We have a few issues facing us in the Outlaw/Underground/Insurgent/True/REAL/Hellbilly/Neo-traditionalist country movement. The first is how many different words are used to describe the music and artists that have created a small, but very strong music scene with a loyal following. Not only are there many terms, but these terms mean different things to different people. And to make it worse, now pop/mainstream country is starting to steal names like “Outlaw” and “Real” to use as their own marketing terms.
Another problem is that this is a “big tent” movement, meaning there is a wide variety of music that it entails. My term for this music has always been “REAL” country, but now pop artists like Josh Thompson are using that term. And let’s be honest, is someone like Those Poor Bastards REAL country? Or how about Joe Buck? Yes, I think they are more country than pop performers, but I think that term is misleading, and leaves our left flank open to fair criticism about what is “REAL” country or not.
Another problems is these bands themselves don’t know what to call their music. If you call it country, most people think of what they hear on the radio. If you’re like me, you’re tired of when you tell someone you’re a fan of country music, having to qualify it by saying, “Yeah, but not that crap they play on the radio.”
And yes, I do think that it is still important to hold pop country and Nashville’s major label’s feet to the fire and call out their trespasses. They have stolen the word “country” from the people and we can’t give up the fight to take that word back. But does this have to be hand in hand with fighting for the music we love?
Some people have asked me why if I am really for REAL country music, why don’t I cover people like George Strait and Alan Jackson? The easy answer is because there’s dozens other outlets for those guys. I’m trying to shine the spotlight on music that nobody else will cover. But they could be labeled REAL country as well. So are we going to group George Strait with Joe Buck?
There is a strong, beautiful, and powerful movement of artists right now that have more respect for country music than modern day mainstream country has for itself. We need a way to unite these artists under one flag, to push the music forward. My idea for that:
This idea started last summer when a band I was in was touring with a guy named Paleface, who was a founding member of the “Anti-Folk” movement back in the early 90’s. You might remember him from an article I did on Hank Williams’ birthday.
Anti-folk really was a cross between folk and punk music, very similar to how the music in this current underground country movement is a cross between punk/metal and country. Just like our movement, the artists were being locked out of the folk institutions, and just like us, the anti-folk artists and fans had nothing but deep reverence for the traditions and previous artists in the folk world. Anti-folk was also a big tent movement, with all sorts of artists working under that name, and still working under it today. The parallels are deep to what those artists and fans were facing then, and what we face now.
The idea really took hold for me when Taylor Swift won the CMA for Entertainer of the Year, and I proclaimed country music was dead. Autopsy IV from ninebullets.net left a comment: “perhaps you should just say “fuck it” and walk away from country altogether”¦.start a movement and call it anti-country”¦.sort of like the folk/antifolk thing.” A few days later I went ahead and secured the domain anticountry.com. Since then this idea has been simmering in my head, and as time goes on, I grow more and more confident this is a good idea.
I understand there are some challenges to this term taking on, the biggest being that people might think that we are wanting to be ANTI what traditional country is, when in truth, that is what we are trying to embrace. The anti-folks faced the same challenge and overcame it, but it will take education. That is what anticountry.com would be for, and we would prove our loyalty to the heritage of country music with things like the Reinstate Hank movement.
Another is that I personally could start using term “Anti-Country” to describe the very identifiable movement that has cropped up with artists that all have ties to each other, but for it to really take off, the artists would need to embrace it, and so would the fans. I’m sure there would be some who will love it, and some who would want to distance from it.
Another criticism that I’m sure will come up, is that some people don’t want this movement to go mainstream, or become a “scene” or be “hip.” Some think it already has. I fully understand that concern, but I’m not looking to take this movement mainstream or add the spoon fed public to our ranks of fans. I’m looking to strengthen the support for our favorite artists, so that they can afford to come to our towns and continue to make the music that we love.
Simply put, “Anti-Country” would be a simple term for describing a movement of country-based artists that all exist outside of the Nashville establishment and that all have direct or indirect ties to each other. Who would be included? Without much work you can draw direct lines between many artists who are clearly part of this movement, and the trunk of the tree starts with Hank III, but can easily include artists not directly linked to Hank III, or artists who may not even like Hank III or identify with his music. And yes, there would be safeguards put into place so that Nashville could not steal this term from us as well.
I know this is a pretty arrogant thing for one person to propose. I’m just a music writer. Normally these things are grown from the artists, though the term “Outlaw” was started by Tompall Glasser’s secretary of all people. But unlike a lot of other previous music movements, this movement is not regionalized, but nationalized, so there have been few opportunities to get all the artists in one place face to face. We also lack a vocal leader. I don’t want to be the leader of anti-country, I think it should be grass roots. But someone has to get the ball rolling.
At this point this is all just talk, but if this moved forward, Anti-Country would be OUR movement, OUR term. That is why I need your opinion below, positive or negative. Hold no punches, and shoot me an email if you don’t want your thoughts in a public forum.