It’s a plaid, plaid world
Country music is one of the fastest growing genres of music in the UK. Yup – you read that correctly. If you don’t believe me, you clearly weren’t at the O2 back in March when 80,000 fans descended on the venue to see Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Kacey Musgraves and a whole host of country stars from here and the US perform. (Cowboy hats included but not compulsory.)
Gone is the line-dancing, and the cheesy references to Billy Ray Cyrus’s ‘Achy Breaky Heart’, and even the term country and western. Country music is taking back the reins – and this time it’s cool.
Hot Nashville newcomers Midland recently had a four-page spread in Vogue. Florida Georgia Line’s collaboration with Bebe Rexha has been played on mainstream radio. Hundreds of thousands of people are tuning in to TV show Nashville. And Chris Stapleton regularly pops up alongside best friend Justin Timberlake whenever he can.
I’ve been a fan of country since I was a kid. Whilst my friends were listening to Take That and the Spice Girls, I was secretly hoarding Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash albums. Now my fellow fans are coming out of the country closet to embrace the genre. Why the shift?
BA wouldn’t have just launched the first direct flight in decades if Nashville hadn’t put Music City firmly on the map for UK fans
Well, streaming has definitely helped. Spotify, Deezer, etc., have introduced people to all kinds of music they would not have previously come across. Then there’s the lifestyle: BA wouldn’t have just launched the first direct Nashville flight in decades if Nashville hadn’t put Music City firmly on the map for UK fans. Most importantly, though, live music has played a significant role in growing the genre’s popularity.
The more bands that come over from Nashville to play here, the more the American labels realise there’s a significant, very hungry audience in the UK. And so they return, with more artists and bigger venues. And the momentum builds. Smaller venues are hosting their own country nights; pubs have open mic evenings; and “three chords and the truth” singers are taking the spotlight. UK country singers are going from strength to strength, with artists such as the Shires, Catherine McGrath and the Wandering Hearts proving you don’t need to come from Tennessee to claim country music as your own.
So what does this mean for the future? More music, gigs, emerging artists, great songs and probably a few more cowboy hats. The future is most definitely country…
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.