Nashville, I Thank You For the Suck Country
Posted on December 20, 2018 in music, Music Business, Opinions, Uncategorized
I have done my share of ranting about the modern country being manufactured in the Nashville music industry. But today, I want to take a little time off from the rant, and I want to say that I’m excited about what is happening in Nashville. Here is why…
I love Texas music.
I don’t know that there is anything better for Texas music then what is happening in Nashville right now. Follow me.
I reminisce. When I was in high school I was coming of age and discovering the rock music that was packing out arenas and filling America with the most mentally disabled sexually debase lyrics and drum beats that a six year old could play, and it was awesome. Some called it Arena Rock, some called it Hairband Rock. I call it Glory. Motley Crue, Def Leppard, Skid Row, Poison. Like I said, Glory. This was the day when MTV was life for a teenager. I would rush home just to watch the MTV vj’s guide me through the daily countdown. And then something really strange happened. This video appeared before my eyes from a band with a strange name. Pearl Jam? What the hell does that mean? The song was “Alive”. The video was odd, artsy, conceptual. Then a short time later Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” showed up. I remember watching MTV with my sister and asking her, “What do you think of this Pearl Jam song? I don’t dislike it, but I just don’t know what to think of it.” A few months later I bought the cassette single to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. I told my sister, “I don’t really like this song, but I wanted the single because for some reason I just feel like this song is going to change everything.” Turns out I was right.
This movement in rock music became the genre we now call “Grunge”, and rock music has never really recovered from its influence. Almost overnight, those glorious long-haired leather donning rock and roll stars seemed cheesy, bubblegum, and superficial. It was traumatizing to the music scene. But it was necessary. And it was inevitable.
Rock and roll music had gone too far. It had become so produced, so manufactured, so big, that there was nowhere for it to go. People still loved it. But they welcomed something new. Shortly afterwards, the Alternative rock scene came into full force. Some of those bands really sucked, but we listened to them, because we were really hungry for something better. We head-banged and shook our rock fists in the air until our hearts were empty, and we needed something to help us find our hearts again. Nirvana did that for us, even if it made them bleed and die, because that was Nirvana’s goal.
I’m going to explain to you what I think about Nashville now. I think this is true, and I hope that some of the ranters will occasionally settle into some perspective and recognize this truth. Nashville is smart. Nashville is business. They don’t manufacture bad music because they are stupid. They manufacture bad music because bad music sells. I don’t mean to generalize, there are many folks in Nashville who are deeply passionate about music. But, there is a lot of money in that town that is whirled around by men and women of business, who care about music as a second priority to business. Their goal is to turn profits, and to keep employees, and to grow empires. And many of them have done so. I can’t listen to the music of Kane Brown without gagging a bit, or Sam Hunt, or even Luke Bryan. But go to one of their shows. Do you see empty tables with chairs flipped up and some desperately depressed bartender mopping the floors waiting for closing time? No, you see thousands of screaming fans who just spent a lot of money on tickets to see that show. Guess what folks, Nashville isn’t going to change. Nashville won’t change until the money changes. That’s how businesses work. But wait, will the money start changing? Has it already?
Everywhere you go, in crowds, in social media, on music blogs, you find folks who are ranting about Nashville country music being so bad, and then mention that they have turned to Texas Country and Red Dirt music. Additionally, there are anomalies in the country music scene, not from Texas, who are making dramatic waves in their fanbase and ticket sales. Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson come to mind. I doubt either of those guys are going broke right now. But then you have exploding audiences for musicians and bands such as Cody Johnson, Turnpike Troubadours, and Aaron Watson. There is money in their musical careers.
Now, a relevant observation about the Texas Country/Red Dirt scene. I would divide Texas music into two general categories of sound. First of all, there is the southern rock “red dirt” side, apparently evolved from the influences of Cross Canadian Ragweed. This sound is full of dueling electric guitars, and country-boy lyrics sung with a heavy Texas/Oklahoma accent with a twang. The second sound is raw steel-guitar spiked country dancehall sound. To me, it sounds like 90’s country, which makes sense, because 90’s country is the “classic country” to today’s emerging artists in their 20’s. Think of Randall King in this side of the genre. But there are many other emerging artists. They will cite their influences as George Strait, Mark Chesnutt, Clay Walker, and the guys who were great in the 90’s. Those are the two basic sides of the Texas Country/Red Dirt scene that I hear, and quite a few inbetweeners (except Cody Canada, who is not an inbetweener).
I believe that the money chasing that is happening in Nashville is opening a big blackhole void in the country music audience, and music nature abhors a vacuum. Something is going to swoop in and fill that void. Now, I challenge you to tell me, what movement and music scene is primed, practiced, and eager to fill that hole in the country music fan’s soul? If you can think of any scene that exists in the world other than the Texas Country scene, then you know something about the music industry in our nation that is out of my peripheral sight. I am not the only one making this prediction, but I think that Texas Country is primed to be for country music what Seattle Grunge did for Rock & Roll. And you can give a big wet thank you kiss to Nashville for opening up that void. I think that some of these up & comers in the Texas Country scene are soon going to be rocketed into huge digital audiences, and will thus, sell out shows nationwide simply because they existed in Texas, and performed their art well. Country music fans might just pluck them up out of Texas and turn them into gods simply because they are so desperate for a country music saviour. Chris Fox at Texas Music Pickers frequently talks about this phenomenon and the possibilities in the Texas Music Pickers podcast (which is excellent and I highly recommend for those who love Texas music). And I think he is right. We might just be at the brink of a musical movement that will bypass the industry as we have known it for the past half century, emerge into a life of its own, and soon have countless fans filling up their shows and worshiping the guys who still love to sing honest down-home lyrics that a country person can relate to, and like to season up their songs with the occasional fiddle solo.
Thank you Nasvhille for opening up the industry for us hopeful Texas musicians. We are hard-working, creative, simple, low-key, poetic songwriters who do what we do for love of our fans, love of our towns, love of our stories, and love of our jobs. Thank you for pushing your audience into our arms.
Now I also give this prophetic warning. As the money shrinks in Nashville, and it already has begun to do so, those smart hard-working businessmen are going to chase the moneymakers. That’s what they are good at. My fear for Texas music is that it will begin to get rich, and then powerful, and then lose its heart and soul. That’s okay. But it will make me sad because I love the culture of Texas music as it existed twenty years ago, when Robert Earl Keen filled up amphitheaters and sold records to a religious movement of devoted fans. But, alas, change is always necessary. And ultimately, there will always be somebody out there who is looking for good music. And I expect there will always be good musicians somewhere, just waiting to be found.