This Is Country Music

This is country music.

This is real life. High hopes and heartbreak. Big dreams and crashing failure. Love and hate. Full throttle Friday nights and redemptive Sunday mornings.

No other genre in music history has so neatly dealt with the contradictions and complicated sense of the human condition like country. At the root of country music’s history has always been a profound and humble sense of self-awareness. The genre was built on knowing its audience. Never rising to the status of super-stardom. Always filled with artists who seemed like they could sit down at a bar and fit right in, no matter how many number one’s the artists could call their own. Relatable. Authentic. Even if just a friendly facade for some artists, this image was, and to some degrees still is, credible. It’s allowed fans to connect with the artists in a bigger way than just playing a record or seeing a show. It’s one of the many things that makes country music special.

We can’t lose it. We simply cannot afford to lose the roots of the genre. Forget for a second the debate over what *sounds* country. I’ll never give up that fight. But almost as important is the connection to the music. The spirit of country can never die. It’s the spark that keeps so many fans and artists from giving up hope. It’s the spark that told Alan Jackson to “keep it country.” The spark that told Cody Jinks to refuse to sell his soul not only to mainstream Nashville but Texas as well. It’s the spark that drove Willie to Texas. The spark that brought Emmylou to Nashville.

The spirit of country music can be found in its past. Waylon questioning how Hank Sr. would have viewed modern country in the 1970s. Loretta singing about her humble upbringing in Butcher Hollow. Uncle Tupelo bridging the punk and country gap with No Depression. Randy Travis, Ricky Skaggs, Steve Earle, George Strait, and Dwight Yoakam all recording their own renditions of new traditional country music. Buck Owens championing the Bakersfield Sound with Don Rich singing harmony. Kristofferson changing the face of Nashville with songs that only he could write. Merle Haggard taking inspiration from the Man in Black and turning it into one of the most legendary careers in music. George Jones living through pain, heartbreak, addiction, and absolute hell to bring us the best stone-cold country music that we could ever hope for.

But the spirit of country music can still be found today. We just have to look a little harder. It’s Eric Church taking his rock influences and applying them to the country format. “These Boots” is much more than just a song. It’s an anthem. It’s a mission statement. It’s Whitey Morgan, Hank III, and Shooter Jennings creating an underground country movement from scratch. Turnpike Troubadours giving us songs that could all be made into movies. Kip Moore steadfastly refusing to compromise. Gary Allan laying his heart on the line to record Tough All Over. It’s Ryan Bingham serving his own brand of Townes-esque troubadour artistry. Kacey Musgraves and Sturgill Simpson taking home Album of the Year Awards at the Grammy’s. Stapleton releasing albums for those mature enough to listen. Midland taking us back to the 1970s. Brothers Osborne bringing guitar back in a big way.

See, when I speak on Twitter about something not being “country” or not respecting the roots of the genre, I’m not being an asshole. I’m being real. I’m being honest. And I’m doing all I can to protect the foundation of country music. The greatest genre in American music. Stop telling me about music’s need to evolve or that genre is just simply a marketing term. Country music is much more than a product to be marketed. It’s got spirit. It’s got soul. There’s a reason artists like George Jones fought so hard for country music. An artist records what he or she wants. That’s the artist’s choice. But if one artist has a right to record music that breaks barriers, another artist has a right to record music that’s purely country.

For every Maren Morris there’s a William Michael Morgan. Don’t tell me every artist wants to just record art without thinking about it. Art is defined by the artist. And you better be damn sure that there are artists who want to record COUNTRY music. Alan Jackson, George Strait, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Travis Tritt. Stop using artists for your own agenda. They don’t exist for that. They share your own personal views? Great. They don’t? I don’t give a damn. Judge artists on their music. It must be a sad existence to rely on music that only affirms your personal agenda. Guess what. I’m going to listen to Charlie Daniels play the hell out of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and the Dixie Chicks play the hell out of “Wide Open Spaces” in the same night. You know why? Because they both play great country music. Take your agenda and fight for it somewhere else. Because you sure as hell aren’t doing any good trying to divide fans of country music.

Country music will live on forever. Long after the squabbles of what is and isn’t country pass. Long after the fights over which artists hold which political beliefs. The spirit of country music will never fade. And the flame will always be lit. George Jones to Townes van Zandt to Johnny Cash to Patsy Cline to Conway Twitty. Kacey Musgraves to Eric Church to Turnpike Troubadours to Drake White to Luke Combs. There will always be artists to light the way. You can’t take that away.

George Jones and Alan Jackson (from “Taste of Country”)