A British country music fan with a "God Bless Texas" tattoo, whom I met at the Equiblues rodeo and country festival in France. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber
By Ruth Ellen Gruber
In the London newspaper The Independent, a "former cynic" named Simmy Richman asks the question "Will the movie Crazy Heart persuade Britons that there's more to country and western music than line dancing, Garth Brooks and rootin', tootin' Nashville?" His answer? Essentially, he hopes so, because he himself has seen the light -- and before the movie came out.
Richman's article is called "Another Country: Why everything you thought you knew about cowboy music is wrong."
In it, Richman tells about his own "conversion" to country fan -- which entailed overcoming the stereotypes associated with the music, and which -- as I have written on this blog -- are widespread. His admission is almost like the confession of some secret vice at a 12-step program meeting.
(See my posts about the Polish country singer Lonstar and his song "What's This Country Thing", in which he tries to explain the country western phenomenon to a skeptic. The gist of the song is Lonstar's answers to a "lady" who asks the question, "What's this country thing" -- i.e. what is the appeal of country music. In Europe, where hardcore fans often dress up in wild west attire -- and drink a lot... and line-dance a lot..., country music is often scorned by the mainstream. Lovers of pure American country music are sometimes embarrassed by the raucous "scene" -- such as that associated with the trucker festivals and other big events, where a carnival atmosphere can prevail. )It is the butt of musical jokes, but here's the punch line: my name is Simmy Richman and I love country music.
From Richman's article:
"The main hurdle I have to overcome is getting over the word 'country'," says Paul Spencer, curator and organiser of Maverick, the UK's only festival dedicated to this music. "Like 'folk', it's a word with negative connotations, but this music is an authentic combination of folk, gospel and the blues and, apart from the DJ Bob Harris, it gets no exposure in the UK." To combat this, Spencer sells his festival by emphasising the intimate setting, the good-natured vibe and its dedication to "roots" music. "Children love to see real musicians playing real music, and I want people to come and give themselves to me for the weekend and trust in my judgement about the acts I put on, many of whom they may never have heard of.
Is Maverick the only country music festival in England? There are certainly bluegrass festivals in the U.K. Check out the web links -- such as Country Music in Britain. A lot of the music Richman likes falls under "alt.country" or "americana" -- see the Americana UK web site for listings. There are clubs and saloons all around the country, plus local artists. And big name groups also perform.
And let's not forget that, back in the heyday of the 1970s and 1980s, there were huge country music festivals featuring Johnny Cash and other legends that filled Wembley Stadium in London.