Author Archives: Justin Cole

About Justin Cole

Hello, I am Justin Cole and I am currently a sophomore at The University of Texas at Austin. I am studying Economics with a minor in Energy Management. Outside of school, my interests include country music (fitting right?), hunting and fishing. I love the city of Austin and Texas Longhorn sports. My favorites include college football and college baseball. I look forward to contributing to the Country Music Project throughout this semester.
Hook’Em,
Justin Cole

Getting Back to My Roots

I have always loved country music so this past semester has been awesome! I have been able to travel to the famous Luckenbach Dance Hall, watch the livestock show at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, see the Zac Brown Band in concert, and watch the 50th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards.

I have always loved country music so this past semester has been awesome! I have been able to travel to the famous Luckenbach Dance Hall, watch the livestock show at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, see the Zac Brown Band in concert, and watch the 50th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards,

It’s not every day that you can take a class solely dedicated to studying your favorite genre of music, but by taking the Rhetoric of Country Music I have been able to learn more about country music and the culture associated with it. I have grown up around country music, livestock shows, and the outdoors, but coming to school in Austin has changed how I have had to experience these traditions often associated with country music. Being assigned this project has been exciting, as it has given me an excuse to get out and go experience country music, getting back to doing some of the things I love. From livestock shows to concerts, I have been able to travel across the state and, for once, have fun while doing a school project.

The first thing I did for my Country Music Experiences project was travel to Luckenbach, Texas to visit the famous Luckenbach Dance Hall. It worked out perfectly- my fraternity was having our formal there- so I got to travel to Luckenbach with some of my best friends. The second picture in my Storify is from the actual dance floor, which is surprisingly a lot smaller than I thought it would be. I could not find any pictures of me and my date at Luckenbach, but the picture I did include was from dinner beforehand, which was followed by a night of two stepping and fun.

The next two events on my checklist happened only about a week apart from each other, and both took place within the grounds of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. I went home the Thursday before spring break to get some clothes I needed for the week to follow, and when I heard Zac Brown Band was playing I decided to head out to the show that evening. I grew up going to almost all of the country music performances at the Houston Rodeo, so it was fun to get back there to do something I have missed. The weekend following spring break, I traveled back to Houston again, this time to watch my brother participate in the livestock show. My 13 year old brother, Jaden, was showing his pig in the swine show. This was probably the millionth livestock show I have been to, but it seems every time to be uniquely exciting and full of different emotions.

Finally, about two weeks ago I watched the 50th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards. Historically, I watch the ACM’s and CMA’s with my family, but this year being on the phone with my mom during the show had to act as a substitute. Both of these awards shows are always fun to watch, and this year I got to see a performance from Garth Brooks (my favorite country artist) and an appearance from Jordan Spieth, winner of the 2015 Masters and UT Alumni (also my favorite golfer). Overall, I really enjoyed this project because it made an excuse for me to go do things I have grown up loving, and haven’t necessarily been able to do since graduating high school. I hope everyone else doing this project had as much fun with it as I did!

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Filed under Austin, Class work, Reflection, Storify

Darius Don’t Go

This past Monday morning I turned on my TV as an attempt to mentally escape my online government class, and to my surprise I saw Darius Rucker on the screen. He wasn’t on CMT or another program about country music, but he was on ESPN’s Mike and Mike, something I thought was out of the ordinary. I remember seeing Rucker perform at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in high school- and I know his cover of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” was a huge hit- but since then I haven’t heard much about him, which left me to assume his popularity declined. Well, after watching him talk about sports, current events, and his own career, I gained some insight as to why Darius Rucker has been more popular in the media lately.

The following day after appearing on ESPN, Rucker released his fourth country album Southern Style, an album which he was excited to talk about with Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg. From this album, the single “Homegrown Honey” reached number one on the country music charts just last week. Originally, I thought his appearance was for him to self-promote his own album, as well as talking about his recent success, however as the interview went on I realized that this was not the case. The big announcement came when Rucker later stated that sometime in the near future Hootie and the Blowfish will reunite, and, in turn, the discussion of Southern Style faded away. While he admitted it may be a year before the band starts making music again, it seemed that the news of Hootie and the Blowfish’s comeback entirely trumped the release of his new country album and number one single. Hearing this raised the question, is Darius Rucker done with country music?

As much as I want him to continue making country music, it seems that he’s transitioning back to his rock roots. Darius Rucker has been the most prominent African-American figure in country music since Charley Pride, and it’s saddening to see him return back to rock. Although he has not has the success of people like Brad Paisley or Tim McGraw, Rucker has done well in transcending traditional boundaries of what is considered country, expanding the fan base of country music along the way. In a time of racial tension, Darius Rucker has been able to thrive as a black artist in a genre of music that primarily targets a white audience. Some of this success can be directly attributed to his likable personality, seen in his appearance on Mike and Mike. His quick-witted humor, cheerful disposition, and social nature were all exemplified throughout his interview, and I truly believe him going back to Hootie and the Blowfish is a loss for country music. Who knows, maybe with his recent success of Southern Style Rucker might change his mind about the move back to rock. I like Darius Rucker as a person and as an artist, so wherever he winds up I hope he does well. With that being said, I have my fingers crossed he doesn’t stop with country music altogether, as I think he has a potentially long career ahead of him.

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Texas is Everywhere

Personally, my favorite (unofficial) subgenre of country music would have to be Texas Country. From Pat Green to Aaron Watson to Robert Earl Keen, I love the sounds and music of country artists that are authentic to the Lone Star State. Historically, I have always thought that the only place Texas Country is listened to and/or has an influence on people is in Texas. That seems like a pretty logical assumption, however, a recent trip I went on changed my beliefs.

I went skiing in Vail, Colorado with a group of my friends several weeks ago, and it was at the base of the mountain that I saw how Texas Country is not just popular in Texas, but has transcended state boundaries. As I’ve gotten older I have progressed more towards what is known as a half-day skier, spending my mornings on the slopes and my afternoons walking around the town. On one of the last days of our trip, my friend Forrest and I decided to head into town a little earlier than the rest of our group. We chose to go kill some time at Pepi’s, probably the most famous restaurant and bar of Vail Village, waiting for the rest of our friends to come off of the mountain. As we walked into Pepi’s, Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” was being played by the bar-band, and I immediately knew it was going to be an enjoyable atmosphere. After about 10- 15 minutes of playing country music classics, the band took an unexpected turn. The lead singer got up off of his stool and asked, “There any Texas boys here today?” Immediately, Forrest and I made some noise and he flashed us a Hook’Em. The band would go onto play Texas Country for the remainder of their act, including an incredible rendition of Ryan Bingham’s “Southside of Heaven”. Other artists they covered were Pat Green, Aaron Watson, Willie Nelson and Cory Morrow- all artists I had thought (with the exception of Willie) were only listened to in Texas.

Following the band’s performance, Forrest and I went over to talk to them about their great taste in music. The lead singer told us that while he has never lived in Texas, he has always enjoyed Texas Country, and that Robert Earl Keen was his biggest musical influence. What surprised me even further is hearing how much various assortments of people, from all over the world, are into Texas Country. There were several people at a table near ours from South America, and following the band’s gig they asked us the names of Pat Green songs to find on Spotify. Essentially, it was neat to see how other people from different backgrounds and cultures enjoy the music of Texas. Also, it was fun to be able to travel to Colorado, yet still enjoy music that reminded me of home. While “Texas Country” may or may not be an official subgenre of country music, I believe that in several years, with its continual growth, it will constitute a popular stream of country music inside and outside of the state of Texas.

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Filed under Live Music, Texas

Garth Needs Country Music, and it Needs Him

Garth Brooks kicked off his 2014-2015 World Tour with Trisha Yearwood, marking the first time in 17 years he has been on the road. He admirably took a break from touring to be with his family, however now that the youngest of his four daughters has graduated high school, he is ready to take the stage by storm once again. He needs this tour as much as country music needs him.

Garth Brooks During his 2014 Tour

Garth Brooks During his 2014 Tour

While this will be his first time touring in almost two decades, he has not been idle. Brooks came out of his official retirement in 2009 when he worked a deal with Steve Wynn of Wynn Las Vegas, scheduling performances in Las Vegas for several years leading up to this world tour announcement. Garth Brooks’ comeback announcement has created a huge buzz in the country music industry, bringing forth many questions while doing so. What will the new Garth sound like? Will he be able to step back in the swing of things after taking such a long leave? And finally, what does this mean for country music?

The open-ended nature of these questions creates excitement along with some anxiety. I am incredibly excited for the comeback of Garth Brooks, as he is one of my favorite country artists. At the same time, I have some nervousness because I want the Garth Brooks I know and love from the 1990s to bring that uniqueness to 2015. The last thing I want to hear is his music becoming too modern, and sounding like the stereotypical pop country of Keith Urban or Jason Aldean. Personally, I believe country music has started to move too far away from its roots, and I feel that today’s country music needs to move closer to its roots. A shift closer to Brooks’ early music is essential to the longevity of the country music industry.

Basically, I hope Garth’s comeback is defined by him continuing to be the same man that everyone loved in the 1990’s, making music that is authentic to him and not what is popular in the country music industry today. I genuinely believe, and I know I am making an incredibly bold statement, that Garth Brooks can change the way the country music industry is moving. If Garth Brooks can come back making music like what he did in his earlier years, he may change what is considered “popular” country music today. His recent album “Man against the Machine” had songs similar to his old music, as well as songs with a more modern sound. Unfortunately, the album did not have any real hits. This may lead some to believe that he is done, however I do not think this the case. He needs to stay committed and only produce HIS music.

As much as I believe country music can benefit from Garth Brooks, the industry can help him, maybe more than he can help the industry. Recently in an interview, he admitted that he felt “lost” sometimes without touring. He said he missed the people, that industry, and mostly, his self-worth, saying he has a lot to say and share with people. He acknowledged that his new music may not set records but he also communicated that if a few folks receive his message, this new tour is worth it.

It will be exciting to see whether Garth Brooks can make a historic comeback after taking such a long break from the music industry. Hopefully, he can get back to making music similar to “Friends in Low Places” and “Unanswered Prayers”. Only time will tell if his comeback can actually change the direction country music is headed, and while it is an uphill battle, I have faith in Garth Brooks. A few things are certain… there will be significance to Garth’s music and it will be an interesting storyline to follow.

Garth Brooks at the 1992 CMA’s

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Filed under New Country, News, Reflection

Deep in the Heart of Texas

The countdown has long been underway for the 2015 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and it is HERE. Preparations at NRG Stadium can be seen daily. Of course there are many anxious Houstonians, but there will be people from all over the world, including cowboys, livestock exhibitors, commercial exhibitors, suppliers, dignitaries (former US presidents, current ambassadors along with Secret Service agents), and more than 2,500,000 spectators over the three-week-time period of the Show. Rodeo Houston begins with The World’s Champion Barbecue Competition that features more than 1,000 cook-off teams. Following the cook off, there will be performances by some of the biggest names in country music, daily pig races, carnival attractions and rides, agricultural exhibits, horseshow competitions, wine tasting events and much, much more. Let us not forget that it is a RODEO, the highest paying indoor rodeo in the world. While many seek entertainment and fun at the livestock show and rodeo, they often overlook its value to the greater Houston area.

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My younger brother in the 2012 Houston Livestock Show

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo started giving scholarships in the late 1950s and has continued with the tradition for more than five decades. Just in 2015 alone, the Houston Rodeo has designated more than $24,000,000 to be given away in scholarships and grants for students desiring to continue their education. As a participant in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s public speaking competitions, firsthand experience says that the HLS&R does an incredible job in guiding students to be successful in their future endeavors, especially providing assistance to those in need. Since its beginning in 1932, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has committed nearly $375 million to scholarships, research, endowments, calf scramble participants, junior show exhibitors, School Art participants, and other educational youth programs.

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Me before my first Kenny Rogers concert at the Houston Rodeo in 1999.

Aside from the various charitable and educational activities, the Houston Rodeo promotes Western heritage throughout Houston and the nation. Generations of Houstonians, including my family, have a history with the Show. More than 30,000 volunteers, serving on more than 200 committees, make the show a success. My grandparents have long been involved with buying auction animals, supporting livestock show participants. My father volunteers his time on the Ranching and Wildlife committee, a group that hosts a 4-day conference and seminar for ranchers and also runs a scholarship fundraising auction, offering hunting and fishing trips, saddles, artwork, boots, etc. My youngest brother raises livestock, and will participating the stock show this year for his 4th time. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo seems to transcend time in a way, having events such as the trail ride, cook off, and concerts which generations of families have been able to enjoy together.

Finally, the importance of the Houston Rodeo to the country music industry cannot be overlooked. I can still remember seeing country greats such as George Strait, Brooks & Dunn, Kenny Rogers, and Alan Jackson perform at Rodeo Houston. There is hall showing former entertainers, including Elvis Presley, Roy Rogers and many more. This year some of the biggest names in country music such as Miranda Lambert, Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, and Luke Bryan will be performing. The Houston Rodeo has been the most important rodeo in the country for promoting country music and keeping the western spirit alive, a long-standing tradition that will continue for years to come.

External Links:

Rodeo Houston: Who We Are

Article from the Houston Chronicle about the Houston Rodeo’s charitable work

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Filed under Charity, Live Music, News, Texas