Don’t let Chris Stapleton be country radio’s flavor of the month

I will admit that before last Wednesday’s CMA Awards, I had not listened to a whole lot of Chris Stapleton. I heard the track ‘Traveller’ a handful of times and maybe a couple other tracks, but never the Traveller album as a whole. I made myself change that the very next day.

I immediately regret not doing so earlier.

The rumblings have made it here to the upper Midwest that the industry loved Chris Stapleton and he was compelling to me, but I just simply never got around to listening. Even with the word that the industry loved him, I doubted he’d win a single CMA Award nonetheless sweep the three awards (new artist, album and male vocalist) he was up for.

Now it’s history that it was Stapleton’s night. Between the three big wins and the amazing performance of ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ and ‘Drink You Away’ with Justin Timberlake, Stapleton is the main thing the music world has been talking about for the past week.

His sudden national stardom is showing, too. Stapleton got to number one on the Billboard 200 this past week, selling over 153,000 copies of Traveller. Plus, Stapleton’s new single, ‘Nobody to Blame’, was the second most added song on country radio according to Country Aircheck, only behind Eric Church’s ‘Mr. Misunderstood’.

This is all great, but it’s only great if this stardom lasts.

Stapleton’s wins have spurred up the conversation that he might save country music, but to that I have multiple rebuttals.

Jamey Johnson had the same phenomenon happen to a lesser extent when ‘In Color’ won Single of the Year at the CMAs and ACMs in 2009. That has rolled into five singles from Johnson since ‘Color’ with the highest charting at number 34.

It happened with Kacey Musgraves in 2013 after she won the Grammy for Best Country Song for ‘Merry Go ‘Round’ and the Grammy for Best Country Album for ‘Same Trailer Different Park’. Musgraves’ success there has resulted in only one more top ten single despite producing some of the best country music in the last handful of years.

Stapleton is really good and he’s made a fan of me, but I don’t want this to all equal out to nothing again. The music that Stapleton is making is what country music should be and a lot of people agree with that, but yet people don’t demand that and that’s what has been putting a limit to radio success of him and Kacey Musgraves before him.

If you truly think that Stapleton’s beautiful country music should be what is actually heard on country radio, make sure the radio station you listen to knows. Request the heck out of Stapleton, and Musgraves while you’re at it, and let the music directors know that changes need to be made.

Country radio is paying attention to Chris Stapleton, but they’ll only pay attention for so long. Listeners need to make sure that Stapleton doesn’t turn into the flavor of the month… or the flavor for only the next two weeks.


CMA Awards: Predicting the winners at the 49th CMA Awards

Country music has a lot of award shows, but you can oversaturate the market with them if you get the ratings and, well, country music is a big draw. The night will be full of big performances, can’t get much bigger than an opening number from Eric Church and Hank Williams Jr., and, of course, the crowning of the night’s champions in a multitude of categories.

Let’s predict who’s going home with the hardware while also saying who should be going home with it when the night is done. You can watch the 49th CMA Awards on ABC on Wednesday, November 4 at seven central.

Music Video of the Year

Three really fun music videos against two pretty serious ones are what we have on the docket this year. The category is dominated by women this year which is about the only thing that women are allowed to dominate in today’s country music word.

The nominees are:

  • Biscuits – Kacey Musgraves
  • Girl Crush – Little Big Town
  • Girl in a Country Song – Maddie & Tae
  • Little Red Wagon – Miranda Lambert
  • Something in the Water – Carrie Underwood

I love Kacey Musgraves, something I will probably mention a couple more times throughout this post, but her video wasn’t played enough to win the award. I hadn’t seen it until I searched it out. Great video, but probably not enough juice to win the award. Girl in a  Country Song was nothing special of a video.

A good rule to live by is that if something fun is going up against something serious in a music awards show, it’ll go to the thing that is serious. Sorry to my favorite video of the year, Little Red Wagon. The video is one of the most fun videos in years in country music and I wish it would win.

The last two videos are both absolutely beautiful, but I am leaning Little Big Town and Girl Crush to win. Girl Crush is very straight forward, but very powerful and almost chilling in the black and white presentation. It’s going to be a big night for that song and it’ll start in the video category.

Winner: Girl Crush – Little Big Town

Who should win: Little Red Wagon – Miranda Lambert

Musical Event of the Year

Are you ready for some duets?! Or at least that’s what I think they really should be in this category. Only two songs in the category are true duets with both parties sharing an equal, or close to equal, amount of signing. The other three have a main star with the other person noted basically being a flashy background singer.

The nominees are:

  • Django and Jimmie – Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard
  • Lonely Tonight – Blake Shelton featuring Ashley Monroe
  • Raise ‘Em Up – Keith Urban featuring Eric Church
  • Smokin’ and Drinkin’ – Miranda Lambert featuring Little Big Town
  • Wild Child – Kenny Chesney with Grace Potter

Again we have the case of a song not being too well-known to the masses, despite being pretty darn good, my apologies to Willie and Merle. Of course, that one is one of the only two that are true duets. We’ll talk about the other one in a bit.

Blake Shelton features a lot of people in his music and none of it is overly amazing. Lonely Tonight is a good tune, but I don’t think the addition of Ashley Monroe really adds to the song or the event of it. Wild Child by Kenny Chesney pairs him up with Grace Potter once again and it turns into a beautiful creation once again. Part of me tells me that it wins, the other part says since it’s another edition of Kenny and Grace that it loses its speciality.

Smokin’ and Drinkin’ features a lot of Little Big Town on the background vocals and it produces a kickass wall of sound, but it completely flopped at country radio. That shouldn’t really affect how the song is judged, but people were judging that it shouldn’t be played on the radio, so that hurts it.

That leaves us with Raise ‘Em Up, the collaboration between Keith Urban and Eric Church.  Church usually doesn’t record things that he doesn’t write and he didn’t write this song. The writing in this song is brilliant and it really deserves bigger awards than the Musical Event of the Year. Urban and Church blend so nicely together and it truly is a great even since it combines two of the biggest names in country music today.

Winner/Who should win: Raise ‘Em Up – Keith Urban and Eric Church

Song of the Year

Always one of the hardest categories every single year.  This category takes all the great songs in country music and limits it to five and then we try to choose from there. It sounds easy, but it’s not, except for this year… It seems pretty easy this year.

The nominees are:

  • American Kids – Rodney Clawson, Luke Laird and Shane McAnally
  • Girl Crush – Liz Rose, Lori McKena and Hillary Lindsey
  • Like a Cowboy – Randy Houser and Brice Long
  • Like a Wrecking Ball – Eric Church and Casey Beathard
  • Take Your Time – Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne

As I said for the videos, serious overtakes anything fun so American Kids is out right from the start. I’m always more impressed with artists who write their own songs and three of the five nominated songs were co-written by the performing artist. Take Your Time is the best song that Sam Hunt has released to date, but it’s pop-qualities are enough to knock it out. Like a Wrecking Ball is a great song, but it’s about sex and that’s still a little taboo for recognition in country music. We like it, but we don’t love it. Like a Cowboy is a good song too, but it wasn’t all out amazing.

Girl Crush is all out amazing. I remember listening to Little Big Town’s Pain Killer album for the first time and when I listened to Girl Crush the first time, I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. It was so beautiful and so well written. I had to listen to it over and over and over again. It’s a real shame that radio overplayed the song, because I am less compelled to listen to it over and over and over again, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still one of the best country songs ever written.

Winner/Who should win: Girl Crush

Single of the Year

What’s the difference between single and song of the year? Glad you asked. Song is very lyrically based. That category looks for songs that touch your heartstrings or make you laugh out loud or make you feel a feeling and are very well written. Single of the Year is more wide open and looks more at the success of the song than a critical eye at the song.

The nominees are:

  • American Kids – Kenny Chesney
  • Girl Crush – Little Big Town
  • I Don’t Dance – Lee Brice
  • Take Your Time – Sam Hunt
  • Talladega – Eric Church

For Single of the Year, I usually try to find the song that was most overplayed and, oh boy, do we have a competition for that spot. Girl Crush and Take Your Time were both incredibly overplayed, but both are very good songs.

Sam Hunt has an incredible amount of popularity outside of the country music world, but Little Big Town found a lot of success outside of the country music sphere for Girl Crush, too. Both songs did appear on the Billboard Hot 100 with Girl Crush peaking at 18 and Take Your Time at 20.

It’s a total coin-flip between the two, but I have a hunch that the Girl Crush train will keep on crushing it.

Winner/Who should win: Girl Crush

Album of the Year

I am one of the few crazy people in this world that still buys albums. Yes, all of the songs and, I hope your sitting down, the physical copy of the album. I can count on my fingers how many songs I’ve downloaded off of iTunes. I love albums and one of my favorite albums of all-time is on this list. I have actually bought that album twice: one CD, one vinyl.

The nominees are:

  • Old Boots, New Dirt – Jason Aldean
  • Pageant Material – Kacey Musgraves
  • Pain Killer – Little Big Town
  • The Big Revival – Kenny Chesney
  • Traveller – Chris Stapleton

Well, my friends, Mercury Records is going to go home with an Album of the Year award, but which of their two nominees will win it. Going the Mercury route eliminates Old Boots, New Dirt, Pain Killer and The Big Revival. All three are really good albums, but not as good as the other two. Old Boots might not even be Aldean’s best album, American Kids is the best Chesney album in years but still doesn’t compete and Pain Killer has my favorite producer, Jay Joyce, but doesn’t stand up to Musgraves or Stapleton.

I will openly admit, I have listed to Pageant Material about 100 times more than Traveller, so I might be a little biased, but I still think Pageant Material wins.  I try to write down the best lyrics I hear and seemingly half of those are off of Miss Musgraves’ latest album it’s that good.

I’m all in on Pageant Material, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Traveller steals it.

Winner/Who should win: Pageant Material

New Artist of the Year

This is the most screwed up category in the history of award shows. Seemingly, every year, no matter what awards show, there is always a candidate that is overqualified to be in the running. It’ll be obvious when you see it.

The nominees are:

  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Sam Hunt
  • Maddie & Tae
  • Thomas Rhett
  • Chris Stapleton

The one that is overqualified is Thomas Rhett by a landslide. Rhett right now is on a five straight songs going to number one streak. Maddie & Tae just released their third single, Kelsea Ballerini is on number two, Sam Hunt is one number four overall and Chris Stapleton has had two singles in his career and the title track to Traveller didn’t even chart.

It’s simple, but it depends how you look at the New Artist category. If it’s career to date, it’s Thomas Rhett. If it’s in the past calendar year or so, Sam Hunt is probably the favorite. I’ll go Rhett since he’s had the more successful career to date, but Hunt should win if truly this was a ‘new artist’ competition.

Winner: Thomas Rhett

Who Should Win: Sam Hunt

Vocal Duo of the Year

This is the biggest slam dunk of the night. Why did they even vote?

The nominees are:

  • Brothers Osborne
  • Dan + Shay
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Maddie & Tae
  • Thompson Square

Next year this might actually be a conversation, but it’s still going to be all FGL. Brothers Osborne are still a little too fresh and only have two single to their name, only one the past calendar year, and their first album does not drop until 2016. Maddie & Tae will challenge next year, too, but not yet. Dan + Shay is an interesting duo, but they have only had one single this year. Thompson Square was nominated because they needed five for the category.

Florida Georgia Line has won the award the last two years and they’ll make it three in a row on Wednesday night. The scary thing is that their music gets better as they age and might be just in the beginning of quite the run of wins.

Winner: Florida Georgia Line

Vocal Group of the Year

The category on its face has some big names, but when you really look into it, it is simply a two band race. Picking between the two bands is a real challenge and it’s definitely one of the hardest choices of the night.

The nominees are:

  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Rascal Flatts
  • The Band Perry
  • Zac Brown Band

Let’s quick take out the three non-contenders. Lady Antebellum is good, but they did not have an outstanding year. Rascal Flatts is still trying to revive their career and finding radio success in about every other single, but still are not comparable to their prime. The Band Perry took a year off and are now just firing the engines back up. The Band Perry’s first single off of the break, Live Forever, was a flop at country radio, too.

That leaves us with Little Big Town and Zac Brown Band. Little Big Town has won the award three years in a row from the CMAs and are destined to have a big night of wins with or without the Group of the Year. Zac Brown Band hasn’t won the award from the CMAs yet and had a heck of a good year.

Little Big Town had a smash in Girl Crush and a new album in Pain Killer. Zac Brown Band had smash hits in Homegrown and Loving You Easy and a spectacular new album in Jekyll and Hyde. The ZBB is musically and talentedly better than LBT, but is that enough for them to break the streak?

I feel like the CMAs are going to go all-in on Girl Crush this year and that’ll include another Group of the Year victory for Little Big Town.

Winner: Little Big Town

Who should win: Zac Brown Band

Male Vocalist of the Year

It’s like the song/single category. Everyone has a case in this category. I would not be shocked if any one of the five win the award which makes the picking and analyzing of the category a very difficult thing to do.

The nominees are:

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Luke Bryan
  • Eric Church
  • Blake Shelton
  • Chris Stapleton

Let’s just go in order. Dierks has released some really good songs this past year with Say You Do and Riser. He’s a great singer and has been doing great charitable things as well. Dierks is a star in country music, but not as big of a star as the three candidates in the middle of the list which sadly might just knock Dierks out of the running.

Luke Bryan released an album (two if you include his final Spring Break venture), every song he releases goes to number one and had a stadium tour. Everybody loves Luke and it’s hard to bet against him.

Eric Church is a star that everybody loves, but his radio success is really weird. The public loves everything that Eric releases, but on the charts sometimes the songs don’t get as high as they should. That worries the huge Church fan inside of me, but he still has as good of an argument as anyone.

Blake Shelton has gained throngs of fans due to his coaching on The Voice, but he didn’t release a record this year. On the other hand, a lot like Luke, every single that Blake releases eventually goes to number one. He’s got a good shot.

The critics love Chris Stapleton, but how much is he loved when it comes to the voting. Stapleton deserves the awards he’s nominated for, but it still seems that award shows are always weary to give the award to anyone that isn’t a household name and Stapleton simply isn’t there yet. I just can’t get a feel for what the people that vote feel about Stapleton, he could win this or he could finish in dead last.

So where do we turn? When in doubt… Luke out.

Winner: Luke Bryan

Female Vocalist of the Year

It wasn’t that long ago that a big topic in the world of radio was that female artists were not well-represented. It’s not perfect, but there are some solid artists on this list that are making females heard once again. Hell, there’s some on this list that we should hear a whole lot more of on the radio.

The nominees are:

  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Lee Ann Womack

Our first issue is that, well, there still isn’t enough music from females on the radio airwaves. I can’t remember the last time I heard a Lee Ann Womack song on the radio. She’s very talent and should still be getting some spins, but she’s not and she is eliminated.

Kelsea Ballerini has started her career like a shot from a gun and I wouldn’t be shocked if she wins a couple of these awards before her music career is over, but this won’t be the year. Ballerini is still too young and hasn’t quite done enough to take this from the grasp of the two main heavyweights.

Sadly, Kacey Musgraves isn’t one of those two heavyweights. Musgraves released the wonderfully amazing Pageant Material, but still isn’t getting radio airplay. She should be the winner of this award, but she’s not going to be.

Miranda Lambert has won the award for five straight years. Carrie Underwood won this award three straight years from 2006-2008. Taylor Swift was squished in the middle of the two runs. It’s been a fight between Lambert and Underwood for years and it’s here again.

Underwood will re-claim the crown this year. Lambert hasn’t had the same success she has had the last five years this year and Underwood has released two great songs from her Greatest Hits compilation, plus her new album Storyteller should push her ahead of Lambert. I would not be opposed to any of the last three mentioned winning, but I think the co-host of the CMAs will be handed this trophy.

Winner: Carrie Underwood

Who should win: Kacey Musgraves

Entertainer of the Year

Two artists in the history of the CMAs have won the Entertainer of the Year award a record four times and that tie could be broken by either artist this year. We could have one artist defend his title from last year or we could have a brand new winner. No matter what happens in this category, there will be a fun story to go along with it.

The nominees are:

  • Garth Brooks
  • Luke Bryan
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Eric Church
  • Miranda Lambert

I believe we can eliminate two artists, sadly, right away. Eric Church and Miranda Lambert simply didn’t have big flashy enough tours this year to compete with the other three. It also doesn’t help that Church and Lambert’s latest albums are both over a year old. Both are great artists that should win this award sometime in their career, but it won’t be this year.

Throughout this piece, I have been harping on radio play and how important that is. That makes this difficult for me. Luke and Kenny both have a lot of radio airplay, but Garth does not share that same benefit. On the other hand, no one is selling out arenas over and over and over again quite like Garth has this past year in his comeback tour.

Luke and Kenny are selling out stadiums, sure, but Garth is playing to more people on more nights and making more of a stir. The guy has a DVD boxset called The Entertainer, for crying out loud. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for the CMAs to give the award to someone not exactly in their prime with George Strait winning the award just two years ago.

I’m a huge Garth fan and I’m sure it’s clouding my judgement a little, but I still don’t see how anyone can claim he isn’t the best entertainer of the past year. I’ll take Kenny over Luke if they don’t go the old guy’s way, but they really need to be going his way.

Winner: Garth Brooks

There we have it. All of the major award categories at the 49th CMA Awards broken all the way down. It’s some of the stiffest competition in years which speaks wonders about the future of country music. Fans have a lot to look forward to on Wednesday night and on their radio for years to come.

Watch the CMAs with the rest of the world on November 4 at 7:00 central on your local ABC station.

(Girl) Crushin’ It: The Change From The Change In Country Music

“I got that real good feel good stuff, up under the seat of my big black jacked up truck.”

It’s not often that you know the exact date that a movement started, but there’s an obvious start date to the beginning of bro-country. August 6, 2012 is when it started and it only took a couple months for the new sub-genre to reign supreme on the country charts.

In August of 2012 a new country duo named Florida Georgia Line debuted on country radio. Their debut single was a song by the name of ‘Cruise’. Even if you have never listened to country music, you’ve more than likely heard the song. The song first topped the Billboard Hot Country chart in December of 2012 and held on to the number one spot a couple more weeks in that winter before a downright amazing run in the summer. ‘Cruise’ was the number one song in country music from April 20 all the way through August 24. This new sound reigned supreme for four whole months on the country charts.

How was it successful? It was a new generation’s Beach Boys music.

David Horse of the Los Angeles Times said that, “this music has an appeal not unlike the teen surfing songs of the Beach Boys or the screaming guitar, take-everything-too-far anthems of Bon Jovi and Sammy Hagar… For a young man, the allure of reckless freedom is forever strong. And it’s not just young men. I know I’ve got a 25-year-old bottled up inside my decidedly not young self who still longs for the fantasy.”

It took two whole years, a new duo and another debut single to see what had really happened to country radio. In the two years, the radio was crammed with bro-county songs which objectified women and promoted Fireball Whisky to no end, but it stopped in July of 2014.

July 15, 2014 was when a new duo named Maddie & Tae released their debut single entitled ‘Girl in a Country Song’ which slammed the lyrical content of bro-country songs. Maddie & Tae were not afraid to call out specific artists including Jason Aldean who is a full-fledged superstar in country music with 13 numbers one singles to his name.

Other superstars like Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney and Zac Brown have all spoken out too. The battle is a tough one. ‘Cruise’ is the bestselling single of all time in country music history, but the genre has revived itself from the ugly trends that started popping up in 2012.


“You got that sun tan skirt and boots, waiting on you to look my way and scoot your little hot self over here. Girl hand me another beer, yeah!”

Miranda Lambert is one of only two women that get consistent airplay on country radio right now. Between her and American Idol winner Carrie Underwood, the genre as a whole has left a lot of women behind with the bro-country craze. That fact doesn’t stop Lambert from defending the bro-country subgenre, though.miranda

In an interview with Billboard, Lambert defended the style and her friends in the business that make bro-music.

“I don’t know where ‘bro country’ came from or what it really means, but a lot of those guys are my buddies and I ­support their music. Within ­country there are lots of styles: stone-cold country, like Brandy Clark, and there’s Florida Georgia Line with what they do, which is completely different and bringing a whole new audience. There’s room for everyone.”

Lambert’s own husband has been subjected to releasing bro-country music himself. Lambert is married to fellow country music start Blake Shelton and one of his biggest hits was one of the biggest bro-country songs of all-time with ‘Boys ‘Round Here’.

“All them other boys wanna wind you up and take you downtown, but you look like the kind that likes to take it way out, out where the corn rows grow, row, row my boat. Floatin’ down the Flint River, catch us up a little catfish dinner, gonna sound like a winner, when I lay you down and love you right. Yeah, that’s my kind of night!”

collinrayeThe 1990’s changed country music, but it was way before bro-country was even thought of. Some of the aspects of the songs were there with trucks and girls, but it was said poetically. 90’s hit machine Collin Raye pointed this out in an editorial he wrote on FOX News’ website.

Raye compared the songs of yesteryear to the songs of the bro-country era and focused on their writing flair.

“I’m not saying all songs should be somber ballads or about heavy, profound emotional subject matter. On the contrary, great fun, rockin’, party songs, describing the lifestyle of blue collar country folk have always been a staple of the genre. But compare for a minute the poetic, “middle American Shakespeare” infused lyrical prose of classics like Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya” or Hank Jr’s “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” or Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” or his “Ain’t Going Down (‘Till the Sun Comes Up)” to the likes of contemporary offerings like “That’s My Kinda Night”, or any of the other 300 plus songs from recent years that say the exact same thing in pretty much the exact same way. It’s like comparing a Rolls Royce to a ten speed.”garthbrooks

In the editorial, Raye pleads for Nashville and it’s executives to move past the trend of trucks and girls while pointing out that he doesn’t hold this fad against the artists of today.

“I’m not pointing a finger at the artists and especially not the songwriters. They’re simply doing what they have to do to make a living.

It’s the major label execs, the movers and shakers, the folks who control what is shoved down radio’s throat, that I am calling out. They have the power and ability to make a commitment to make records that keep the legacy of country music alive, and reclaim a great genre’s identity.”

Throughout the piece the singer with seven number one singles to his name and countless top ten hits throughout the 90’s and into the 2000’s just wants the poetry and storytelling to comeback into the genre. That’s what some who grew up on folks like Raye seem to want to.

“Might sit down on my diamond plate tailgate, put in my country ride hip-hop mixtape. Little Conway, a little T-Pain, might just make it rain.”

He looks like the kind of guy that would enjoy country music. A six-foot something farm kid, long and lanky, the kind that just simply looks like he knows all the words to more than a handful of George Strait songs. His favorite Strait song is ‘Check Yes or No’ which is pretty fitting.

kinggeorgeLogan Ahlers has been listening to country music all of his life and has had to hide listening to anything else around his family. “My parents use to have an XM-Sirius subscription and all my dad would ever listen to was Willie’s Roadhouse,” Ahlers said.

Willie’s Roadhouse is the classic country station on the satellite radio provider. Real classics like Hank Williams and early Johnny Cash and George Jones. So it’s no wonder that Ahlers can’t really show his love for other music around home.

“My dad would kill me if he heard some of what I was listening to. He didn’t like it when I played classic rock,” the senior at the University of Wisconsin- River Falls said. “Who doesn’t at least tolerate classic rock?”

Ahlers’ worries about what his father would do if he found out that he had been blasting Drake’s latest mixtape non-stop right after its release earlier in 2015.’If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late’, seemed all too literal of a title for what his dad’s reaction might truly be.

Even though he was inundated with the classics, Ahlers is still very fond of older country music. Ahlers’ His wheelhouse is the country sound that flooded the radio in the 1980’s and 1990’s and is looking for that to return to the country music that is now bouncing across America’s airwaves.

“I kind of liked the sound of Florida – Georgia Line at the beginning, but after a while I realized it wasn’t really country music,” the ex-college basketball player stated. “It was fun for a while, but their sound turned into something more than just a fad.”

Ahlers’ like many was swept up in the storm of bro-country before they knew what hit them. The sound at first was quite fresh and cool, but it soon ranked stale to most. The storytelling which made country music what it was had faded away and in came generic placeholders about good looking females and liquor, lots and lots of liquor.fgl

One of the drinks that Florida – Georgia Line sings the most about is Fireball Whisky. The year after the band’s big break, sales of Fireball was up 357%. The sound of the music was popular, the sales showed, but the quality of the tunes were diminishing.

“I like trucks and girls, but songs with emotion are what made me a big country fan,” the Worthington, Minnesota native said. “When every song on the radio is the same it takes a lot of the enjoyment out of the whole process.”

It was clear throughout the interview that meaningful country music is important to Ahlers. While the conversation had more than its share of raking bro-country over the coals, the optimism for the future of country music was refreshing.

Ahlers currently is working on a Spotify playlist for the songs he thinks will be big in the coming summer and he enjoys putting the pieces of an almost impossible puzzle together.

“I love putting playlists together,” the soil science major said. “Being proactive is just a cool aspect to it. I’m sure my five Spotify followers really enjoy it.”

Maybe it’s the fact that Ahlers isn’t just listening to commercial radio solely that gives him more hope for the genre than some. Ahlers is actively searching out for good music and it doesn’t matter to him if the song becomes a hit or is even released as a single to radio. Good music is good music to him.

Another one of Ahler’s Spotify playlists features the songs that haven’t made it into the rotation for a lot of radio stations around the country. This songs that just bubble around getting solidly into the charts can be the source of some real gems of great country songs that might not work as great commercially as others.

“I can see where bro-country songs were popular,” the 21-year-old said. “They are good party songs and those songs are really popular with people my age. Hell, I like them when I’m in that atmosphere.”

Ahlers acknowledges that one of the issues that lies ahead for country music is the fact that some of the really good songs lyrically might have a hard time getting airplay. There’s a current example with Little Big Town’s ‘Girl Crush’.

‘Girl Crush’ is the band’s latest single to country radio. The band consists of two men and two females and in the song the females have the lead. The females sing about wishing they could ‘taste her lips’ which have made some country music listeners squirm, those listeners not realizing that the song has nothing to do with lesbianism. The singer wants to ‘taste her lips, because they taste like you’, that you being the man she loves. She’s just jealous of the woman and has on a ‘crush’ on her because she has the man.

tim-mcgraw-diamond-rings-and-old-barstoolsThe other side of the coin is also there. Tim McGraw’s ‘Diamond Rings and Old Barstools’ is shooting up the charts and the song has the sound of a classic country track, something that isn’t heard too often on the radio anymore.

“There are some saving graces to country music,” the well-stretched man said. “I love what Miranda Lambert is doing. Eric Church has done some very cool things. Plus, Garth Brooks is back in the saddle again, who knows where that may lead the country music scene.”

Ahlers is still kicking himself for not going to any of Brooks’ shows when he was in Minneapolis this past November.

“I’ve been listening to Garth my whole life and I still can’t believe I didn’t go,” Ahlers said. “I had plans to go and I know he’ll be back again, but it still amazes me I didn’t go.”

There’s three main backbones to Ahlers’ country music listening: Alan Jackson, Strait and Brooks. If only we country could be so lucky to get back to the prime of those three.

“I think bro-country has run its course,” the music aficionado said. “It might sprout up now and again, but I think we’ve weeded it out. We see it clearer now and It won’t be allowed to blossom… at least to the extent of tainting the genre like it did.”

“You can hang your t-shirt on a limb. Hit that bank and we can ease on in. Soak us up a little moonlight, you know I know what you like, yeah!”

Ahlers isn’t alone in that belief. Well-known names in the show business word side with Ahlers on the fact that bro-country is dead. The latest big name to let their voice be heard is Britney Spears’ 24-year-old little sister Jamie Lynn Spears.

This Spears isn’t just riding on her sister’s coattails. Spears came into the public eye with her Nickelodeon teenage-driven TV show Zoey 101 in the mid-2000’s. After leaving the show and having a child at the age of 16, Spears is back but this time in Nashville as part of the country music scene.I GOT THE BOY

Spears released her first country album in 2013 and is writing songs for other artists too, including a song currently climbing the charts for Jana Kramer called ‘I Got the Boy’. Spears has come out strongly against bro-country saying to Taste of Country that the fad is over.

“I’ve definitely heard some music this year that is away from that pattern. I think there’s always gonna be a place for that, because there’s a huge fanbase. It does bring a lot of attention to country music, but it’s really nice to see these great songs that are coming through that are different from that, like Little Big Town‘s ‘Girl Crush.’ You see everybody going crazy about that right now.”

Spears is counting on her fellow artists and the fans to celebrate a move towards diversity again in country music.

“It’s so nice to see people supporting that,” Spears says. “I think that if all of us as artists stick together and really support each other, then we can make it possible for all of us. We can just be one big team, supporting good music and what we believe in. I think we need to be one big support system and say, ‘This is the kind of music we want to put out there for our genre,’ coming together for music we really believe in.”


“My kind or your kind is this kind of night. We dance in the dark and your lips land on mine. Oh oh oh oh oh, gonna get our love on. Oh oh oh oh oh, time to get our buzz on.”

The real metric of bro-country is chart success. Bro-country is not having the easiest time on the charts as of late. The current Hot Country Songs chart from Billboard boasts only four songs out of 25 that can be remotely considered bro-country.

Big names like Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Billy Currington and Florida Georgia Line are responsible for the four songs, but all four artists have also proven that they are capable of releasing non-bro-country songs.

To highlight it even more, the song that has been mentioned multiple times throughout by multiple people as one that is saving the genre is currently at number one. The week of May 9, 2015 boasts Little Big Town’s ‘Girl Crush’ as the number one country song with only two other bro-country song in the top 20.

‘Girl Crush’ is crushing it on multiple platforms, too. The Hot Country Chart is calculated using three mediums equally: radio airplay, sales data and streaming data. ‘Girl Crush’ is currently the number two streaming song which is paving the way. The streaming chart still has ‘Cruise’, yes that same one, at number eight on the chart. Other bro-country classics from Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan still remain, but the armor has been cracked.

The new country system will not crush the careers of Luke Bryan and FGL. Bryan is frankly too attractive to lose much popularity and FGL has a dedicated fan base, but what is being seen and what we will keep seeing is a push back to songs with actual substance; a substance even stronger than alcohol.

“Yeah, that’s my kind of night!”

Taylor Swift Doesn’t Need Country, Country Might Need Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift’s last album ‘22’ was an interesting piece of work. A solid album with a lot of good music, but it wasn’t fully entrenched in a genre. There were elements of country and full-fledged bubblegum pop throughout the whole album. If you just look at the chart performance of her singles from the album, you can see that half charted big on the pop charts and the other half on the country charts.

Swift’s new single, ‘Shake It Off’, was released Monday with a music video and also the announcement of a new album entitled ‘1989’. If ‘Shake It Off’ is indication about how the album is going to sound as a whole, I doubt that Swift will have much of anything charting on the country side.

‘Shake It Off’ is a fun song and a very good song at that, what it is not is country. That’s okay for Taylor Swift, she can do what she wants and in the pop world she can make a lot more money with a greater exposure to more fans.

If this album does show a full slide over to the pop world, it’ll be a sad day for country music.

Taylor Swift remains one of the few women that can currently get a song to the top of the country charts. Currently there are three women that ‘dominate’ the country charts: Taylor, Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood. Underwood and Lambert had to team up to get a number one single, neither of the two biggest female stars in country have had a true solo number one single since 2012 with Lambert’s ‘Over You’ and Underwood’s ‘Blown Away’.

If the two biggest female stars in the country world can’t do, it really doesn’t bode well for any other women out there. Between Lambert’s and Underwood’s number ones only Taylor Swift and The Band Perry with lead singer Kimberly Perry has reached the top with female voices. Lady Antebellum have reached the pinnacle as well, but they solidly split lead vocals.

It’s not a friendly site for the females when looking at the current Billboard Country Airplay charts. The only true female sound on the charts is Maddie & Tae’s ‘Girl In A Country Song’. ‘Something Bad’ a combo shot by Lambert and Underwood sits at 17 on radio play. Faith Hill gets a little mention at number five as a featured artist on her husband Tim McGraw’s latest single ‘Meanwhile Back At Momma’s’. Hilary Scott has the lead vocals for Lady A’s current number three hit ‘Bartender’, but there is always going to be a small clause on Lady A singles.

To recap, one purely female duo is in the Top 30 songs on country radio right now. Lambert would be on the charts alone if she hadn’t released the duet with Underwood, but nonetheless. If you count Lady A as a half that’s 2.5 songs out of thirty that are solely woman-sung singles.

Country music is finding its way out of the bro-country phase, that the fans brought on themselves, but that’s another story, just fine right now. There’s some really good music out right now, but the diversity that is needed is simply not there. Taylor Swift doesn’t need country music, but country music might just need Taylor Swift.

Welcome Back, My Favorite, Garth Brooks


Growing up I had two songs that I vividly remember loving and blasting out of our stereo. Naturally, one came from my dad’s favorite musical act and the other came from my mom’s. One was ‘If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You Gotta Have A Fiddle In The Band)’ by Alabama, the other one was ‘Friends In Low Places’ by a man named Garth Brooks. I chose one of these two to be my favorite musical act and that artist fully came out of a halftime retirement today.

Garth Brooks is the reason that I love country music and more than likely the reason I love music as a whole. Everyone has, or at least I hope they do, an artist that they can connect to on some weird high level. I feel I’ve had that with multiple artists, but never for so long and as profound as Garth Brooks.

Music always connects itself with a memory. When you hear a certain song you are instantly zapped right back to the date and time when something major went down while that song was in the background. I have those same feelings with Garth Brooks albums. Not just singles, but when I think about a whole damn collection I am brought back in time.

Double Live? Dear Lord, I remember my mom picking me up from daycare and presenting to me a two-CD set of Garth Brooks music. I remember being fascinated by the multiple covers Garth had and that the one that mom picked up had the flags of all the nations Garth had visited on his world tour. I thought that was so cool.

Scarecrow?  New albums usually drop on a Tuesday and back then Mom still bowled on Tuesday nights, I was in bed already by the time she got home so I woke up early the next morning to listen to Garth’s latest endeavor while eating breakfast. The first line in the album is ‘I can hear the highway calling…’ which sure sounds a lot like ‘I can hear the highway, Collin…’ which was pretty awesome to a 13-year-old.

Skipping ahead to his latest release of Blame It All On My Roots: Five Decades of Influences, I went to work early that day so I could swing through Wal-Mart so I could play songs from it on the radio that afternoon. I kept the receipt in my wallet for months because I was still shocked how cheap the thing was.

I could go on and on about Garth, because I’m really just happy to have him back. I loved Garth ever since I can remember, but I’ll admit that I didn’t always claim him as my favorite artist. It was weird too. It’s hard to explain to people that your favorite artist is going to come back, but not for ten years or so. I had love affairs with The Beatles and Eric Church and Bruce Springsteen and I love them all still very much, but the man, my man, is back.

It’s expected In November that Garth will release his first new material that ships to every store since 2001’s Scarecrow and I’ll be there to get it. I counted down the days until Eric Church’s The Outsiders, I got Springsteen’s High Hopes the day it came out, but I hope I can get some sleep between now and November. Garth can’t come fast enough.

Welcome back, Garth Brooks AKA my favorite artist.