Well howdy! Welcome to this summer 2019 edition of A Country Way of Life, the paper version.
My name is Jonny Brick and I am on a mission to convert more people to the temple of country music. Whatever your denomination, it is a holy congregation, so hop on board.
In early 2015, I found myself in a tat shop in Greenwich which for some reason was playing country music by men like Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban. Because I could not distinguish between a Kenny and a Keith, I decided when I got back home to educate myself about American country music. I had no idea that commercial country was beginning to appeal in a big way to the urban areas of America like Los Angeles and New York, thanks to slick performers like Thomas Rhett, Brett Eldredge and Kelsea Ballerini. The more I listened to contemporary country music, the more I found myself wanting to learn about the genre as a whole.
In March 2016 I attended my first country music festival at the O2 Arena. Country2Country has grown and grown since it began in 2013, in tandem with the growth of country music as an exportable product. Yes, I call it a product: it’s ‘ka-ching’ with twang. The goal of commercial country music is to make money by being a true story with a good melodic and lyrical hook.
I hope to tempt listeners of pop music to country, as well as discussing what isn’t so great about the developments of the genre. I come at it from a musical and sociological viewpoint, conscious of the genre’s rich history which Ken Burns is exploring in an HBO series in 2019 called Country Music. As a musician and songwriter I appreciate the artform of country music. I hope to speak with writers, broadcasters and performers to help a general fan understand the business of country, one which Marty Stuart has described as a man ‘with a briefcase in one hand and a guitar case in the other’.
I am based in the United Kingdom, which has always been a marketplace for country stars since the initial expansion of the genre began. Going into 2020, many acts based in Nashville are making regular stops to the UK and, arguably, are happier playing to our crowds than those back home. Broadcasters like Baylen Leonard, Bob Harris, Shiona McCallum and Chris ‘Country’ Stevens are all flying the flag for country music over here with their passion and depth of knowledge.
I hope to add to the conversation about country music from a neutral stance, unafraid to offer criticism and tempering any praise with caveats. My own favourite acts range from Chris Stapleton and Eric Church to Abby Anderson and Maren Morris. I appreciate the poppier acts like Dan + Shay while saluting the more traditional voices like Mo Pitney and Josh Turner. I have a passion for country music made by UK acts, which is why I produce a weekly UK Country Top 40 Chart Countdown to shine a light on independent musicians who deserve to be heard. I also attend songwriters rounds, EP launches and festivals such as Buckle & Boots and The Long Road, which are places for country fans to congregate, drink, socialise and discover new music.
Online fans can swap recommendations, post videos of them singing or dancing, and transcribe their chats with new country acts looking to promote themselves amid the hundreds of other acts. Country music consumption is about discovery, reminding me of Steve Lamacq’s tagline to his BBC 6Music show: ‘On a quest to find your new favourite band.’
A Country Way of Life is active on Twitter @CountryWOL and Instagram @CountryWayOLife. The Facebook group is A Country Way of Life. I hope not to preach but to beckon, not to order but to stimulate, not to lay down the law but to examine existing laws. It is an exciting time to be a country music fan outside of the heartland and key market of the US, and I hope you can saddle up on your horse and ride with me into the sunset.