2013, but didn’t rise to prominence and become a multi-week #1 until March of 2014.


Brantley Gilbert – “Bottom’s Up”

“In this the season of giving, can we all at least come together as one, regardless of sex, race, orientation, creed, religious, political or social status, or cultural background, and swallow our collective differences, hold hands in the common bond of humanity in a rising chorus of hosannas, and all universally decree that Brantley Gilbert is the biggest douche ass to ever suck air on planet Earth?

“Such a gift from heaven it has been to not have Brantley terrorizing us with new music for a good long while. But apparently Brantley was just resting up, refining his putrid exploration into the very innermost reaches of human vanity and self-ingratiation to then unleash upon his trashy fans with the sweet residue of methamphetamine glistening on the edges of their inflamed nostrils, the purest form of raging narcissism ever witnessed in Western Civilization in the construct of his new diarrhetic single ‘Bottoms Up,’ and it’s accompanying video.

“At one point in the video, three women are surrounding Brantley, rubbing their hands all over him. But these girls aren’t copping a feel, their feverishly searching for Brantley’s beleaguered genitals that have taken the form of two acorns flanking a Vienna sausage that then fled up into his abdomen like a rodent scampering into its hole—the result of a tireless regimen of prolonged steroid abuse; hence the nonstop, headlong pursuit of this song and video to compensate and dramatically oversell Brantley’s manly prowess and masculine superiority.” (read full rant)


Dishonorable Mention:

Jun
3

Aaron Lewis Stops Concert, Twists Off On “Molesters”

June 3, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  23 Comments

aaron-lewisWarning: Language

We’ve seen these moments more and more at concerts, especially country music concerts where an artist has to stop everything down because someone in the crowd is acting completely inappropriate, but this instance may take the cake. Recent country music convert Aaron Lewis was manning the mic as part of his other gig as the frontman for the angry emo rock band Staind during the last weekends Rockfest in Kansas City, when he stopped the concert down during the song “Something To Remind You” to twist off on guys copping a feel on a 15-year-old crowd surfer. While smoking a cigarette and sporting a shirt of Johnny Cash flipping the bird, the Staind frontman said:

Alright, listen up, you fucking assholes. That fucking girl right there is, like, 15 fucking years old and you fucking pieces of shit are molesting her while she’s on the fucking crowd. Your fucking mothers should be ashamed of themselves, you pieces of shit. You should all be fucking beaten down by everyone around you for being fucking pieces of shit. If I fucking see that shit again, I swear to God, I will point you out in the crowd and have everyone around you beat your fucking ass.

Apparently Lewis got his point across, because the concert proceeded without further incident.

Aaron’s outburst is reminiscent of other artists having to stop down concerts this year, mostly for fighting. Jason Isbell had to stop down as show in Madison, Wisconsin in February for fighting. Jake Owen came to the aid of a girl who was being hit by a man in Ft. Wayne. And Tim McGraw while in Wheatland, CA had to call out concertgoers for brawling.

Arron Lewis has proven himself to be protective of women before. In January he debuted an alternate version of Tyler Farr’s creepy stalking song “Redneck Crazy” written by Zach Woods. “I just always thought the message of this song was pretty fucked up,” he said about the original song. Lewis himself has three daughters, Zoe Jane, Nyla Rae and Indie Shay.

-

May
28

Scott Borchetta Looking to Sign Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson & More

May 28, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  20 Comments

scott-borchettaAnother day, another noteworthy release of information about the potentially historic partnership between Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Label Group, and the 2nd largest radio station owner in the United States, Cumulus Media. Their “NASH Icons” joint venture that means to re-instill “classic” country artists back to commercial prominence and create a new home for them on mainstream radio has the country music world buzzing about a potential format split, and now we’ve been served some additional insight into the NASH Icons plans via Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey.

During a recent conversation with Billboard Magazine’s Rich Appel, Dickey says Scott Borchetta is aggressively looking to sign many of the artists that fall between NASH Icons’ 25-year artist window, including but not limited to Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson. “I would look for Scott to make an announcement in the next 30 days,” Lew says.

READ: The Split of Top 40 Country & Classic Country Is Upon Us

“It’s not that 35- to 54-year-olds don’t like the hits,” says Lew Dickey. “They just miss the biggest country artists of the last two decades, who are still recording and touring but not getting enough exposure today … While in pop you have the middle ground of [adult top 40] between top 40 and classic hits, there’s really no such thing in country.”

Interestingly enough, Alan Jackson has announced a special June 6th press conference to be held at the Country Music Hall of Fame. This is the same location where Tim McGraw announced his signing with Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine label in May of 2012. It is also where George Strait announced his touring retirement in September of 2012. Garth Brooks has also been curiously mum lately, after saying in late 2013 he wants to return to country music with new music, a big tour, and do it “at a level I’ve never seen before.” Big Machine is one of the few labels flush and fleet footed enough to pull off such a feat.

Cumulus owns over 70 country radio stations, and has access to another 1,500 affiliates through its Westwood One network. According to Lew Dickey, they hope to have the NASH Icons network up-and-running by 2015, but some non-Cumulus owned stations are already adopting the new 25-year format. NASH Icons is also not limited to just a label or radio. Under the new NASH brand, they’ve acquired Country Weekly magazine, and hope to have a huge presence throughout media. “We want to be thought of as an omni-channel, multiplatform brand,” Lew Dickey says.

May
27

Live Review – Red Fest 2014

May 27, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  12 Comments

red-fest-2014-stage

Redneck comedian Jeff Foxworthy wanted to start his own festival, and that was the germination of the idea that bloomed into the inaugural Red Fest held Memorial Day weekend just south and east of Austin, TX at the Circuit of the Americas speedway—the only F1 racetrack in the United States. The sprawling complex built in 2012 includes a 3.4-mile, 20-turn racetrack with multiple grandstands and buildings, including a 14,000-capacity music amphitheater and 251-foot observation tower. This became the scene for the multi-faceted festival catering to country music-minded people of mostly the mainstream perspective, but with quite a few independent and up-and-coming bands and artists thrown into the lineup for good measure.

As new huge corporate festivals come online all across the country, Jeff Foxworthy’s idea was to make Red Fest more of a culturally-immersive experience to separate himself from the competition. Along with himself, he brought on Larry The Cable Guy, and the Duck Dynasty folks to give Red Fest a comedic wrinkle. Then strewn out across nine different areas surrounding the speedway, you could find a varied array of different activities, including an archery range, go-karts and racing simulators, dodgeball and volleyball courts, horseshoes and cornhole pits, a fully-complimented carnival midway, mechanical bulls, a military village housing charity booths and boot campaigns, and that’s just getting started. Even the most dedicated patron would have needed all three days of Red Fest to see and experience it all.

Leroy Virgil of Hellbound Glory

Leroy Virgil of Hellbound Glory in the Smoke of the Natty Light Stage

As for the music, the Red Fest lineup was built on good intentions. Big names like Florida Georgia Line, Tim McGraw, Kellie Pickler, and Lynyrd Skynyrd were billed alongside lesser-known bands from the local and national landscape like Hellbound Glory, The Whiskey Sisters, and Bri Bagwell. Think of it like the model the Stagecoach Festival in California has been using for the last few years: instead of segregating independent and mainstream music, integrating it. Yet at its heart, Red Fest was still very much a mainstream, corporate festival, built to cull every last dollar from super-consumer fans who pride themselves in working hard and spending hard.

Though asking $10 for a CD these days is apparently considered too much by many, the market can bear $4.00 for a bottle of water, $7.00 for a domestic beer, and $20.00 for parking, despite the Red Fest grounds being amongst vast tracks of Texas land with absolutely no premium on space. Ticket prices and booking fees, not album sales, are now what keeps the music industry’s coffers flush, so the entire festival experience is an exercise in wringing the consumer out of as much money as possible. Luckily, Red Fest patrons were blessed with pretty good weather over the weekend, so copious amounts egregiously-priced libations were not absolutely necessary (though many elected to over-hydrate anyway), and despite a few minor intermittent showers causing some to scurry for cover, clouds and cooling breezes kept temperatures very reasonable compared to how hot or stormy central Texas can be at the end of May.

When Red Fest let 6,000 free tickets go to military service members, it wasn’t just a sincere token of good will, it was a sign that the fest was going undersold, and they needed to get butts through the gates. Aside from the upper lawn of the amphitheater bowl, and the entire amphitheater area when the headliners like Tim McGraw and Florida Georgia Line took the stage, the crowd all weekend felt a little thin. The grounds either needed to be more compact, or have more people to fill them. The 1/4 mile trek from the heart of the fest to the other two stages was a little bit too much for your average patron to endure. So generally speaking, they didn’t explore the extremities of the fest unless it was for one of its extra-curricular features, or a band that they really wanted to see and already knew about, like Parmalee, Colt Ford, or Texas country star Granger Smith. Meanwhile worthy acts like The Derailers and The Whiskey Sisters from Austin, or out-of-towners like Hellbound Glory and Sundy Best played to thin crowds made up mostly of people who already knew about them, rendering the idea of turning new fans on to a different sound somewhat unfulfilled.

red-fest-2014-towerNonetheless, some great music transpired at Red Fest, and not just for those that made an attempt to seek it out on the smaller stages. Kellie Pickler put on a great set, reprising many of her most popular songs, and playing some classics, including Loretta’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” and “White Lightning” for the large audience. The two-piece Sundy Best on the Natty Light side stage performed an extended medley of 80′s and 90′s pop tunes that included Fresh Price, the song “O.P.P.”, and The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way”. The rest of the set showcased their own songwriting, vacillating between fun-loving and sincere. Sundy Best needs to make up their mind if they want to be a party band, or a singer-songwriter showcase, but they’re hard not to like. Granger Smith proved that even the Texas country scene is capable of producing laundry list schock, despite how much of a guilty pleasure Earl Dibbles Jr. might be.

The Whiskey Sisters on the smallest Redfest Showcase stage converted from an Airstream trailer showed why they’re one of the best bands in Austin to see live, and Hellbound Glory put on a rowdy set, almost as if they were looking to define the extreme of the proceedings. Compare this with Florida Georgia Line, who when they took the main stage to close the fest out Sunday Night, felt like a force of homogenizing nature. Right before their set, rap music blared over the mains, with legions of self-proclaimed rednecks swinging their hands in urban gesticulations and singing along. Then the duo walked out to Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive”, illustrating the blurred genre lines of the whole experience. Love them or hate them, Florida Georgia Line has without question captured (or capitulated) the current mainstream sound, and it’s infectiousness is so undeniable, it is a downright scary notion to stomach for the critical minority.

The commitment by Jeff Foxworthy to make Red Fest an annual event seems unwavering, despite it being somewhat foreign to the indigenous music culture in and around Austin, TX. Many patrons likely drove in from the San Antonio and Houston areas to the fest, and you saw more Aggie maroon than UT orange per capita throughout the weekend. The branding of the event called it “A New Memorial Day Tradition,” and they already are getting ready to do pre-sales for next year. Despite the first year hiccups of having the site too spread out, and prices for things more tailored to the upper-crust F1 racing crowd as opposed to a redneck festival, it went off without a hitch. Hopefully next year Red Fest continues to book bands worthy of a wider audience, and also does a better job of getting that audience in front of them.

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Red Fest Amphitheater:

Red Fest Amphitheater

Kellie Pickler on the Main Stage

The Whiskey Sisters:

The Whiskey Sisters

Sundy Best:

Sundy Best

Hellbound Glory:

Hellbound Glory

May
14

Cumulus & Big Machine Partner for “Classic” Nash Icons Venture

May 14, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Podcasting/Radio  //  27 Comments

nashAs Saving Country Music has been saying all year, mergers, acquisitions, and cross-platform partnerships are going to be the big story of 2014, and will reorganize and churn country music in a manner that the genre has never seen before in its entire history. At the forefront of this historic reorganization has been America’s two biggest radio station owners: Clear Channel & Cumulus, who are betting big on country to become America’s most dominant radio format. Right beside them making big moves is arguably the most powerful label in country music at the moment: Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records. The Big Machine Label Group has already reached landmark deals with Clear Channel for the use of its artists’ music on radio, and with other entities such as Dr. Luke. And now Big Machine has partnered with Cumulus on a venture that very well could end up creating an entirely new sub-genre or sub-format of country music.

Announced late Tuesday, NASH Icons, a takeoff on Cumulus’ already-established nationally-syndicated NASH brand, is a partnership with the Big Machine Label Group for the purpose of taking old and new music from artists “of the past 25 years” and giving its own place to live. Though no specific artists to be featured have been detailed yet, the idea seems to encompass music from performers like Big Machine’s Tim McGraw and Reba McEntire, and many others artists like Garth Brooks and Randy Travis who’ve had big careers in the past 25 years and that have massive back catalogs of country music that have been virtually abandoned by mainstream radio and many major record labels.

Though detailed specifics of exactly what NASH Icons will look like once it rolls out have not been made available, the two companies are planning a NASH Icons record label that would distribute both old and new music from NASH Icons artists. NASH Icons will also host live events such as special media programming, and potentially tours and festivals, and have streaming and syndicated radio programs specifically catering to the NASH Icons 25-year brand.

Though the term “classic” has been thrown out there to describe the country music that will be featured with the new venture, it appears to be purposely focused on music from a 25-year window, meaning that anything before 1989—when artists like Garth Brooks, Clint Black, and Brooks & Dunn really started their rise—will likely not be included.

As consumer study group Edison Research has pointed out numerous times over the past few years, mainstream country radio has been ignoring its classic country fan base, and the result has been an acceleration of country radio’s loss of listeners that has already been occurring naturally because of the emergence of new media options for consumers like Pandora, Spotify, and satellite radio. This venture signals from both Cumulus and Big Machine that they recognize there is an untapped market for older country music that has been ignored in a growing manner by mainstream country radio focusing on youth and the here-and-now.

Study: Radio Consolidation Not Working

However the move could also accelerate this trend if anything seen as “classic” is moved to an entirely different format. If 25-year-old country music is completely segregated from mainstream country, it leaves mainstream country to become a true, current-only country equivalent of Top 40, where any music over a couple of years old will be entirely stricken from the format. In other words, older country could be banished to the old folks home, out of sight and out of mind from mainstream consumers. This trend could also spread to industry award shows and other cultural institutions of country music.

At the same time, it could also finally give aging country artists and fans a format, and somewhere to go when mainstream radio will no longer pay attention to them.

Big Machine and Cumulus would not be getting into this business if they didn’t feel there was money to be made. At the same time, the two companies may see this as a way to placate much of the current criticism being levied at the country oligarchy for abandoning its roots, and abandoning the artists and fans that made country into the commercially-successful format it is today.

What the true impact of NASH Icons will be is yet to be seen, or if Clear Channel, Cumulus’ main rival, will launch their own “classic” venture with another partner, as the two media giants saddled with billions in debt and looking toward country music as their way out  match each other tit for tat in the current country music media arms race. The billions of debt that Cumulus carries, along with their other plans for big-minded partnerships and licensing deals that include making NASH-branded food, clothing, furniture, and even paint cast the question of how the company plans to levy the capital to pay for this all, and if country is truly on such a meteoric rise that all the entities looking to capitalize off of it will end up cannibalizing each other as they all fight for the same slices of the pie, regardless of how much that pie is incrementally growing.

Either way, this partnership is not just fodder for Page 2 of radio trade publications. This could spark a significant moment in creating a new format for the country music that has been abandoned by the mainstream, or it could stimulate mainstream country abandoning its roots even further. Or both.

Apr
30

Bluegrass Legend Becomes Master of Disguise to Catch Criminal

April 30, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  10 Comments

rhonda-vincent-disguise-2

We already knew bluegrass goddess Rhonda Vincent was doing her best to save country music on the stage and in the studio. You don’t have to look any further than her recent two-disc release Only Me that tackles bluegrass on the first disc, and country on the second to see that her roots are pure. In her four decades of performing, starting when she was a young child, Rhonda Vincent has always stayed true to her traditions. What we didn’t know is that she apparently also dabbles as a crime-fighting master of disguise.

When not on tour, Rhonda Vincent keeps her bus stabled at the Hemphill Brothers Coach Company in White’s Creek, TN, just north of Nashville. It’s the same facility where other touring country stars like Tim McGraw and Eddie Montgomery keep their coaches. Apparently the last few times she stored the bus at the location, she noticed a kitty of cash left in the bus’s safe was absconded with when she returned. After deducing that the money only disappeared when the bus was in dry dock, she decided to set up a trap. Rhonda could have just complained to the owners about the issue, or park her bus somewhere else. But that might not solve the problem for other stars that might be ripped off by the same thief.

So Rhonda procured a small camera embedded in an alarm clock that she could use to monitor the safe in the bus. Then she took about $6,000 of cash and dusted it with a special powder that if touched, stays on your hands as a residue for at least 30 days. Then Vincent placed the money in the safe, and brought her bus to the Hemphill Brothers facility and dropped it off for servicing.

Lo and behold, as soon as as one of Hemphill’s workers entered the bus, after checking to make sure nobody was on it, he proceeded to crack the safe, and stuff the money into his pockets. It was determined later that the thief had found the combination for the safe hidden in another part of the bus while cleaning the bus previously. Rhonda watched from a distance as the worker loaded up his pockets with the six grand.

But what happens next shows just what lengths Rhonda Vincent was willing to go to in order to catch this criminal. At some point during the caper, potentially sensing that he was being watched, the worker flipped the alarm clock down so the camera would no longer capture his activities. But Rhonda had a contingency for just such a situation. She was dressed up in a disguise, complete with a black-haired wig and fake cigarette, and wearing a shirt of one of her music buddies, Gene Watson, she made her way to the bus on the Hemphill lot. When she got there, the money was gone, but the camera still had the video footage saved and the traceable residue fingered the crook.

Hemphill Brothers employee Adam Parker was caught red handed, and was later convicted for the crime. Though there were no other specific reports of stolen items or money from other country artists storing their buses at the facility, according to Vincent, when she reported the whole thing to Hemphill management, they told her that theft had been a “black cloud over this place for a long time” and that Tim McGraw once had a theft problem at the facility.

Once Rhonda had retrieved the video footage and Mr. Parker was in the pokey, she took her story to WSMV in Nashville, and the rest is history.

Rhonda Vincent: Bluegrass vixen, mandolin maestro, and international woman of mystery.

WSMV Channel 4

Apr
25

Anthony Bourdain Bemoans The Rise of EDM Over Live Music

April 25, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  19 Comments

anthony-bourdainOh to go back to the day when country rap was the worst thing we had to worry about.

EDM ,or Electronic Dance Music, has become so pervasive throughout popular music that even country—once thought to be immune from inhuman instrumentation in music—is now just as gripped with this phenomenon as any genre. From Jerrod Niemann to Tim McGraw, to the intro of just about any single you will hear on country radio, some sort of electronic dance element is almost sure to make an appearance in 2014.

On last week’s episode of CNN’s Emmy Award-winning program Parts Unknown hosted by Anthony Bourdain, the well-known chef spouted off about the state of live music and EDM’s involvement when touring Las Vegas. He talked to Penn of Penn & Teller (a well-known fan of David Allan Coe), and tried to discover what is so alluring about EDM, and where it puts live acts in the pantheon of modern music.

“These days for better or worse, live acts, live performers, are being squeezed out in favor of EDM: Electronic Dance Music,” Bourdain explains. “It’s a DJ’s world, and where they once used to say cocaine was God’s way of telling you you had too much money, now maybe EDM is…Come ye lords and princelings of douchedom. Hear my clarion call. Anointeth thyself with gel and heavenly body spray. Maketh the sign of the devil horns with thine hands. Let there be high-fiving and the hugging of many bros, for this is the kingdom and the power.”

READ: EDM Replacing Rap As The Scourge of Country Radio

As Bourdain points out, many of the big Vegas EDM clubs now make more money on a nightly basis than the casinos. In fairness, EDM at clubs is administered by a live DJ (though playing pre-recorded, electronic music), but the rapid growth of the genre does appear to put the future of live acts at risk. Country music now has its own superstar DJ’s like Deejay Silver who is currently touring with Brad Paisley. If you’ve been wondering what the mono-genre might sound like when it arrives, it might be heralded by a moronic bass beat, and waves of glowsticks being raised to the sky. EDM is the new generation’s rock music—pervasive and inescapable throughout society. Either get out of the way, or be run over.

Apr
10

Ronnie Dunn’s “Peace, Love & Country Music”

April 10, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  36 Comments

ronnie-dunn

To do Ronnie Dunn and his new album Peace, Love & Country Music justice, one doesn’t need to write an album review, one needs to do something in between an in-depth psychoanalysis and a diagramming treatise. There’s so much going on here, so many tentacles to the current Ronnie Dunn story, and ones that reach far beyond the music itself, that it’s hard to know where to even start, or to end for that matter.

I guess the first place to start is to try and set the context of just where Ronnie Dunn is in his career, and where he came from. Because Brooks & Dunn was so overshadowed in their day by Garth Brooks, George Strait, Alan Jackson, and the other solo artists of the 90′s, and because his name was only given half credit as a member of a duo, it may be difficult to appreciate just what a mark Ronnie has put on country music. But his impact has been nothing short of towering. Brooks & Dunn sold 30 million records. Their signature album Brand New Man sold over 6 million alone. They had 30 #1 singles. They won the CMA for Vocal Duo of the Year a remarkable 13 out of 14 years between 1992 and 2006, and won Entertainer of the Year in 1996. Their career and impact were historic, and Hall of Fame worthy.

And now, Ronnie Dunn is a defector. He is one of the leading voices of dissent against the institutions presiding over American country music. He has created a loyal and rabid following of tens of thousands of disenfranchised music fans. On a weekly, and sometimes daily basis, Ronnie Dunn is decrying Music Rows ways, specifically criticizing the exclusivity of radio, the stamping out of creativity by record labels, and the way the business treats its talent, young and old.

Think about it: This is one of Nashville’s biggest bread winners of the last 25 years, and he’s now a turncoat. The quotes from Dunn and the topics he’s broached about Music Row’s debauchery are so numerous, I couldn’t even start to delve into them and do it all justice. But long story short, this is a guy that fought Nashville’s wars for a nearly a quarter of a century, and now he’s fighting against them. “I did it for 20 years, and I learned all it was was the mainstream way of doing things was just where ideas go to die these days,” Dunn said in a recent interview. “Mainstream is the road to mediocrity. And it took me 20 years to realize that. But it got to the point to where everything we would come up with to do as maybe an idea or something we thought was fairly innovative, we would get cut off at the pass. So it’s time. It felt like time to start to try to do different things.”

ronnie-dunn-peace-love-country-musicAnd doing things different is what he’s done. Ronnie Dunn is a completely independent artist now who owns his own record label called Little Will-E Records. During the CMT Awards in Nashville last summer, Dunn set up an encampment on lower Broadway guerrilla style, and as the throngs of people poured out of the Bridgestone Arena, Ronnie played three of his new songs off the album on the roof of a nearby building as a promotional stunt. No permission, no permits. He even got in trouble with the Opry for shining a light banner on the roof of the Ryman asking “Who’s Ronnie Dunn?” Depending on your perspective, Dunn had either lost his mind, or finally found it and come to the side of believing in music over money.

All of this was great. Here was one of mainstream country’s biggest stars spouting the same type of rhetoric that one may find on Saving Country Music on a regular basis. Then there was news he was writing songs and recording with none other than Texas music guru Ray Wylie Hubbard. Everything was setting up quite nicely for the release of Ronnie Dunn’s first independent record to be a sort of musical insurrection perpetuated by one of Nashville’s own, with reverberations reaching who knows how far into the dug in foundations of Music Row.

But then one little pesky problem materialized just as it seemed like Ronnie Dunn might be the chosen one we’d all been waiting for to lead country music out of its current wasteland. Despite all of Ronnie’s talk about how unjust it was that classic country no longer had a place on country radio, and how aging talent was getting pushed aside for young pups with no respect for the genre and playing music that was more indicative of rock than country, here comes Ronnie releasing songs that sound exactly like the music he’s criticizing.

One of the first songs we heard from Peace, Love & Country Music was called “Country This”—a complete hard rock guitar-driven bro-country mega anthem with ultra-stereotypical laundry list lyrics and absolutely no story or soul. I mean this thing was terrible. And I wasn’t the only one all of a sudden taking a second look at what Ronnie Dunn was doing. “Kiss You There” was another one of Peace, Love & Country Music‘s first offerings, and despite affording a little more story, it almost seemed to be walking the edge of country rap, with little EDM moments peppered throughout the song.

Sammy Hagar and Ronnie Dunn share the same manager

Sammy Hagar and Ronnie Dunn share the same manager

However promising Ronnie’s off-the-stage rhetoric had been, to say his music wasn’t syncing up with his words is a gross understatement. Remember those songs he wrote with Ray Wylie Hubbard? Interestingly one of them showed up in the repertoire of Sammy Hagar, called “Bad On Fords and Chevrolets“. Some in Ronnie Dunn’s camp wanted to revolt, but Ronnie calmed nerves when he seemed to allude that he was using these first singles almost as Trojan horses. He told everyone he wasn’t wasn’t abandoning the revolution, but that he needed to give radio one last shot, maybe to prove that even when he put out songs that were ripe for country’s new format, they would still be ignored if you weren’t in the good graces of Music Row’s major labels. “Mainstream radio does not dictate the full flavor of a multi-song CD,” Dunn assured.

So after many months of spirited discourse from Dunn through Facebook and interviews, the confounding first few tracks, we now finally get to hear the full breadth of Ronnie’s independently-released record. And what do we get? Pretty much what we got in the run up: crossed signals and conflicting messages, though a few good songs here and there.

It’s not that Ronnie Dunn is trying to take advantage of the growing anti-Nashville sentiment, similar to someone like Eric Church and other “new Outlaws” where the rhetoric seems to be nothing more than marketing and a distraction from the music. It seems much more innocent than that, like Ronnie has spent so much time residing within the system and was raised so deeply within its inner workings, that to Ronnie this record and many of its songs are groundbreaking. But when you bring a more global, a more informed ear to the project—one that has truly been versed in independent country and country protest music—it seems almost like parody.

Meanwhile the contradictions are nothing less than striking. Peace, Love & Country Music has a straight up protest song in it called, “They Still Play Country Music in Texas”.

I turn on the radio they’re mixin’ heavy metal with twang
People on TV doin’ anything for fame
I’m not one to cling to the past
But some of this new stuff burns my ass
Thank God and Willie some things stay the same

Yes, awesome! Let’s all pump our fists and praise Ronnie Dunn for speaking up! … except that numerous songs on this album are “mixin’ heavy metal with twang,” exclusively. I mean, that’s the whole premise some of these songs are built around.

Ronnie Dunn has all the right sentiments, all the right ideas and philosophies. But when it comes to his actual sonic output, he needs guidance, and guidance in a big way if the message is going to match up with the music. He needs to spend a weekend with Marty Stuart or Vince Gill. He needs someone to walk him through their record collection, explaining to him how we got here. He needs to see Sturgill Simpson at the Station Inn. Though I understand many from the mainstream perspective will hear this album as rebellious, forward-thinking, or even groundbreaking, the simple fact is that it isn’t. It is still a very, very mainstream album. Maybe it’s a mainstream album with good moments, but it’s still one that is cast in predictable turns of phrases and phrasing, and well-worn tones and textures; one that panders for attention, relevancy, and radio play.

As cool as it is to get a protest song like “They Still Play Country Music in Texas” from him, I wish it wasn’t on the album because the hypocrisy inherent in it drags down the rest of the project. Songs like “Country This”, “Cowgirls Rock & Roll”, and “Thou Shalt Not” are every bit dependent on their rock guitar riffs. Hell, “Cowgirls Rock & Roll” is one of the worst “country” songs I may have ever heard, no different than a single you’d hear from Brantley Gilbert or Jason Aldean, with Auto-tuned inflections on the vocal track indicative of modern Jerrod Niemann or Tim McGraw.

And look at these lyrics:

Que Paso Hey Pard Yo Yo
Play Back In Black Set Em Up Joe…
Goth Black Ponytail Ink On Her Arm
Out Here In The Way Back
Doin’ Things She Shouldn’t Be Doin Like That
Ghost Of Hank Still Hangin On
Snoop n Willie Keep Singin That Song
Brown Jar Liquor Got A Shotgun Kick
Got It Goin On Out Here In The Sticks

Then again, there’s some very worthy tracks on Peace, Love & Country Music. The first two songs “Grown Damn Man” and “Cadillac Bound” start off the record right. “You Should See You Now” and “Wish I Smoked Cigarettes” are excellently written, and no matter what Ronnie Dunn is singing, it’s hard to escape the fact that he still holds one of the best voices in the business, and came from a time when you couldn’t fake it, or let your fame ride off a pretty face.

Something else that seems to hinder this album is that it took so long to go to print. Ronnie Dunn seems to be in the precarious position of trying to maintain his mainstream relevancy, while at the same time come to grips with the new realities of his career. He wants to lead a revolution, but he wants to hold onto the last vestiges of the spotlight for one last moment. But you can’t have it both ways. There are songs on this album that could have been worthy of radio, whether it’s because they’re good enough and would elevate the format, or because they’re bad enough to be radio hits in country’s current climate. But neither will be given a chance because of all of Dunn’s sabre rattling off stage. Dunn’s plan came off as half baked, and in need of some guidance and perspective from people who really understand where the trends in music are headed.

I like Ronnie Dunn’s spirit, and I feel like there’s a kinship in his fight. And make no mistake, there are many, many country music fans who are listening to his every word about what is happening in country, because his words are rooted in truth. And because of this and a few pretty good songs, I can’t give it a negative review. But don’t get bogged down by the bravado surrounding this album. If you simply listen, you will find it is an album addled by stark contradictions.

One gun up for some good songs and an independent spirit.

One gun down for some very, very bad songs, and a conflicting message.

The pretty good:

The very, very bad:

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