I’ve lived in Midwest USA for most of my life and I’ve been exposed to country music the entire time. When I was younger, I used to shit on it. Whenever a country song would play, I’d say the usual things: “they’re just crying about their truck”, or “they’re just in love with their truck”. Then I’d mock the song by singing in an exaggerated country vernacular. Obviously, I was hilarious as a kid. However, the more time I spent around my home state, the more I was exposed to country music and the same old jokes started to get stale. Instead of mocking it, I decided to just ignore it.
That worked for many years. But, in time, I started to wonder what all of the hype was about. I mean, I’d found some great music out in the world, and I would share it with people… just to have them go back to listening to country as soon as I left the room. What gives? I’d shown them objectively better music and they went back to listening to something inferior. There must have been something to it… So, I decided that I would sit down and try to understand country music, once and for all.
Many years later, I did just that. (Yeah, I put it off for a long, long, long time. What about it?)
I thought it would be easy – listen to a few country artists on YouTube and it would start recommending things that would accidentally fit into what I would call “good music”. It turns out that that didn’t work very well. After all, if I just plugged in country music that didn’t appeal to me, all the algorithm would suggest would be more country music that didn’t appeal to me. (Yeah, yeah, it makes sense in hindsight. I really thought it would work, though.) So, I turned to one of my favorite music-finding resources, r/ifyoulikeblank… And, despite it normally being a great resource for finding artists to listen to despite me being completely unfamiliar with the genre, I still wasn’t able to find an artist without already knowing an artist that I enjoyed. My quest to figure out why people liked country music – or, better yet, find country music that I enjoyed – was starting to seem like more trouble than it was worth.
The only thing left to do was to hit the streets and ask around for recommendations. I know: face to face communication with other human beings? It was enough to make me want to puke.
Luckily, I had no trouble finding people to recommend country artists since country is the soundtrack to the area where I live. In fact, something interesting happened as I was asking around for artists to listen to: literally everyone I spoke to had a musician or a song that they absolutely loved. Even people I never would have thought to have an opinion on the matter had something or somebody to share with me. It started to seem like I really was the only person around without some fondness for country music. Now, I’m not one to follow the crowd for the sake of doing so (I mean, hell, it took me until my mid-thirties to finally want to listen country music), but this only added fuel to the fire. I’d be damned if I was going to have nothing to contribute to the conversation.
The trouble was, none of the suggested artists were ones that appealed to my musical taste. They all lacked the X-factor, the je ne sais quoi, the “it” that makes me love an artist. But I kept trying.
I don’t know if I’d call it “luck” since it was a product of my relentless badgering of the people around me, but I eventually stumbled across someone with both encyclopedic knowledge of the genre and the talent it takes to recommend the right thing to the right person. After finding out what kind of music I normally listen to, he was able to list off a few artists that he thought I might like. I listened to them all as soon I was able and was slightly disheartened: most of the artists he suggested fell flat for me. But there was one that stuck out amongst the rest: Tyler Childers.
If you’re a country fan, I’m sure you’re laughing at me right now. Apparently, Tyler Childers is some kind of country wunderkind superstar or something that everyone has heard of. But, as someone that hasn’t even really dipped his toes into the pool that is country music, he had never shown up on my radar. Regardless, it only took listening to a couple of his songs to finally be able to say that I found a country artist that I love.
Obviously, after I had a frame of reference, getting recommendations from people got much easier after that. A buddy suggested Hayes Carll. I found Sturgill Simpson, my new favorite, from r/ifyoulikeblank. YouTube Music suggested The Dead South. Of course, the search isn’t over. In fact, this is just the beginning! This whole experience just opened a door to new opportunities for new music to listen to. And if there’s one thing I love, it’s discovering new things to enjoy.
But for now, I’m knee-deep in great country music and I have something I can check off my bucket list.
* Photo of Nick Smith provided by Ans22503 via WikiMedia Commons under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license
** Photo of Tyler Childers provided by Roberta via WikiMedia Commons under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)