“We Really Don’t Fit Anywhere” – The Civil Wars Interview

The Civil Wars - Fillmore Soundcheck
The Civil Wars – Fillmore Soundcheck

I received an email invitation from the local GRAMMY Foundation representatives to cover the Civil Wars as they participated in a GRAMMY Camp event to have college and high school students sit in on a sound check and a Q&A afterward.  I waited on the rest of “the press” and hoped that I would get an opportunity to squeeze in my one or two questions when the band too time to meet with us, I was then told by Christen , the GRAMMY rep, that I was the press. As I stab at my Droid smart phone to pad out my questions and topics they were brought in by their road manager and, in contrast the Southern-Gothic image conjured by their music, they immediately start ribbing me about my name and dashing all pretense. We then spent the next 15 minutes (I was promised 5) in a fun and engaging conversation that I hope is reflected below.

People, like myself, who obsess about music often too reflexively shun anything stained with mainstream success. Like Jack Black’s character, Barry, from the film adaptation Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity berating a father entering Championship Vinyl looking to buy Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called To Say I Love You” for his daughter’s birthday,  we often miss the joy that music brings people and degrade it into our own personal cultural caste system.

Perhaps it was the inclusion of The Civil Wars’ song Poison & Wine in an episode of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy in 2009. Perhaps it was the Taylor Swift tweeting to her legion of followers that she she was a fan of the band (and then included them in her iTunes playlist). Perhaps it was being hand-selected by Adele to open her United States shows which led her to rave on her blog – “If you’re coming to any of the shows on this trip make sure you get there early to see them. I’ve never been so blown away.”  Whatever it is, it seemed that for some the Civil Wars,  Joy Williams and John Paul White, were destined to wear the dreaded scarlet M (mainstream.)

It’s interesting to me that one of the shining lights of Americana refuses to be corralled by the label and part of their success may be a result of  this refusal to be pigeonholed. It was a unique opportunity for me to meet with Joy and John Paul, and hear  their beautiful harmonies soar within a nearly empty Fillmore hall. The hall where legendary promoter, Bill Graham, made his mark by following his love of music. Boundaries be damned. I hope you like the interview.

Twang Nation: I read that you’ve recently spent some time in the company of Rick Rubin and T Bone Burnett.

Joy Williams: Ah, word on the street.

John Paul White: It feels really weird to have that conversation. We were hanging out with Rick Rubin….

TN: Does your popularity help you get an audience with star producers like these where many others would be sent packing if they were to ask?

JPW: I think that everything we’ve done up until now has been done to this point with the music in mind. We don’t pitch ourselves or push ourselves on producers, labels or even listeners. Everything we’ve done has been let’s just make the best music we can and perform it as well as we possibly can, and let the chips fall where they may. The beauty of technology is that word of mouth can spread so easily and so much faster that this entire year we’ve had many great opportunities come to us just from making music we dearly love and performing it as well as we possibly can. When that happened it was just another thing we never expected. If we had reaching out to them and said “We’re the Civil Wars. Like us.” that would have changed things. We like to find things and i’m sure they like to find things. We were extremely flattered when they bring us up.

TN: You guys are great at what you do, but there’s a lot of great music out there. Americana isn’t known for having superstars but you’re the closest it’s come. How did you rise above the fray to get the profile your enjoying? Was it the team around you I saw at the Artist Development panel at the Americana Music Association conference? was it the inclusion of your song (Poison & Wine) onGrey’s Anatomy? You had a high-profile fan (Taylor Swift) that tweeted her affection for your music.

JW: I feel like there have been a lot of small hinge moments on a really big door. I don’t think you can go back and attribute it to just two or three things. We’re very fortunate that the music has connected with people the way that it has. We’ve also worked really hard to do things in a different way. We’ve hand-selected every single person that is now a part of our team and they give a damn because they aren’t forced to work on this. I think people coming to our shows and tweeting, whether they are a celebrity or not,  that word of mouth, is one of the biggest gifts you can give an independent artist. it’s exciting to come back to cities where we played to maybe a quarter of the people that we get to play to the next time we’re there. We’re  excited that sales are growing , but more than that we we get to play music. We genuinely love what we do and hopefully that connects with people as well. No one is more surprised than we are that this is working out. (laughs)

JPW: I think people tend to gloss over how hard we work. This is the third time we’ve played San francisco this year. There are a lot of cities around this nation that are the same way. at the beginning of the year we were playing to maybe an hundred people and now we get to play this place tonight (the capacity I found on google for the Fillmore that is 1199) , it’s like the old sports adage the more we practice the luckier we get.

TN: I was surprised to see your name  as a nominee for the Country Music Awards Vocal Duo of the Year. You were beat out by Sugarland, but the CMAs aren’t known for being unpredictable.

JPW: I would assume a lot of that has to do with CMT (Country Music Television) because we got no country radio play. CMT played the hell out of the Barton Hollow  video, and now the poison & Wine video. That got us in front of a lot of people.

JW: It’s interesting to see us played on CMT and the VH1. We don’t know where we fit within a genre, but that doesn’t bother us.

TN: So you don’t think you fit within a genre?

JW: No

JPW: No, but that was never the idea. We didn’t set out to be this and not that. we just wrote music some things were natural – we liked this, and we liked that. We never set out like this is what we want to be and this is what we don’t want to be. When we went out to play it would be she and I went and a guitar. So things starting tailoring themselves to that set-up. By the time we got into the studio we has an idea of what we do, and don’t do. What we like and what we don’t. The record (Barton Hollow) ended up stripped-down and simple because we had spent so much time on the road with the songs, that when we would add instruments they just got in the way. It ended up being a minimalist record but it was never set out to be that way. we never said at any point “If we turn t this way just enough country radio will play this.” or “If we put a banjo on there we’re screwing ourselves.”  We just wanted to make the album exactly the way we wanted to and be completely selfish about it.

JW: We just followed our noses.

JPW: And by doing that way we really don’t fit anywhere.

JW: But no complaints about that. We don’t feel ostracized by any group. We’ve had everything from pop to folk to Americana, country..we’re happy with all those titles.

JPW: If you’re not playing the radio game it’s probably in your best interest. because then the Americana fans, the country fans, the folk fans, the bluegrass fans…we even have rock fans, which kind of makes sense since I am such a huge rock and metal fan and maybe hints of that show up in our work. We appeal to all types because we are doing what we love and people pick up on that.

TN: With the Country Music Awards nomination,and the Americana Conference Awards nomination for New/Emerging Artist and Duo/Group of the Year and all the other awards you’ve won, you figure you’ll be up for a GRAMMY?

JW: Well, who knows?

JPW: I have plenty of doubt abut that.

TN: Do you?

JPW: I do.

TN: I’ll place a wager that you’re going to get a GRAMMY.

JPW: You’re asking us to bet against ourselves? I’ll do it, what do we bet?

TN: What do you drink?

JPW: Oh yes, let’s do that. bourbon…whiskey…the older the better.

TN: How about  bottle of Bulleit?

JPW: A bottle of Bulleit it is. I hope I lose.

TN: I’ll be covering the GRAMMYS and will be in L.A. to claim my prize. just a couple more questions. you don’t want to be associated by a genre but you can be defined by your influences, who are some of yours?

JW: We couldn’t have more different backgrounds when it comes to this. I grew up listening to a lot of crooners – Ella, Etta, Frank and then it went on to Joni Mitchell, Joan Biaz, Janis Joplin, The Beach Boys and the Carpenters we always playing in my house. Then I got my license and started to drive and had total control of the radio which then turned completely to pop.

JPW: We listened to a lot of top 40 on my mom’s car radio and a lot of country music. Then i was listening to my friend’s Ozzy records, Black Sabbath and Queen and all of that. Then i came back around to listening to the stuff I grew up with and cut my teeth on. The Beatles, E.L.O., Jeff Buckley later…Elliot Smith. Elliot is my guy.He probably sums up everything I love about music.

JW: Mine would be Billie Holiday. Yours would be Elliot and mine would be Billie.

JPW: They’re not that far apart. And they;re not that far apart in temperament if you believe their biographies. We’re not that different.

TN: Who would you like to share that stage with?

JW: Anybody alive?

TN: Alive or dead.

JPW: I got one. For alive I’d say Tom Waits.

JW: Yes! Alive Tom Waits!

JPW: But I’d be terrified. We could just stand next to him and sing harmony and let him be the mad man.

JW: I’d be the happiest person in the world!

JPW: Dead would be Elliot Smith.

JW: Townes Van Zandt for me, or Billie Holiday.

TN: I would love to hear you guys cover a Townes song.

JPW: We talked about “Waiting Around to Die.” i don’t feel like we can go anywhere near “Pancho and Lefty.”

TN: I saw a video on YouTube of you covering Michael Jackson’s Billie jean (see below)

JPW: There’s certain songs, like a Townes song, that makes perfect sense for us to cover. So for whatever reason they sometimes fall flat. We do them as you would expect us to do them. So sometimes it makes more sense for us to take Billie jean or (Jackson 5’s) I Want you Back, that we feel like are great songs but you might be distracted by the production and a lot of people don’t realize how great the songs are. Plus it’s a lot of fun for us.

JW: We’re really not into navel-gazing in terms of what we perform. We take what we do seriously but we don’t take ourselves seriously. I think if you make it like a living room experience, to me, that’s more enjoyable than watching someone sing only their own songs. We always like to keep people on their toes a little bit.

JPW: It can get heavy so we like to lighten things up a bit.



Twang Nation Podcast Episode 2

I am humbled by the responses to the first episode of my Podcast and the kind and encouraging emails, tweets and conversations from readers and musicians. So before the holidays kick into full gear I bring you, friends and neighbors,Twang Nation episode 2.

Fresh off  the interview with the Civil Wars, upstairs at the historic Fillmore theater in San Francisco, I wanted to include their extraordinary title song from the current album Barton Hallow. If there is a super group and mainstream representatives for the Americana/roots music genre it’s Joy Williams and John Paul White. Also Houston’s own brings his own sweet brand of honky tonk as a chaser for those bittersweet beers. Mat D and the profane Saints and Jeannette Kantzalis were kind enough to send me some great unreleased cuts to include on the episode. Also I have also decided to end to the Podcast with a classic country song, on this episode David Allan Coe’s classic barroom number You Never Even Called Me by My Name.

It continues to be fun. Thanks for listening and please share with friends and family and leave any comments or requests below.

Dale Watson – A Real Country Song
The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow
Robert Ellis – What’s In it For Me
Lydia Loveless – Steve Earle
Mat D and the profane Saints – Red Ball
A Brokeheart Pro aka (Jeannette Kantzalis) – When The Killing’s Done
Porkchop Express – War W00t
Rita Hosking – My Golden Bull
Possum Jenkins – New Brand Of Misery
Joe Whyte – Please Believe Me
Somebody’s Darling – Another Two-Step
David Allan Coe – You Never Even Called Me by My Name

Twang Nation Podcast Episode 2

Twang Nation Podcast Episode 1

Yes friends, after all these years of talking (and posting the occasional clip) about great music I decided to just into the fray and get out a Twang Nation podcast. Why now? Two reasons. I came back from the Americana Music Association Conference with some great experiences and the technological opportunity fell into my lap. there you have it.

How does it stack up with excellent productions like Freight Train Boogie, 9 Bullets or Country Fried Rock ? I’ll leave that up to you dear listener.There’s a lot of great Americana and roots music out there and I hope I am able to cover just a bit more of it to bring you great music. The production is excellent thanks to my friend (and bartender) Franklyn, the “uh” and “um”marred patter between songs is less smooth (Sorry Brett Deter, at least I got you name in there after the song!)but I take the same license I do as a blogger, you get what you pay for. And it’s untimely not about my sterling delivery, it’s about the music. By chance this maiden episode happen to coincide with the 70th birthday of Guy Clark so I’ve included his classic Dublin Blues to end the program.

Best of all, this was fun and I look forward to doing it again soon. I hope you like it and find some great music , and if you like it please leave your comments below and forward it to friends. Most importantly go buy music and get out and see live shows. if you don’t our greatest fears might be realized,  great music will go away.

  1. Dale Watson – A Real Country Song
  2. Hymn For Her – Slips
  3. Hellbound Glory – Better Hope You Die Young
  4. Amanda Shires – Shake The Walls
  5. Austin Lucas – Sleep Well
  6. Wagons – I Blew It
  7. Sunday Valley  – Sometimes Wine
  8. Nikki Lane – Gone, Gone, Gone
  9. Brett Deter – The Devil’s Gotta’ Earn
  10. Lindi Ortega – Angels
  11. Scott H_ Biram –  Dontcha Lie To Me Baby
  12. Truckstop Dalrlin’ – Down
  13. Guy Clark – Dublin Blues

Twang Nation Podcast Episode 1

On iTunes

Americana Music Association Conference & Festival 2011 Wrap Up

On the night of the 10th annual Americana Music Association Awards, the director of the organization, Jed Hilly, recounted from the stage of the historic Ryman Auditorium a few of the key accomplishment te genre had enjoyed over the last few years. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences included a separate Americana Grammy category and Miriam-Webster added the word Americana to their dictionary: “a genre of American music having roots in early folk and country music.” I was fortunate to be chosen to cover the Grammys as the official Americana blogger this year and so was personally appreciative of that part formal industry recognition and I think the Miriam-Webster definition is imprecise but Hilly’s assessment is correct, movement now feels like progress.

The nearly 50 panels ranged from topics better suited for barroom debates  (Is  Blues Americana?) to tips and insights in booking shows, using Cloud-based, digital distribution,  steaming music services and tips on using social media to expand your fan base.

As great as the America Music Awards program and panels were the real action was around Nashville. A neat definition of Americana was made even more futile by the contemporary variations on display by the 100 bands showcased at five of the city’s best live music clubs throughout the dates of the conference.

Wednesday night started with Austinite power-couple Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison at the Station Inn. I had see their show several months ago at my home in San Francisco and they had honed the songs and patter over the miles. The married pair emanated a presence and rapport that can only be delivered from two people that have been in the thick and thin together. Jokes about marriage counseling followed by numbers laced with classic country was reminiscent of John and June or George and Tammy. Then across town to catch Blind Boys of Alabama and another Austin resident Hayes Carll at the Mercy Lounge. The BBoA are simply one of the most amazing live acts I’ve ever seen. Their version of Amazing Grace performed over the familiar lonesome strains of House of the Rising Sun will give you hope while making you weep. Hayes Carll delivered his learned honky-tonk with spirit and a Texas crooked smile to charged crowd that hung on every word, even when that song was as wordy as KMAG YOYO.

Thursday was all about the 10th annual awards Americana Music Association Honors and Awards held at the Mother Church of Country Music, the Ryman Auditorium. Once again Jim Lauderdale performed MC duties and Buddy Miller led the house band once again and also triumphed by winning two awards, Artist of the Year and Instrumentalist of the Year. Miller showed the utmost humility by stating after the second hand-made folk-art trophy was handed to him  “Well this is just embarrassing. I feel like I get away with murder,” he said. “I’m really, really not that good. … But I get to play with some wonderfully incredibly talented people.” Emmylou Harris quipped that they should just name the hand-made trophies “The Buddy.” I think she’s on to something.

Robert Plant and his Band of Joy took home the trophy for Album of the Year took acceptation to Miller’s assessment. Saying of his Raising Sand and Band of Joy collaborator “I stole a great deal with my old companions, and I was very fortunate, the last few years, to be welcomed by some spectacular people, especially in this town,” Plant said. “”I’m never going anywhere without Buddy Miller. “ Regarding the Band of Joy win, I would argue that a covers album should not be in the running for album of the year, but if one is Gurf Morlix’s album of Blaze Foley covers “Blaze Foley’s 113th Wet Dream” should have been that album.

Musical highlights included the Civil Wars’ Barton Hollow, the Avett Brothers’ The Once and Future Carpenter and soul singer Candi Staton’s tribute to Rick Hall, founder of Fame Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals, Ala. with Heart on a String.

Song of the Year winner Justin Townes Earle delivered on an up-tempo Harlem River Blues, the Secret Sisters represented country tradition with Hank Williams’ Why Don’t You Love Me and Scott and Seth Avett of the Avett Brothers provided background vocals during Jessica Lea Mayfield’s For Today.  Other performers included Lucinda Williams (Blessed), Amos Lee (Cup of Sorrow), Elizabeth Cook (El Camino), Buddy Miller (Gasoline and Matches), and Jim Lauderdale (Life by Numbers).

The show closed out with Greg Allman on Hammond B-3 organ leading Plant, Griffin, Miller, Lee, Cook,  and others on an extended version of the gospel standard, “Glory, Glory Hallelujah.”

Post awards activities too place primarily in the Basement under Grimey’s Record Store. I walked in on the winsome Amanda Shires mid-set, decked in a lovely dress and monogrammed boots her fluttering vibrato held the packed house in silence. Malcolm Holcombe followed with a two-piece accompaniment that in no way fenced in his frenetic guitar picking as he strolled the stage and growled songs of love and hope. On advice of a friend I stuck around for Pokey LaFarge & the South City Three. Their country-swing-blues sound was a perfect to close a late night.

Friday I was fortunate enough to catch the great Henry Wagons at the Second Fiddle Australian/Americana lunch showcase. Wagons is one of these guys that was born to perform, and it works to his favor that he’s cool to be around. Later that night I headed over to the Mercy Lounge to catch Robert Ellis playing the opening bill at the Mercy Lounge, “I thought I had gotten the shitty slot.” Ellis said grinning at the nearly packed room. He and his band then proved why they are the one to watch in the coming. years. It reminded me of when I first saw Ryan Bingham in New York City in 2007, great things to come. Amy LaVere followed playing her jazzy folk renditions  with winsome charm and playing, and seeming waltzing, with her stand-up bass. I then spent time catching Elizabeth Cook doing her always excellent set and heading downstairs to the Cannery Ballroom to see Jim Lauderdale & Buddy Miller show how it’s done. Did I mention this is the best Americana conference/festival in the world? Then across to catch the Bottle Rockets do an acoustic show at the Rutledge, where the band proved that even unplugged they are one of the best live acts in America.

Saturday I decided to hit the the Americanarama in the parking lot of Grimey’s Preloved Music Record Store to see a current favorite, Nikki Lane,  perform her blend of 60’s surf rock and country noir. Lane charmed the crowd and then wowed them. She also won extra style points from me for sporing a Waylon Jennings logo tattoo on her forearm. I was suprised by the band Hymn For Her that I judged by their name to be a wispy folk duo. They were anything but as they tore through their set of hillbilly garage-rock with Lucy Tight on cigar-box guitar & Wayne Waxing on guitar, kick drum and harmonica. They blew me away with their cover of Morphine’s Thursday.

Overall this year’s conference seems like the community has come into their own with old friends and new mingling to laugh , argue and celebrate the thing that brings us together. Great music.


Open Letter to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

Dear HSB folks,

Though I’ve approached the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass personnel in every direct (and indirect) way imaginable to allow me backstage access to this year’s event I’ve gotten nothing from you but polite but firm “no chance.” It’s not like I’m a newbie fan-boy looking to drool over M Ward (who I will be skipping) I’ve been back there before. In 2008 I was backstage because of the kindness of Billy Joe Shaver and in 2009 it was the awesome Elizabeth Cook that came through for casa Twang. Last year a deal for access with an artist and label never came through so I got to feel what it was like to  work through a 600k free attendance while trying to blog from a phone, get a decent photo and look for electrical outlets. Not to mention the bathroom lines. I didn’t care for it.

Do I deserve backstage access? I don’t know. I have been a guest for the Grammys in L.A. and the Americana Music Association in Nashville for the work I’ve done on this blog over the last 7 years. I do it because I love the music and I want to share it with like-minded people. I do it as a fan speaking to other fans. There is no other better example off a labor of love when it comes to as fickle an industry as music. Sure the HSB is a huge success and it’s free so publicity is not an issue but what about showing some love from one fan to another? I mean it is after all why we both do what we do.

The reason you gave for a blanket media (of which I’m not) shut-out was given as overzealous folks in the past has overstepped their place and bothered the artists. As I’ve stated, I have been backstage two years in the past and never did as much. I would nod, a hello and ask for the photo here and there, but really it was about me tweeting and posting what was going on around me. I am a courteous guest. My mama raised me right.

So yes,  I will be at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival next weekend and will be posting my picks to see this week as usual. Yours is the premier Americana and roots music event in the country and Mr. Warren Hellman deserves hillbilly Sainthood for arranging and funding the entire event. But in San Francisco, a city that claims a spirit of cooperation and technology innovation, to have this event bar me from the event based on some historic bad apples is arbitrary and unfortunate to a lowly blogger that just want’s quiet place to do his thing.

Baron Lane


I found out about Turntable.fm though the music industry gadfly Bob Lefsetz newsletter I’m all about sharing music (duh, I have a blog) so I was intrigued how the new breed of  social media for  music might work.  After a few days of trying it out I have to admit it’s pretty engaging and, in my case as a music geek, quite addicting.

In broad strokes Turntable.fm isa place to share and compare music. It’s invite only but if a friend in your Facebook network is a member then you will gain access. The user takes the form is a cutesy animated avatar you can “enter” rooms (mine is called  Twang nation Jamboree, natch) The rooms are with themes generally though sometimes the theme is pretty blurry since users create the rooms. Each room feature 5 spaces on a stage that allows users to use a playlist, which you  painstakingly create by searching for music on the site’s impressive database. Luckily the playlists are saved for return visits because a lot of work can go into creating one. You can then take the stage and play for people, as well as other DJs, that enter the room to listen. A voting mechanism is provided to support (Awesome) or detract (Lame) the song being played. Support of the songs add to the DJ’s cred, or “points”, and you can become a fan of that DJ and will be emailed whenever he/she comes back to Turntable.fm to play music.

The multiple DJ collaboration is well known in the hip-hop and techno genres, in country, roots and Americana the closest analogy is a guitar pull.

Yes the site is targeted at youth and by the looks of the room names (techno and indy rock dominate) it’s working. But the social element of playing and sharing music with other like-minded people transcends age. Watching themes emerge and a spirit of competitive one-upmanship that occurs as the music plays on is pretty intoxicating when it hits a stride. I’ve discovered a lot of music I might not have through the community being formed in the room.

I’m not sure how it will effect the free-fall of the music industry but Turntable.fm is a pretty cool way to spend your time while we all figure it out.

Americana Music and the Big Tent

This morning the Americana Music Association  shared a link to an online Spin.com (Meet the New Stars of Americana) past covering the Americana scene in Red Hook Brooklyn and touching on the Americana genre in general.

I take a view much like I believe Jed Hilly and the AMA do, since they sent this article out via twitter and their own official email blast, that any press is good press and it helps to lift all Americana boats in the ocean of mass-media and National consciousness.  It takes a real aberration of opinion, like calling Robert Plant the King of Americana or declaring the predecessor to Americana, alt.country to be dead , to rile my feathers enough to take use this blog as a virtual soap box..

But the article is pretty much what i would expect from Spin magazine. A 20-something speaking using context of indy-rock and language of 20-somethings to establish shared taste and like-mindedness. Ever generation does this. Have you listened to most 20-somethings on the  train talking to one another? It’s like razor wire, like, for your, like, ears. Right?!

I’m just glade that in this instance Uncle Tupelo , Whiskeytown and Bill Monroe are the topic of conversation instead of the whatever skinny-jean and hoodied is the flavor of the week.

If there’s anything in the article that peeves me it’s the reference to Americana pioneer Gillian Welch, who co-produced of the 9 million unit selling O, Brother, Where Art Thou and Alison Krauss, the most awarded woman in Grammy history (26 awards of  38 nominations) as “niche acts.” I think most musicians would love to have that niche. there is also the painfully ham-handed application of sub-genre definitions – “chillbilly, bootgaze, artisanal rock, outhouse, tin can alley, or hobohemian.”

Fans of Americana share, aside from band-wagoners, share a lot of the same attributes as folk, blues and jazz fans. there is a reverence to a purity and reverence to an idea of “tradition” that sometimes gets in the way of innovation and creativity. But in the case of Americana, a mongrel genre at best, the litmus of genre purity, or as I like to call it the “more authentic than thou” argument, makes no sense for a field that can claim genre-bending acts like Those Darlin’s , Hank Williams III and the Legendary Shack Shakers as members.

Washboard lessons held in Brooklyn, John Deere caps and pearl-snap shirts from Urban Outfitters  and a vague grasp of bluegrass history is no threat to Americana.  Age, geography, wardrobe or other litmus tests aside from the musical variety which I partake in ad nauseam, is pure horseshit.

Americana Music and Craft Beer

Frank Booth: What kind of beer do you like?
Jeffrey Beaumont: Heineken.
Frank Booth: [shouting] Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!

David Lynch understood the cultural identity of beer when writing these lines for the characters in the 1986’s Blue Velvet. Dennis Hopper as the psychopathic Frank Booth demeans the prissy, European suds of choice of terrified preppy college -boy Kyle MacLachlan with his manly, working-class beer of choice, PBR! There has never been a more stark or disturbing example that beer is an important element of cultural identity.

Of course anyone that has traversed the natural habitat of the urban hipster watering hole know that PBR tall boys is the brew De rigueur (Blue Velvet fans I guess.)  Texas honky-tonks have the Wrangler and Lucchese-clad locals swill the local favorite Lone Star long-neck. Then there is the ubiquitous Bud lite and Coors lite just about everywhere else.

I once heard someone equate country music with one of the latter big company lagers. I couldn’t agree more. Kenny Chesney is the Bud lite, or with his recent foray into beach topis the Corona, of country music. It makes perfect sense that the crowds at his sold-out stadium shows would overwhelmingly be represented by tasteless yellow fizz water. That they display the same lack of discretion for their beer as they do for their music should not come as a surprise.

Last week was American Craft Beer Week . Beer is as infused with the American spirit as apple pie, capitalism and firarms. Native Americans mixed maize, birch sap and water to create a beer like brew and Ben Franklin is purported to have said “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” He might not have said this bit it’s true they early colonist were big fans of their suds.

I see craft beer producers like I see the musicians I cover on this blog. Hayes Carll or Amanda Shires are like Stone Brewery or Russian River, They all use elements of traditional America (by way of Europe and all the other cultural  influences that make this country great) and created something innovative but still traditionally American. The audience at their shows prove that the association is not just theoretical. They tend to be college educated, make more and hoist local brews in greater numbers than mass-produced brew at every event I’ve attended (100+ and counting.) I would love to see 21st Amendment or Cherry Voodoo sponsor a West Coast tour by Hang Jones or Tiny Television. perhaps a newcomer like Armadillo Ale Works in Denton, TX could partner with a local band to grow both brands.  They are all kindred spirit appealing to the same demographic and I believe there is a glorious synergy suds/twang to be had.

So sit back and put on a local Americana or roots music band and pour a locally brewed beverage and rejoice in the great American tradition of enjoying great things and entrepreneurial spirit of  sticking it to the big guys trying to hoodwink you into confusing crap for cream puffs.


Six Rounds Spent – El Corazón

Passion, jealousy, betrayal, lying, cheating, drinking, drugging, violence,, reconciliation, repeat…ah love. Here are 6 of my favorites. What are yours?

Ridley Bent – Nine Inch Nails


Ryan Adams – Come Pick Me Up


Jason Isbell/Drive By Truckers – Goddamn Lonely Love


Guy Clark – Dublin Blues


Blaze Foley – If I Could Only Fly (at a wedding, no less!)


Steve Earle – Valentines Day


Johnny Cash – I Walk the Line  (BONUS)


From Where I Sit – Rated XXX

I created this blog partly because of my perception of musical classification rigidity and the gatekeepers and sterilized mediocrity of the musical landscape. The country music I had grown up with was no longer represented and the legends, as Johnny Cash proved late in his career, couldn’t get anyone to take his phone calls. The rock stations were no better.

In the summer of 2004 I was a displaced redneck in New York City seeking identity in a city of fiercely individual natives or tides of transplant trying to forget where they came from to portray some idea of New York they carried with them from Cincinnati, Des Moines or wherever they were trying to forget. I was trying to remember…

I would go to a Dwight Yoakam show just off Central Park and then a Pixies a few night later downtown. I was steeped in the proverbial American melting pot, but somehow I felt I was grease ready to be skimmed off the top.

Around this time I uncovered sources of inspiration that would give me hope and change my life. I discovered No Depression magazine and Uncle Tupelo’s last studio effort, the superb Anodyne. I know this was many years after the both of these has been introduced but I traveled many musical roads before heading over the the wrong side over the tracks.  Before finding the promised land.

I couldn’t get enough. Everything on Bloodshot Records, The Drive By Truckers, Th, Legendary Shack Shakers, Scott H. Biram, Lucinda Williams, Gram Parsons. This music had the sentimental beauty of the country music I loved and the raw heat I loved in great rock. Music that was Southern without being stupid or condescending. I was a convert, a disciple. I started a blog.

If not for the halo effect if No Depression and Uncle Tupelo I would not have picked up the thread that led me to everything else. I didn’t love it all but I could see how it tied together. Categories can be as harmful as they are helpful. Humans like to define things in order to group as well as exclude. This thing is like these other things but not like those. I get that musicians chafe at edges of genre, that they don’t like to be “fenced in.”

But there is a sound and a spirit I continue to celebrate on this blog. I’m not paid by anyone to do it and that freedom allows me reflect my taste and ignore what falls outside the periphery. I enjoy a wide variety of music but the theme I set when I launched this site is one that I loosely adhere to. Of course it’s only my ears that i have to appease when reflecting that theme. But I believe my handful of loyal readers are along for the ride.

Recently a writer I truly admire, Adam Sheets, and a musician I have admired but am currently dubious of, Shooter Jennings, launched an effort to create a “XXX” genre of music that to give musicians that don’t fit neatly into the generally accepted genres, especially those artists with country or rural leanings, a wider range of exposure and recognition.

alt.country has mutated into the larger umbrella of Americana and though I have not always agreed with Executive Director Of The Americana Music Association Jed Hilly, but I have nothing but respect for the organization and great people working with him in Nashville. We don’t always see eye-to-eye with what is the best of Americana music when they present their awards at the Ryman Auditorium in the fall, but we celebrate the same genre for different proposes. Hilly’s job is to broaden the appeal for the genre and has done a great job not only organizing a Herculean convention/festival awards show each Fall, but he’s help formalized a radio play list and a Grammy category (which I will be covering for the ceremonies in L.A. next month.)

The XXX movement (it doesn’t really fit the criteria of genre) is a noble effort and I applaud the spirit of it. My concern is that the only unifying factor is the founder’s perception of  who is wrongly marginalized.

Most of the bands listed on tier site are on the margin. But Dallas thrash-metal band Pantera is listed along with Justin Townes Earle. Being from Dallas I am a huge Pantera fan, but there they have no overt “Southern” sound, and their 1992 album Vulgar Display of Power went double-platinum. I think most bands would accept that level of obscurity. Justin Townes Earle is the current celebrated poster boy of Americana and recently performed on the Late Show with David Letterman. Agian, that’s some glitzy margin. I understand the frustration and applaud the conversation, but for now I’m willing to hitch my wagon to the Americana mule and rabble-rouse within the family.

In the end it all seems like people who already think about music more than is probably healthy taking the conversation from the fun part, the music, to a navel-gazing level just to have some influence on what is correctly observed as a rigid, antiquated system. But after participating in several cycles of the “what is Americana/alt.country/country/whatever”, which ultimately leads to the same “who’s-in-and-who’s-out” mistakes the current system makes. I’m always but for a good fight, but I’m no longer interested to tilt at these particular meta-windmills.