In yet another sign that mainstream country is dramatically heading in a decidedly right-leaning direction in the aftermath of members of the media, academia, and the performer class attempting to cancel country artists and stifle speech, a massive multi-day traveling festival has just been announced that will undoubtedly have implications well beyond the music itself.
On Monday (11-13), organizers of the inaugural “Rock The Country” touring festival announced their initial lineup, as well as the seven towns that the festival will travel to in 2024. Kid Rock and Jason Aldean will headline all dates, with a cavalcade of other country and Southern rock stars participating in the festival as well. Miranda Lambert, Hank Williams Jr., and Lynyrd Skynyrd round out a list of some 20 additional names that will appear at select shows.
Rock The Country Fest is being produced by festival promoter Shane Quick of LiveCo who also promotes the annual Rock The South festival Cullman, Alabama. He’s joined by Nathan Baugh of 46 Entertainment on the promotion team.
Even in an otherwise favorable article on the festival, Billboard concedes, “It’s booking of one of former president Donald Trump’s biggest boosters, and its timing months before the election injects an unavoidable dose amount of political energy into the tour that will be impossible to ignore.”
In a nutshell, Rock The Country runs the very big risk of being a political rally with country music as the backdrop, and don’t be surprised if Donald Trump or other politicos appear at some of the dates personally. Kid Rock was just seen last weekend hanging out with Trump at a UFC event in New York. But it’s not just Kid Rock’s strong support of the former President that tips off what Rock The Country could be all about.
Jason Aldean has been a big Trump supporter as well, and hung out at Mar-a-Lago with Trump over New Year’s. Travis Tritt is one of the most right-leaning and politically active members of the country music community, continuously posting political stuff on social media. John Rich of Big & Rich at this point is known much more as a right wing political commentator than a country music performer.
Hank Williams Jr. is also a right-leaning country artist, previously commentating on Fox News. Bocephus released the very-politically charged anti-Obama album Old School New Rules in 2012. Randy Houser just released a new song called “Cancel” that unabashedly (and rather poorly) attempts to take on cancel culture, trying to piggy back off the recent enthusiasm behind Oliver Anthony. Other Rock The Country artists like Brantley Gilbert and Tyler Farr have let their right-leaning political affiliations be known in the past as well.
Any objective assessment of how this lineup was curated will come to the conclusion that political affiliation was a critical part of the decision making process. “It’s for the people who love America,” is the official slogan of Rock The Country.
Even if other performers on the lineup aren’t really looking to join the political fray, that very well might be the ultimate result for them. It’s already happening to Miranda Lambert, who is getting flack from both sides of the political divide just for participating. Though Lambert has never really signaled any significant political affiliation, she made quite a few fans on the left when she released her song “Y’all Means All” in 2022 in conjunction with the Queer Eye TV show. Lambert’s brother is gay, and was a part of the production.
This affiliation has some on the right attacking Lambert for being included on the lineup. But then when Lambert appeared at Jason Aldean’s Bridgestone Arena concert in October of 2022, numerous political types, performers, and activist journalists on the left were directly calling for her cancellation, including some who purport to be for supporting women in country music.
Speaking of attempted cancellations, this is something that rapper Nelly has been curiously immune from. While some in country music want to cancel Miranda Lambert simply for singing a duet with Jason Aldean, Nelly has been credibly accused of rape and sexual assault by three separate women. This seems to be decidedly opposite to the message of something like Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town.” Nonetheless, Nelly makes it onto the roster as one of the participants of the Rock The Country festival.
Country and rock performers can have whatever political affiliations they choose, and it’s the 1st Amendment in action for them to congregate to perform. But this traveling festival will undoubtedly stir culture war acrimony at a time when it will already be at its peak due to the impending Presidential election in the United States. That acrimony runs the risk of then spilling out into the greater country music community.
Expect when Rock The Country goes live next year, major national publications will report on it, focusing on Confederate flags and Trump T-shirts in the crowd, and talking about the cultural rot at the heart of country music while ignoring the counterbalance in independent country and Americana, and the unprecedented diversity the country genre currently boasts compared to its past.
But as has been proven over and over again—whether it’s Morgan Wallen’s ‘N’ word incident, or Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town,” or Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond”—the more X/Twitter types try to impugn these things, the more attention they draw to them, and the stronger they become. Straight up politicians and political pundits all of a sudden have decided they’re country fans and have joined the effort to support songs and artists that others are attempting to cast as verboten.
It’s also hard to not tie this development back by the headlong and ongoing effort by academia to activate country music as an agent for social change. Since the cancellation of the [Dixie] Chicks in 2003, country artists were strongly compelled to keep their politics to themselves by publicists and label heads, regardless of what their ideologies were. Jason Aldean personally refused to speak on politics when Rolling Stone attempted to coax it out of him just a few years ago.
As Saving Country Music has been saying since 2016, the plan to use country music to switch the rural electorate from red to blue was not only guaranteed to be ineffective, it ran the risk of dramatically backfiring and being counter-productive. The idea that country artists would come out and advocate for left-leaning causes simply because think pieces in elitist publications behind paywalls were compelling them to do so was always hubris.
If country performers did start to speak politically once again, it would be in the polar opposite direction as these intellectual pundits desired. That is now what we’re seeing unfold in many sectors of the country mainstream.
This whole cycle of culture war back and forths in country music started when major media publications like The Washington Post, and performers like Maren Morris started an open war with Jason Aldean’s wife Brittany Aldean on social media for sharing her right-leaning beliefs. You knew at that time that Jason Aldean was not going to sit idly by as his wife was continuously attacked and impugned. Now Jason Aldean is leading the charge of country artists speaking out politically.
Meanwhile, you have otherwise self-respecting traditional country fans who would never even consider going to a festival with Colt Ford, Nelly, and Brantley Gilbert on the lineup lining up for tickets to Rock The Country just to “stick it to cancel culture.”
If this festival really wanted to make a difference in the country, instead of focusing on divisive politics and individuals, it could draw attention to the issue of food deserts throughout the Deep South, the lack of hospitals in America’s rural areas, the fentanyl epidemic, and other universal issues affecting “flyover country.”
Unfortunately though, this is unlikely to happen as country music gets drawn even deeper into the culture war by both sides, making the music more polarizing, dividing the community, and divesting one of music’s greatest attributes: bringing people together.
Rock The Country Dates:
- Gonzalez, La. – April 5 & 6 at Lamar-Dixon Expo Center
- Ashland, Ky. – April 19 & 20 at Boyd County Fairgrounds
- Rome, Ga. – May 10 & 11 at Kingston Downs
- Ocala, Fla – June 7 & 8 at Majestic Oaks Ocala
- Mobile, Ala. – June 21 & 22 at The Grounds
- Poplar Bluff, M. – June 28 & 29 at Brick’s Offroad Parks
- Anderson, S.C. – July 26 & 27 at Anderson Sports and Entertainment Center