Country music’s nostalgia factor still dominates Nashville

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NASHVILLE — On any Thursday night in Nashville, you can stand on a neon-soaked tourist block of Lower Broadway and hear Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart” blast from a band at Layla’s Honky Tonk. “Red Dirt Road” by Brooks & Dunn of Legends Corner. “If I Could Make a Living” by Clay Walker at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. “Redneck Woman” by Gretchen Wilson from a passing car. Big & Rich’s “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” from the loudspeakers of a pedal tavern full of brothers, who boo loudly when they pedal and you refuse to give them a high-five.

And just up the street, if you walk out of the Party Zone and into the historic Ryman Auditorium, you can hear the mind-boggling screams of the audience at the Carly Pearce concert on October 28 when Trisha Yearwood stops to sing “How Do I Live,” Ronnie Dunn arrives to sing “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” and Kelsea Ballerini shows up to cover the Chicks’ 1999 classic “Cowboy Take Me Away.”

No matter where you are: In country music, the genre’s iconic hits of the ’90s and early ’00s — and the acts who sing them — continue to reign supreme. After all, that was the time when the country’s biggest artists became chart-topping superstars and filled stadiums, bringing country music to its widest audience – so it only makes sense that singers, songwriters- composers, executives and even fans cling to this era.

“It might be the loudest thing I’ve ever heard,” Martina McBride said to the roar of the sold-out crowd the following night across the street at Bridgestone Arena, where she was. the first part of Wynonna Judd. McBride appeared suffocated as thousands gave her a standing ovation after she sang “A Broken Wing,” her famous 1997 ballad. “God, I love Nashville,” she said.

“You have no idea what you mean to the world,” Yearwood, the concert’s special guest singer, told Judd, who had 14 No. 1 hits between 1984 and 1991 with her mother and duet partner. , the late Naomi Judd. The noise level at Bridgestone was not matched until the following night when the tour stopped at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky, where Judd’s guest vocalist was Faith Hill. Her husband, Tim McGraw, watched the show from the floor seats and briefly entertained the audience by dancing between sets to Brooks & Dunn’s 1991 line-dancing anthem “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”.

Spend time in Nashville and you’ll see that obsession with nostalgia play out repeatedly and finally televised on a national platform during Wednesday’s 2022 Country Music Association Awards. The three-hour ABC show was brought to life for about half an hour when Jo Dee Messina walked onstage during Cole Swindell’s performance of his five-week No. 1 single “She Had Me At Heads Carolina.” , a reimagining of Messina’s 1996 smash “Face Caroline, Face California.” (“She’s a 90s country fan, like me,” Swindell sings approvingly in his song about a girl he meets at a bar karaoke.)

“You give up for Jo Dee Messina!” Swindell shouted at the end and bowed to Messina, who beamed and waved at the screaming crowd. A similar reaction came later when Chris Stapleton collaborated with Patty Loveless on “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” which she recorded in 2001. Stars dance in the audience, as various artists perform her hits ranging from “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow” (1990) to “Remember When” (2003).

Looking at all of this, the question arises: if a genre is so obsessed with the past, what does that mean for its future? After talking to many people in the industry, as well as those who consider themselves superfans, the answer is complicated.

First, it should be noted that the country is far from alone in obsessing over the past. The wider culture is going through a craze for 90s and 2000s nostalgia, from rewatch podcasts to TV and movie reboots and band reunion tours. But country music stands out as a place that has been already fixated on his past.

Countless songs hark back to the good old days, like McGraw’s “Back When” – and wonder why things can’t be as simple as they were, even if it’s reminiscent of a trouble-free fictional town that hasn’t never existed, like Rascal “Mayberry” from Flatts. As a result, country music’s determination to consistently pay homage to legends of the past and celebrate its history can make it difficult to move forward, especially now that the industry that likes to present itself as one big family is more divided than ever as it grapples with complex issues like the rest of America.

The inconvenience that plagued Nashville was successfully swept under the rug during the CMAs broadcast. Nominees Jason Aldean and Maren Morris were both in the audience just two months after a rare social media outburst when Aldean’s wife Brittany posted an Instagram video that Morris slammed as transphobic.

Around six weeks later, Aldean addressed the controversy by sarcastically telling the crowd at a Bridgestone concert that he could bring Morris to the stage, and smiled when fans booed – then later welcomed on stage Morgan Wallen, best known to mainstream audiences as a singer who was caught on TMZ video last year saying the n-word and only became more popular when fans (and some Nashville singers and industry executives) worried that it was being unjustly “canceled”.

Both controversies made national news and shed light on the larger issues the format has yet to fully address, from the extreme lack of diversity of the predominantly white gender to the way LGBTQ singers have been marginalized by the industry for decades. Such incidents are discussed at length behind the scenes and have caused much soul-searching in Nashville, as some have realized they have to work closely with people whose opinions they despise – while others wish everyone can concentrate only on the music, because they are unable to solve these problems.

In other whispered conversations — where people peek over their shoulders at events and restaurants, because you never know who might be standing right behind you in this industrial city — there’s an added worry about how to respond publicly to these issues. Several in the industry were unimpressed with CMA co-host Luke Bryan’s defensive statement last month after seeing backlash for inviting the “very polarizing” Florida governor (his words) Ron DeSantis (R) on stage at a concert, apparently trying to argue that it wasn’t a political statement because he was promoting awareness for hurricane relief.

And of course, it’s all made worse by the fact that country music, like all genres, is struggling to adapt to the future of streaming, in the face of a touring industry that has been crippled by the pandemic and has struggling to break new music stars other than advising that they somehow go viral on TikTok – a frustration that has spilled over into the public as musicians express this new pressure being placed on them.

It’s no wonder, then, that the day before the CMAs at the BMI Country Awards (a star-studded private event that honors songwriters), everyone preferred to bask in nostalgia. Toby Keith received the BMI Icon Award, and stars from Eric Church to Carrie Underwood performed covers of his hits and raved about his rise to stardom. The discussion of the struggles songwriters face as royalties dry up in the age of streaming was left for another night.

“It was artists like you who taught kids like me that greatness is possible if you work hard, give it your all,” Underwood said before giving his version of “Should’ve Been a Cowboy.” , Keith’s first No. 1 single in 1993.

It was much the same the following night when CMA voters bestowed Artist of the Year (for the second year in a row) on Luke Combs. He’s the genre’s newest megastar who frequently speaks of legendary ’90s duo Brooks & Dunn as one of his biggest inspirations – and has found huge success combining modern production with (you guessed it) sound. traditional 90s country.

About Chris Stevenson

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