Focus: Country Music

February 17, 2010

When I first met my then-girlfriend Kathy (whom I would eventually marry) in 2003, I was taken by her personality, looks and ability to put up with my awful jokes.  Plus, during our first real date I ordered some of the greasiest buffalo wings you’re likely to find and ended up with sauce all over my face.  Anyone that can tolerate this kind of behavior right out of the gate is easily a keeper.  🙂

However, things between Kathy and myself could’ve ended before they even began.  You see, when I picked Kathy up at her house the night of our first date,  we started things off the way most new couples would, with the standard routine of questions and answers.  After learning she was a teacher and her learning I liked Ghostbusters, she then decided it was time to reveal a rather important piece of information to yours truly.  Whilst discussing musical tastes (at the time, I had just come from my first Warped Tour and was all about emo), she lays the following line on me after I asked what music she was into.

“Well, I’m a country girl.  ”

Now, it’s at that point I could’ve easily made up some excuse, turned the car around, and deposited her back at her house faster than you could’ve said Nashville Star.  At the very least, I had a feeling this wouldn’t last past the night-country music was a major dealbreaker for me.

Thankfully, I stuck it out, and the rest is history.

As our relationship progressed, so did my exposure to country.  I continued to dislike it, from the country artists I already knew (LeAnn Rimes, Reba McEntire, that buffoon Billy Ray Cyrus) to the artists I wasn’t all that familiar with, such as Kathy’s favorite, Kenny Chesney.  Her love of Chesney’s music was massive, having taken her to numerous concerts of his and a wealth of CD purchases.  Not only did I see him as competition for my girl’s interests (how can I compete with that tan, muscled bastard?  )   , but the music itself was VERY characteristic of most country I was hearing at the time-repetitive, simplistic, rock-tinged numbers about death, lost loves, and farm equipment, such as the ridiculous Kenny Chesney crowd-pleaser, “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.  ”

However, any relationship is about give and take, and a good amount of sacrifice-I knew I couldn’t be playing MY music in the car all the time.  Plus, Kathy was already happily attending my bands’ shows at the time, along with the emo concerts I dragged her to, so it was only a matter of time before I saw country music in a live setting, too.

Of course, the first live country music event I would partake in would just so happen to be a Kenny Chesney concert at that year’s annual Summerfest in Milwaukee, with Kid Rock reject Uncle Kracker opening the evening.  Although I went into the experience with a scowl gracing my face, I left with something more closely resembling a smile-for the first time, I was able to see country music differently.  Both artists put on fun, exciting, highly professional performances that instantly changed my viewpoint-from then on, I knew things would be different.

I soon started finding country songs I actually enjoyed, most of which I enjoyed solely because they reminded me of my significant other, not a bad thing.  In addition, a few artists started to really stick in my head as well, such as the mighty Garth Brooks, one of the most successful recording artists of all time.  I knew he had a few decent songs under his belt before I met Kathy (including my personal favorite, “The Thunder Rolls”), and after seeing clips of his live shows, which more closely resembled a KISS concert than a dusty cowboy hat-and-twang jam session I had pictured before, he definitely looked like a force to be reckoned with.  At this point, I’d very much enjoy seeing him live, and it’s refreshing to know he’s currently back in the performing saddle, rocking out every weekend at the Encore Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

Believe it or not, there’s still more country artists that have caused me to think twice about my anti-country mentality.  I can’t deny the powerful voices of Carrie Underwood, Shania Twain and Faith Hill (even if some of their songs make me wish I were deaf), and it’s great to see someone like Darius Rucker, former Hootie and the Blowfish frontman, find a second life in the world of country.  We Wisconsin residents are fortunate to have access to Chasin’ Mason, one of the finer country cover bands you’re likely to see, what with their repertoire of country, rock, and unison black t-shirts.  And it’s hard to ignore Taylor Swift, the ultimate small town girl with big dreams, who does write her own material, play the guitar at a decent level, and clearly cares more about the music than anything else.  All she needs to do is drop the I’m-still-in-high-school act, grow up a bit both in musical style and in personality, and she’ll truly be a powerhouse.

On that note, there’s other artists that continue to rub me the wrong way.  Alan Jackson’s boring, plodding music, combined with his I’m-just-going-to-stand-there stage presence, have convinced me he has little to offer the music world.  The Dixie Chicks strike me as a trio of whiny little girls, led by the whiniest of them all, Natalie Maines, armed with a catalog of whiny tunes about running away from your own wedding and something called a Sin Wagon.  Sugarland falls into the same category, and frontwoman Jennifer Nettles does little to help with her downright goofy stage persona, perfectly demonstrated during her performance with Bon Jovi at the 2010 Grammy Awards.  Of course, I can’t forget the group of Artists I Can’t Tell Apart, both in song and looks-in case you’re curious, I’m referring to Dierks Bentley, Toby Keith, Brad Paisley and Tim McGraw.  Mr.  Paisley’s music especially drives me up the wall, which is meant to come off as humorous but instead comes off as dim-witted.  And then there’s The Zac Brown Band and Rascal Flatts, two groups of country musicians with extremely ugly frontmen and extremely dull songs.  A word to Zac Brown-if you’re going to the Grammy Awards, TAKE OFF YOUR WOOL HAT.  It doesn’t look good with a tux.

Now, I don’t want you, my three or four readers, to think I still hate country music with a passion.  I’ve managed to warm up to it and now consider it a genre that truly does have its act together, having not only churned out successful artists and bands for years but also having adapted to the ever-changing musical tide, from it’s early twangy bluegrass themes to a more straightforward rock influence.  In fact, looking at country music then and now, this would easily be an appropriate time to focus on two of not only the finest country artists of all time, but two of my all-time favorite musicans, period.



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