This isn’t your fathers country music

The evolution of country music is one of the little hot button topics friends like to debate while drinking a cold beer on a Friday night. There are typically three sides of this particular triangle. Side A is ingrained in what is considered old school country with the likes of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and so on. Side A would rather drink their beer after letting it sit in the fire for 10 minutes than listen to anything from the last fifteen years. Side B is a little more erratic in thinking, but usually enjoys both the old and the new, and has the right playlist for any occasion. Side C is the “Busch Light” class, if you will. They couldn’t tell you who George Strait is if he walked in the room, picked up his guitar and starting singing Carried Away. The most hotly contested topic between these camps is this: what is real country? Where are all the real country artists today? My theory is that it’s not the music that has changed, it’s the audience.

So often we tie country music artists to the popular songs we hear on the radio. It isn’t Luke Bryan playing his songs every two hours on the radio, and it’s not his fault we can’t listen to Country Girl Shake It for me ever again. So the question becomes: whose fault is it? That answer can be found by looking in the mirror. Radio stations have two customers: the first is the endless array of sponsors you hear shamelessly plugged before every commercial break; and the second is the audience. Since it isn’t the sponsors demanding to hear Dirt Road Anthem every thirty minutes, the demand must be coming from the audience. Take a walk with me down memory lane. Remember the 1940’s country music scene, with love songs like Bouquet of Roses and Lovesick Blues. Gospel music ruled the airwaves in a domesticated country trying to forget about a violent war. The 1950’s brought Elvis and Johnny Cash, and the U.S. raged into the 1960’s with the youth becoming more politically inclined and passionate that their views be heard. The 1980’s brought the end of the Cold War, and a thought of peace as artists like George Strait and Randy Travis sprang onto the scene. The Millennials were born and as they came of age, they brought the likes of Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean with them. They brought a generation of music that doesn’t give a damn if you like it or not, because they’re going to sing about tan legs and tan lines, guns and booze, girls and trucks, because that is what their generation wants to hear. They want a song they can turn up in their truck with the windows down and dream of the weekend as they drive away from Monday into Tuesday. This generation doesn’t want to Walk the Line or think about how He Stopped Loving Her Today, or sit enjoy the view from their Ocean Front Property. They want to Cruise down a backroad and sing their Dirt Road Anthem while thinking about a Drink In My Hand.

Music hasn’t changed, the artists have simply changed to match their audience. We want to hear something different. We’ve heard that same three chord melody about how she’s leaving and that’s not my truck in the driveway. Artists today are evolving to find how to communicate with the differing generations as country music reaches from coast to coast and generation to generation. As our communication styles evolve so must the artists. As our definition of new and different evolves, so does our music. This brings us artists like Sam Hunt and Florida Georgia Line, the likes of which Group C adore and Group B can get on board with. But don’t worry Group ; your real country music is still out there. You just have to find it. It might not sound the same, but last I checked, words didn’t have to sound a certain way to mean something. There are more songs on a Brantley Gilbert album than Bottoms Up. Jason Aldean made more songs than Burnin it Down. Instead of saying these artists aren’t real country, we should be asking if we aren’t the ones who are changing, and not the music.