Why Underground Country Music Is Dying (A Treatise)
On Saturday November 17th, two of the most important acts in underground country played what very well could be their final shows. Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, a band that was there at the very beginning of underground country and the revitalization of the lower Broadway in Nashville announced they are calling it quits after 16 years, at least for now, playing their final show at Nashville’s Mercy Lounge. Meanwhile in Covington, Kentucky, Unknown Hinson, one of underground country’s greatest ambassadors from his work on Cartoon Network’s Squidbillies, played his final show as a touring act after 17 years, saying he was done, “Period.”
Both these acts had their specific reasons for calling it quits, and certainly the door is open for them to return. And for JD Wilkes, the long-time front man of The Shack Shakers, he still has his Dirt Daubers routine which has apparently retooled to a more electric sound. But you add these huge, high-profile, highly-important artists leaving on top of bands like .357 String Band dissolving, Sunday Valley re-aligning, and Leroy Virgil losing all his original players in Hellbound Glory, and all of a sudden underground country feels like it’s fighting a war of attrition, and losing.
I have been struggling to write this article for almost two years, but have been putting it off because there’s some hard things to say, and I didn’t want to “talk down” a movement that was already trying to deal with pretty alarming trends. But I think that especially now, zooming out and trying to be honest and critical in a constructive way is important, because there is positively no doubt that underground country is dying, and has been for years.
Why? Here are some ideas.
An aging fan base and aging artists
There are exceptions of course, but if you look at who comprises the underground country movement, it is predominantly people in their 30’s, and people from lower incomes. And what do people do in their 30’s? They settle down, they get married and have kids, they get better and more stable jobs, they buy houses. This gives them less time to spend partying, hanging out on the internet talking about music, going to shows on weeknights. In your 30’s, instead of being able to hit every underground country show rolling through town, you have to pick that one show a month you want to attend and pay a babysitter.
The same goes for the artists making underground country music. As they age, their motivations to keep working at music that doesn’t seem to want to stick commercially begin to fade. Health concerns begin to become an issue, and not being able to afford health insurance is a real concern. This was one of the primary issues facing the Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers. Yearning for more stability is a recurring theme in the attrition underground country is facing in its talent roster, from banjo player Joe Huber of the .357 String Band, to drummer Chico from Hellbound Glory.
Something else worth noting is the large sect of sober people who make up underground country, in both the artist and fan ranks. Over time, some people must move away from the music and party scenes to find their sobriety, and others may just not identify any more with music that tends to have foundations in a party lifestyle.
Meanwhile the infusion of youth into underground country is anemic. There are some exceptions. The Boomswagglers from Texas and The Slaughter Daughters are promising, young bands, and artists like Lucky Tubb and Wayne Hancock have been integrating side musicians into the scene for some time. But they rarely stick, partly because of a general lack of support. Any younger musician if they’re smart doesn’t attempt to start their rise in underground country, which seems to be trending down and never had much long-term infrastructure to begin with. They look towards Americana, or the Texas/Red Dirt scene, or bluegrass, where the support is much easier to count on.
A Lack of Leadership
Since the beginning of underground country, if you looked at the top of the pyramid you saw Hank Williams III, and that is still the case in regards to records sales and concert tickets sold in any given year. But in 2008, Hank3 took over a year off from the road, and shortly after he started touring again, he stopped carrying opening bands. Then he put out a succession of albums of questionable quality, and all of a sudden a career on the rise has been stagnant for going on 5 years, and same goes for the the scene that revolves around it.
It was not Saving Country Music or Free Hank III, or even MySpace that comprised the first information portal about underground country. It was Hank3’s “Cussin’ Board” forum. And people didn’t go there just for Hank3 news, but news about all the underground country bands, with artists like JB Beverley and Rachel Brooke participating in the discussions regularly. These days, the “Cussin’ Board” feels like a ghost town compared to its vibrant past.
Shooter Jennings has stepped up in the last two years to attempt to fill the leadership vacuum left by Hank3, and has done some positive things and had some marginal success. But his polarization has kept him from completing the task of becoming a solid leader everyone can look up to. Similarly, where Hank3 was once the most unifying factor in underground country, his obvious step back from the “scene” has now made him a polarizing figure as well, questionably capable of taking back the reigns of underground country even if he was motivated to, and which he’s shown positively no signs of wanting to do. I can’t blame Hank3 for wanting to take a step back, because there were so many people wanting to take from him, believing his name was their stepping stone to success.
Leadership must come from the artists, and it must come from the music first, and that is Shooter Jennings’ inherent problem. This was illustrated when he cut the “Drinking Side of Country” duet with Bucky Covington, or on his industrial rock album Black Ribbons. Whether you like these Shooter projects or not, they illustrate his lack of consistency that has lead to his ineptness as a leader of underground country, and his acute polarization that reaches as far as Eric Church fans, and fans of his father. Hank3 never professed himself a leader. He led by example, and used causes like Reinstate Hank to lead the charge of taking country music back.
The Scene Has Replaced The Movement
One of the reasons an underground of country music was founded was from a wide ranging dissent about the direction of country music. This dissent is where the varying range of musical styles united, taking the country punk of Hank3, the neo-traditional approach of Wayne Hancock, the Texas/Outlaw country of Dale Watson, the bluegrass of the .357 String Band, the blues of Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, and the Gothic country of Those Poor Bastards and piling them all together in the overall underground country movement. It was united by issues, like the reinstatement of Hank Williams to the Grand Ole Opry, the opening and extension of the Williams Family Exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame, the fight for creative freedom of artists from record labels, and the fight against the infiltration of pop on country radio.
Now these issues that defined, united, and energized the country music underground are seen as tired, if not counter-productive or annoying to many in the underground population. When issues arose with the sale of the Grand Ole Opry to Marriott International, or the changing of Billboard’s chart rules, the underground met them with apathy, if not anger at them being offered up as relevant to their music world. Issues are what made outreach possible for underground country, and now exclusivity seems to be what is yearned for by the majority of underground country fans. The “we have our music, screw the masses” attitude is what prevails, taking away one of the primary promotional tools for independent-minded underground ideals to reach out to other country music fans who also might be feeling disenfranchised with the mainstream.
Scenes and Cliques
Image and exclusivity seem to be the important dynamics in today’s country music underground, dragging on the commercial viability of the music, and making it hard for outsiders to integrate with the underground country culture. Though some on the outside looking in may enjoy the music, they may not understand the verbiage, anecdotes, and style that seem to be important with “fitting in” to the underground. So as long-time underground country fans taper off because of age, no new blood is there to take their place.
Facebook has also narrowed the perspectives of underground country fans, making them feel like how you present yourself is more important than what you do. An unhealthy culture of cloistered, inbred cross-promotion prevails through underground country, where small cliques of fans and bands have formed around labels, blogs, and podcasts, catering content to a select few.
These cliques promote each other within the clique, and at times may branch out farther to the “scene,” but rarely reach new blood because they are based on narrow perspectives and anecdotal experiences. It’s an “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine” culture where quality and creativity are lightly regarded compared to political importance in the scene. And if you don’t participate in this culture of narrow, ineffective promotion of the other people in the scene or clique, you risk being ostracized. Intention is measured over effectiveness. These cliques and their differences have also given rise to eternal conflict, with the bigger overall “Shooter fans vs. Hank3 fans” splitting underground country squarely in half.
Saving Country Music, and I specifically have at times enhanced or enabled unnecessary “scene” drama, and this has potentially affected the fate of underground country adversely.
There are lot’s of entities in underground country and roots who attempt to promote music that seem to get lost in promoting their branding and merch first, and the music second. There are many general reasons underground country is dying, but the specific one is lack of money. Underground country is funded by the $40 hoodie, and this creates a paradox for the music that is supposed to be the focus.
Though there is lots of talk about shared responsibility for keeping underground music alive, and there’s many folks who re-post bulletins on Facebook, take pictures and videos of shows, run podcasts, or boutique “labels” attempting to make a difference in the music, the effect is confined to cliques and micro-scenes, and is more catered to serving the few and propagating image and branding.
For example the Pickathon Festival in Portland that caters to a wide variety of independent roots movements, including underground country, boasts over 300 volunteers annually. The Muddy Roots Festival, which almost exclusively caters to underground country and roots had roughly a dozen volunteers this last year, with multiple people who signed up to volunteer to get discounted or free tickets either not working their shifts, walking off their shifts, or generally being unhelpful. Pickathon’s issues with people sneaking onto the site are marginal. Muddy Roots’ issues of people sneaking on site without paying are major. The most helpful volunteers at the 2012 Muddy Roots were a representative from a hair gel sponsor, and the Voodoo Kings Car Club who have very few ties to the music.
There seems to be little understanding that if bands, labels, and festivals are going to continue to exist, there must be a shared sacrifice from the fans. And not just symbolic sacrifice, but substantive efforts to offer real support to the entities making the music happen. Without any corporate funding, that’s how an underground music movement works.
A Lack of Creativity
Underground country was founded on creativity. The creativity found on albums such as Hank3’s Straight to Hell, Wayne Hancock’s Thunderstorms & Neon Signs, Dale Watson’s Live in London, and Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers’ Cockadoodledon’t is what caused a country music underground to form in the first place. In the mid 2000’s, you could confidently say that the creativity in underground country outlasted that of the mainstream per capita. These days underground country is mired in trying to recapture that creativity, in a practice that lends to the aping of styles and the rehashing of themes. Capturing a “punk gone country,” “honky tonk Outlaw”, or “old-time” aesthetic seems more important than carving out a new creative niche like the originators of underground country did.
Meanwhile any true creativity existing in underground country quickly evolves beyond it to greener pastures in Texas country or Americana, like Justin Townes Earle did. The lack of infrastructure, the presence of scenesters, and the general disorganization of the underground dissuades talented artist from associating themselves with it. Americana, Red Dirt, Texas, and West Coast circuits offer much more hospitable and palatable scenes, while underground country generally discourages cross-pollination with these kindred, independent-minded movements, misunderstanding them as either mainstream, or too high-minded for the music they like.
A step removed from the influence of the scene, Europe continues to thrive and grow their support for underground country. There seems to be more general thankfulness that underground country music exists in Europe, and a stronger focus on the music itself instead of the scene that surrounds it. There’s more support, more of a volunteering attitude, and more of a willingness to help make the music happen by the fans. Europe continues to be the most commercially-viable place for many underground country bands to tour and sell albums, and that support is continuing to grow.
A Few Breakout Bands
Bands like Larry & His Flask, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, and The Goddamn Gallows have found some decent success over the past few years playing on some bigger tours like The Warped Tour and opening for The Reverend Horton Heat. Bob Wayne has found traction in Europe and domestically being singed with label Century Media. Justin Townes Earle is now a big concert draw, and Scott Biram is getting his music played on television shows.
But many of these artists are moving on from the traditional underground country infrastructure to find their success, and others like Leroy Virgil and Sturgill Simpson still seem to be one step behind where their creative potential should be taking them commercially.
Festival & Touring Infrastructure
This is something underground country was lacking for years, and now has a healthy dose of. Unfortunately rising gas prices and dwindling crowds sometimes means it’s too little too late for some bands. The reason Unknown Hinson says he quit touring was because it was costing him too much money.
There are more festivals in all shapes and sizes catering to underground country and roots than ever before. But again, with a dwindling fan base, these different festivals are competing with each other for the same anemic and contracting population.
The Deep Blues
The Deep Blues seems to be on a more sustainable path, and also seems to be able to divest itself from the drama that is confounding underground country. However since it shares much of the same infrastructure as underground country, the issues in underground country can bleed over to the deep blues as well. There is better sustainability in Deep Blues, but the growth is still marginal. In many ways, the Deep Blues is the only thing keeping underground country alive, and that could hinder Deep Blues from moving forward as it drags underground country along.
What Can Be Done To Save Underground Country
To save underground country there must be a renewed interest in finding and developing younger bands, attracting younger fans, and focusing on talent and creativity over forming exclusive scenes. “Young” should not be mistaken for the same connotations it carries in mainstream country. Talent and creativity should still remain key, as well as trying to reach the folks that “get it.” But if underground country wants to continue to remain a viable part of the overall country music landscape, it must recruit new bands and new listeners to replace the natural contraction within its population.
Underground country must quit being so reactionary about the outside world. It must diversify. It must find common ground, common struggle, and common tastes with Americana, Red Dirt, and Texas music, and promote its best and brightest talent to those worlds and then reciprocate. It must stick to its founding principles of preserving the roots of the music and fighting for creative control for artists, and seize on the opportunities current events create to promote those principles to the rest of the music world, promoting the music of underground country by proxy.
It needs leadership, big bands, breakout albums and songs that breathe new fervor into the movement. It needs and end to the “I got mine” mentality.
And it needs it now, before it ends up like Communism: a great idea whose devil is in the application.
November 27, 2012 @ 12:27 pm
Never stop doing what you’re doing. Great article. Glad I got to see UH this year for the first and last time.
November 27, 2012 @ 12:45 pm
I think a lot of the issues of less people at shows has to do with the economy. People have lost jobs and the rising cost of everyday goods have hampered them being able to attend shows and buy merch. I for one have cut back going to shows due to the rising cost of every day living. I honestly think if the economy would come back around then we would see bigger crowds and more money being spent.
November 27, 2012 @ 2:00 pm
I agree, the economy is certainly an issue, and may effect underground disproportionately because most of the fans are from lower incomes. Gas prices specifically are dragging down fans being able to travel and artists being able to tour.
But at the same time, sales in the mainstream, Americana, Texas country, and music in general across the board have been up the last two years, album sales and concert tickets. So it can’t be the only factor. Entertainment traditionally is one of the most recession-proof industries.
November 27, 2012 @ 12:47 pm
I will try to carry the torch til I die. Not popular, not trendy, not cliquie, bot loyal and dedicated to the cause.
November 27, 2012 @ 12:47 pm
GOOD FUCKIN’ MORNING! If u want a reaction….. Gimme bout another month and “Alligator Radio” will be something if not nothing…me n the boys been cranking like a mother in the lab, but I reckon the proof’s in the puddin.. like trucker’s dream…CANT SLEEP ON THIS SHIT! “Alligator Radio-GatorNate&Gladezmen” OUT BEFORE THE WORLD ENDS!! our cause is 🙂
November 27, 2012 @ 12:59 pm
I see some new bands popping up out of Florida recently which has a healthy scene with Viva La Vox, Lonewolf OMB, Swamp Rats, Everymen and Los Bastardos Magnificos. Florida and specifically south Florida seems to be a hotbed for underground country.
November 27, 2012 @ 3:09 pm
The Bloody Jug Band from Florida put out what I believe to best one of the most creative albums all year, “Coffin Up Blood”
November 27, 2012 @ 1:09 pm
The big movement was in the early 2000’s when Big and Rich, Gretchen Wilson, James Otto, Shannon Lawson, Cowboy Troy, Jon Nichols, and others went to a bar and partied and sang songs and there was a painter all known as the Muzik Mafia.
They partied weekly every night on Tuesdays and people came in, and soon it grew and grew.
Big and Rich, followed by Gretchen Wilson, then Cowboy Troy all came out with cd’s and hits.
James otto didn’t hit it big until 2008, but his first cd is awesome.
Then Hank Jr joined up with them, and a new “outlaw” movement came out.
Don’t blame them, they did some good with some renewed light on waylon, willie, merle, johnny cash and others. If it wasn’t for them, I would not have found their music.
The Time Jumpers(I believe) are a great band, and Vince Gill joins and plays with them.
Dry County Drinkers
November 27, 2012 @ 1:11 pm
You final paragraph sums it up. We, being on the West Coast and in the Sacramento Valley where top 40 country cover bands are 20 – 1 to original country (not to mention even less to “underground” country bands) it is difficult but creative marketing has opened a lot of doors for us, especially on the outskirts of town. We also research to find the hot pockets where “the sound” and “the scene” collide. It may be off the beaten path but more times than not, the rewards are great. Its a lot of work and perseverance but that is what “underground” is all about!! Great article Triggerman, and as the saying goes everything comes back around and in this day and age, things are turning around faster than ever.
JonEmery / Dry County Drinkers
TX Music Jim
November 27, 2012 @ 1:18 pm
I think the economy plays a huge role. However, I agree with your point that if Texas/Red dirt, Americana and underground country would find common ground and cross promote it could benefit everybody. It can happen Dale Watson it seems is one example of someone embraced by all “scenes”. I would bet someone like Ray Wylie Hubbard would be accepted as much at Muddy Roots Festival as he already is at the big Texas/ Red Dirt festivals.
November 27, 2012 @ 1:19 pm
Apparently, y’all haven’t met The Beaumonts yet. Underground as it gets. Not to mention Austin’s favorite young sons, Mike and the Moonpies. Underground country ain’t dyin’…people just ain’t lookin’ hard enough to find the good shit.
November 27, 2012 @ 3:14 pm
…or is there so much shit out there vying for our attention that we can’t find it?
Thanks for the suggestions.
November 27, 2012 @ 1:46 pm
Being from the midwest….I am into the “red dirt” scene. I dont see it dying. But than again, it seems the red dirt scene seems to be more about getting back to the roots of country music more so than most of the artist mentioned here.
November 27, 2012 @ 2:03 pm
I agree. I think Red Dirt is still pretty strong, and underground country should try and learn from it how to be independent, but create more strength and better infrastructure for its artists.
November 27, 2012 @ 1:52 pm
I don’t like this article. Mostly because I think you are right, Triggerman. I hope things turn around. One name that comes to mind is Andy Gibson. A few years a ago it seemed like his name was on everything I bought. Whether he recorded it or was playing an instrument, he seemed to be all over the map in the underground country scene. Now I haven’t bought too much in the last couple of years because I am pretty broke and have more important expenses so I’m not too sure of what he is up to, but I think if I was a younger band I would want to seek him out for any advice he would be willing to give.
November 27, 2012 @ 2:27 pm
Andy Gibson is a great guy, and one of the most important figures in underground country. That’s why he was one of the very first people I saw out to interview when I started this site. He recorded Bob Wayne’s last album, and recorded and produced a good album for Sarah Gayle Meech. He’s still around for sure, and you’re right, he would be a good guy to help guide underground country on a more positive course. He done everything he can behind the scenes to help bring people the music. If there’s ever an underground country Hall of Fame, he would have my vote for being one of the very first inductees.
November 27, 2012 @ 2:00 pm
A very well written article. This is why I visit your site.
Chris Lewis "Louie"
November 27, 2012 @ 2:01 pm
I can’t say with enough words how excellent this article is. You hit the nail on the head on so many reasons “underground” country seems to be failing. I am one of those mid 30’s fans who came into the “underground” scene later than I wish I did. I also am growing up/settling down and due to the economy must pick and choose those concerts to go too since money in my pocket seems to be dwindling for the music I love. I too find myself “tired” of preaching the anti-country or my music is better than what’s on the radio/tv to others who don’t know about it. I feel that I’ve been preaching about it for so long that if nothing is changing why fight the fight.
Here are some of the issues I’ve noticed over the last few years:
1. It doesn’t seem that artists/bands want to promote themselves anymore. You don’t see bands out there putting up posters/flyers instead they still expect bars/venues to pay them when noone shows up. So the venues begin to shift to dj’s and karaoke.
2. You no longer hear of bands promoting each other instead they all fight for the same piece of pie. This is where Red Dirt/Texas country has always been excellent at. They each promote each other by doing collaborations, including cameos in videos, wearing each other’s tshirts during shows, mentioning others in magazine articles, etc.
3. There are too many feuds within the genre. III vs. Shooter, Trig vs. Shooter/Adam Sheets, Isbell vs. Dierks, etc. No one likes to hear drama. It’s like those friends who constantly whine or fight everytime you go out so what do you do? You end up cutting them out of your life.
4. Closemindness within the genre. There are those within mainstream music who still bear the “underground” country sound or mentality which could bring more attention to the “underground” scene. But when those mainstream artists show that side of them, they are still ostracized by those in the underground movement for not being traditional enough or they are considered posers or fake…ie Johnson, Dierks, Hayes, Miranda, Pickler. Those in the underground should praise those rather than tear them down even though they may not 100% approve. This is how new fans come aboard the underground train, resulting in more money in other underground artists pockets.
Here are some of the positive things I’ve noticed:
1. Movie and TV shows who have alot of viewers are now introducing new music…ie Sons of Anarchy, Squidbillies, Lawless, Hunger Games, Nashville
2. More music festivals are popping up catering to those in the underground. Also major music festivals are introducing more roots based bands…ie Avett Brothers, Mumford and Sons, and Larry and his Flask.
3. Americana branding is increasing but still needs improvement.
4. Even though CMT and mainstream country is leaning more pop and rock based. It appears that MTV and rock music is leaning more roots or folk based. This is where I think underground country could excel if their music is brought to those in that arena.
5. Anti-music row or Anti-mainstream radio has been noticed and has been brought to the forefront. You are hearing alot more of this especially in all of the anti-Swift or Swift vs. Carrie articles from mainstream music fans. You are also hearing about more artists cutting albums in the traditional way without pro tools and other voice altering software.
November 27, 2012 @ 2:58 pm
Completely agree when it comes to artist not doing enough to promote themselves. I can’t tell you how frustrated I have been, especially over the last few weeks as I have tried to post articles promoting good music (like so many folks clamor for) and because the artist either doesn’t care, doesn’t have the right information, or can’t even put out 5 minutes of effort to make it happen, I can’t or won’t post them.
I think some artists identify with being downtrodden or somehow think that cool, or that’s it’s not cool to promote themselves. It is harder to find concert dates for underground artists than it was 5 years ago, yet they’ll complain when nobody comes to their shows. There’s a right way and a wrong way to plan and promote a tour, and release an album. And more times than not, underground country artists take the wrong way.
On another subject, as I have said many times before, it would be nothing but beneficial to this website to get behind Jamey Johnson. But I can’t lie about how I feel about his music. At the same time, I am not opposed to it. I don’t think it’s wrong or that he’s pop country’s puppet. I just think it’s boring. And I’m not alone. I think what a lot of people miss is the idea of respect and drawing distinctions.
Good thoughts Chris.
November 27, 2012 @ 11:44 pm
I feel you on the Jamie Johnson deal. I have listened to his stuf and every once in awhile he has some zingers,…. some great lines but his stuff is just a little slow. i do get a sense of integrity from his songs, like he wrote them cuz he owns the experience that they originated from. I respect his material enough to listen , just dont like it enough to want to buy and own.
November 29, 2012 @ 9:56 am
a lot of good points here, I’d like to address some of them, and offer a point of view from someone who’s been working and touring in the underground country/roots scene for well over a decade.
“1. It doesn”™t seem that artists/bands want to promote themselves anymore. You don”™t see bands out there putting up posters/flyers instead they still expect bars/venues to pay them when noone shows up. So the venues begin to shift to dj”™s and karaoke.”
At a local level this is true, you have bands who think that promoting a show, just means throwing up a facebook event and thinking that is gonna pack a room.
The Flipside of that, is that as a touring artist, there’s only so much we can do to promote in a town we don’t live in. We mail posters to the promoter, venue, and any fan/supportive business in that town, and we internet promote. But for touring bands, the weight of the promotion responsibility is the promoters. Lets face it, most “promoters” are just folks who book shows. They don’t promote worth 2 squirts of piss. They steal some photo of the band, make a digital flyer, and put it up on facebook and some other sites. They rarely actually promote the show. they’re not out putting up flyers, or handing out handbills at other shows. they don’t contact local media or even get in show listings. They’re lazy. There are exceptions, I know a few promoters who work their butts off. The worst is when the club books you and doesn’t promote. Then they bitch at you because you don’t have a crowd. How in the fuck is my band supposed to pull a crowd in a town 1,000 miles from where we live, if Nobody even knows we’re playing. it’s annoying.
I booked and promoted shows for a few years. Here’s some tips.
1) Don’t over commit yourself on a show financially. Offer what you can, if they take it, cool.
2) PROMOTE THE SHIT OUT OF THE SHOW> Posters, handbills, social media, contact the local free weekly, and independent radio stations.
3) Put a local band on the bill who a) is somewhat musically relevant, and b) will also PROMOTE the show. The reason a local band takes an opening slot, is so they, in theory will garner some fans from the touring band. But if you PROMOTE, you might get some bodies in the room and make them fans of yours whether they like the headliner or not.
4) Be fucking organized. At the end of the night, have everything on paper. How many people paid, how many guests there were, total expenses paid out (sound, door, recouped promotion costs). My biggest pet peeve is when I go to settle up, and ask the promoter “what was the count” and they say “i don’t know, here’s some money though”.
“2. You no longer hear of bands promoting each other instead they all fight for the same piece of pie. This is where Red Dirt/Texas country has always been excellent at. They each promote each other by doing collaborations, including cameos in videos, wearing each other”™s tshirts during shows, mentioning others in magazine articles, etc.”
With a few exceptions, I don’t think this is really accurate. Most of the bands I know, do a pretty good job of helping each other out. The Farm bands really excel at this. Every band in our ‘scene’ should help ‘street team’ for their peers.
“3. There are too many feuds within the genre. III vs. Shooter, Trig vs. Shooter/Adam Sheets, Isbell vs. Dierks, etc. No one likes to hear drama. It”™s like those friends who constantly whine or fight everytime you go out so what do you do? You end up cutting them out of your life.”
I don’t give two shits about shooter vs. anybody else or any of that crap. The feuds that tear the scene down are the ones between lower level bands with tightly knit fanbases. Band A talks shit on Band B, Band B talks shit back, a bunch of drama ensues, and every body gets so wrapped up in it, that the don’t even notice that bands C,D,E,F, and G have come through town, and dont’ care about band A or Band B.
4. Closemindness within the genre. There are those within mainstream music who still bear the “underground” country sound or mentality which could bring more attention to the “underground” scene. But when those mainstream artists show that side of them, they are still ostracized by those in the underground movement for not being traditional enough or they are considered posers or fake”¦ie Johnson, Dierks, Hayes, Miranda, Pickler. Those in the underground should praise those rather than tear them down even though they may not 100% approve. This is how new fans come aboard the underground train, resulting in more money in other underground artists pockets.
AMEN! but it’s a symptom of the scene. Any scene really. You get the newcomers who are so eager to impress, that they immediately become the most die hard fan of that particular sub genre. Meanwhile, the people who’ve been around for years, just laugh at them and listen to whatever the hell they feel like. I like Brad Paisley. He’s a hell of a picker, writes some good songs occasionally, and I believe has a true love for real country music. He also treats his band and crew really well. I like some of Miranda Lamberts’ stuff. She’s got a great country voice, and I think as she matures as an artist and gets more clout, she stands a chance of being a real asset to country music. On the other hand, I’ll never share Trigs’ appreciation for Tay-Tay. oh well, apples and oranges. Asking people to not be closed minded is like asking water not to be wet. Luckily, most of the real fans will grow out of it. those that don’t generally move along to the next trend.
have a nice day.
Chris Lewis "Louie"
November 29, 2012 @ 10:33 am
Geoff I like and agree with all your points here. Thanks for the input.
November 29, 2012 @ 11:34 am
Geoff, I agree with much of what you have written. However, one thing is disagree with is this: “There are those within mainstream music who still bear the “underground” country sound or mentality which could bring more attention to the “underground” scene. But when those mainstream artists show that side of them, they are still ostracized by those in the underground movement for not being traditional enough or they are considered posers or fake”¦ie Johnson, Dierks, Hayes, Miranda, Pickler.”
My buddy is a partner in a local brewery. All the local breweries work together and have tastings, etc. When I go to a tasting of local beers, I don”™t say “You guys are making some really great beer, but you know that Budweiser and Miller are too.” What I usually say is “Thank God you guys are making real beer and I don”™t have to drink that bland monkey piss anymore.” My buddy told me that the local craft beers have really taken off by using social media, and that a major component of this is the beer drinkers”™ vocal disdain for all the macro-breweries; Using social media to bash Coors, Budweiser, and Miller, and point out to the unknowing that the beer in your hand, that you think is local, is actually made in a factory 1,000 miles away.
Often, I think that bashing the bad stuff can be as helpful as promoting the good stuff. As another example, there is a local motel where a lot of fishermen stay during salmon season. I had stayed there several weekends a year for the last 10 years, until last time they overcharged my credit card and refused to refund the overcharged amount. I talked to a bunch of other guys who had the same thing happen to them. Obviously, we stopped staying there, but the most effective thing we did was to bash their name to anyone and everyone who would listen. My more computer-savvy friends bad-mouthed them on Facebook, Twitter, message boards, etc. Thankfully, they are almost out of business. So, to end my long-winded post, I don”™t think that embracing artists who might ape some aspects of underground music in order to attract a wider audience is the way to go. I say “bash away.”
November 29, 2012 @ 12:07 pm
Thanks for chiming in Geoff. I always enjoy getting your perspective and you always make excellent points.
One little thing I want to clarify, despite how it may look, I am not a Taylor Swift fan. I simply see her as an important, if not beneficial influence on American pop music. The problem with her has always been of course that she”™s not country.
Chris Lewis "Louie"
November 27, 2012 @ 2:09 pm
Off the subject but does anyone know the status of the Hank Williams movie or the movie with James Hand?
November 27, 2012 @ 2:23 pm
We have been fighting this for a while now over at the radio station. It is hard to find new listeners. We have an amazing core group of fans, but they are going to get tired of listening at some point. As the new kids on the block, artists don’t send us much music, we pay for it all out of pocket. I know my personal finances suck. Also as a guy that has organized a small festival, books shows, travels to shows for live streams, tries to promote everything, I am getting tired. Burning the candle at both ends works on you after time. And I know quite a few folks in the same boat. There are a good many folks out there that believe in this music, and will personally risk everything to advance it.
I am not trying to make anyone feel like I am complaining, because I will keep doing this for a good long time. Here is what I am trying to get out, the thing that is killing us is APATHY. I have talked to many friends about this, even ones in local music scenes, and they all say the same thing. It seems like apathy will kill us all.
November 27, 2012 @ 3:03 pm
We all have to be fathers, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, and friends first. The few who’ve stepped up to support the music are paying heavy tolls in their personal lives to see the music happen with the idea that at some point it will “stick” and they can take a step back. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be happening, and folks can’t run on fumes and forget their personal obligations forever. Something has to give, and that’s why we see contraction in underground country.
November 27, 2012 @ 2:54 pm
I pretty much agree with everything written, but I’d add what I see as the most significant problem: dilution.
First there are the innovators, then there are the imitators, then there are the idiots. If Wayne, Dale, Hank III, BR549, etc. were the innovators, then I think we are somewhere between the imitators and the idiots at this point.
Once I had to dream of a metal-infused bluegrass band, now I can pick which .357 knockoff I want to watch on youtube. It’s a race to the bottom. No one makes money if anyone can join the game and dilute the talent pool and the fanbase.
November 27, 2012 @ 3:24 pm
I agree with 99.9% of what you said. It seems to me after Straight To Hell all anyone in the underground wanted to talk about was drinkin’ drugin’ the devil or demons. As I have said before the underground wants to embrace everything country used to be about exept God. If an artist could take the underground style & make Gospel songs it could be something huge. Southern Gospel is the closest thing to traditional country right now, but few are taking advantage of that.
November 27, 2012 @ 7:26 pm
GA, that’s a good point. i can only think of one example of what i guess you must be talking about, but it’s a great one if you haven’t heard it – The Weary Boys released a Gospel album called Holy Ghost Power back in 2004. unfortunately they’re another example of one of the points of this article, because they broke up back around 2007, i think. for what it’s worth, they put out 5 other albums that are all worth a listen, too.
November 27, 2012 @ 8:50 pm
Thank you. I had never herd of them just check amazon & they have it. Just listening to the previews I can say this is what I was sujesting. One thing I would normally complain about is the heavy reliance on cover songs, but it works here. They cover many great classic Gospel songs. Many from Hank Sr. one from Townes Van Zandt & one I first heard from Scott H. Biram, My one complaint is probebly amazons fault. The song listed as Canaan’s Land is acsualy Where The Soul Of Man Never Dies.
November 28, 2012 @ 7:01 am
I’m hoping to incorporate more positive and uplifting songs in my next release. Doing some acoustic/string band/old timey stuff. I love hillbilly rock (aka rockabilly) but I also walk that fine line of country/gospel/torchy blues. I don’t like fitting in a box.
November 27, 2012 @ 4:19 pm
As usual … very interesting and compelling.
Maybe I’m missing something but more bands entering the broad genre of “underground country” is not the death of the genre. Or maybe I just need to better understand what you consider “underground country”?
To me, it almost appears to be an evolution or at least a more refined segmentation that is developing that includes “red dirt” and “americana” (as examples). Heavy Metal did that and now there are dozens of genres of Metal.
Maybe the drinkin / druggin / devil / PFF / punk banjo of underground country is being replaced by a more subdued Americana aesthetic that you might expect from an aging fan base?
Can underground country evolve and grow (maybe in different directions)? Is it morphing into something different or really dying? I ask and really don’t have a clue but am curious about your opinion.
TX Music Jim
November 27, 2012 @ 4:38 pm
Agreed, I’ve been around the Texas/Red Dirt Scene for 15 years. There are tons more bands out there than there were. Some of them suck. However, the cream rises to the top. Like it our not as any “scene” ages it mellow’s. I see that in Texas and it seems to be the case in the underground genere. Venues come and go but bottom line is a venue is a business and if live music makes money it stays if it doesn’t it goes. Promote promote promote, get along with other bands in your scene and help each other. If folks do that there will be places to play and people will show up. “Scenes” change as the people that are into it change if any “scene” is to survive it must adapt over time. I for one would say no more lines lets combine the Texas Red Dirt and the Americana and Unerground Country scenes and see what happens. What do we got to lose?
November 27, 2012 @ 6:33 pm
I don’t think Americana-like bands are getting into underground country, I think the opposite is true, that anyone with Americana sensibilities is getting OUT of underground country, leaving a creative void.
November 27, 2012 @ 8:54 pm
In my opinion anything that is not mainstream country is now being considered Americana. That could be a good thing or a bad thing.
November 27, 2012 @ 4:34 pm
I blame the “Hipsters” they ruined Acid rock, they ruined punk, they ruined rockabilly and now theyre suckin the life outta Alt/underground country and country in general.
Ya wanna save humanity and good music? Kill a hipster!
November 27, 2012 @ 10:13 pm
Acid rock and punk music were invented by the 70’s correspondents of today’s “hipsters”. Saying that hipsters ruined acid rock and punk music is sort of like saying “rednecks” ruined country music.
November 28, 2012 @ 9:39 am
I agree with you Rev. Wade. Hipsters ruin just about everything they get their hands on. My wife used to work at a “trendy” young “start-up” company. I could tell you some stories.
November 29, 2012 @ 8:48 am
Exactly what I was thinking man! Damn hipsters….
November 27, 2012 @ 5:41 pm
Great article and very accurate. I also believe there needs to be a little more variety or open-mindedness in this so called “scene” I have discussed with a friend how Graham Lindsey (who i love) is praised but William Elliot Whitmore is somehow not cool to that scene.
I don’t know, maybe because there is so much good (and bad) music out there, it is hard to find loyal followings out there. I can listen to Murder by Death, Those Poor Bastards, King Dude and JB Beverly and consider them all “Underground Country”. I just consider it good music. Hell, I just discovered the genre “Martial Folk” (Death in June, Current 93). I am not sure which direction my long winded rant is going. Too many genres/labels, just go support good creative music.
Apologies for the rambling. I am one of those 30-somethings you mentioned with kids distracting me!
January 5, 2013 @ 2:55 pm
I dont know where you were going with any of that, but… Death in June is outstanding. It has nearly nothing to do with this conversation, but I had to agree.
November 27, 2012 @ 6:27 pm
What will the underground think if these guys go mainstream.
November 27, 2012 @ 8:57 pm
I’m sorry I have to say it. The guy with the cape looks like John Rich.
December 2, 2012 @ 12:49 pm
Haha, little bit!
November 27, 2012 @ 6:43 pm
great read and true but that word young scares the crap outta me.. and P.S. RAY LAWRENCE JR.
November 27, 2012 @ 10:21 pm
First off, what is our definition of “underground country”? If “underground country” is defined to exclude Red Dirt or Americana, then doesn’t it automatically become a “scene” in and of itself, organized around specific individuals and bands instead of around musical style? If, on the other hand, “underground country” refers to a certain type of music, then why shouldn’t Red Dirt and Americana be included in that category, especially since the current definition of “underground country” already includes a range of artists that encompass an extremely wide range of music? I’m sure that many Americana artists and most Red Dirt artists will at least fall somewhere between Bob Wayne and Rachel Brooke.
November 27, 2012 @ 11:18 pm
Underground country, just like Red Dirt and Texas country, has a lot to do with origination. Many of the artists in underground country can trace back to either the revitalization of lower Broadway in Nashville in the late 90’s, or early 2000’s, or being influenced significantly by Hank3 and/or Wayne Hancock. Naturally there is a cross pollination of scenes, but as I tried to articulate above, what made underground country more of a movement than a scene was a sincere attempt to speak out about issues facing country music. Since many of those issues have been dropped in recent years, underground country has reverted to more of a “scene” and all the trappings thereof.
November 28, 2012 @ 6:33 pm
Just off the top of my head,
Cory Morrow-Nashville Blues
Jason Boland – Hank.
Aaron Watson- Hey Yall
Bo Phillips- Blue Dixie Cup
All address problems with mainstream country. I’m sure there are dozens more.
I remember going to a Cory Morrow show this summer, and he would cover Alabama and Travis Tritt, and everyone would have a great time.
I saw Hellbound Glory show and Leroy made some mention about Garth Brooks and all the Punk rockers with Hank III leather jackets started screaming “fuck Garth Brooks.” My guess is most of them just got into country in the last two or three years and couldn’t name a song by Buck Owens or Billy Joe Shaver.
Anyway, I like the anti-Nashville songs once in awhile, but I don’t want my music to be “I’m more underground and anti-mainstream than you.”
If you haven’t heard it, I’d recommend Robbie Fulks countrier than thous.
November 28, 2012 @ 6:44 pm
“I saw Hellbound Glory show and Leroy made some mention about Garth Brooks and all the Punk rockers with Hank III leather jackets started screaming “fuck Garth Brooks.””
This type of attitude is exactly the problem with the underground country movement, and why, instead of attracting new people, it is repelling many people who may enjoy the music itself.
“Anyway, I like the anti-Nashville songs once in awhile, but I don”™t want my music to be “I”™m more underground and anti-mainstream than you.””
November 27, 2012 @ 11:46 pm
I think that “underground country”, as is being defined here, is declining for a simple reason: the negative and deeply disrespectful attitude of much of its fan base, especially over matters involving simple musical taste. The movement started out with a war-like mentality toward mainstream country right from its inception in the Straight to Hell era, taking to heart Hank3’s slogans about pop country was a “bunch of fucking shit” and how he would rather kill himself than listen to pop country.
The problem with a war-like mentality is that any sense of nuance goes out the window and the conflict becomes one of pure good vs pure evil. And the idea of mainstream country artists representing “evil” opened the door to all types of personal invective and conspiracy theories against these artists, along with a general lack of basic respect, simply for putting out music that the underground world did not like. This was coupled with a condescending and snobbish attitude toward fans of these mainstream artists (brilliant way to attract these people to your musical world, NOT). Regrettably, this website helped perpetuate some of that negativity in its early years through its own ugly personal attacks on mainstream artists (looking through some of the archives on this site from 2008-2010 makes me want to throw up, quite honestly). Even today, though your articles have gotten far more respectful, mature, and nuanced, much of the legacy of these early years lives on in the form of knee-jerk negativity in the comment board toward anything involving the country music mainstream.
Movements that contain a significant negative war-like mentality, especially over cultural matters, are short-lived, as a) they attract a limited following and instead repel those who might otherwise support their causes, and b) large chunks of the movements’ supporters eventually get tired of the negativity, and c) they dissolve into infighting. In the case of the “underground country” movement, the lack of new blood and new fans is a clear example of a), the “mellowing” of many of the original fans with age is resulting in b), and the drama involving XXX, along with the fragmentation of the movement into smaller scenes, is solid evidence of c).
I think that the underground country movement would have been much better served if they had divided their work into two goals:
1) maintaining a positive attitude regarding music itself, promoting their own music instead of personally attacking mainstream artists and fans simply for enjoying a different musical style
2) focusing their negativity on the music business model, namely the lack of creative freedom and the labels’ exploitation of artists
Given the urgency of the current situation, underground country will hopefully begin to re-orient itself to focus on these aims.
November 27, 2012 @ 11:48 pm
just saw Devil Makes Three in Seattle and it was sold out. i spoke with people there and while a greater percentage was there because they came, as i did , to se DMT, but many had heard of them but not their music. I am entirely sure all left that show totally impressed and feeling as if they not only got their monies worth ,but will look further into country/folk/roots
November 27, 2012 @ 11:51 pm
I saw Devil Makes Three in Ashland, OR on that same tour, and they killed it here too. Sounds like they killed it everywhere, and sold out every show. They’re massive on the West Coast, though nobody east of the Rockies has heard of them. If they really dedicated themselves to it, they could really blow up.
Bigfoot is Real (seriously)
November 28, 2012 @ 1:01 pm
Hey Trig, just so ya know I just saw Devil Makes Three in Minneapolis and to my eye the show looked sold out.
Also gotta add that Minnesota is a currently a hot bed of great roots bands and places to hear ’em play. Aside from Trampled by Turtles there are many lesser knowns such as the Cactus Blossoms, Drew Peterson and the Dead Pigeons, Bernie King and the Guilty Pleasures, and Pert Near Sandstone to name a few who are fightin’ the good fight.
November 29, 2012 @ 8:44 pm
the Cactus Blossoms are dope. i really don’t know a whole hell of alot about that harmonized country western swing style of music but that first record is ill as fuck…
November 28, 2012 @ 1:40 am
“not being able to afford health insurance is a real concern”
Starting in 2014, this will thankfully no longer be an issue.
November 28, 2012 @ 9:48 am
It won’t be an issue because noone will have it.
November 28, 2012 @ 6:21 pm
Actually, everyone of lower income will be able to afford health insurance. Those under 133% of poverty line will be enrolled in Medicaid (although this may be an issue if you live in a state with a Republican government), those between 133% and 150% of poverty line will get a federal subsidy that ensures that they pay no more than 4% of their income on health insurance, and those between 150% and 400% of poverty line will be subsidized such that they pay no more than 10% of income on insurance.
July 1, 2013 @ 3:36 pm
You throw alot of percents out there. I work in the medical field and 2014 looks pretty bad when healthcare is already downsizing and such to gear up for Obama care. You can keep that change. Personally there are a lot of underground fans that down right cannot afford to go see artists when jobs are few and far between and the cost of living keeps increasing. Welcome to the real world . . . Obamacare is not a good thing.
November 28, 2012 @ 5:37 am
I am really bummed that I was never able to see some of these bands “live”! But I sure hope with all my heart that they keep producing their talents on cd & or vinyl., Their music is what made me a fan in the first place…hope they keep that music candle lit!
The Hillbilly Muslim
November 28, 2012 @ 8:11 am
This has to be one of the most informative articles you came out with. Since I been ramblin around in Austin this year, going to Muddy Roots and meeting all these bands I always wanted to meet, you painted a perfect picture what is going on. And it is down right depressing. I am new to the whole scene and I was starting to work on having a perfect music venue for these artists in my town where they can make money and get exposure to the many rednecks and bikers out here but now it seems like a rather low possibility. After coming to Muddy Roots and seeing more amazing bands playing I felt like this music was ripe to be on the rise. But once I check music blogs and talked to many different people in the scene, people are so divided. One of your friends warn me about it but I never knew it was this serious. I remember seeing some past videos of Scott Biram, whom I discovered cause of your website, and then meeting him. He seemed like a tired older man burnt out by some war or struggle. Like his empire is crumbling down. The energy and the excitement of some past, I wish I was there for, no longer has its momentum but now in the sad decline. Sucks cause I will never be there for their glory days of conquest. I remember seeing David Allen Coe this year and I saw that burnt out warrior of music fading away from the world. A relic of the past. Part of some mythical world I was too young to be part of. Now Ill be 30 this year. Too late for the party I showed up for.
November 28, 2012 @ 8:22 am
Underground is a state, not a style. To be underground while getting radio play and selling out medium venues isn’t possible.
Part of the reason we like underground music is because we feel like part of something exclusive. Like we know something everyone else doesn’t, and it is so far from the social norm. So, I don’t buy any argument that says this music is dying. This has happened to all of the music I have liked my entire life. What I like is not what the masses like, and as a result I am always rooting for the underdog.
This will never change.
November 28, 2012 @ 8:24 am
Also, I am as far from apathetic as they come. I am a performing musician and a fan. I support as much local and non-local country and western music as I possibly can. I also promote myself to the best of my abilities.
November 28, 2012 @ 9:49 am
“To be underground while getting radio play and selling out medium venues isn”™t possible.
I admit it’s rare, but Justin Townes Earle, Devil Makes Three, Hank3, and Trampled by Turtles are doing it. You may not hear them on Clear Channel, but they pretty much sell out all their shows.
November 28, 2012 @ 9:59 am
At one time, Wilco was considered to be alt-country. They pretty much sold out every show they evered played and got a lot of radio play. They would definitely be an example of an “underground” band that meets those qualifications….
November 28, 2012 @ 10:02 am
I would argue that those artists aren’t underground.
But, I know not to try and disagree with you on “your” blog.
If you’re a fan, then you’re a fan. No one can be forced to like any particular type of music. If you think the music is dying you should stop listening, and leave it to the rest of us who know it is not dying to carry on tradition. Your opinion always seems so damned pessimistic.
November 28, 2012 @ 8:35 am
When “the scene” is more important than the music, it all goes in the outhouse. Close-minded cliqueishness in the name of “keeping it real” will lead to stagnation in no time. It happened in punk, which went from no rules to having a uniform. A lot of the so-called underground country seems cartoonish to me…more about the image than the music.It’s as bad as pop country about proclaiming how “country” it is. Being country is like having sex, the more somebody’s talking about it, the less likely it is to really be happening.
Without the music, you’ve got a whole lotta nada.
Oh yeah…Hard times call for hard liquor.
November 28, 2012 @ 12:28 pm
I never even thought of the Shack Shakers as country, I thought of them as a punk-rockabilly band, which was is fine, but not my thing. I think the punk rock thing is the problem. It seems like every punk-sub-genre goes through some sort of feuding, fading and then revival every 10 years.
Compare this to the Red Dirt scene, which is certainly not at all like the Punk scene in anyway. For about 25 years you have Robert Earl Keen having continued success and a loyal fan base, and new artists with loyal fan bases coming in waves (i.e. Pat Green, Cory Morrow, Charlie Robison in the late 90s early 2000s, more recently Jason Boland, Turnpike Troubadours etc.) Yes, some of them sort of “sold out” (green, Jack Ingraham), but the fact they had the success probably attracted more people to it.
TX Music Jim
November 28, 2012 @ 1:13 pm
Mike I agree with your point. The punk aspect of what most consider to be “underground” country leads to the over the top image thing, the feuding thing that damages the sub-genere. The reason Texas/RedDirt has survived over time is it appeals to a wider audience and there is a brotherhood amont the artists and fans. It’s usually more about the song vs the image, not always but usually. Pat and Jack do what they do and when the are playing Texas it’s mostly the older tunes and the same charismatic performance as always. Thre wider success has been for a lot of folks the gateway drug into guys like Boland etc. At the end of the day the Texas/Red dirt thing is based on respect for it’s forefathers Willie, Waylon, JJW, Guy, and our scenes patron saint TVZ. If underground crounty would focus on the song vs the image like Hellbound Glory and Bob Wayne do it would be flourishing not dying.
November 28, 2012 @ 2:16 pm
The reason Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers played a seminal role in the formation of underground country was because they were there at the very beginning of the revitalization of lower Broadway in Nashville where underground country originally derived, playing Layla’s Bluegrass Inn, with the owner at the time, Joe Buck, playing lead guitar. Sonically no, they are not very country, but you could make the case they are one of the very top bands as far as importance to influencing what underground country would become.
Here’s an in-depth article about it for anyone who cares to read further:
November 29, 2012 @ 10:13 am
LSS were on lower broad, long before Joe Buck was playing guitar for them, They definitely were one of the seminal bands of Lower Broad along with BR5-49, Greg Garing, and the Band Joe Buck which was Jim, (joebuck) and Layla, sort of a reinvented version of their chicago band ‘Gringo’. Back then, the argument could clearly be made that they helped develop what became ‘underground country. They were, essentially, and juke joint band, playing country blues, and rockabilly tunes for 4 hours at a stretch. The Shack Shakers have one of the most prestigious alumni lists in underground roots. Their lineup has included (at various points): Chris Scruggs, Chris Detloff (rosie flores), Jason Brown (Hank 3s og bassist), myself, Joe Buck (*on bass, guitar and drums depending on the era), Morgan Jahnig (old crow medicine show), Kenny Vaughn, and a few more I can’t recall off hand. Lower Broad is still pretty awesome if you know where to go. We still play down there once or twice a month, Travis Mann, Sarah Gayle Meech, Heath Haynes, Don Kelley, Dave Tanner, John England. Lots of great stuff!
November 29, 2012 @ 12:10 pm
I’ve always said if I ever write a book it will be about the revitalization of lower Broadway, though I am a complete outsider on the subject. Would love to interview you and Nick about it sometime.
November 28, 2012 @ 1:54 pm
I had my own in agreement treatise comment prepared yesterday but decided against it. I was in agreement then realized that it wasn’t as dire as all that. While I agree with the aging fan base thing to a degree, I also disagree. It’s a conundrum, I guess.
Some of the best underground bands I’ve seen in the last year were young bands. Their sound may have been evolving from what was considered underground ten years ago, but that’s music. It’s always evolving. Sometimes it evolves to a degree that we might not like…because we’re that aging fan base and old people don’t like change.
November 28, 2012 @ 2:12 pm
” Their sound may have been evolving from what was considered underground ten years ago, but that”™s music.”
You are the second one to make that retort, but I’m not sure where the argument is coming from. I am making the EXACT opposite argument above, that the music is NOT evolving, that it is aping the styles of 10 years ago.
November 28, 2012 @ 2:45 pm
Does underground country need a leader? Many underground styles have been flourishing for years without a leader, instead what they have is bands or artists that support, not fight each other. The feuds in underground country are what really does hurt it. Having two huge names at odds with each other over a song/album title for years did too much damage. The shit talking, inflated egos, thinking they deserve more and dont put in the time as a constant touring band are all reasons that it is dying. Justin Townes Earle has been saying on his latest tour that he got out of the country scene because they tried to pigeonhole him as a “country” act and people would get upset when he would cut a track that had a soul/r&b feel to it.
It saddens me that bands arent giving the time of day to people like you that are trying to support them. If they cant get their information correct or care about it, why should we care? I remember when bands had to start out small and struggle to get a following, now it seems like everyone just expects to start out with this huge cult following and not wanting to put in the work.
Honest Charlie's Productions
November 28, 2012 @ 2:52 pm
JTE has been saying on his last tour that “When I made my first record, I wanted to be a country singer. But see something has happened to country where it doesn”™t mean the same thing that it used to. I don”™t like what it means anymore”
November 28, 2012 @ 3:24 pm
Underground country doesn’t necessarily need a leader, but it does need leadership. It doesn’t need to be someone barking orders, it can be some badass musician that inspires and pushes other musicians to be more original and be themselves.
November 29, 2012 @ 4:43 am
Selfreliable – your thoughts are very much aligned with what I’m thinking when I read through all this. This music needs leadership. It needs a beacon. Not for everyone to immitate but for everyone see as a prime example of originality, maturity, strength, stability, and quality. It needs someone to lead the way and pull those in their wake close behind them. Without a few folks or bands as a living, thriving model, this music is bound to go no further.
November 28, 2012 @ 5:09 pm
I live in Maryland. A while back I was at a show in Baltimore. I saw a guy play by the name of Josh Morningstar. If you google him I think you can find his website. Anyway, he played some of the most beautiful country music I’ve heard since the 1950’s. It was stuff you’d never hear on the radio, but it was incredible, and catchy, and everything you’d want country music to be. He sang with so much passion, you could tell that he lived/meant every word he was singing. I got a cd from him that night. Even the sound of his cd didn’t sound like any country music I’ve heard on the radio. It was very raw sounding, but at the same time, I loved it. I’ve listened to it literally every day since I saw him in concert. The place he played was only about half full, but the people that were there were all standing in silence while he played. Many of them had t-shirts of his on, a few which I would’ve swore they made themselves, bc I didn’t see him selling any at the concert. I don’t know why this guy isn’t bigger than he is. My point is, you should check out his music. Just like always, there is good music still in the underground. My opinion is if this guy had the right people behind him, he could be as big as a Hank3 or a Shooter Jennings. I feel it’s just a matter of getting the word out.
November 28, 2012 @ 5:51 pm
I covered an interview Joshua Morningstar did with Jett Williams a couple of weeks back.
He also sent me a copy of his EP which is pretty good.
As some other commenters have alluded to, talent is not enough these days. I’m not speaking about Joshua specifically, but I think one of the problems is artists thinking they’re entitled, or that great songs is good enough (see Kickstarter). For people to make it in music, it takes hitting on all cylinders. It takes sacrifice and dedication. It takes spending money you don’t have. It means putting off family.
It also takes an energized fanbase. Joshua did an excellent interview with Jett about very important issues, and very few people read it.
November 28, 2012 @ 6:04 pm
And I think thats part of the problem you were alluding to in your original article. How do these acts get the recognition they deserve without the money of a major label behind them. Since I was talking about Josh, I’ll use him as an example: I would’ve never had known who he was if I hadn’t been at that show in Baltimore that night. You do a good job of covering “unknown” bands on this site, but this is one of the few like it. When I go to Josh’s facebook page, he has like 330 likes. How do you get the word out about these great artists without them spending millions of dollars on advertising? Touring is one obvious answer, and I don’t know exactly how the music industry works, but if an artist is “unknown”, what venue is gonna want to book them? The night I saw Josh, I can easily say it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen, and while the intimacy of it definitely added to my own personal experience, a guy like him deserves so much more. How do these artists take it to the next level without a machine behind them?
November 28, 2012 @ 5:54 pm
Thanks for the article. I actually like Jason and the Scorchers and Social Distortion a lot, but most of those bands don’t do it for me.
I definitely am a Hank III fan, but not as big as most, and don’t really care a great deal for Bob Wayne or Joe Buck and those types. I think they have a few really good songs, but just not as huge a fan as most.
I am someone who went from being more into David Allan Coe, Hank Jr, Alabama etc. and then got into Waylon, Willie, Hank Sr., Robert Earl Keen, Jerry Jeff Walker, from there and then into Red Dirt stuff and really only discovered Hellbound Glory, Dale Watson etc. from this site. (and I am definitely grateful to this site for introducing me to them, fyi). (And just for the record, I’m not from Texas and Id take Hellbound and Dale Watson over most of the Red Dirt bands.)
Anyway, I think this site more or less caters to people who got into it from the Hank III type bands, which has the demographic you describe.
I came from a relatively upper class background and basically got exposed to a lot of these afformentioned bands from people in my fraternity (Private school in the South East) A lot of other people who got me into some of the better country bands were more into Grateful Dead, Widespread, Yonder Mountain String Band, and other country leaning jam bands.
Anyway, I don’t think of this as a “scene,” but there are a lot of people who are more or less like me who are into traditional country.
When I was in DC, Hill Country BBQ, which basically was the spot for Hill Staffers and Lobbyists from Texas would have tons of great shows (that’s where Hellbound Glory would always play) and it was always packed.
I just moved North for law school and when I went to a few “underground country” shows it was all punk rockers or ex punk rockers there, and there were only about 25 people at these shows.
Anyway, I’m kind of rambling, but I think what I’m getting at is that there is a downside of being a “scene.”
November 28, 2012 @ 8:44 pm
I had to stop reading this about half way through. And upon writing this I have read no posts so I apologize in advance for saying what already may have been said. Fuck the scene. Good music is good music and true artists will make what they feel is imoportant music because they feel it needs to be made. Lucky Tubb would be doing his thing regardless of any scene. So would Wayne the train, JB Beverly, Scott Biram, PPJ, Justin Townes Earle and the list can continue to go on. All the dissolution of the ‘scene’ will accomplish is a thining out of the posers that have latched on to a particlular song. I welcome the destruction of the ‘scene’. So in the words of Antiseen “Fuck all Yall”
November 28, 2012 @ 10:46 pm
I like how Trigger spends quite a bit of time tearing down some things that Shooter has done and makes no specific mentions of any good he’s done for the genre through bands he’s played on his SiriusXM radio program, bands he’s had open for him, he’s produced, etc — The great thing about the guy is that when he does something “mainstream” like the Bucky video it attracts some new fans to all of the cool things he’s doing with bands like Hellbound Glory and Fifth on the Floor. You mention the Bucky video but make no mention of his appearance with Wanda Jackson last week on Jay Leno. Not trying to start an argument here. I really enjoy reading the articles posted here but it makes me uncomfortable when they are one sided or when they tear down someone like Shooter who is obviously doing some great things for the genre and beyond.
November 29, 2012 @ 2:25 am
“I like how Trigger spends quite a bit of time tearing down some things that Shooter has done and makes no specific mentions of any good he”™s done for the genre.”
“Shooter Jennings has stepped up in the last two years to attempt to fill the leadership vacuum left by Hank3, and has done some positive things and had some marginal success. But his polarization has kept him from completing the task of becoming a solid leader everyone can look up to.”
The reason I didn’t mention any specifics is because this was an extremely long article and there wasn’t really any room for specifics on anything.
Look, I don’t want to start an argument here either. I have never taken anything away from Shooter for trying to do things to help promote artists. For his intentions, I applaud him. But as I explained above, he is such a polarizing figure, everything he tries to do gets mired in the polarization he brings, whether it’s playing with Wanda, producing an album, playing folks on his radio show, or setting up shows. Really, to explain all of this requires its own article, but unfortunately the comments would just descend into bullshit that would be unhelpful to everyone, so I have avoided it.
But what Shooter Jennings fans must appreciate is that you can truly make the case that Shooter Jennings is the most polarizing man in country music from very specific analytical evidence. And unfortunately that polarization renders null and void, most, if not all the “help” he tries to give folks, if he’s not counter productive by his mere presence. And it’s getting worse over time as he continues to make the same mistakes, refusing to take responsibility for them.
I wish Shooter could be the leader underground country needs, you have no idea. Shooter has talent. But he needs to focus on being the best artist, husband, and father he can be. He’s just not in a position to offer any leadership. And that’s okay.
November 29, 2012 @ 2:40 am
“The reason I didn”™t mention any specifics is because this was an extremely long article and there wasn”™t really any room for specifics on anything.”
Yet, you did list specific reasons (i.e. the Bucky video) as to why he isn’t a proper “leader” for underground country. And, exactly how was him playing drums for Wanda on Leno “polarizing”?
November 29, 2012 @ 12:18 pm
Because he was there. No matter what he does, it’s polarizing. That’s the problem. I wish this wasn’t the case. I would love to help rally the troops behind Shooter so that the underground could unite, you have no idea. But Shooter needs to focus on the small things, name dropping bands, playing them on his radio show. All these things he does for face time isn’t helping anyone but his cult of personality. When Shooter tries to do too much, it causes problems.
“Drinking Side of Country” was the worst song put out in country music in 2012. In no way does it help anything.
The Hillbilly Muslim
November 29, 2012 @ 5:12 pm
Some of us just wish you and Shooter would just get along. (A frequently talked about subject at Muddy Roots this year). Shooter is just a compassionate guy and gets along with everybody. When he came into town he invited me back stage to hang out with him and told me to open up a bottle of jack with him just to chat about how James Hunnicutt is doing and about the state of the underground scene. And if it wasnt for your website I wouldn’t be open to a world of this amazing music. I completely respect your musical taste and journalistic abilities.
You probably know better than I do but people in general just like Shooter once they meet him. He is a down to earth sincere guy and wont turn down anyone even the pop country or rock artists. Some times he will play with these diverse group of artists that we look down upon.
To tell you the truth im not really into Shooter’s music all that much. I don’t think he even is. But I appreciate that man he is and all he done on sirus XM putting artists who dont get any breaks like Izzy Cox, and Calamity Cubes on the radio. He is passionate about these musicians and ill applaud the effort cause he could of easily be a complete sellout if he truly wanted to and not associate with the music we love.
One more thing, an example of the effectiveness of siurs xm show, my old man last month went to south Texas in some back woods isolated town. The old timers he met up with were obviously isolated from the rest of the world and isolated themselves from new country music. Areas like that only use satellite radio for their reception and my dad told them of my experience with Shooter. The old men were overjoyed in delight and thought my dad was a cool dude for that and told him he was one of the only people around who played real music on the radio. Just thought I share the story.
Luthur Jackson (Tuesday Morning Hayride)
November 29, 2012 @ 10:20 am
I am a broadcaster on a local non profit radio station here in SW Ohio. Great article. I have spent a lot of money on admission,cover charges, CD’s at merch tables not to mention hotels and gas money to support live “underground” music. I agree I am probably the last of a dyin’ breed. I am 59 and music has always been a part of my life. I grew up on real country and listened to my share of rock, punk and heavy metal as well. Since our radio station is listener supported we struggle with the same question..”How to attract a younger audience away from ipods etc to listen and support radio. In our area we are the last of our kind to be able to come in and play our own playlist. I expose my listeners to alot of the above music you speak of. They like it but at this time cannot financially support either by going to live shows or contributing to the station. Our hope is we continue to keep our overhead down and attract enough listeners to keep us around.
Chris Lewis "Louie"
November 29, 2012 @ 11:38 am
I see this same thing here. There is a small radio station called 98.3 WHHP “The Whip”. They seem to have the same issues. They play a range of underground country, Red Dirt, Blues, Rockabilly, Classic Country and have a loyal 30+ age fan base but struggled getting that younger audience. I 100% believe this is because as you get older you begin to appreciate and respect real authentic artists and bands. When you are younger all you have on your mind is one thing. So younger males always follow where the good looking girls migrate. So where do they migrate to…any bar or club where they can dance primarily and guys follow like sheep. I was one of these young horny guys I know lol. The majority of young girls do not care about good music only if they can dance or if the singer is good looking. That’s the truth. So how do we attract more attention of the younger audience…I’m not sure. We have to change the mentality of the younger female majority.
Chris Lewis "Louie"
November 29, 2012 @ 11:40 am
Here is the link to that radio station if anyone is interested.
Luthur Jackson (Tuesday Morning Hayride)
November 29, 2012 @ 2:13 pm
And we all know what is on every little girl 12-16 Christmas list if they don’t have already (Taylor swifts latest CD or tickets to her next show). The parents have the money typically. The bad news is youngsters are for the most part growing up thinking that is “country” music.
November 30, 2012 @ 9:52 am
I can’t speak for teenaged girls, but I have a 17-year-old stepson who absolutely loves old country music. Sure, he listens to Taylor Swift, too, but even he agrees that she is not country. He’s copied all of my Hank Sr., Jr., and 3 CD’s, plus he loves Unknown Hinson. So, there is hope.
November 29, 2012 @ 12:11 pm
Thanks for the show Luther!
Chris Lewis "Louie"
November 29, 2012 @ 11:47 am
Here’s a thought. If we could teach more younger people to 2step, waltz, or swing dance or even line dancing and change the mentality of younger males that it is cool and a guy thing to dance. Maybe that would get more younger people interested in this genre of music. That’s my 2 cents 🙂
November 29, 2012 @ 12:13 pm
This all goes back to the respect of women in country that I wrote about earlier this week. One of the reasons girls act like sluts is because they’re sold by society that that’s how they get attention from boys. It’s an idiotic cycle that country used to be on the outside of, and now is right in the thick of, paralleling the infiltration of hip-hop influences into the genre. Read the quote at the top of every SCM page. This is why this stuff is important way beyond music.
November 29, 2012 @ 11:48 am
“We have to change the mentality of the younger female majority.”
Good luck. Not going to happen.
November 29, 2012 @ 12:01 pm
Thanks for chiming in Geoff. I always enjoy getting your perspective and you always make excellent points.
One little thing I want to clarify, despite how it may look, I am not a Taylor Swift fan. I simply see her as an important, if not beneficial influence on American pop music. The problem with her has always been of course that she’s not country.
November 29, 2012 @ 2:27 pm
Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts, and Keith Urban are not country either. Jason Aldean and Brantley Gilbert have country-themed lyrics, but their music is rock, not country.
November 29, 2012 @ 2:29 pm
I will also add that Carrie Underwood is not country either, although the lyrics in her songs occasionally have country themes (such as in “Blown Away”).
November 30, 2012 @ 9:35 am
For me, the lack of quality country and western music on the radio has motivated me to support the bands I like even more. It’s even motivated me to take my songwriting out of my basement and into clubs and other venues.
This particular “scene” may very well be overcrowded, but that doesn’t mean that people should just give up making music to let the cream rise to the top. I make music because it’s good for my soul. And, there is nothing quite as nice as seeing people smile and dance when you’re up on a stage performing. When this happens, I don’t care if there are a million others like me, I am there in that moment making people happy.
November 30, 2012 @ 6:16 pm
I disagree with all of the above. The people may change but the music will last. And the times. If it sways or drifts, who cares.
I agree however their should be a better outlet to have shows promoted better. And merch. I took lots of $$$ to muddy roots to spend but the artists booths were mostly only open for a little while. Someone needs to take the role, and make a better updated, easy to use, FREE way to spread the word about upcoming shows. Reverbnation & Facebook & the SCM calendar are good. But I’m pretty sure a couple of those cost money. But shows seem to spring up within a week or 2 notice. But that’s just the nature of the game I guess. Just my $.02
Would someone define what a scene-ster is?
November 30, 2012 @ 6:48 pm
What the Pickathon Music Festival has is one big merch area where all the bands that perform have their stuff all weekend. So you can go any time and get what you want, and after each performance, the artists go there to sign stuff. When artists get there, they check in all of their merch, and then the folks working the merch table get a small percentage. It’s the perfect system. I have suggested this to Muddy Roots, and they did this to some extent with the “general store” last year, but I think this could be much better.
At Stage 2, I set up a little place for bands to sell their merch after the show. The bands that set up stuff and put out effort cleaned up. I know of one band that made $1,200 after their set, and I wouldn’t be surprised if others did 4 figures. It blew my mind that some bands didn’t bother setting up their merch at all, or showed up low on stuff. Bob Wayne didn’t have any CD’s for example. Others were just kind of like “eh, if people ask me, I’ve got it.”
A better calendar is essential. I been trying to fix that problem for years. It’s a difficult one.
November 30, 2012 @ 8:29 pm
Speaking of the calendar:
The SCM calendar has a show listed for Wayne Hancock on December 18 in “Portland, CA”. Did you mean to say “Portland, OR” instead?
December 1, 2012 @ 10:01 am
The pickathon-format sounds good. That would you could get it all at once, store it, then enjoy the weekend. The 2nd stage booth was good, once I figured out what was going on. Never did find the photo booth! Haha
J.D. Wilkes was in ATL last night, but I heard at the last minute & missed it. I wonder what that was like? No dirt daubers or shack shakers, just the Col. JD
November 30, 2012 @ 7:58 pm
I think Blackberry Smoke is out there doing some good things for country music. They have a southern rock edge, but still more country than 99% of what gets played on mainstream radio.
December 2, 2012 @ 4:43 pm
I think this is a matter of underground country using the umbrella brand of Americana to get the traction. How many bands refer to themselves as alt. Country anymore? None if they’re smart. But when I attend the Americana conference there’s the Bottle Rocket, and old 97s, even the Dirt Dawbers and Dale Watson, playing the showcases.
Make it easy for potential fans to find you or cling to a movement? Seems like an easy choice if you want a career and not spearhead a movement.
December 5, 2012 @ 7:58 am
I had this friend once who told me i have no business liking underground country (this was back when Hank III and Lucky Tubb and The Derailers were considered underground) because i’m not part of the scene (i came from alternative rock with massive collection of music most country fans would love to hate). But i never listened to him. To me, music is meant to be enjoyed and i happened to enjoy the music of Hank III and The Derailers and i love the lyrics to the music of Trampled By Turtles and the groove of .357 String Band.
Today he never changed his opinion towards me listening to some music i have no business of listening to. To him,If i like Lady Antebellum and Lonestar, there must be no way i genuinely like .357 String Band and Hank III (and Hank Sr).
That said, i think Holly Williams new album is gorgeous. It’s produced by CCM producer Charlie Peacock, same guy who produced The Civil Wars’ debut and Switchfoot.
December 5, 2012 @ 2:15 pm
While the loss of Chico and Nick was a blow to Hellbound Glory, Leroy didn’t “lose all his original players”. The great Frank Medina has been playing with Leroy since the Scumbag Country album, up to this day. He may have switched to stand-up, but he’s still there.
December 5, 2012 @ 2:23 pm
I saw a note on Frank Medina’s Facebook page maybe 6 weeks back or so saying he was quitting music and the road. If that is not the case, I stand corrected. I also believe he just got married.
Frank is a good player and a good dude.
December 11, 2012 @ 5:06 pm
Great article. Great website.
October 17, 2014 @ 4:44 am
yeah yeah yeah I get it
I’m 24, grew up with my dad teaching himself fiddle and playin bluegrass. never gave it much of a second thought until recently when I started listening to some ‘underground’ country and bluegrass. I dig it, and I’m starting to play it.
Having grown up in the metal/hardcore scene, all I gotta say is fuck your ego lol, not necissarily whoever wrote this, because they seem cool, but the second someone talks down to me, you can fuck the fuck off. I wanna play some goddamn American music, and if you don’t like that, well then fuck off.
In short, underground country isn’t dead. It’s regrettable that we lost some of our best, but fuck it, time goes on. The new breed is always hungry, and we’re here, and we’re rising.
Best wishes to everyone! Keep on jamming, and hopefully we share a stage sometime soon!