Blog Rodeo – Americana Music’s Influence on Country Music

blog-rodeo-logoI am honored to have been asked to create this post for the inaugural Blog Rodeo. It’s a great opportunity to join with some of the best bloggers in the game. This is not the first time I’ve been asked to represent my chosen vice of Americana music in a discussion focused on mainstream country music, and I’m humbled to do so again and know the chips are stacked against me..

Regular visitors to this site, my Facebook page and my twitter account, knows mainstream country is not my beat. Unlike the other fine blogs asked to participate in the Blog Rodeo I don’t cover the Music Row variety of contemporary pop-country music. I couldn’t give a damn what Taylor Swift is doing. That is unless she’s collaborating with The Civil Wars or performing a cover on Mumford and Sons. Then she’s fair game. More on that later.

I also don’t typically put Music Row in the crosshairs. I don’t spend my days hating on the Chesneys and Aldeans. Sure I occasionally throw a snide tweet or let loose on the barrel of fish that is the CMAs, but for the most part I stay mum. It’s all music and someone, somewhere get’s joy from it. I prefer to spend my energy on the good stuff. The great music the people that makes it that comes my way.

Music Row performers attain success in their chosen fields in the one measurable way that is important to any commercial industry, money. Though it’s not my shot of hooch I have to give them their due. Sold out arena tours and millions of units sold is a pretty convincing measure of success.

But there’s more to music than mass-commercial appeal. Or there should be.

Unlike mainstream country radio “hits,” chart position and platinum albums are not the currency of Americana music. Filled arena tours funded by Bud Lite is not current model of operations. Americana is a genre of bootstrapping and scrappy souls. It’s where beater vans are the vehicle of choice driven thousands of miles by steadfast musicians playing for half empty bars at the end of the journey. All the while they never imagine doing anything else.

Now to address the thesis for this project. The most exciting thing for Country Music in 2013 will be…what?

I’ll answer that the most exciting thing about country music is it’s new-found focus on Americana as a kind of R&D lab for innovation. A source for material, inspiration and yes revenue. Here’s some examples:

On his fourteenth studio album of the same name Chesney momentarily put aside his Jimmy Buffett obsession and covered Guy Clark’s “Hemingway’s Whiskey.” On that same album he included a couple of nice duets . The first covered Matraca Berg’s “You And Tequila” with Grace Potter and the other with George Jones on Bobby Braddock ‘s “Small Y’all.”

Chesney will also be sharing the stage the Avett Brothers, Gary Clark Jr. and others at the Tortuga Music Festival in Ft. Lauderdale this Spring. Festivals a great source of cross-over exposure.

Taylor Swift nabbed two recent Grammy nominations with her work with T Bone Burnett and The Civil Wars for the song “Safe & Sound” from the Hunger Games soundtrack. She also does a fine cover of Mumford and Son’s White Blank Page Cover for BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge.

Speaking of T Bone Burnett, as the music director for his wife’s night time drama, ABC’s Nashville, he’s done great job of getting small acts big exposure. Burnett has taken artists like Shovels and Rope and used their music, and in the case of Lindi Ortega used her music and provided a cameo. ABC puts these songs for sale on their official Nashville web site.

The heart of the music industry on cable TV, Country Music Television, has Crossroads which has paired Country music and Americana and rock music for years. CMT’s new on-line venture CMT Edge is a great showcase and news source for some of Americana’s best.

Is country music finding it’s soul again or just co-opting another popular music trend to make money? Who cares? The artists that are creating the great music are gaining a wider audience and getting more compensation for their considerable craft. Does increased exposure and success result in Jason Isbell and Chris Knight creating the next Truck Yeah? Doubtful.

The instinct to keep this music our precious little secret is a damaging and selfish one we need to overcome. Commercial country music does reinvent itself occasionally even if it’s for narrow commercial reasons. Before the genre abandoned them Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson were all part of the country mainstream. It’s true that this might be another instance of Music Row just exploiting the next big thing and will abandon it for the next big thing. But I have faith that Americana music will survive this exploitation and few, like Mumford and Sons and The Lumineers, will actually springboard into a wider cultural consciousness.

So to answer the what will be the most exciting thing for Country Music in 2013 I will have to go with the opportunity is affords Americana performers and a few country music fans that will be delighted at discovering these great artists. Perhaps a little of the beauty and grit that we love about Americana will rub off on the occasional song featured on commercial country radio.

Am I naive? Perhaps. But I have a belief that great music, the kind that reflects the human spirit, inspires and speaks to us all.

I don’t know about you but I’m ready to accommodate a bigger party.

Blog Rodeo Roundup: See What Everyone Else Is Saying About Country Music in 2013!

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