Kimberly Edwards

Scoot: A rocker goes to the country music fest

May 29, 2017 - 1:42 pm

Photo Credit: Thomas Rhett by Kimberly Edwards 

At times, the Bayou Country Superfest this weekend in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome seemed like any big rock concert; but there were some noticeable differences.

I grew up in radio as a morning disc jockey on rock/pop music stations, and I know more about rock than I do about country music.  The respect I have always had for country music and the artists grew significantly after spending two nights at the big country music fest in New Orleans this weekend.

During an interview with Reba McEntire before a concert in Pensacola, FL in 1989, I first noticed that country music was sharing characteristics with rock/pop music; and over the nearly 30 years since that interview when Reba, who was clad in tight, black leather pants, I have commented on country music’s evolution into a mainstream music genre.

There were times at the Bayou Country Superfest that I could not distinguish between the country music fest and many of the rock concerts I have been to throughout my radio career.  But there were times when I witnessed the uniqueness of country music and its fans.

Did country music change to reach a more mass appeal audience, or did a mass audience flocking to country music change the music?  I’m sure it’s a little bit of both, but the stronger argument is that country music took advantage of an opportunity to create music that was more mass appeal.  The difference between many current country hits and rock/pop hits is indistinguishable and that is not a trend pleasing to every country music fan.

There are still the more traditional country music standard bearers, like Hank Williams, Jr., who wrote and sings the song Family Tradition, with lyrics that recognize the evolution of country music into mass appeal music.  Here are the words of the chorus in Family Tradition:

They get on me and want to know
Hank, why do you drink?  Hank, why do you roll smoke?
Why must you live out the songs you wrote?
Over and over everybody makes predictions
So if I get stoned, I’m just carrying on an old family tradition.

Hank Williams, Jr. seems to be lamenting about a more pure and less hybrid country sound.  There are current, young award-winning country artists like Chris Stapleton, who adheres to a more traditional country sound; but so much of country music is crossing over into the rock/pop genre. 

Acknowledging some of the changes in country music is not criticism as much as it is an observation that defines music and pop culture today. Country music artists look more like rock stars than ever.  If you couldn’t hear the music and just saw a visual of many of the country bands on stage, you could not tell if they were country or rock; and, from my perspective, that’s not a bad thing.  It’s just reality.

The crowd at the Bayou Country Superfest certainly had distinctions of being country, especially the endless parade of cowboy hats and boots and girls in short, cut-off jeans and cowboy boots; but much of the crowd could have been part of a current rock/pop concert crowd.

As a rocker who respects country music, I was struck by the attitude of the artists and the crowd.  I did not see every act, but from what I witnessed both Saturday and Sunday nights was a group of artists that were generally more respectful of civility.  If I had spent 2 nights at a rock/pop concert, I would have heard the F-bomb dropped more than once.  I did not hear one F-bomb during the country music fest. The only time the crowd got close to hearing the F-bomb was when Blake Shelton backed away from the mic and mouthed the word – but it was not audible.  Does that even count as using the F-bomb?

Actually, Blake Shelton was open about being “drunk” and continued to drink during his show, but there was still more respect for civility than you would witness at an average rock/pop concert.  I am not suggesting that rock/pop artists change; I am only making what is an obvious distinction.

My view of country music artists being more civil than the average rock stars started with my experience of interviewing both country and rock performers.  The country artists and their staffs have generally been more congenial than their counterparts in the rock/pop arena.

Watching Rascal Flatts and Brooks & Dunn Saturday night at the fest was an epic treat; and Blake Shelton, who closed out the show Sunday night, is the definition of a “superstar” in any genre.  Blake was brilliant with the way he talked to the audience and let that conversation led into the next song.

Country performers also took time to sign autographs on cowboys hats, posters and pieces of paper along the catwalk part of the stage that ventured into the audience.

Through two nights at the fest, I was most impressed with Thomas Rhett, a young country artist who is the son of prolific country music singer/songwriter Rhett Akins.  At one point, Thomas invited his dad to join him onstage for a brief acoustic set and the crowd loved it.  They seemed to love the moment as well.

I was so impressed with Thomas Rhett’s music, that I will add a few of his songs into the regular rotation of “bumper music” I use on my show going in and out of breaks.  

Thomas Rhett opened with “Crash and Burn” – a song that would be unnoticed if slipped into the rotation of a rock/pop radio station.  “Star Of The Show” and “Craving You,” which is currently #10 on the Billboard Top 100 Country Music Chart, are songs that epitomize crossover country today.

When Thomas Rhett(Pictured above) sang one of the songs that launched his trip to stardom, “Die A Happy Man,” the crowd was singing every word with him.  This is a song he wrote about his wife and here are some of the lyrics:

If I never get to see the Northern Lights
Or if I never get to see the Eiffel Tower at night
Oh, if all I got is your hand in my hand
Baby, I could die a happy man.

The only disappointment for me was one of the other big stars of the Superfest, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton’s ex.  Some Miranda Lambert fans are quick to shun Blake Shelton; and the fans I talked to were uncomfortable with the break-up but still loved Blake Shelton.

Miranda Lambert was the final act Saturday night, which was about 11:15 pm.  The fest opened at 5:00pm, and she recognized that it had been a long day and thanked the crowd for still being there.  I was disappointed in her stage presence and her ability to ignite emotion with the crowd.  She is beautiful and has a beautiful voice; and since that was the first time I had seen her in concert, I have to admit it might have been an off night for her.

Overall, the Bayou Country Superfest in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this year for the first time due to construction at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge was a big success.  Fan reaction was mixed on whether the Dome or Tiger Stadium was a better venue for the festival with some saying they enjoyed the outdoor atmosphere of Tiger Stadium more and others relishing in the cooler climate controlled Mercedes-Benz Superdome on a hot night in the South.

I have always respected country music; but after the Bayou Country Superfest this weekend, I now consider myself a country music fan, too!

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