Put this date on your calendar.” My friend Cindy’s email conveyed a sense of excitement and urgency, even without emoticons. “Chuck Wicks is playing at the Bottle & Cork. Do you have cowboy boots?”
Raised on a potato farm near Smyrna, Wicks is Delaware’s own country music cutie. A few of his songs have made it onto the Billboard charts, including his biggest hit so far, “Stealing Cinderella,” but he has yet to find that one great song that pushes him over the top.
A recent convert to country music, I didn’t have to look far to find country music superstars who are at the top of their game and have been for years. I jumped at the opportunity to see two of my favorites, Alan Jackson and Toby Keith, at the Delaware State Fair in Harrington.
My friend Cindy tried to talk me into making the switch to country music a few years ago. Her favorite song at the time was “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off,” by Joe Nichols. That titillating title wasn’t enough to entice me to the other side. I grew up in rural Georgia and listened to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Country music was not cool.
My epiphany came when I bought an iPod and started looking for music to download, something besides oldies and Lady GaGa. I discovered that today’s country music is different from the hillbilly songs of my youth. It incorporates folk, rock, blues and even a little rap. Songs are often evocative of great artists of the ’60s and ’70s like John Fogerty, Neil Young, The Eagles, even the Doobie Brothers, perhaps the reason that today’s country music resonates so much with baby boomers. I suspect that many of the new fans are women of a certain age (my friends) who have never been to the country except when they pass through on their way to Rehoboth Beach.
Crossover country hits that land on the pop charts demonstrate country music’s newfound appeal. The 2011 Grammy Record of the Year was a country song by Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now.” The top two finalists on “American Idol” this past season are both country singers. And how else can you explain the success of country-pop princess Taylor Swift?
Most of today’s young country performers wouldn’t be caught dead in a cowboy hat. They assemble in pairs and trios with cryptic names like Sugarland and Rascal Flatts. The women look like super models, and the men (well, most of them) are southern-fried eye candy.
But country music diehards need not fear. Country music hasn’t gone completely upscale. In a country song, a few cases of beer are still all you need to light up a bonfire party at the end of a dirt road. Girls prefer little white tank tops and cut-off jeans over designer finery.
A country boy still likes to go out to bars and mess around, but when his woman finds out—a much more assertive woman than the sweet little country girl of the past—he’s in big trouble. She slashes the tires on his SUV and carves her name into his leather seats. He cries just long enough to write a sad song, which will probably become a huge hit, but then rebounds quickly, finds a new woman, runs around on her, and it starts all over again.
Out in the country, some things never change.