The Role of Tradition in Modern Country Music

Recently, especially after the Newsweek article decrying pop country came out, I’ve seen an uptick in blogs and articles wondering if the pop influences in the genre have gone too far. We all know my opinion on the matter, but I have been encouraged in this uptick in commentary. Even if the majority of people still disagree, this idea that the traditions of country music are being forgotten, if not outright trashed, is now out there in the public consciousness.

An example of this was a very well-written commentary that ended in a question by Dan Millken at The upshot was “Are the traditions of country music chains of restraint, or chains of strength?”

Following were my opinions:

As far as I’m concerned 90% of the relevant, radio-played “country” artists out there don’t pay one bit of attention to tradition more than what they have to as counseled by their marketeers to draw in specifically targeted demographics of fans. If any single parson can tell me with passion that Taylor Swift cares about the traditions of country music, I’ll eat my hat.

I think Garth Brooks might be the worst thing that ever happened to the country music genre, yet I think today they wouldn’t make it in “country.” He is too talented, and he did pay at least scant attention to tradition, which would’ve been a sign to today’s label execs that he may not want to “play the game.”

Country music isn’t just a genre of music, just like Judaism isn’t just a religion. It is also a heritage, a tradition, a lineage. Rock n’ Roll was built on breaking traditions, while country was built on preserving them. Without country’s links to the past, it would fall into the abyss. And if you ask me, at the moment the teeth of the chain cutters are fast against the link, and Taylor Swift, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, and many more, are wrenching on the handles, trying to break through.

It only takes one link, one space in time for the chain to break, and all to be lost, devaluing “country” from the proud music of America’s rural heart to just the default American music genre it seems to be becoming today. Country music has become the junk drawer of American music. If you don’t know what to call it, find a pretty face to sing it, put a fiddle in the corner, and you can call it “country.” Yee haw.

The Country Music Hall of Fame is built, literally, around a question: “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” This implies that the circle breaking is possible, and quietly hints to what the ramifications of that might be. That is why it is so important to hold on to the traditions of what made country music great, even when the CMA is snubbing the new Hall of Fame Inductees, and thus, losing audience with the Hall’s wisdom.

Country Music Hall of Fame Will the Circle Be UnbrokenSure, everyone has a right to make money and there’s always monetary concerns, but right now money is virtually the only concern. THIS is what is holding country back in regards to creativity and innovation, not tradition.

Am I being overdramatic? Maybe. But I am not the only one, and our ranks appear to be growing daily. The fans and REAL artists of country music need to storm the skyscrapers of Nashville and take their music back. Why? Because that is the tradition of country music. Willie and Waylon did it, and now we must too. That Circle that the Hall of Fame talks about has become an oval, pushed to the brink of potential bursting, or breaking, by a protracted cycle towards pop.

This threat is as REAL as the music of Waylon Jennings, and the music of other country artists you’ve never heard of, struggling in virtual obscurity while the spotlight is stolen by Taylor Swift playing with Def Leppard, and Kid Rock playing with Lil Wayne. That’s not country. The term “country” belongs to the people. It has been stolen from them and used as a marketing term.

Time is running short. The link is failing. The hairs are gray. But for some reason, I still have faith.