10 Struggles and Misconceptions About Country Music in the UK

It’s becoming less and less of a secret that the country music scene in the UK is growing. On top of the hugely successful Country 2 Country Festival in London every March we have also seen the likes of Thomas Rhett, Kip Moore, Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley and more who toured the UK in the last twelve months. Unfortunately for those of us that do love country music in the UK we are stuck on an island of, I’ll try and put this politely, musically obnoxious idiots. Every day is a battle dealing with the small-minded assumptions of folk whose only experience of country comes from Walk the Line or Dolly at Glastonbury. I thought I’d list some of the common battles that we have to face to remind you lot on the other side of the Atlantic just how lucky you are.

1. Dolly Parton is the beginning, middle and end of country

Let’s just start with the most common one of all. Any time I tell a fellow Brit that I listen to country music they sarcastically sing Jolene at me then laugh (they also usually do a weird dance too – almost a semi-line dance thing). Now, us country fans all know that Dolly is a legend but unfortunately not all of my compatriots do. As David Brent once said in The Office “and people say she’s just a big pair of tits…” There’s more to country than Dolly and more to Dolly than… well you get it.

2. Johnny Cash is cool

This is always a fun one. When you get someone who thinks that they know something about music (or even that they’re just a little bit cool and badass) and you drop The Man in Black into the conversation they immediately feel like they have to say “oh no but I like Johnny Cash… he’s cool.” Do you like him? Really? Or have just recently bought a Johnny Cash t-shirt from H&M and felt like you had to make the effort. Also, they only know Ring of Fire and literally just think he’s cool because he drank a lot of booze and played music in prisons. Idiots.

3. We all wear Stetsons

Honestly, you’d be shocked at how many people when I say “I’m going to see a country band this weekend” respond with “will you be wearing your Stetson?”. No I’ll be sticking to my normal clothes that you see me in every day for this one you numbskull.

4. “But this isn’t country”

Take someone who doesn’t listen to country and play Luke Bryan, Jake Owen, Old Dominion, or basically any act that is popular today and they’ll say, “This isn’t country music! How can this be country music?!” What did you expect?! Which leads me to my next point…

5. All the songs are about tractors and hay bales

The amount of times that one of my friends will try and be funny by donning a Southern accent and singing “goin’ ride me a tractor and make me some hay bails”. Guys, it’s just not even original. Sure, there may be the odd song about tractors by an artist who was once a farmer but this is no different to The Arctic Monkeys singing about their hometown of Sheffield – just replace tractors with cheap lager and cold weather. People sing about what they know.

6. Speaking of hay bales

Now I struggle to pin point where this bizarre assumption came from. Apparently, in the mind of the British country virgin, we like to dance around hay bails a lot in some sort of barn dance. Nobody knows why we dance around hay bails just that it’s impulsive and we can’t stop ourselves. Some say it’s a ritual dance to rise up the spirits of Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard but most say that it’s an utterly nonsense cliché. I’ve got hay fever too so that’d be a no go…

7. Country isn’t important in the US

This one may surprise a lot of Americans but most Brits have no idea of the continued popularity of country music in the US. What we receive here is roughly 10% of the music that is made in the US on our radios. We get Rihanna, Beyonce and Justin Bieber but you’ll find it nearly impossible to stick on a UK radio station and hear Zac Brown Band, Brad Paisley or Miranda Lambert. Folk here in the UK don’t realise that Kenny Chesney can sell out a stadium tour (well, they don’t even realise he exists to be fair) they just think that country music is played in the South by people who look like the cast of deliverance.

8. They have good songwriters?

This takes us back a little bit to a previous point about the lyrical content of country songs. Many a Brit will tell you that Beyoncé is the best songwriter in the world because she’s positively dripping with sass however the likes of Shane McAnally are producing their own Nashville sass. Take Easton Corbin’s ‘Are You With Me?’ for example. The McAnally written track enjoyed a little success in the country genre but when stripped of it’s musicality and whacked over a thumping beat by a dance act it became huge all over the world. Shane might be able to laugh at that but it’s got to be frustrating that many don’t realize where these amazing songs came from originally. Don’t even get me started on people thinking that ‘What Hurts The Most’ is Rascal Flatts covering Europop band Cascada…

9. He’s the bloke married to Nicole Kidman

That’s what Keith Urban is. He’s not an amazing songwriter. He’s not an unreal guitarist. He’s not even a great singer. He’s the guy married to Nicole Kidman. And that is it.

10. It’s only for Americans

Possibly the biggest problem that country music encounters outside of the UK is that it’s ‘only for Americans’ and wouldn’t make sense to other cultures. This is, of course, nonsense. Do you reckon the Americans turned The Beatles around at JFK because they were too English? Of course not! We live in a country that loves American culture – you can hardly go into a major city now without seeing a host of BBQ joints, burger places and other American things that we love. Country music comes from the heart and everyone can appreciate it. Even if you’ve never put on a Stetson and danced around a hay bail in your new Johnny Cash t-shirt you should be able to appreciate the heart and soul in the music. Try and listen to Cole Swindell ‘You Should Be Here’ after hearing the story behind it and keep a dry eye or watch Chris Stapleton sing ‘Whiskey and You’ live and tell me that it doesn’t give you goose bumps. It’s not possible.

Whiskey Riff is the most entertaining country site…ever.