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Culture, Society and Popular Music; The Country Music Scene in Ireland

This is the first post in a weekly series of blogs relating to topics in the Culture, Society and Popular Music module I am studying this semester as part of my Music and Audio Production degree.

Country music is at the centre of attention of the media this week with Garth Brooks selling out 4 dates in Croke Park. Garth Brooks was a very popular artist in Ireland in the early 90’s and the announcement of his Croke Park gigs has caused huge excitement among his old and new fans. It’s been impossible to ignore the frenzy on social media and the fact that this is the first time ever that one artist has sold out so many shows in Croke Park in record time! This blog continues the discussion in class about the country music scene in Ireland.

I would like to begin by expressing my personal opinion of country music and its’ culture. I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of the genre as I find prolonged listening very boring and cheesey (the I, IV and V major chord progression, the vocal styles and the bland, basic drum beats)! To be quite honest, it generally doesn’t grab me inside. I can’t connect with the music and it doesn’t make me feel good. This is not ignorance or disrespect towards the genre at all. It’s a simple matter of personal taste.

On the other hand as a guitar player myself, I do genuinely really like the guitars in country music. I love fingerpicked acoustic guitars, twangy electric guitars (especially Fender Stratocasters!), pentatonic scales, bends and slides. I have absolute respect for country music guitar playing and acknowledge how skilled guitarists are. I love when these guitar elements combine with rock music, for example Metallicas’ “Mama Said” (country rock) is one of my all time favourite Metallica songs.

As I’m not a fan of the music itself, I have never really connected with country music culture. Growing up in a rural area in the early 90’s, I was aware of the line-dancing craze and of the dancing sessions in the local parochial hall- it seemed cheesey to me, even as a child! No one in my family was interested in country music or attending the dancing.

This picture reminds me of the image I had from my childhood of the locals line-dancing to "Achy Breaky Heart" and "Cotton-Eyed Joe"
This picture reminds me of the image I have from my childhood of the locals line-dancing to “Achy Breaky Heart” and “Cotton-Eyed Joe”!

Fast forward to the present. About four times a year every year, I work with my father at country music gigs he organises in a country club venue in county Meath.

I should explain that my father is a DJ on a local radio station and presents a very popular show dedicated to céili country, old time songs and ballads. His playlists includes songs by artists such as the Wolftones and the Dubliners as well as local artists and musicians.

The gigs are very popular and usually sell out, drawing a large crowd usually of elderly and middle-aged people. The gig consists of a live band who plays all night with local singers (all these singers have recorded material played on the radio show regularly) and usually one or two bigger stars who are full-time musicians.

An old Facebook event screen shot of my fathers country music night.
An old Facebook event screen shot of my fathers country music night.

I usually do front of house- taking tickets, greeting the people as they come in, selling raffle tickets during the show and help out with loading of music gear. I usually end up chatting with the people and I’m always struck by their friendliness. I’ve noticed that the middle-aged folk tend to take the country music culture side more seriously than the older ones- dressing in cowboy boots, hats, leather jackets and denim shirts. It’s always an enjoyable night and although I can’t say I like every song I hear, I do enjoy the energy and sound of the live band!

As mentioned in my opening paragraph, the Garth Brooks concerts in Croke Park have caused a frenzy on social media. My own Facebook feed was a mixture of excitement and annoyance.

Screen shot from my Facebook feed.
Excitement: screen shot from my Facebook feed.
Annoyance: another screen shot from my Facebook feed.
The opposite view: another screen shot from my Facebook feed.

I’ve noticed through posts on Facebook that the ticket sales itself was a big social event. Friends posted pictures of themselves q-ing and tagged their friends in them. These kind of posts got plenty of likes and comments, giving me the impression that this was actually a lot of fun for fans of Garth Brooks.

Q-ing to buy tickets was a positive social event.
Q-ing to buy tickets was a positive social event.

I have never in my life seen photos of people q-ing for tickets months and months before any event. Occasionally I might see a photograph of a ticket with an additional comment along the lines of “Got my ticket! Can’t wait till the show!” but never photos of smiley, happy people meeting and waiting in the cold to buy their tickets.

I was impressed with the community spirit at these social events when in class we saw fans looking out for each other. The fans seemed genuinely caring towards each other.

I haven’t seen any evidence of bad natured reports or derogatory comments through the media about Garth Brooks, his fans or country music in general. I have seen funny tweets and posts about the fact so many shows were added but these were good natured.

A good natured Facebook post by a fabricated satirical newspaper and comedy website.
A good natured Facebook post by a fabricated satirical newspaper and comedy website.
Musician Niall Breslin tweet
Musician Niall Breslin tweet.

Today FM’s Gift Grub incorporated Garth Brooks in a new satirical song on their show. The song itself is country music and the lyrics are humorous with mock Irish politicians singing about the Recession to and with a mock Garth Brooks.

My attention was drawn to an old Rich Hall interview about country music on Paul Merton’s Room 101 (I do take into account that this is a British not an Irish show). I thought Rich Hall made valid points about contemporary country music becoming more manufactured, overly produced and losing its’ traditions and values. The interview was funny and light hearted but I thought it was interesting nonetheless. I never considered that country music might be losing its’ roots and values.

My perception of country music hasn’t really changed with the recent coverage. For me it always was and still seems to be- you either love country music or you hate it! I for one am glad that the country music fan (who may sometimes only consider themselves general music fans) still has the passion and enthusiasm to q for tickets, support their country music hero, stick to their guns and be proud to call themselves a fan, especially after having to wait almost 20 years since his last Irish show. I think it’s great a new generation of fans have become passionate about country music. Even if I personally don’t like most of the songs I hear and the music itself is not quite as authentic as Johnny Cash, it still delivers relatable lyrical messages while showcases musicianship and songwriting. That to me is a healthy thing.

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