Hard Rock Country Fest 2 provided a few special moments on a clear and reasonably cool evening in Sioux City, Iowa on a Friday night. On the way to the stage nearing the end of Walker Hayes’ performance I saw a trio of young ladies dancing and producing hearty laughter that made onlookers crack a smile. It may have been influenced by the $7 beers at Battery Park. Maybe.
I ran into a long lost buddy who was quick with a joke and a story. (No, he did not play piano) Hayes told the backstory of his latest single “Craig” and many in the crowd hung on every word. It’s so refreshing to know an artist is CONNECTED to a song. You could feel the authenticity. The crowd had grown to a packed house with the rowdy crew up front waving arms back and forth to “You Broke Up with Me”. It was a cool vibe of that of a much larger city like Omaha or downtown KC.
Then, I ran into someone. Let’s call him “John” to protect his identity.
John said “Tony, it’s amazing what passes for country music nowadays”. For some reason, it stuck with me for the next 24 hours. Another social media user reached out and said “There’s nothing country about that Fest”. That comment also stayed with me like a late night spicy burrito.
After some time to reflect on the 3 ½ hour concert event, this is what I am thinking about as I re-listen to Old Dominion, Walker Hayes and Brandon Lay the next day with a discerning ear to that “what is country music” gauge….
That night –
I met someone who is fed up watching the nightly news every night and all the negativity in the world…and is just thrilled to drink a beer and catch up with her friends after a long week of work.
Another friend is going through an end of life scenario with a loved one over the past few days. She was constantly watching the stage with one eye on her cell phone.
A dude I thought was dead and I belted out Old Dominion radio hits at the top of our tone-deaf lungs. Friends drift away for a variety of reasons just, complicated or lifestyle related. That sounds like a country song.
Although, the radio hit generated the biggest reactions of the night, there were plenty of album tracks passionate fans knew every word. Not all the best songs make it into mainstream radio or even awesome Friday Night Spotlight shows on your favorite radio station. (By the way, check out FNS – Fridays at 7pm cst)
Some strangers from KC drove up for this show and by 1030pm that night, we became friends.
In Kacey Musgraves terms, these three artists followed their own arrow.
Brandon Lay was probably the most stereotypically country of the three acts and appears to have a bright future with “Yada, Yada, Yada”. Seinfeld is country, right?
Walker Hayes was deftly described by Sioux City Journal editor and TNC Show Friday morning mainstay Bruce Miller as a mix of Andy Grammer and a youth pastor. That’s spot on. Maybe a splash of Sam Hunt too? Is that country?
Old Dominion is a music chameleon because they are comprised of songwriters with different viewpoints and strengths. Songs about broken hearts automatically classify as country. That’s a rule in the Grand Ole Opry I believe. Yet, “New York at Night” almost sounds like Maroon 5 in texture. Adam Levine hangs out with Blake Shelton. New York isn’t country though. Man, this is hard.
After taking a hot shower, drinking an already purchased beer in my fridge for a reasonable price and a day of contemplation here I what I know for sure:
- If a song is on a country station, that may qualify for the classification.
- If the tune was cut, produced or influenced by Nashville, that may be country.
- If the artist wants to “be country”, I think that counts. Darius Rucker, Kid Rock, Bret Michaels and Keith Urban all chose the format with varying degrees of success.
Maybe country music is like an open enrollment “high school”. If you want to attend at County Music High School, you are a member of the “Tequila Tigers” or “Brokenheartsville Broncos”. I don’t know. What’s a fitting mascot?
I know this.
Many stalwarts of the format were considered outsiders of this high school when they tried to enroll. That list of dignitaries includes John Denver, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Darius Rucker, Sam Hunt and Walker Hayes.
Who cares? Maybe the outsiders of the “Nashville cool table” are actually the cool ones. It takes a lot to keep up with the Joneses. There is a LOT of politics in being “country”. Maybe your best ideas never make it to the album because it may not be considered country.
The risk-takers like Garth and all 3 of the Country Fest show performers are NOT afraid to take risks and color outside the lines.
In a world where derisiveness and anger are the norm, there didn’t seem to be much of that at the concert.
So, John. Yup. This is what country sounds like in 2018. It sounds different than it did last year, last decade and (definitely) last generation. Next year, country will sound different. It’s always changing. It keeps you on your toes. The “country music” that does not resonate goes the way of the Dodo bird and becomes “obsolete music”.
Here’s my definition.
Country music is a type of format that cherishes honest words and creative freedom. It may or may not include a fiddle. Thank GOD it’s not always about the South, trucks, lost love and bible verses. But, it can be. It’s a genre of music where you don’t have to spent time on its definition because listeners are defined by commonality, real life and meeting other open minded individuals at country radio station sponsored events.
Definer of music
Country Radio Program Director
Sioux City, IA