Author Archives: Adrian Ortiz

Country: Much More Than it Seems

Coming from Mexico, I was never really exposed to country music and simply dismissed it as a music genre I wasn’t too interested in. The primary aspect I failed to grasp was what made country so special to some people. It wasn’t until I began listening to much more variety of country music and engaging with the genre’s background and themes that truly sparked my interest.


  1. Take a picture with “Willie Nelson.”

When I first came to the University of Texas, everywhere I went seemed to have something to do with Willie Nelson. Whether it was t-shirts in the airport when I first arrived or walking past the Willie Nelson exhibit in the North End Zone every day, his influence seemed to be everywhere. When I first found out about him, he seemed like just another artistic type who gave off the impression of being famous because of his expressiveness and ambiance more than anything else. I couldn’t really imagine someone like Willie to be significant in defining any sort of movement, not just country music.

However, my entire perception changed when I started learning more about his personal background. He wasn’t just a dirty old hippie who never did anything meaningful in his life, but rather a man who had worked as an auto mechanic, saddle maker, and oil field manager; you can’t get much more “Texas” than those occupations. Yet he wasn’t just a man for followed a specific stereotypical trope, openly supporting the legalization of marijuana and publicly opening up about his issues with alcohol abuse, it allows a certain reliability for the country star, not being detached unlike many celebrities. It’s clear to see through Willie’s personal narrative how he uniquely represented the cultural foundations of Texas as well as the growing counter-cultural Indie subculture within Austin, making him truly revered as more than just a musical icon. No doubt Nelson has earned the honor to have second street named after him.


2. Read the Texas Music Magazine

When I was looking at the Texas Music Magazine, one article in particular caught my attention. Used to seeing album covers or posed shots of young artists, the mug shot of a 75-year-old cowboy certainly caught my attention. “As country as it gets,” Billy Joe Shaver’s life could be characterized as nothing less than badass, still touring in an old van just like how he did in 1970. His love for country, in my opinion, goes beyond many artists in all genres of music. Even the death of his mother and bandmate couldn’t stop this tough-as-nails Texas native from performing the next day. I have newfound respect for artists such as these whose dedication to the craft and the life that comes with it many would think to be borderline absurd, a passion that seems to be relatively unique to country music.


3. Watch a movie about country music

Having listened to a little Johnny Cash before, I decided to watch Walk The Line (2005), the biographical adaptation of the life of Cash. One of the most interesting aspects I found about this movie was how music was instrumental in nearly every aspect of his life. One of the clearest examples came when he was stationed in Germany for the US Air Force, leading him to find solace in writing music to help him cope with the chaos around him, developing some of his trademark blues songs such as “Folsom Prison Blues.” Another instance came when he proposed to his wife, June, saying that he would be unable to sing “Jackson” anymore unless she said yes, showing that even in one of the most personally intimate moments of one’s life, music still played a vital role for Cash. For country artists, it seems as if a circular effect is created, with their lives continuing to be influenced by their music while at the same time providing inspiration for future sounds.

In all of these instances, it is clear to see how country music is much more to the artists than just an occupation. To the singers, it affects their lives and livelihood, drawing not on the praise of others for fuel, but rather their own passion and pride for the craft. I believe it is this specific aspect that makes country music so much more special in comparison to other genres of music.


Filed under Austin, Blog Post 5, Reflection

Country: Coping with Sadness

Whether it is the song played during the first dance at a wedding or the radio somehow reminding you of a deceased loved one, music has a long history of being intertwined with our deepest emotions. Yet this doesn’t just seem to be the case for the listener, as many artists use stories of their most painful memories as inspiration for their art. There have been many instances where I’ve listened to a song and reflected on how much sorrow is carried within the lyrics. Country music in particular has staked a reputation for generating a great deal of these morose melodies, present both in classic country as well as the current contemporary trend. While this may be true, the question still remains whether such music is simply the result of inspiration though somber events, or some much more personal to the artist.

Luke Bryan

Luke Bryan

In Luke Bryan‘s song “Drink A Beer” from his 2013 album Crash My Party, Bryan tells about losing his best friend, which many assumed to be him referring to his brother who died in 1996, as well as detailing the grieving process he faced afterwards. When asked about the transparency within his music in a Rolling Stone interview, the country singer offered a simple answer, saying that opening up his personal life offered a sense of reliability, especially for those undergoing similar tragedies. Because the loss of both his brother and sister coincided with his progressing country music career, Bryan considered them less as inspiration but rather “completely immersed” within his career. To him, the sadness simply flowed out from who he is as an artist, rather than anything deliberate.

Yet sadness and loss within country music is not just experienced by the listeners. In my favorite country song of all time, “When I Get Where I’m Going,” by Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton, this duet talks about the struggle of living in such a broken world, facing many “sins and temptations” and experiencing “pain and darkness.” When asked about this, songwriter Rivers Rutherford answered in an interview that when the statement “Where I get where I’m going” came up, the only thing he could think about was heaven, since he had just lost his grandfather. Because of the this, the whole song was shaped around this idea of loss and redemption. However, the idea wasn’t picked up until Rutherford connected with Paisley, who had just lost a close aunt, and agreed to sing it uncut in it’s entirety. This shows that even during the songwriting process, the mutual feelings of loss connects beyond just the lyrics, as it creates an understanding beyond that which can be explained by words.

It is for this reason that I believe the mutual understanding of personal struggle to be so powerful that it connects individuals, whether in it’s initial development or public broadcasting, on an intimate level that country music has seen great success in utilizing.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music”

-Aldous Huxley


Filed under Blog Post 4

Kenny Chesney: Still Goin’ Strong

LAS VEGAS, NV - SEPTEMBER 18: Recording artist Kenny Chesney performs at the 2015 iHeartRadio Music Festival at MGM Grand Garden Arena on September 18, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for iHeartMedia)

Without a doubt, Kenny Chesney has transcended the generic success of many country music artists, propelling himself to superstardom. However, the most surprising characteristic of his career is the longevity as well as popularity with new and younger audiences. Unlike many of his contemporaries, such as Toby Keith or George Strait, Chesney shows no sign of slowing down. Having been to one of his concerts, I know first hand the kind of energy and interaction he continues to bring, not leaning on his previous fame for popularity, but instead ensuring the audience has a good time. However, this is nothing new for Chesney, as this can-do attitude was shown even at the beginning of his career.

chesneythrow-x600After spending years performing in the country bars and clubs of Nashville in the early 90s, the Knoxville native finally caught his break when he auditioned for music executive Troy Tomlinson. Commenting on his talent and lyrics, Tomlinson was the first to catch onto his personal drive, stating in an interview, “more than anything there was a kind of this ‘I-will-do-it’ look in his eyes – I was really drawn in by the fact that he was so set on being successful in this business.” It was because of this enthusiasm that Chesney landed his first record deal in 1994 for his album “In My Wildest Dreams,” exactly two decades before his most recent album “The Great Revival” in 2014.

However, Kenny Chesney’s continued relevance is not only attributed to his strong work ethic and success-oriented mindset, he is one of the few country artists from the 90s that has continued to change his sound to match the constantly evolving genre itself. For example, while both “She’s Got It All” (1997) and “Somewhere With You” (2010) topped the country charts in their respective years, it’s clear to see the differences in styles between the two. The former displays the typical twangy tones of old school country while the latter employs a faster pace tempo, incorporating electric guitar riffs and strong chorus’ to tie the song together, a style that is far more popular with the contemporary country music crowd.

One of the more distinctive characteristics of Chesney is the frequency of his tours and album releases. Since 2001 alone, he has released a staggering 12 albums and has gone on over 14 tours with the hottest stars of today, such as Miranda Lambert, the Zac Brown Band, Eli Young Band, and Eric Church. Suffice to say, I doubt there were many critics who believed that the 1998 Country Music Awards New Male Vocalist of the Year would continue to put up successful album after album up, continuing to win awards even up to 2015, with claiming his third Country Music Awards Crystal Milestone Award from the same organization. Overall, it makes me glad to see how an artist so devoted to the craft continues to please the fans and master his art from his discovery in the early 90s to continuing to pump out number 1 hits to this day.


Filed under Blog Post 3

Country Music Through a Different Cultural Lense

fernandez_vicenteComing from a smaller Mexican city 80 miles south of San Diego, my childhood consisted of minimal exposure to any form of country music. While it was possible to hear the iconic melodies of George Strait and Willie Nelson, they held no significance to me. While Mexico has it’s traditional mariachi and ranchera music, of which I’m not too fond of, it seemed as if country music was no more than an American equivalent to said genres. Because of this preconception, it is safe to say I wasn’t changing the radio station to the top 10 country countdown on a regular basis.

However, much of this changed when I first started going to school in the United States. I was shocked when I learned how prominent country music was within the college life, as I knew little to no people back home who enjoyed the “Mexican Country Equivalent.” Suddenly I was being introduced to artists like Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line, which sounded very different compared to music I initially associated with country. Even still, I was far from a fan and preferred most other types of music.

One of the first true experiences I had that started to open me up came when I was traveling with the tennis team to Tulsa last fall for a tournament. I started talking to one of my teammates from Kansas when I noticed he was listening to “Remember When” by Alan Jackson, and had told him I wasn’t a fan of country music. He couldn’t believe it and started playing various songs from his country playlist, which included both the old school classics and more pop-oriented hits of today. I felt uncomfortable as it seemed like he knew every single word to the songs while it was just my first time hearing most of them.

While this didn’t necessarily change my opinionimages much on the subject, although I enjoyed a few of the songs played, it made me realize that it was hard to classify country music as all sounding the same with similar messages. It wasn’t until I listened to the song “When I Get Where I’m Going” by Brad Paisley that I truly starting enjoying country music. Unlike many of the other messages preached by typical country songs about girls and trucks, I felt like this song was one of the few I could truly related to, coupled with the combination of the male and female voices singing, and became my favorite country music song to date.

Although I may not have been raised in the country environment, nor enjoy it near as much as some of my friends, I can now enjoy and appreciate country music far more than I ever have.


Filed under Blog Post 2

Country Music in my Community

IMG_3942Normally people belong to multiple types of communities where people identify themselves. For me, in this part of my life, the most significant community I take part in is the UT men’s tennis team. The guys on the team are the people I am with at least five days a week. We are all very close on the team, most likely because we can all relate to one another. Not only because we play tennis, but because we all relate to each other on what it is like to be a student-athlete, and the struggle it is having to practice for almost 5 hours a day and still having to work on our academic duties.

Nine out of the twelve players on the team are from Texas, and they all listen to country music. I am from Mexico, so I personally do not know much about country music; I just listen to whatever the guys on the team are playing without even knowing the names of the songs. They love to play country music when we are in the bus travelling to matches, so I have learned the lyrics to some of the songs. The playlist we play on our home matches also includes a couple of country songs that the team in general likes. They do this because it gets them fired up and excited for the match with those songs. For the members of the team who do not like country, there are other songs that we enjoy in the same way they enjoy country.

I am uncertain whether some of the members listen to any songs in particular, but I know one of our seniors is a big fan of a country band named “Florida Georgia Line.” He told me he likes this group because normally country songs and country singers tend to be sad and somewhat depressing and this group gives of a better vibe and makes him happier.

I do not think the team uses country music as a way to distinguish themselves from other communities. They just enjoy and listen to country music, in my opinion, because it is what they are used to as Texans, and is part of their southern culture. As a community, I have to say we don’t avoid country music. However, there are two French guys on the team who absolutely hate country music and always want the rest of the team to stop playing it and are always complaining because they do not want the tennis team to be seen as the team who listens to country music. The reason that the French guys on the team dislike country is because they probably have a hard time relating to the lyrics of country music since their culture is different. Although they have been more patient about it lately, so who knows, they might end up liking it after all.


Filed under Austin, Blog Post 1