A good friend and I decided to go see the up-and-coming Nashville artist Chris Stapleton not too long ago, and while Stapleton put on a show that I will not soon forget, I found another star among the fray of openers that took the stage in a little honky-tonk down by the river in New Braunfels, Texas. Seeing that doors opened at 6pm that night, our group made the classic mistake of arriving right as the honky-tonk opened its doors in order to get the best possible spot for the Nashville star we were so eager to see. 3 small Texas country artists later, with still 2 more to go before Stapleton even took the stage, we discovered a red dirt artist who rivals the big Texas country names such as the Randy Rogers band or Pat Green: Jason Eady.
While many of the Texas country bands we saw at the River Road Ice House seemed to all blend together, their songs all sounding like the twangy slow songs occasionally accompanied by a steel guitar, something stood out about Jason Eady. He was an incredible performer, getting the crowd excited to hear music by an artist who has next to no presence on iTunes or Spotify and at many times throughout the performance I found myself surrounded by people two-stepping or swaying where they had been simply standing still for every other artist who had taken the stage thus far. My favorite song played by Eady (and one of my favorite songs of the entire night, believe it or not) was “Back to Jackson.” The song starts out with the typical neo-traditionalist sound of red dirt country music, but by the extremely catchy hook I couldn’t help but sing along. As someone whose music library is composed almost exclusively of country music and who is proud of their country music knowledge, I was genuinely surprised to talk to a local couple who had come not for Chris Stapleton (the main act and the talk of town in Nashville,) but simply for Jason Eady. The band has taken a genre which I found to be becoming a little worn out through songs which all sound too similar and cover the same couple topics such as back roads, the glorification of Texas and what it’s like to grow up in a little “water tower” town, reinventing the sub-genre through a mix of blues, Texas country a little small hint of Nashville’s polished style.
While it was great to hear an artist making Texas country a great genre again, there is a bigger lesson to be learned, both for listeners and for the Nashville music machine. Country music is a much more diverse genre than it is given credit for, or is approached by via the Nashville music industry. There are an unlimited amount of sounds that can be contained in the genre and so many topics that are yet to be explored. Why subject listeners to a legion of new songs that all sound the same or cover the same topic? When there is so much leeway concerning what can be produced musically, the country music industry as a whole is “dropping the ball” concerning new innovations in the genre, both musically and lyrically. Instead of giving listeners the same old thing they expect from country music, it’s time for the industry to mix it up a little bit and give audiences a taste of how diverse and unique country music can be.