Why Is It So Embarrassing to Be a Country-Music Fan?

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There’s something to be said about a person who likes country music. Outside of its universal appeal — everyone loves songs about heartbreak and Middle America — the past couple of years have been brutal for anyone who likes a little bit of twang in his or her tunes. Fans of the genre have sat back and watched the music they love transform into something that’s only gotten harder and harder to defend.

And maybe, when you’re listening to music when others are in earshot, you put on headphones because you don’t want anyone to think you’re some kind of backwater dumbshit redneck who loves guns, trucks and America in a pathological kind of way. Even living in Texas, a place where people outside of the state think we’re required by law to attend one Willie Nelson concert per year, people are quick to tell out-of-towners how much they hate country music, sometimes without prompting.

Which, given the past few years, makes a lot of sense. Most of the time, it’s downright embarrassing to be a fan of country music. Every time you mention that you like country tunes to a music snob or troglodyte alike, you’re guaranteed to be met with scorn most of the time. And then you have to explain that you don’t like that kind of country music. You like real country music, not that new shit that they’ve got playing on the radio right now.

You find Anderson East and Adam Hood (see below) and find Chris Stapleton’s old bluegrass band, the Steeldrivers, and the world all starts to feel right again. Every time someone says that country music sucks – and people will, frequently – you’ve got an arsenal of artists to refute their claim. But then you hear Jason Aldean rapping over that godforsaken song about a dirt road, and it just makes you want to self-immolate.

Which is, in all honesty, a fucked-up dichotomy to have to defend. It’s a downright dirty shame that saying “I love country music” is immediately associated with Florida-Georgia Line and vaguely explicit songs about pasture sex. No matter how many times you tell someone that country music isn’t all bad, there are just as many examples to prove that you’re completely wrong and that country music is just abject garbage.

As such, it’s easy enough to just stay in the past. We cling to our Johnny Cash records and pray for a savior. When a promising young prophet comes along, a Sturgill Simpson or a Jason Isbell, we shower him with praise and maybe get a little overly excited about the power that those artists and their killer music truly wield. It’s sort of dramatic, really, and damn near every country traditionalist has been guilty of clinging to a past that has been gone since before some of us were born.

But you can’t just listen to the same old songs from the 1970s over and over, or at least you shouldn’t. There’s still plenty of good country music, as any fan knows; you just have to dig through a lot of bad to find it. Which isn’t necessarily a journey that everyone is willing to go on. Not everyone’s got the time to scour Soundcloud and Bandcamp for hours to find good tunes.

Perhaps more important, who in their right mind would listen to Luke Bryan and Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett and the dozens of other generic country artists just to stumble upon the occasional Chris Stapleton or Brothers Osborne? They’re gems, sure, but they’re rare. And that makes it even harder to defend country music – the fact that you have to wade through a whole lot of shit just to find the few bright spots.

But at some point, there has to be some looking to the future, and that means a whole lot more than deciding that a promising young artist or two can somehow magically break the chains of capitalism and make record executives give a shit about rewarding the best artists and the best music. As ideal as that might be, it’s time for country fans to embrace a much more realistic future – one that involves “country music” in a way that it’s never really existed.

It’s already clear that the artists who are making “hard country” or “traditional country” or whatever you want to call it are happy enough to stay away from contemporary country. If last year showed us anything, it was that artists out of the mainstream like Aaron Watson and Green River Ordinance will find an audience and sell records, whether that’s in France or Ohio or Nashville or Texas.

Digital music has given these artists avenues that have never existed before, but those aren’t particularly relevant if fans aren’t making conscious decisions to seek out and support these artists. How does the fledgling country fan find the good stuff, and more important, how does the fan discern it from the terrible stuff?

That, of course, is the fundamental question. If someone is truly dedicated to figuring it out, that person will figure it the hell out. And when he does, he’ll finally be able to join the ranks of the rest of us confused-as-hell country fans, defending a genre that we feel more and more out of touch with. You just can’t help but wonder exactly how much longer we’re all going to be willing to do that.

Adam Hood performs with Sunny Sweeney 7:30 p.m. Thursday at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk.

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