Will Country Music Ever Be Saved?

June 21, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  47 Comments

Last weekend, former Drive By Trucker turned solo artist Jason Isbell let fire a tweet that read in part, “I just don’t see how any genre of music needs “saving” or “reclaiming.”

I don’t know if this tweet was meant for Saving Country Music or of it was just coincidental, but it raises a point that comes up often on a site named Saving Country Music, will country music ever be saved?

The short answer is…of course not. And even if country music came to some point where everyone agreed yes, country music has now been saved, it would immediately begin to backslide once more from the infallible frailty and cyclical nature of human activity. And of course, there would never be that universally-recognized moment when country music is “saved” because Saving Country Music’s version of country being saved would mean something completely different to executives on Music Row, or Brantley Gilbert fans for example.

But actually “saving” country music isn’t the point, and it never was. It is the pursuit, the attempt that matters. It is about standing up and caring about something that is in decline, registering dissent, and offering support. Like Gandhi once said:

It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.

Or there’s another Gandhi quote that may be even more pertinent:

Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.

What is country music? It is a living artifact of culture. Why is it important? Because we see what can happen to people when their culture is taken from them. They can lose their identity, their feeling of self-worth, their sense of community. And many times to fill the void left where their culture has been taken from them, they partake in consumption, materialism, drug abuse, and cling to whatever popular culture is presented to them through corporate media even if it is devaluing or self-destructive.

Complicating the situation is how corrupted the term “country” has become. Many folks theorized that when Taylor Swift won the CMA for Entertainer of the Year in 2009, this is the moment that country music truly died. “Death” is so absolute though, that prognosis can be argued back and forth, but you can build a greater consensus around the idea that Taylor’s 2009 win was when the “country” term lost control of its true identity and began to mean something wholly different to the general population than it did before. This is the reason some people see no value in trying to save country, or why artists like Jason Isbell feel the need to distance from it, and understandably so.

People might argue if country music truly needs to be saved, but would anyone argue against the saving of let’s say, the Ryman Auditorium? If the Ryman was about to be bulldozed, I would hope that people would rise up to protect that element of our culture, even people who are not particular fans of country music just because they can see the historic significance of the building itself. So why should the living artifact of country music be any different? If country music was destroyed, what worth would that leave for The Ryman with its living cultural counterpart now gone?

Saving Country Music is alchemy. It’s fighting for something that needs to be fought for, and learning and growing through that process. A similar fight could be taken to preserving historical architecture or relics, or dance, or theater, or food. It’s not the specific problem always, but the process one goes through to solve it.

I understand just how wide-eyed and innocent the name “Saving Country Music” may come across, and that it can come across as arrogant as well. Numerous times over the years people have come to me, empathetical, worried what they say will crush my little soul as they iterate, “Man, I’m sorry to tell you, but country music will never be saved,” or “country music is dead.” But in the end, it’s just a name; the actions are what are important. Still, every day, every article I write, I look at that name and ask if whatever I am doing, whatever I’m writing, does that name justice. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. But I try. I ask for your help.

47 Comments to “Will Country Music Ever Be Saved?”

  • It’s saved. The spirit of real country music is strong, and while it may be overshadowed by the larger, money driven machine of corporate country music, it will never die. Your website helps spread information around the world. There is probably more good country music out there than bad, but the bad barks the loudest. That’s fine in my book, real country will always bite harder.


  • I’m with Isbell, country music doesn’t need saving. I dont care what the genre a musician calls themselves, I either like or dislike the music based on my personal taste. Websites like this that introduce you to great new (and old) music aren’t saving a genre, but rather saving people from listening to crap if they don’t want to. The masses out there would rather listen to Taylor Swift and Brantley Gilbert than Ray Wylie Hubbard and Hellbound Glory, so thats what executives put on the radio. This website title could be tweaked to “Saving People from Bad Country Music” and would continue to be followed by people like me looking for music we like, from someone who likes similar music (Triggerman) and is able to introduce us to it when it can be difficult to find otherwise.

    Hope that came out positive, I love the website and love the music (most of it anyways) that you recommend.


  • Wow. When I checked the forum, that was Triggerman’s 666th post. Hmmmm….

    Based on Isbell’s tweet, it doesn’t seem that he reads SCM. It’s really not a bunch of bitching about bad music. There is a lot of talk about “reclaiming” roots and what-not, here and elsewhere. Why shouldn’t there be? I don’t think it’s as simple as making “consumable quality”. It IS a problem when people consume blindly. Why shouldn’t we save country music from blind consumption? People come here, read, discuss, and most importantly THINK. Bring it on!


  • The term “country music” is a figment of a genre that is no where near its origins. What pop country and artists like Swift and douchebags galour (Gilbert, Aldean, Moore and the list goes on) have done is turn the outside world onto what they believe is country music. What I mean by that is people used to hear the word country music and be despised by it. Artist now a days take the country route because it is more acceptable to a pop sound and probably easier for them. They think they can throw a fiddle into the song or name drop Willie, Waylon and Merle, and it makes it a country song. I watched a GAC special on Blake Shelton because when he first hit the scene, he was someone I really enjoyed listening to. He was told to lose his cowboy hat or he would not make it. Excuse me, but when was it not cool or acceptable to wear a cowboy hat in country music. Look at many artist now that started out wearing a cowboy hat and now probably don’t even own one or if they do its the black cheap ass looking tim mcgraw or sun in the tan chesney. Conway Twitty’s song “Dont Call Him a Cowboy” sums it up perfectly. It has become more socially and economically acceptable to wear a fedora, old time golf hat than a cowboy hat. I know Merle sang “Own Kind of Hat” but these douchebags haven’t probably ever heard the damn song and Merle earned his right to wear whatever he wanted. I just want to punch the sugarland douche everytime i see him on an award show or tv. You can add Aldean, Gilbert and Church’s sunglasses to the list too.

    Sorry for the long rant but I grew up on country music and I feel it as a part of who I am. When I see the crap that is out there on the radio, it just fires me up to see what is now acceptable as country. This rant may be way off topic but it’s been something I have wanted to say for a while.


    • I don’t think it is off topic at all.

      “I feel it as a part of who I am”

      And as long as people feel that, it is worth fighting for.


  • \m/ . TWO GUNS UP . \m/


  • Theres two types of music the music I like and the music I don’t like

    anyways if you want to make noise about certain artists I would go to forums of gac or cmt .com and talk about underrated artists who should get airplay Really this sites good but you gotta bring up artists to people who may not know who acts like Ryan bingham or stoney larue are


    • 2/3rds of the people that come to Saving Country Music everyday, it is their first time here. I put out a lot effort out to try and help spread the word about talented artists through this forum, sometimes resulting in sideways glances for some of my articles.


  • I believe there was an article a while back critical of Ryan Bingham for not using “country” to describe his music, and I think this article sums up why he did that. From everyone outside the pop-country fan community, it has such a negative connotation that people associate the word with the aforementioned fake Outlaws, Rascal Flatts, Swift, Lady A, the Band Perry, etc. I really don’t care what you call it as long as it’s good. Hell, the Rolling Stones have songs that are more country than anything these buffoons have put out.


  • One thing I’ve found interesting here in rural Oklahoma, which probably is not true in urban areas, is it is possible for people to like BOTH pop country and traditional country. I have a friend who absolutely loves “Dirt Road Anthem” and yet is a huge Merle Haggard fan. When I bring up that Jason Aldean is not really country, she doesn’t see the problem. If he sings about her way of life or things that matter to her, he’s country. That feeling is widespread here. They don’t see it as either/or, rather as different ends of the same continuum.


    • im from los angeles and i absolutely worship merle haggard yet i also enjoy taylor swifts pop country music. i hate how the country music industry ignores traditional country in order to chase after the pop fans but i dont agree with labeling people as not country.


  • This is certainly well put.

    I confess to only having listened to country music for 40 years as a result of listening to the Beatles et al. during the first 15 years of my life, but the music I started on back in the 1970s was Jerry Jeff, DAC, Waylon, Willie and other similar artists.

    And when I hit the gym tomorrow for a few hours, that is exactly who I will be listening to then.

    I have never (intentionally) listened to a Taylor Swift or Carrie Underwood song, but I have mistakenly bought a few CDs of the genre (i.e. pop or garbage, whichever term you choose), such as Eric Church (who ain’t no Outlaw) and Brantley Gilbert and I see similar tripe when I am chanel surfing and pass through CMT.

    I continue to buy and listen to gems of the past (Hank Thompson, Gary Stewart – and the list keeps getting longer thanks to the Baer Family and Raven) and some true country music from today, most of which eminates from Texas.

    Country music is a part of my culture and, hence, a part of me.

    While I listen to rock n roll, the blues, and Broadway music, I don’t identify with them and their respective cultures.

    Another significant part of my culture that has dissipated from commercialism over the last 20 years is automobile racing.

    I grew up unabashedly going to dirt tracks and graduated into NASCAR racing around 28 years ago when I moved to East Tn, which is a maximum 4 hour drive to several very good tracks.

    But over the course of the last 15 or so years, NASCAR has intentionally shed a part of what attracted me to it (i.e. its identity as a Southern sport) , ostensibly because the France family and Bruton Smith weren’t content being worth a couple of billion each and wanted to be really rich.

    So now, instead of watching races at Southeastern tracks, fans (those of them who still exist) watch races in Illinois, New Hampshire, Las Vegas, etc.

    These venues are to NASCAR racing what Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift are to country music – poseurs.

    The culture with which I identify keeps getting smaller, but not because I don’t support what genuine remnants of it remain.

    Thanks again for the commentary.

    I certainly relate.


  • i seriously doubt it will ever be saved. rock ‘n’ roll died long ago as well. yeah, it’s one of those days for me. lol.


  • I really liked this one. I think I see country music the same way Trig does, as the glue that holds a culture together. Sort of like the white man’s version of soul music. But the thing about it being silly to try to “reclaim” a genre has me a little flustered.
    On one hand, I understand that it means different things to different people, and as a die-hard country music purist, my brand of country music will never be mainstream again. Artists make the good music, not genres, is a completely valid argument. On the other hand, it really pisses me off when I have to explain that when I say I like country music that I don’t mean modern RADIO country music.

    They really have soiled a good name. I wish it could be like the old days, when a man could say he was a country music fan with some ounce of pride and people would think Willie and Waylon. Not Aldean and Gilbert. Nowadays if some guy asks you what kind of music you like, and you say country, you’ve got to waste a damn 2 or 3 minutes trying to explain to the guy what you mean when you say that, so he doesn’t immediately assume you’re an idiot.

    But, at least there are sites like this exposing the good stuff, so the spirit of country really can never be considered “dead.” That might all be a little dramatic, but country is just tied to who I am; it makes me more than just some dumb redneck from the middle of nowhere. That’s why it’s important.


    • If you go into a grocery store, in the produce section, “organic” food has a special designation. Meanwhile, the foreign grown, genetically modified, pesticide sprayed stuff is sold as the normal food. If you grow it, pick it, put it on a shelf, it gets a special label. The stuff that comes from a lab is just there. “Country” is treated the same way. The difference is, you can join the fight to label GMO food. I don’t want any part in a fight to label art but I think it’s important to pass along some organic music as an alternative to the mass produced stuff. It’s not ‘change’ that we’re resisting. Though music is much more subjective, there IS a difference between real and fake.


  • Currently, I live in a suburb. Across the street, my neighbor had lived on a rural road until suburbia crept in during the late 80s, early 90s. My neighbor had lived in a township outside of Memphis. Having never moved, she now lives within city limits. Down the same road toward the city, there’s a narrow, curvy stretch where a couple of small family farms still have cattle. To me, that’s not just a metaphor. that IS what happened to country music. Some people simply hold there ground and remind us that it wasn’t always this way.


    • Right on, man. I like that analogy.


    • it’s very hard to hold one’s ground these days. too damn many people on the planet being the problem. i spent the first two years of my life in a ‘winery company’ house in the middle of 5,000 acres of grapes here in southern california. the grapes are almost all gone and the winery died many years ago. the little winery town is gone as well. when i was almost 3 we moved into a house my dad had built down in the dairy country of a nearby town. we had chickens, ducks, and rabbits, along with peach trees and a large garden. the house is still there but the surrounding dairies and acres of potatoes, sweet corn, onions, and green beans are all gone. houses and a freeway in their stead. progress. meh.


      • Yeah more people = less woods etc country aint country anymore is a good song that describes this I have thought what if I were to buy several subdivisions tear it down and make farmland or whatever know what I mean thing is that would cost lots of cash forestation instead of deforestation


  • Music is either good or bad forget labels those are used for marketing nowadays. Ok used to be there were clear lines rock, country, etc. Not anymore and it has been that way for a long time. This weekend I can drive not that far in any direction from my house and see live music from a variety of artists some of which carry the tag country or rock or pop whatever but not even the clubs see at that way one friday it might be Ray Wylie Hubbard while the next friday it might be Asleep at the Wheel whike next might be Randy Rogers Band that is what is good about what happens musically around Texas forget labels just go support the artists you like. In that sense our culture is just fine because live music that is independent of the Nashville machine still thrives at least in pockets all over the country


  • I think my favorite paragraph in the article has broader meaning and context with just a few little tweaks, such as:

    “What is political conservatism? It is a living artifact of preserving and conserving worthwhile aspects of a given culture. Why is it important? Because we see what can happen to people when their personal liberty and freedom and culture are debased and taken from them by liberal democrat politicians. They people can lose their initiative and identity, their feeling of self-worth, their sense of community and become dependent wards of the state, ie economic slaves on the government plantation. And many times to fill the void left where their personal freedom and culture has been taken from them, they partake in consumption, materialism, promiscuous sexual activity, drug abuse, and cling to whatever popular culture is presented to them through corporate media even though it is devaluing or self-destructive. Obama is the pied piper of these lost soul liberals as he leads them down a primrose path to cultural and economic perdition…”

    I seem to be in a rut here! (lol)


    • Not to get off on a political tangent (i.e. we’re getting off on a political tangent), but there is plenty of blame for the loss of personal freedoms to be placed at the feet of both parties.

      Anyone remember The Patriot Act?


  • Looking at the comments, it appears that for some (maybe even many) its more that just the music. Ever since colonial times, the south has prided itself on being different than the rest of the US. Slowly, parts of that identity (country music, NASCAR) have been co-opted by the rest of the nation, and in the process those parts have been altered (bastardized?) to fit with those other cultures. Its part of the diminishing of regionalism as travel and communication speed up.

    I don’t have a solution, but since there is no way to reverse the shrinking of the global society, the trend will most surely continue.


    • For the record, I think it’s indisputable that the south had every legal right to secede, and the north should have vacated Fort Sumter just like they vacated the other formerly Federal forts in the new Confederacy, but as far as country culture is concerned, union soldiers played banjos (an instrument invented by Africans) and fiddles, too. Most of the union and confederate marching tunes were different lyrics to the same melodies. There’s a lot of country in this country, and not all of it is in the south. I’m a yankee, I spent the best part of my youth on a farm in a town of 700, my cousin raced stock cars, my dad played the banjo and gave me my first banjo, we’ve got plenty of mines and trains and shit up here, and a lot of people around here say “y’all.”

      Plus, we Michiganders invented cars, so maybe you should quit ripping off OUR culture and heritage with your NASCAR races fer shit’s sake. :)


      • And railroads (the actual rails, called “wagonways”) were invented in Germany, and widely used throughout Europe. The Locomotive itself was invented in England.

        It’s thanks to co-opting pieces of other people’s cultures from all around the world, and altering them to fit our own regions, that most of the subjects and instrumentation of country music exist at all.

        Even Sam Colt was born in Hartford Connecticut, dontcha know. Good thing some folks out West decided to borrow a little something from New England industrialist culture, or the Wild West might have been pretty tame.

        I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but it’s the truth.


  • I don’t if saving is the right term but that would come down to semantics. Essentially what I think this site promotes is music that people put their own heart and soul into. You know, the kind of music that a person puts their soul into. Their own experiences of hangin on through hard times, heart break, or even something beautiful is expressed in what I would consider real country music. They just aren’t writing a song because they know “the culture” will flock to it because it represents them or because that song will end up on the radio. They write music on their own terms instead of leaching off of some pop culture image of what country is so they can sell records and sell out arenas. They look at themselves as artists with something to say and say it regardless of what you will think. Those “other” guys that this site does not support I think are the types that would anything for a dollar and are as loyal to their own personalities as a rented snake. Being successful is only a good thing if you do it on your own terms. Otherwise you’re not a country music artist. You are a record company slave.


  • TX music jim is right, any real music worth a damn transcends any genre label. Like what you like and call it whatever you please, don’t feel you have to explain yourself to anybody, “i like country, but not current country…i mean like real, honky tonk, old country.” No one wants to hear anybody get preachy about anything.


  • What a great article and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the stream of comments as well. I love how you quoted Gandhi! What can I say Trig? Keep up the good fight. Love what you do. Thank you.


  • Just some food for thought…. my kid is a professional singer who has done Broadway tours, cruise ships, local stage etc., but what really puts her vocals and heart back in place is when she has the opportunity to sing Patsy Cline or other traditional country music. I was raised in farm country listening to country music. I seldom have the opportunity to hear live country because of where I live, but when I do, it brings a tear to my eye and sets my foot a tapping. It cleanses the soul. Country music can never go away because it’s in our hearts.


  • In 1995 Steve Earle said: “If Garth Brooks is a country artist then I hope to God I’m not”. Translate that to 2012 and Taylor Swift, and come to the conclusion that nothing has changed much. However, it’s 2012 and it’looks like a damn good year for real country music. Great cds by Marty Stuart, Willie Nelson, Bob Wayne to name a few, and so far I’ve seen Dale Watson, Zoe Muth, Larry and his Flask, Jayke Orvis, James Hunnicutt, Reverend Deadeye, with Lucky Tubb and III coming soon. I’m a happy boy with all this great music, call it country or not.
    I know I have been one of those to declare country music dead and buried, reading all those post about pop-country, and I know that is easy for me to say, I never hear country-radio. And it’s pretty ironic to me to find out all this popcountry-bullshit on the site that also enriched my musical life with a lot of artists I would otherwise maybe never had heard about.
    There’s a lot of real people making real music, and real countrymusic is about the most real it can get. It’s alive, it’s not big, but it’s alive, and the main point is to keep it alive. SCM does its best (great quote from Gandhi!), and so do all the people who book the shows, people like me who like to draw their friends’ attention to the music they like, people who go the concerts, buy the cds and t-shirts, feed the artists (one member of Larry and his Flask told me that the best part of being on tour in Europe was how they had been treated by the concert-promotors).
    There’s nothing to expect from radio, but if you can use it, use it. Internet is more important. Good music will find it’s audience, and there’s a lot of great music being made.


  • “I don’t know if this tweet was meant for Saving Country Music or of it was just coincidental, but it raises a point that comes up often on a site named Saving Country Music, will country music ever be saved?”

    Um, no it doesn’t. The point it raises is whether it needs saving, which Isbell – rightly – seems to think it doesn’t. Not that hard to understand.


    • Hey look, it’s uber-douche Jon from the Engine 145 Comments section.

      With all the time you have to inject your all-knowing wisdom into internet message boards, when do you ever have time to practice your bass?


      • I really appreciate Jon’s wisdom and would love to learn from it. I have no doubt he has a stronger knowledge base of country music than I do. But many times his arrogance gets in the way, and I understand that can seem a little ironic coming from me. This article’s title has a question mark at the end of it. I try to never pass up an opportunity to lean, and if possible, to teach.


        • Well, I appreciate that, but nevertheless, the point of Isbell’s tweet – and of my comment – is that the title question is based on a dubious assumption, to wit, that country music (or any genre) needs saving or reclaiming. I realize that “here’s some cool country music that I like” isn’t as, ah, sexy a title for this blog as “saving country music,” but it would much more accurately label its most useful content – and putting it that way might reduce the less valuable stuff. Just sayin’…


  • In my eyes, saving country music would be the Opry’s understanding that country music is not what it used to be AND an attempt to revive tradition and make things right, again. I’m talking about songs being written about accurate and appropriate things dealing with a country lifestyle and adding traditional country instruments (Fiddles, Steel Guitars) back into the mix. All you have to do is listen to Ernest Tubb and compare it to Rascal Flatts and you will know that things have not been done correctly.

    But the real question is…

    If country music was fully revived to it’s traditional form, would any of us even want anything to do with it?

    I, myself am a musician that likes to write and sing traditional country music and I enjoy every minute of it. But would I enjoy it as much if the asshole on the other block suddenly wore Rhinestones and old Stetsons, as well? I’m not sure. It makes us each who we are and adds flavor in a world that we know has gone to dust. Enjoy the music as it is being shown and produced on this website and stay true to yourself. Country music is alive in our hearts and minds and some of us actually know what the real Country lifestyle is.


  • if you think things are bad in the USA spare a thought for folks in the uj all radio in the UK ever plays i Crystal chandeliers and blanket on the ground it drives true fans mad. Ooneof the best things for me when i got a computer was finding country radio from the USA. I’ve found stations tha play very trad country and Bluegrass and i love it. Check out Heart of Texas Records. who only deal with the real deal. the mucis is great .


  • Just found your site and I don’t think you have anything to worry about. Even though I am not as hard core on the country front as many of your readers – although I’ll take a Hank or Hank Junior record over a Keith Urban record any day – I respect what you are doing here. You are on the right path. If your passionate about what it is you are saying and true to yourself who really gives a shit what everyone else thinks.


    • Corey, you’ve got a good sound goin! Best wishes with your music.


  • Well the only music saving country, is Texas Country. Bart Crow Band, Whiskey Myers, Casey Donahew Band, Robert Earl Keen, JB and the Moonshine Band, The Damn Quails, Cody Johnson, Cross Canadian Ragweed (aka Cody Canada and the departed), Reckless Kelly, Turnpike Troubadours, Wade Bowen, Roger Creager, and so on…


  • While understand every genre has its branches, it bugs me when I turn on a country station and I hear a pop song that I dont like and start a station search the pop station comes up and theres the same song. If I wanted to listen to pop, I’d turn on a pop station (though I would rather jump off a bridge than do so). The country music today is rarely country. Many have made the comment that people distance themselves from the term country because they don’t want to be associated with the classic ideology of “my dog ran off the wife left lost my job im going to get drunk”. So, if thats not what you want, then move to the pop scene, don’t ruin it for the rest of us that do enjoy the true country music. These Coca-Cola Cowboys of today think just because they didnt live in the city growning up they are country. And it really irritates me that when an artist starts out, they have some really great country songs and build a following, then once they are known good luck getting them to do another. Growing up my dad always told there were 2 kinds of music, country… and western. Just my half cent (the ex-wife took the rest when she left lol).


    • sorry about the rant, this is all something I’ve wanted to say for a looong time. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that just because I poor a pepsi into a coke can, doesnt mean its a coke.


  • Its official . I just saw part of the CMAs on tv and yes , IT IS DEAD !!!!!!!!


  • i live in arizona. i embrace the western culture and what it means to be a cowboy. most around here are not into western culture and often make fun of me for it. in high school i fit in to a group of cowboys. but after that many of them changed to fit in. i dont fit in but i cant change who i am. being a cowboy makes me happy. when i listen to many artists they sounded so sincere about who they were. i thought they were like me but when i see what they look like they aint. it would be nice to be somewhere with others like me. but i think the western culture is being forgotten. it still lives in me though. and i cant change that. i see alot of people you might call rednecks wearing camo but not many cowboys except for alot of older men which tend to have the same views as me.


  • What an interesting and insightful article. You ought to link this right under the name of the site.


  • Very good article. I’m just all-around disgusted with this new soulless, empty, backroads & beer party country. Not only is it not fit to be called country music (in the traditional sense, which is what matters), it’s not even fit to be listened to. It is an awful assault on the ears by tattooed up dude-bro frat boys and I’m angry at them for soiling my radio with their tasteless music. Sorry to be harsh but this is a sensitive subject for me! Anyways I think that history will look back on these fools as just a forgettable (and REgrettable) 15 minute fad. Or at least I hope so. I mean after hearing the line “chew tobacco chew tobacco chew tobacco SPIT”, could it really get any worse?


  • Joe, Joe, Joe….you sound sooo low. I get you.

    Sometimes, I think I don’t really give a rat’s ass anymore. Then I see my peeps and we’re all being forced to listen to this tiddly wink nonsense together.

    I try to get onboard with everything you’ve mentioned….pretending it’s really inspirational and creative. It’s not.


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