Things That Threaten My Sanity: Regionalism
Local and regional music scenes are great. There’s a lot to be said for communities of artists, promoters, and fans forming support systems to enable success outside of the mass mainstream model that so often squelches the independence of its stars. Or forming support systems to help catapult local/regional acts to that national level so that they can have their independence squelched (if that’s what they want). In his excellent Red Dirt: The Power of Infrastructure at The 9513 last year, Ben Cisneros (himself active in the Southern California scene) concluded:
I, for one, hope that not only does Red Dirt music continue to thrive, but that folks in other regions of the country follow Texas/Oklahoma’s example, get organized, and work together to enable regional success for independent artists playing new, original country music.
Amen to that. I’m all for getting organized and supporting the music.
I’m not as crazy about the insular, myopic attitudes you sometimes find within these scenes. Like rabid Red Dirt fans loudly proclaiming the superiority of everything Texas to everything anywhere else (especially everything Nashville). Or some Nashville industry type who hangs out with bassists from justly forgotten ’90s bands proclaiming that Texas music is “quite un-polished (poorly recorded both vocally and musically)” compared to “the polished sound of good vocals and fine musicianship that Nashville is known for.”
Sometimes it’s outright antagonism, deliberate ‘us’ versus ‘them’ posturing: selling t-shirts with silly slogans on them or making a career of singing songs about how Nashville sucks. Or, on the flip-side, assuming that the world revolves around Nashville, that music made elsewhere is music on its way to becoming something good enough to make a dent in the consciousness of Music City. As though Nashville is the endpoint of every artist’s musical evolution. (Boy, wouldn’t that be terrible.)
Sometimes it’s just ignorance. People who spend most of their time wrapped up in the Texas scene or the Nashville scene or any other scene assume that whatever they’ve got going is better than what happens anywhere else… without really bothering to expose themselves to or understand music from outside.
Maybe my attitude toward this is partially informed by my own location. If I were in Nashville, I might be content to focus on the music happening around town without bothering to look elsewhere. There would certainly be enough happening to keep me occupied. I’m sure the Texas circuit could keep me busy too.
In Northern California, though, I get used to looking elsewhere. Because if I didn’t, there wouldn’t be much to look at. I like country music from Nashville, Texas, California, Kentucky, Illinois, North Carolina, New York, Oregon, Australia, and lots of other places. I just like country music, period, and don’t care where it comes from. The internet makes it easier than ever to be this type of music fan.
I’m glad that regional scenes exist to support the careers of acts I enjoy, so I guess I’m also glad (in a certain way) that some people militantly support these scenes to the detriment of all others. That sort of fervor keeps people coming out to shows and keeps musicians working. As a consumer of music, though, I can’t imagine imposing those restrictions on myself. I listen with my ears, not with my geographical biases.