Geography. Lines of demarcation have fueled feuds, rivalries and even wars.
Yet, when it comes to Texas Music, there seems to be only one place that is a magnet for hatred: Nashville. Several discussions I’ve had and things I’ve read over the past few months got me to wondering why exactly that is.
The leading theory among those that “hate” Nashville is that it simply sucks. Such simple eloquence belies the passion that those who feel this way possess, and would completely alleviate any need for investigative journalism on my behalf. They fervently believe that everything that comes from Nashville is garbage and everything that is created in Texas is brilliant.
If you answer yes, I have to ask if we really haven’t moved on from the over a decade old marketing cry of “Nashville sucks” created by one of my all-time favorite Texas musicians Cory Morrow. When that rallying cry was first debuted, it was launched in a different landscape of music.
Since that saying was first unfurled on the Texas Music family and adopted as a motto, things have changed.
There was no iTunes when that chant started and Taylor Swift was in elementary school.
There were only about five venues that would let the Texas guys in, rare radio station support, no retail shops selling this music, no radio charts, no energy drinks, no clothing companies and Nashville was the mansion on the hill that we weren’t allowed to visit.
Texas/Red Dirt Music has grown from those humble beginnings on the backs of guys like Pat Green, Morrow, Cross Canadian Ragweed and Jack Ingram to become its own cottage industry full of all those things it didn’t have previously and more.
It is an accepted and respected sub-genre of music that Nashville has discovered has some true depth and potential to it. The suits in Nashville have cherry-picked several of Texas’ best and (for the most part) given them tremendous support.
Yet, just like teenagers inevitably discover the greatness of the AC/DC’s Back in Black album or Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, each year brings a new wave of Texas Music fans. They immediately identify with the rough-hewn lyrics and rabble-rousing live shows. They realize it is something that is authentic in a world of fabricated publicity machines and Disney-driven music success.
Plus, they have near total access to their new heroes via extended merch-booth visits and the caginess of the small venues that populate the well-worn highways of Texas/Red Dirt music scene.
This all leads to people feeling a deep connection to the artists. These are their friends singing the truths of shared life experiences. And, as each wave of new fans arrives, they seemingly adopt the mantra of “Nashville sucks.”
This is partly because quite a bit of the music that originates in Nashville and is played on the radio is rather awful.
It is like the old adage that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. You notice the awful stuff because it is marketed and shoved down your throats. Yet, there are always two sides to a story and the flip side of that dreadful music is plenty of fantastic music that is automatically dismissed just because it came from Nashville.
Trust me, there are infinitely more folks fighting for good music in that town than love the latest (insert generic mainstream artist here) record.
How ignorant is it to just hate something or someone because of where they are from? Folks like Radney Foster, Patty Griffin, Will Hoge, Kings of Leon, Todd Snider, Rodney Crowell, Guy Clark, Buddy Miller (the list could go on and on) live and create the entirety of their art in Nashville.
Do they suck? Does Nashville suck?
I set out to talk to people that would truly know about the whole Nashville sucks debate.
Randy Rogers was one of the first people I talked to when exploring this topic. I figured he would have an interesting take on this due to his adeptness at straddling the line between Texas and the mainstream.
Wearing a fitted Texas Rangers hat backwards and exuding a laid-back cool, Rogers sipped from a plastic cup and peppered our talk with passionately sung Haggard lyrics, before turning to the topic at hand. After discussing the minutiae of the music business for several minutes, he summed up the Nashville debate thusly, “…whether you like it or not, everything and everyone eventually has to come through Nashville.”
That statement made a lot of sense to me.
I mean, if you want to be an actor you eventually have to go to Hollywood. Even if you’re the biggest star in Tokyo…eventually you land in LA. You could keep making low-budget kung fu movies for your loyal, yet very passionate and relatively small fan base or you could strive to be the best and biggest.
It’s not selling out…it’s chasing your dreams. If you don’t try for the brass ring then you’ll always wonder what if.
There’s a reason the place is known as Music City USA. It’s not as if they’re known for their fantastic auto assembly plants or financial district. No, they are known for the creation of country music (and many other types as well).
Recently, Wade Bowen, who has been traveling to Nashville full-time to hone his music for over eight years, updated his social media status to reflect his homesickness about spending so much time in Nashville that maybe he ought to move his family there. He posted the comment about moving in jest, but a few morons replied to him with fierce daggers of rudeness.
Immediately, the response was overwhelmingly negative as people blasted him for selling out and telling him he sucked, Nashville sucked, and that they didn’t like him anymore.
Because he travels to Nashville for business you are going to stop going to his shows and listening to his music. It’s the same music it was before he posted the comment.
Every album the man has recorded and released (save the Live at Billy Bob’s) was completely put together in Music City. From writing the songs himself there to writing with other songwriters to having professional session players lay down the licks to the seasoned producers that have arranged each effort.
Does all that matter?
It shouldn’t, but there are those that force it to be an issue. If you thought he did all that stuff in Texas…does that make the songs any better? Does that make “Turn on the Lights” any more real to you? Would it make the whiskey chugging he sings about in “Handle” more rowdy if it had been recorded in Austin? It shouldn’t…but unfortunately for some people it does.
What it should do is make you take a step back and realize that when you chant “Nashville sucks”, what you are actually bashing is everything Wade Bowen and many of his peers have done for the last eight years or longer.
I saw Bowen just a couple days after the aforementioned incident and his uneasiness was still bubbling over. He explained, “I have tried my entire career to establish a fan base that was beyond that whole ‘Nashville sucks’ way of thinking…only because it never crossed their mind to even care about a statement like that. They should like what they like because of the way it sounds…not where it’s from.”
Bowen and I were talking about this topic in the back lounge of his tour bus after one of his gigs. His vintage blue pearl-snap shirt was still dripping with sweat from a two-hour set. He’d made his way to the merch stand for nearly half an hour and was still trying to calm down from the rush of being onstage. As we talked Bowen continued to dab the beads of sweat on his forehead with a small white towel and return from the high of his performance. The more we talked, the more at ease he became.
His thoughts on his career, Texas music and music in general showcased a self-awareness and passion I’ve not encountered in many musicians. He realizes that he has a reputation for caring about lyrics and delivering music (live or studio) that focuses on the craft of the song, instead of just drinking party anthems.
When I ask him why he strove for this, he replied, “Because I believe there is more to music than just a party. Yes, that’s a part of it and I love having a good time…but that’s not all there is. I believe we as artists, all have a purpose and an obligation to inspire…so that is exactly what I try to do.”
I left that night with a clearer picture of things but wanting to find out even more. So, I e-mailed a guy I know that works in the dreaded Nashville music machine. He didn’t want to reveal himself or his position which I respected. I’ll just say he’s ultra connected and has forgotten more about the music business than I’ll ever know. He’s an uprooted Texan that moved there “for the love of the game,” as he says and to do his part to help make music better. He went on to detail how this was nothing new and that he’s surrounded by folks from all over the place, but that he is one of many Texas natives up there fighting for music they believe in. He explained that during the 90’s, country music sold more albums than any other genre in history and that the entire industry got spoiled by making cash hand over fist. Now, due to the changing digital age and many other factors, the business is struggling and trying to find its way.
He went on to say that many in the industry envision the continued growth of sub-genres and scenes like the Texas/Red Dirt one as it will become increasingly difficult to break an artist nationwide due to the glutton of choices available. But, what the folks in Nashville want to do is help the Texas guys reach their fullest potential and be the best they can be. They look at it like they have the tools and if the Texas guys want to build an awesome house they’ll have to work together. In the end, with a broken music business, the bigwigs have decided the only way they have left to make money is go grassroots to an extent.
After my investigation, I’ve learned or was reminded of three things. Parts of Nashville suck and parts of Texas suck…and they must co-exist to get anything substantial done. There is a country music reform happening right now. There are artists from Texas ready to rise to the next level and they must utilize the foundation of support that Nashville is able to provide. Texas has the talent, Nashville has the infrastructure. Yes, I get that the Nashville sucks mantra is lobbed at music that is perceived as bad…but I think it’s time we moved on.
There’s a whole new generation of Texas Music stars blazing their own trails and using Nashville for all it’s worth. Love them or hate them, it is smart business on their part.
The sentiment towards Nashville needs to change or we as a music scene can never fully change anything. We’ll just be left to play in our little sandbox down here…which I know is fine with some people. However, after my journey of investigating this question I’m left with the feeling that complacency shouldn’t be acceptable. Success is there for the taking and you do not make allies by drawing a line in the sand while telling the people with all the power they are terrible. You must convince them why they should fight with you.
Does Nashville suck? As a proud Texan I can now safely say…nah.
-The next time this column arrives, I will (should be!?!) be a father. I’m super stoked and giddy. Forgive me if I turn into one of those people that only tweets and Facebooks about the kid. I’ll also be glad to be done with the unsolicited advice and anecdotes from older folks about how hard the first few months of child rearing is. I get it. It sucks.
-Football season is crazy this year. The Horns look like a Pop Warner team and I think TX State would beat them at this point. The Cowboys have to play like they did against the Texans consistently. Get back to playing Cowboys fupball.
-It’s been a great year for album releases, but nothing in the past couple months (aside from the RRB record) has hooked my ears like in the first six months of the year. What am I missing?
-So glad TV is back. New episodes of things like Modern Family and The Office make my week. And, if you’re not watching Swamp People and Ma’s Roadhouse, you’re missing out. Even if reality shows long ago stopped being polite and real, at least they are very good at providing mindless entertainment.
-I don’t get Glee.
-Why don’t they make the lanes on I-35 just 3 inches or so wider? It would help immensely.
-Parted with my truck after many years together the other day. With baby on the way, I needed more room. I almost shed a tear as I heard strains of Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock” play as we drove away in the new car.
-This month’s recommended film: The Town. Who knew the guy who had to repeat his senior year in Dazed and Confused would turn out to be like a modern Clint Eastwood style director. Fantastic movie.
-This month’s recommended album: Ray LaMontagne-God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise. It grooves and he has a voice like no other. It’s like vintage Van Morrison sung by Marvin Gaye.
-“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.”-Mark Twain