For the better part of February, Saving Country Music has been following the saga of a concert review published by Baltimore’s alternative newsweekly called the Baltimore City Paper that painted a pretty unfavorable picture of pop country star Jason Aldean. The review in question was written by music reporter Travis Kitchens after attending the Aldean concert at the Baltimore Arena on February 1st. According to Kitchens, he attended the concert with an open mind, wondering if he would “make my traditional folkie friends go crazy” if he actually enjoyed the show. But Travis did not enjoy it, to say the least.
The subsequent posting of the review on February 4th by the Baltimore City Paper has caused a ripple that has shaken the environment of the Baltimore journalism community to its very core, upset huge, nationwide sponsorship companies, and resulted in the censoring of the Kitchens review and potentially subsequent postings by the paper against the will of Kitchens and the paper’s editorial staff. Since then, Baltimore City Paper has been in massive upheaval, with eight employees being laid off, and the rest of the staff being locked out of the paper’s online interface.
The Jason Aldean review was taken down a week after being posted due to pressure from two big advertisers who said they would never advertise in City Paper again if the piece wasn’t pulled. After two days of resisting pressure from upper management and threats against his job, City Paper editor-in-chief Evan Serpick took the review down according to Baltimore Brew. “I’m not proud of it,” says Serpick. “[They said] the review was ‘not objective,’ which was ridiculous, since it was a review. It was opinion, obviously.”
The two sponsors that threatened City Paper were reportedly LiveNationDC who promoted the Jason Aldean concert, and Baltimore-based Under Armour, whose Duck Commander product line is endorsed and promoted by Jason Aldean.
The issue of the Jason Aldean review came up right as Baltimore City Paper was being sold by its parent company, Times-Shamrock Communications, to Baltimore’s daily newspaper, The Baltimore Sun. Apparently Times-Shamrock was told to clean house at City Paper, and eight employees, including a 30-year and 25-year veteran of the publication, were laid off late this week. Other City Paper content has also been censored, and according to numerous sources, the remaining employees of the paper have been locked out of the news blogs, and are being told to forfeit control of the paper’s social network properties.
In the spirit of free speech, and by the request and permission of Travis Kitchens, here is Travis Kitchen’s original review of Jason Aldean’s Baltimore concert of February 1st.
A review of Jason Aldean’s 1/1/14 concert at Baltimore Arena
By Travis Kitchens
Baltimore Arena smelled like the inside of a Spearmint Rhino Saturday night. Reams of rednecks streamed in from every direction across Baltimore Street and it took a half hour to get through the line and inside to will call. They all came to see Jason Aldean. You might not recognize his name, but that’s okay, because you probably wouldn’t recognize his music either, or at least not be able to distinguish it from anything else on country radio.
I grabbed an $11.50 beer, passing booths selling shirts and koozies reading “I’m About To Get My Pissed-Off On,” and lots of Fireball Whisky schwag. Drinking Fireball gives you a slight cinnamon burn in the throat, then travels to the stomach, and, judging from the men’s bathrooms, immediately evacuates the bowels and gut. The puke smell along with loud shitty music and fog machines reminded me of traveling from Kentucky to Florida for Spring Break in high school, and that makes me part of Aldean’s target market.
Tyler Farr, the opening act, looks like Joey Fatone from N’Sync, and he’s only slightly less talented. Farr shuffled around the stage Saturday night with a prop guitar hanging from his neck like a No Limit chain, announcing the chart position of every song before playing it. “Ain’t’ Even Drinkin’” is the I-hope-this-night-never-ends prom song, a teen smash spell hand-crafted in a Nashville laboratory. “Ain’t even drinking but I’m buzzing baby/ain’t even smoking but I’m so stoned/feels like I’m getting lit/ain’t even took a sip/but I’m already gone.”
The crowd was infected, and showed their enthusiasm by gently poking the sky in a circular motion with I-don’t-give-a-fuck faces on. “Whiskey in My Water,” a shitkicker twist on “Me and My Girlfriend,” starts by ripping off the melody of Shooter Jennings’ “Fourth of July.” The artificiality and repetitiveness of his songs may have contributed to the vomit smell, and I felt like I was being subjected to military torture.
Whatever trivial contribution white people may have previously made to rap music has now been permanently nullified by pop country rap duo Florida Georgia Line. The Line was created from the leftover scraps of the Showbiz Pizza band, and they have an impressive number of programs, or songs. Beach balls were dispatched to the audience for “Party People,” and generic video footage playing on four jumbotron monitors above the band illustrated each song: dirt bike races and buggy mudding, video models molesting muscle cars, and giant all-white stadium crowds waving cell phones and American flags. “Gonna get buckwild/get a little buzz on/David Lee Roth style/might as well jump, jump.”
Each song is basically an advertisement performed live for the audience, the most blatant example being “Cruise.” Footage of new Chevy trucks play on the jumbotrons while they sing: “You make me wanna roll my windows down and cruise/down a back road blowin’ stop signs through the middle/every little farm town with you/in this brand new Chevy with a lift kit/would look a hell of a lot better with you up in it.”
Advertising and country music is not a new relationship (Hank Williams shilled for Mother’s Best Flour, etc), but the way it has seeped into the songs and motivations of the artists has reached new and vulgar heights. They mentioned sponsor Fireball Whisky in the song lyrics and several times in between, and said to the roughly 14,000 people in attendance, “You guys truly are life changing.” Considering their latest album has already sold over 1.5 million copies, I would imagine that’s true.
Finally it was time for the headliner, Jason Aldean, whose show was a lot like watching a two hour beer commercial, and I don’t think his fans are unaware of that. You don’t listen to and enjoy Aldean’s music, you take it. It’s a mindless dopamine rush as precise in it’s effects as methamphetamine, and the not-so-subliminal marketing strategy deployed on the audience is as sophisticated as that of a presidential campaign. He struts around the stage with his prop guitar like a rockstar android wiggling his ass in a manner so contrived it makes Madonna look like Miles Davis in comparison. Aldean uses the “Margaritaville” market approach, tailored for the Buckwild generation. His empire is sponsored by Under Armour and Southern Comfort and there’s talk of a new redneck themed restaurant venture called Fly Over Steaks, where patrons are served and sweared at by waiters dressed as the cast of the television show Duck Dynasty (fingers crossed for an Inner Harbor location).
Aldean’s band looks like action figures from Spencers, and play like the American Idol house band. There were occasional flourishes of pedal-steel guitar, along with non-stop ear-splitting bass, a horrifyingly awful attempt at rapping, and brash guitar solos in every song. During “Dirt Road Anthem,” the adults in the crowd air scratched while half-staggering like they’d just had a stroke (imagine your grandma as an extra in the “Nothin’ But A G Thang” video). Aldean also rekindled his ongoing beef with Justin Bieber, this time taking shots at Biebs over who is more influential with hair styles. It was a chilling moment, and it was clear that this crowd did not like Justin Bieber one bit.
But the highlight of the night was Aldean singing a duet with a hologram of Kelly Clarkson. I didn’t know she was a hologram at the time, but I’m now wondering if Aldean was even there, and hoping he wasn’t.