Author Archives: Caitie Labay

Taking my Country Education Outside the Classroom

It was the spring of 2015, and I along with thousands of other sophomores-to-be were logged on to our computers for that fateful day that was registration. In the seconds leading up to my assigned registration period I was clicking refresh over and over so as to have a fighting chance to secure myself a spot in the best classes for fall of 2015. It ended up being my worst registration period to date. I was waitlisted in half of my classes and the other half were with teachers I didn’t want. However, I did have one successful endeavor: I got into Rhetoric of Country Music. I have always been a country fan, but this class pushed me to explore the genre even more. Here are just a few fun activities I was able to do this semester, all inspired by my rhetoric class!

1. Free Brad Paisley Concert!IMG_4801

What’s better than kicking of the school year with a country concert? Kicking it off with a free country concert. And what’s better than a free country concert? A free Brad Paisley concert! I have always been a big Brad Paisley fan, so going to a school that can bring him to perform just across the street from campus is amazing. Attending that event certainly started the year off right, got me excited for my new rhetoric class, and reminded me just how much fun country music can be! (Check out my second blog post for more fun details and pictures from the event).

2. Watching the Country Music Association’s 49th Annual Awards Show

chris-stapletonThe 49th CMA Awards was certainly an event for the history books! This year the Academy decided that they were going to try out a new strategy to attract fans by scheduling several unique duo performances. These included Justin Timberlake with country newcomer Chris Stapleton, Fall Out Boy with Thomas Rhett, and Hank Williams Jr. with Eric Church. My favorite duo of the night though was Brooks and Dunn with Reba; the combination of these two classic artists was unparalleled. The biggest surprise of the night, however, was the success of the underdog Chris Stapleton. I’m sure half of the country world, like myself, had no idea who he was before that night, but they certainly knew him afterward. He managed to win Album of the Year, along with BOTH New Artist of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year, something I would have thought nearly impossible before this year. There is no doubt that Stapleton produced shock and awe all over the country that night, and I’m glad he did because he is now one of my favorite artists across all genres!

3. Visiting the Willie Nelson Statue

After watching the CMA’s and seeing so many new artists gaining success in theimage3 country music industry, I decided that it was high time I learned about some of the classic country artists that made the genre what it is today. So, like any good starving college student, I mooched a ride off of one of my friends with a car and headed on down to the Moody Theater to visit the great Willie Nelson’s likeness cast in bronze. A native Texan, Nelson has had a huge impact on the state and the country as a successful outlaw county singer. It is said that his performance in 1972 at the Armadillo World Headquarters was the beginning of the famous Austin music scene as we know it, which is why it is only fitting that he be given a statue at ACL Live at the corner of Lavaca and 2nd street, which was renamed Willie Nelson Blvd. in his honor. Now, as future generations walk through the doors of that infamous theater, they will be reminded of where it all started.

I had an absolute blast exploring country music this semester throughout Austin and beyond, and the lesson that stuck with me the most is that country music is ever evolving. From the early hillbilly sound to today’s bro country and everywhere in between, country artists have remained creative and inspired over the past century, and I can’t wait to find out where they will take us next!


Filed under Austin, Blog Post 5, Reflection

Is Country Music Red or Blue? Part II

USA-3In my last blog post “Country Music and Politics: Is the Genre Red or Blue?” I used opinions from the democratic and republican platforms in order to demonstrate that country music does not fall completely to one side of the political spectrum, but rather straddles the line. I discussed Steve Grand’s song that expressed a more democratic opinion on gay marriage, while Matt Kennon’s record had a republican opinion on abortion. But just like there is never only one political debate before the big election, there similarly should not be only one blog post. There are countless controversial topics to discuss in country music AND politics, and I’d like to introduce you to a few more in order to get a more comprehensive view of if country music is red or blue.

“Guns” by Justin Moore

Gun control seems to be one of the topics that gets the most attention these days, especially around college campuses. With the recent statistic of there being 294 mass shootings in the first 274 days of 2015, there have been heated debates on the balance of restricting gun access vs. making self-protection available, but there is no question where Justin Moore stands. In his song “Guns” he asserts his right to bear arms, spitefully singing “I’m going to tell you once and listen son/As long as I’m alive and breathing you won’t take my guns”. He uses the argument “Somebody breaks into my house, I’m gonna need my Colt .44” to appeal to the logical argument of self-protection. So looking at the following statement from their political platforms, you can determine if Moore lines up more with the left or right:

Democrat: “We recognize that the individual right to bear arms is an important part of the American tradition…We believe that the right to own firearms is subject to reasonable regulation…so that guns do not fall into the hands of those irresponsible, law-breaking few.”

Republican: “We uphold the right of individuals to keep and bear arms, a right which antedated the Constitution and was solemnly confirmed by the Second Amendment. We acknowledge, support, and defend the law-abiding citizen’s God-given right of self-defense.”

“Travelin’ Soldier” by Dixie Chicks

The real political agenda of this song was heard, not in the lyrics, but rather when the Dixie Chicks introduced this song at a performance in London. Band member Natalie Maines boldly proclaimed “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” This performance took place while George W. Bush (republican) was in office, and that controversial statement effectively put an end to the band’s career. “Travelin’ Soldier” tells the story of a young girl falling in love with a boy who left to go to war; in the end her love was in vain as he lost his life fighting for his country. Using the following platforms as guides, do you think the Dixie Chicks have more democratic or republican opinions?

Blue: “We have responsibly ended the war in Iraq…there is no greater responsibility than protecting the American people. We also understand the indispensable role that the United States must continue to play in promoting international peace and prosperity.”

Republican: “The Republican Party is the advocate for a strong national defense as the pathway to peace, economic prosperity, and the protection of those yearning to be free…Sequestration of the nation’s military budget would be a disaster for national security.”

I hope that through reading both articles you have seen that country artists have strong opinions when it comes to controversial political topics, and that not everyone in the genre agrees about what is right or wrong. I think that is the best part about country music; you are never going to hear the same thing and by listening to the radio you will be exposed to a plethora of opinions. While I don’t expect your favorite song will dictate your political views, I do hope that it will get your gears turning to think about what you do believe in, and that it reminds you TO GO VOTE!

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Filed under Blog Post 4, Politics, USA

Country Music and Politics: Is the Genre Red or Blue?


Our political views are often shaped by the community we live in: what our families believe, what we watch on TV, and even the kind of music we listen to. All of these aspects of life influence what we put value in. So as a fan of country music, and with the presidential election just a year away, I found myself asking how the genre views hot topics in politics today.

This piece is not meant to advance a political agenda, but rather serve as a platform for you, the reader, to be exposed to songs about social issues and decide for yourself to which side the genre swings. I do not pretend to be a political expert, so all statements on the views of the DNC and GOP will be derived directly from their published 2012 platforms. So without further ado, let’s see if country music is red or blue.

“All-American Boy”

Steve Grand’s new song “All-American Boy” was released in 2013 and immediately went viral; people went crazy for country music’s “first openly gay country star”. The story his music video portrays is the all too common predicament of wanting someone we can’t have, except this time it is from the perspective of a gay man crushing on his straight friend. Grand is always the first to point out that he has predecessors in country music who were also gay, but there is no doubt that Grand is making a splash with fans for his openness. Use the following to determine if Grand lines up more with the left or right.

Democrat: “We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples.”

Republican: “We reaffirm our support for a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

“The Call” by Matt Kennon

Abortion is a touchy and emotion-charged subject, and the decision to support “pro-life” or “pro-choice” is not one that is usually taken lightly. In Matt Kennon’s song “The Call”, he tells the story of a young couple getting pregnant and the man encouraging the woman to get an abortion. But just as the girl is in the doctor’s office he calls her to tell her that he changed his mind and wants to raise the baby together, and the girl is overjoyed. At the end of the song Kennon expresses the importance of phoning a friend every so often, he says “They might be glad you called.” So what do you think? Does this song express Democratic or Republican ideas?

Blue: “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay.”

Red: “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

“Made in America” by Toby Keith

I hope you’ve seen in this article that country music is not totally red or blue, but perhaps…purple. People tend not to lean totally to one side, and neither does country music. But if there’s one thing the two parties and the genre can agree on it’s that they are proud to be American, and that the American Dream is something worth fighting for. The perfect summation of this pride is Toby Keith’s song “Made in America”.

DNC: “We need a government that stands up for the hopes, values, and interests of working people, and gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential.”

GOP: “The pursuit of opportunity has defined America from our very beginning. This is a land of opportunity. The American Dream is a dream of equal opportunity for all.”


Filed under Blog Post 3, Politics, USA

Brad Paisley’s Free Concert was Priceless

IMG_4766 (2)“FREE” is quite possibly the most important word in a college student’s vocabulary, so when Brad Paisley announced he was packing up his plethora of guitars and heading cross country on a FREE college tour, I’m pretty sure the cheers of coed country fans could be heard for miles. Naturally, I was logged on to my computer at 12:01 AM on August 26 to claim my spot among the 8,400 local Austin fans who would be crammed into the parking lot of UT’s baseball field on September 10 to watch one of country music’s biggest stars. When they opened the gates, my three friends and I booked it across the lot and somehow, unbelievably, managed to secure a spot at the front of the stage not three feet away from the mic. I knew then that it would be an amazing night!

brad concert pat

Pat Green rocking Texas Country before Brad takes the stage

Since we are in Texas it would have been sacrilegious if Brad hadn’t paid homage to our very own genre of Texas country, so it was appropriate that his opening act was none other than his old friend and Texas Country all-star Pat Green. Pat has been active on the Texas Country scene since 1995, and he hasn’t slowed down since. His song “Home” reached 5th on the country music charts when it was released this year. Pat is loved across the country, but he is especially revered at home in Texas. I mean, how could he not be with songs like “I Like Texas” and “Girls from Texas”? He certainly knows how to work the home-court advantage!

As Pat Green closed his set with “Wave on Wave”, Paisley warmed up backstage along with the Texas cheerleaders, UT’s mascot Hook’em, and his (by my count) eight guitars! At 8:40 he took the stage and his fans went wild as he opened with his hits “Crushin’ it” and “Mud on the Tires”. Donning a Texas Football t-shirt, he worked the crowd and made everyone cheer as he threw up his horns.

brad concert hookem

Brad throwing up his horns about 3 feet away from me!

Nothing could put a damper on his performance, not even the 100% chance of rain that fell as he fittingly performed “Perfect Storm” and “Water”. It seemed as though the night could not get any better…but then Brad played a familiar tune on his guitar as he was joined on stage by Hook’em, and together they led the crowd of students in the most epic performance of “The Eyes of Texas” that I have ever witnessed.

From the quirky videos playing behind him on the big screen to his PAISLEY guitars (gotta love a man who embraces real-life puns), Brad put on an unforgettable show! I’m pretty sure the crowd could be heard all the way across campus as every soul at that concert screamed the lyrics to his closing number “River Bank”. I know I certainly had too much fun shouting the line “take a…LIME AND SUCK IT”.

While having a free tour geared toward college students might seem like an odd choice for a veteran artist like Brad Paisley, it was actually a pretty smart career move. With songs like “Alcohol”, “Crushin’ It”, and “Online”, Brad’s quirky sense of humor and social commentary are the perfect tools to reel in a population of young, college-aged fans. The cherry on top is his love for college football which inspired him to launch his tour at the start of the fall semester. His new single “Country Nation” is his theme song for the tour; it names dozens of college mascots, but focuses on how even though we might wear different colors on game day we are still united through country music. With its quasi-patriotic sound, it really is the perfect anthem to bring students together, and it certainly didn’t hurt that it expanded Brad’s fan base in the process.

“We’re Mountaineers, we’re Volunteers/We’re the Tide that rolls, we’re Seminoles/We’re a heard of Longhorn steer…On two thousand country stations/Yeah we’re one big country nation that’s right”

In spite of the criticism Brad faces as he veers more toward the bro-country style, I’m not ashamed to say that I fan-girled the entire night, and my heart skipped a beat when he performed a guitar solo an arm’s length away from me. This was definitely one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended and it was a perfect start to the new school year. So thank you, Brad, for the FREE concert and for just being you. You were certainly Crushin’ It on that stage all night long!

IMG_4870 (2)

Yes, Brad Paisley was inches away from my camera lens


Filed under Austin, Blog Post 2, Bro Country, Concert, Country Rock, Texas

Like Father Like Daughter

It surprises me sometimes just how much my family influences my opinions and attitudes. Growing up I had my fair share of “I will never do that to my kid” moments, but recently I have begrudgingly realized that I am the spitting image of my parents. Their influence, especially my father’s, has carried over into my tastes in music. As an eight-year-old kid I craved the moments we would go driving on rural country roads because it meant my dad would let me sit in the front seat. He would pop his favorite CD of easy-going music in the radio and sing along to Jimmy Buffett with the windows rolled down. This was the kind of music he referred to as “the best stuff on earth,” and I could not agree more. As a child, I had no idea what a “margaritaville” was, I just knew that I liked the sound of the steel drums and thought the singer was overreacting to the loss of a salt shaker. Soon I found myself knowing all of the words to the songs on the CD and loving it.

It wasn’t long before my dad exposed me to a slightly different type of music. This time the acoustic guitar was the star and the songs described the exact country roads we were driving on. Kenny Chesney was the first country artist I was introduced to, and he remains to this day one of my absolute favorites (he even pays homage to the great Jimmy Buffett in his hit “How Forever Feels“). His down-home lyrics and nostalgic sound make even the most unsentimental listener wistful for the past, a characteristic I find to be especially important in country music.

The song I think best reflects the role my family played in developing my taste in country music is “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere” by Alan Jackson featuring Jimmy Buffett. And no, not for its literal meaning, but rather for the way it makes you feel like you don’t have a care in the world. When I hear the hints of island sound, it reminds me of the breeze blowing through my hair as I listened to Jimmy Buffett in the car with my dad, and of course Buffett’s vocal cameo in the song only makes that memory stronger. I also appreciate how the lyrics create a sense of total relaxation. The line “The sun is hot and that old clock is moving slow, and so am I” makes the listener feel warm and stress-free as if they themselves were in margaritaville.

All around, Alan Jackson is an amazing artist and holds a special place in my love of country music. His classic sound has inspired me to listen to older country stars in a time when pop-country is pervasive throughout the genre, and he reminds me to always stay close to my roots. His was the first country concert I ever went to, and on top of it all it was one that I was able to attend with my dad. So I guess no matter how hard I might try to refute it, my parents do have some good taste.


Filed under Blog Post 1, Classic Country