The most recent Texas Primary Election was held yesterday. Hotly contested races all over the state were being decided at the polls. The winners of those contests will move on to face candidates from their diametrically opposed party in the fall General Election. On this busy election week, I was inundated by two things.
1. Terribly produced political ads from all across the spectrum that seemed as if they were written and produced for SNL, Chappelle’s Show, Key and Peele or The Daily Show.
2. Social media endorsements for Kevin Fowler’s new record How Country Are Ya?
In the midst of the first inundation, the ads were peppered with endorsements from various public figures, PAC’s, boards, entities etc. These endorsements don’t come cheap and they usually have some sort of quid pro quo attached. They are also usually easily identifiable as valid or laughable. Whatever the case may be, somebody has done something for them. Money has changed hands and/or promises have been made.
When it comes to the second onslaught of inundation; Fowler’s record getting so much push from his peers despite it being rather dreadful, can simply be chalked up to Fowler being a generally nice, hard-working guy with a track record of helping other artists. It’s the way of this music scene right, wrong or indiferent to blindly support things even when it doesn’t make good sense to do so.
Being a good guy with longevity in the scene should not make Fowler immune to criticism or induce automatic support…but it does for some reason. And that’s become one of the biggest problems in this scene. It should be okay to admit when something is bad and not catch heat for it.
Not every album, track, show, merch idea or tour is going to be the best of all time. We should be able to admit that. We should be able to put down the Kool-Aid of the moment, step away from it and realize that if it smells bad now, the glass that person served us a couple years ago was what brought us into the kitchen…and they may concoct something equally tasty down the road.
Saying one piece of a career sucks or isn’t up to par does not take away from the whole.
Blind support is just naive. The tight-knit bonds that hold this scene together among artists and fans are special and should not be taken for granted.
I love that when some carpet-bagging, clueless journalist, blog or artist trashes one of our favorites we rally around them like Al Sharpton in front of a TV camera. It’s inspiring and part of what makes this whole thing so special. But, we should also be able to turn that passionate mirror on ourselves and call a spade a spade when need be.
This article from our friends at New Slang LBK ruffled a few feathers yesterday, but it has some very valid points. At a certain point artists transition into caricature if they aren’t careful. We all know what Fowler has done over his career. He’s never striven to be Guy Clark, and that’s okay…it’s his shtick. It’s astonishing and admirable,but his winning, genial past can’t fight an aimless present. Many of the songs on this record sound as if they were co-written with Earl Dibbles, Jr. Maybe if the songs had come out sounding more like Granger Smith was the co-writer, things would be a little more palatable, but I’m not certain.
It doesn’t matter that this new record is the equivalent of a cowboy cool Natty Light resting in a Duck Commander koozie from Walmart, Fowler will still sell out every venue he plays, be heard on the radio from Dalhart to Del Rio and continue to be one of the nicest guys with one of the strongest work ethics in the Texas scene.
The backdrop of all this controversy is the current state of music in Texas.
There’s been an uneasy and growing divide between the “Texas Country” facet of this scene and everyone else for quite some time. While the majority of artists have continued to drift more towards folk, roots-rock, soul and Americana, the country part of the spectrum continues to fall into the same Nashville lyrical traps we once rallied against.
Beer, bait and ammo. Trucks, girls, backroads and yes, beer. Usually backed with cheesy vanilla musical tracks that are so indistinguishable from the latest stylings of the mainstream dimestore cowboys that I can’t often tell the difference between them when I am cruising the radio dial.
For years, we and others have tried to be a filter for the fans. For the fans, by the fans. Giving them a forum to voice their opinions and point out fresh new bands and BS along the way. Perhaps, as NewSlang LBK suggests, it’s time the artists did that among themselves too. No tweets of support just because a guy is your friend. Actually listen to the record and if you dig it, tell us why. We want to trust your opinion. When everyone says how awesome they think something that obviously isn’t great is, it dilutes the trust.
One of the standards that has always propped this scene of music up against its mainstream antithesis has been the grunge-like credibility of dudes getting up and singing songs about seemingly real life as opposed to some cubicle country daydream. Somewhere along the way with the aid of $500 blue jeans and radio promoters the lines have gotten blurred for some artists.
Becoming a big fish in a small pond has a way of reshaping your reality.
Writing and performing songs that pander to a redneck fantasyland makes you no better artistically than the Luke Bryans and Jason Aldeans many of your fans protest. But it just might make you tons of money. If you’re able to reconcile the artistic bankruptcy with the financial windfall then good on you.
To bring it full circle, there is a distinct political-musical analogy.
You wouldn’t vote for or endorse a buddy in a political contest if you did not agree with their platform. You would most likely know where they stood on certain issues; and even if you loved them like a brother and respected them immensely…if their viewpoints did not align with your own, an endorsement would not be and should not be forthcoming. You shouldn’t blindly endorse someone based on their prior work. You need to know what have they done for you lately, as well as what they plan to do in the future. If you fail in this vetting process, the public will lose faith in you. The weight and importance of your endorsement will fade quickly and you’ll be on the chopping block when your number is called.
The parallels don’t end there. Just as in the political quid pro quo process…there’s always the pay to play route in the music industry too. Support can be bought, bartered and delivered for the right price. But be careful the price you pay…it just may cost you your credibility.
The most important question in this entire situation is not how country are ya? But, rather…how credible are ya? Only the artists themselves know the answer deep down, but don’t expect fans to not have doubts.
-The latest round of Lone Star Music Award voting is underway. Greenfest was chosen as a nominee for Festival of the Year again. We are flattered, humbled and appreciative. We truly try to take a house concert concept and amplify it to 11 with full bands and 2 days of fun, family and fellowship. It truly is a special weekend.
-A recent tweet I made about how Twitter shouldn’t be connected to Facebook received a lot of traction and support. The best analogy I can come up with is that Twitter is like texting and Facebook is like email. If it’s short and witty, tweet it. If it’s long and involved, Facebook it. The Internet will appreciate it.
-Playing in several golf scrambles in anticipation of another fun round at the Bowen Classic in June. I feel that Ike Turner Ballou and I will be reckoned with this year.
-The radio industry is the only one I’m aware of that is almost as screwed up as the music industry. I guess that’s why they’re cousins. A handful of moves in our radio world have made waves recently. ShooterFM dropping Chris Austin is puzzling, as is Adam Drake losing his role in College Station. Hopefully these guys land on their feet soon in new, better situations for them. On the flip side of that, there is the jubilation of finding out that Justin Frazell and Shayne Hollinger are now running the show at 95.9 The Ranch. You won’t find two guys more dedicated, passionate or knowledgeable about this type of music on the air anywhere. Best of luck fellas!
-I bet Ian Kinsler will have at least 162 pop-ups this year with runners in scoring position.
-We should develop a WAR stat for musicians.
-Can you tell baseball is on the brain?
-We unveil our 6th Annual Ultimate LJT Contest next week!
-I, like so many of you, am absolutely sick of this cold weather. Bring on the triple digits any day compared to this. This is the craziest winter I can remember and I’m not a fan.
-I can’t recall an athlete more fascinating than Johnny Football. I also can’t recall an athlete with as wide a path in front of him or her. He’s almost in, as Bill Simmons coined, the Tyson Zone. Meaning I’d believe just about any story I hear about him. Partying with Vanilla Ice at a home remodel? Yes. Racing zebras at Lone Star Park with Drake and LeBron? Yes. Being the first pick in the draft and rescuing the Texans franchise? Sure. Being a professional trainwreck of Ryan Leaf 2.0 proportions? Hmm.
–This month’s recommended album: Jeff Whitehead – Bloodhound Heart. I’m still early in the listening of this, but it is fresh. It reminds me of when I first heard K Phillips a couple years ago. This record has a pleasing mix of styles and Whitehead’s whiskey-soaked rasp cradles each lyric with just enough care to make each line believable. Heartfelt, soulful, folksy, and hard-hitting…a must-have.
-“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” – Mark Twain