“I like everything except Country” is one of the most overused, ignorant phrases in the American vernacular today.
For one, you can surely find at least one Country tune someone has heard and liked. Second, there are several type of subsets through the genre, and at least one you’ll take to.
I made it my mission to find my brand(s) of Country at Stagecoach and walked away with some notes on how you can find yours off the Polo Grounds — although it won’t be as fun.
Perhaps the easiest foray into Country music is to jump into some of the tracks getting burn on radio stations in the least country places of the states. First on that list is Florida Georgia Line, Friday night’s headliners, who brought Jason Derulo and the Walmart Yodel Boy with them to bring some of the mainstream onto the Mane Stage. The pair has nabbed collaborations with The Chainsmokers, Bebe Rexha, Nelly, and The Backstreet Boys, making their brand of Country the most wide-ranging.
Saturday night heard Keith Urban blow the twist-off, American flag-embroidered top off of the festival with his catalog that not only features names like Julia Michaels and Carrie Underwood, but a sound that lures you back into the ’90s with his anthemic Friends theme-sounding music that invokes instant nostalgia and euphoria. The fact he could be Justin Bieber’s father might help you get into him, as well. Give “The Fighter” a good ol’ Country spin and try to resist the catchy, empowering jam. You can’t.
As a general rule, much of Country’s power comes from its beseeching nature to make you want to sing along. A friend likened the tendency to Big Room EDM and it’s ability have audience members croon at the top of their lungs.
Keith Urban delivered this throughout set; playing songs like “Coming Home” and especially Ripcord track “Blue Ain’t Your Color”. The heartwrenching songs latch on to listeners instantly and joining Urban, along with 80,000 others to sing them creates an undeniable experience that will forever tie you to the song.
Sunday night, Garth Brooks, brought his peerless vocals and backing band to the festival to display just why he deserved the closing slot. He traipsed through his hits and put the crowd on pins and needles between notes where they could join back in with him. One of the most powerful performances throughout night came when he performed “Friends in Low Places.” It’s chant-like chorus heard Cssountry novice like myself, singing, emphatically, along to the hook after its second third go-round. These Country anthems of sorts require you squeezing out every bit of your soul.
It was the most unifying point of the weekend.
This is a style that suits isolation. One that fits the pensive moments we find find only when alone and pondering life’s ups and downs.
Canada’s Gordon Lightfoot grabbed me immediately with his wordplay and travelogue-like depiction of real-life events. His 1975 epic “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” transported me to the era and his ability to detail each of the song’s parts left me in a trance and hanging on for more of his narrative style. He painted similar pictures on “Carefree Highway,” which also showcases his vocal prowess. The track depends on listeners relaxing and allowing their imagination to run across an open range while he soothes anyway any hardships.
Kane Brown rehashed struggles from his early life during his set on “Learning” which he placed later in his set after covering Outkast’s “Hey Ya” and Travis McCoy and Bruno Mars’ “Billionaire”. The song took listeners through a patch of abuse and laid them so plain the sensitive lyrics easily came to life.
Another commonality running in the veins of Country music are the catchy verses and hooks that create earwoms as fast as anything Pop you might hear on radio waves today. Brothers Osborne baked buttery toplines into their live set Saturday. Tracks like “It Ain’t My Fault” and “Shoot Me Straight” ran on loop inside my head after hearing them with legato notes creating a flow missing from other places in music.
Kacey Musgraves doubled down on the melodies, performing tracks from her latest album, one of which (“High Horse”) blended disco grooves into her twangy foundation. Her song “Butterflies” heard her whimsically flutter notes up and down just as the title suggests. One concertgoer remarked she’s what Taylor Swift could have been. Her sweet soliloquies created a light environment that made the crowd twirl and sway in the warm desert air.
Dwight Yoakam stood like a monument on stage over the weekend like the badass responsible for much of the genre’s infiltration he is. Yoakam thrived when his sturdy voice carried through the venue. Songs like “Streets of Bakersfield” and “A Thousand Miles from Here” sound like what some imagine as “Country music”. The intonations of voice beg of the listener to attempt the ins and outs he’s mastered and held down over his four decade career.
Yoakam is where today’s Country music begins and ends.
So, there’s a way out of the sonic dark and into a space where asinine generalities as such don’t have to be thrown out in order to mask ignorance of a culture. Country music being the second most popular genre nearly a century after its origin in the US for a reason is nothing at which to scoff.
I listen to music. I write about it. I like hot sauce on my chicken.