Why Country Music?

This was the question I continuously asked myself. With every mile driven and word written – why was I so passionate about the state of a genre of music? My Quest had the odd political understudy popping up as I was interacting with people of predominantly “red” states. I was intrigued by the mindsets and what they saw in the Republican Party nominee. Upon returning home, I scrutinized my mission even further – with all the discourse I should be lending my voice to fighting, why was I still compelled to defend the quality of a genre?

Art dictates the quality of life. If there is a lack of quality in art it parallels our day to day existence. As an institution, Country Music was also a voice. Stories connecting through emotion, an account of the average. Good ol boys, and level-headed women. At the risk of racialism, a caucasian connection to the blues. It bridged the divide and created a bond that displayed more similarities to lifestyles than differences. Bluegrass or Mountain Music at its core beginnings – the banjo, introduced by African-American slaves, fused with the jigs and reels of the Irish. The genre was born of cultural diversity and remains the closest tie rural North America. Arguably, a demographic in most need of social enlightenment.

As a Country Artist I have been blessed with the support of rural Canada and America. I was born into a community driven by conservative politics. Upon legal age, I gave my vote to my conservative leaders – provincially and federally. I value fiscal responsibility therefore seeing the left as “Commies” and “Socialists” – as that’s what I was told they were. Instructed to not have my vote cancel out a parent’s. Welfare was only for the lazy, why should I get up and work my ass off all day to pay for the next person to sit on a couch? My community surrounded by native reserves with an obvious and intentional disconnection to the issues literally up the road.

“Just a joke” was a quick protection and my privilege as a heterosexual, caucasian, Christian, male was simply my luck of the draw.

The long of the short – I was uneducated. Ignorant through nurture, as it takes a community to raise a child and this was the hand I was dealt.

These views found their way into my art form, it was subtle but present. On my 2012 release, Coyote, I sang about an “Indian filly with the jet black mane” – an obvious racial reference to a woman. A song that quickly became a staple in the live show and a fan favourite, making me wince inside with every performance. I’d pass it off as harmless.

From the get-go, it was a priority to craft a lyric and avoid the production trends that would increase my chances at mainstream play. We’d enter the battle of the bands promoted by the local FM station and despite destroying a stage with a polished performance we’d be encouraged to continue “doing our thing” with the most condescending tone from industry “names”. And so be it.

This was a hidden advantage forcing us to find an audience among the folk music communities all while continuing to be true to our sound and welcoming supporters regardless their love or detest for more commercially viable acts. We quickly began to see an amalgamation of followers – with extreme opposing political views and all degrees of social empathy.

There was an opportunity and responsibility presenting itself that I couldn’t ignore. This, more apparent when attempting to connect with supporters through social media.

Considering our own Canadian political climate leading into the most recent Federal election, partisan politics flamboyantly ran amuck. I continued to share many views with the political “Right” – personally turning down a meeting with Liberal candidate Justin Trudeau – a further extension of my ignorance, saying “I have no desire to be in the same room as him.” However, for as much support as I was receiving through communities of one-mindset there was an equal rise of another. We toured the country through the federal election period and began to listen.

There was an astounding message of compassion. At the ground level, from coast to coast, Canadians recognized themselves as leaders in an empathetic change. Never black or white – sure certain areas disagreeing with policies and leaning more towards one side than the other but not without recognition, as passive or small as it were, for equality. Communities taking care of their own and devout inclusion.

My period of listening evolved to engagement. The more one side would express concerns, a healthy dialogue would ensue. Listening still at the root of the process, I began to see opposing sides find middle ground. These conversations began to quickly influence my views and encourage my position in social reform. My role as a Country Music artist – more important than ever.

And then I was forced to double down on that importance with my trip into the United States with last year’s “Quest for Real Country Music“. Admittedly, there was minimal political desire to the mission, sure as a people study it was an interesting time to see what connected with individuals throughout the campaign but at it’s core I was genuinely interested in empowering the artists and the communities that shared my desire for quality in a genre that I hold dear.

But as this new version of politics began to resonate with certain moralities and I couldn’t help but discern the connection to my genre – “Country Music” in its most inclusive general sense.

So what constitutes “Real Country Music”? As a tag I pushed to further my agenda, my definition continues to evolve but there is a unifying message imparted among its artists and that is a devotion to truth. A truth in their message that is best conveyed through quality lyrics, an emotional connection, and by honouring traditionalisms within the genre. Through this, they subconsciously connect on a deeper level to their followers – nostalgically to the mature and fashionably to the youth. Further, “rebellious” qualities attached to the genre derive from an unapologetic truth to themselves – only strengthening their message.

A truth that allows trust to develop and a voice to be adopted. A truth that is contagious and effective. A truth that influences political and sociological change. A truth that will dissolve racial prejudices, misogynistic views, and archaic belief structures.

In the words of Gloria Steinem: “Finding language that will allow people to act together while cherishing each other’s individuality is probably the most feminist and therefore truly revolutionary function of writers. Just as there can be no big social change without music (as Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution’), there can be none without words and phrases that first create a dream of change in our heads.”

This truth cannot be fabricated and charlatans commoditizing on the movement will be persecuted if any attention is paid in their direction at all.

The importance in the fight for Real Country Music is that it is the vehicle that will drive this change and the voice for the age we’ve entered. The War on Truth.

And Emma Goldman would be happy to know that it’s going to be a two-step.