Author Archives: Erin McWilliams

About Erin McWilliams

I'm a sophomore Rhetoric and Writing Major from Dallas, Texas (if you're wondering from where in Dallas, it's this cute little suburb called Dallas <--- my best attempt at a non-snobby joke about the fact that I live in central Dallas). I wasn't born a country-lover; my parents are as yankee as they come. Somehow I found my way to loving ~most~ country music.

Leaving My Country Comfort Zone

I’m a firm believer that being totally immersed in something unfamiliar and uncomfortable to you is a unique and necessary experience. When I signed up for this class, I didn’t know that it would be one of those experiences because I was completely unaware of how much I didn’t know about country music. I realized this on day one of class, but instead of feeling unprepared and panicking like I normally do when I understand how screwed I am for a class, I felt really good about where I was. If you come in knowing nothing, you have so much to learn, and for the first time in a college classroom, I felt like the purpose of the course was for me to learn and grow instead of produce—work, projects, grades, etc.

Maybe knowledge of the country music industry isn’t vital to my understanding of the real world, or maybe it is. I think learning all that you can about a different culture changes who you are before you did so, all for the better. Before I understood the depth and history of the country music industry, I had little appreciation for it, but now I can say that I can understand the decades of emotion, passion, and effort that are a part of this genre.

Well, as they say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” so I went and did some cool stuff to really “immerse” myself in the country music culture!

  1. Texas Two-Step Throwdown ft. Luke Pell

The “Texas Wrangler Mavericks” a.k.a. Wranglers, a men’s organization on campus, had a two-stepping event at Ironwood Hall downtown featuring the local country artist Luke Pell. While I did go for the two-stepping, I stayed for the music. As it usually goes with college boys, no one was really brave enough to ask girls to dance (or at least when I got there they weren’t asking girls to dance), so I was inclined to leave, but I figured I would give Luke a chance and I’m glad I did! If you haven’t heard of him, check him out—he is your typical traditional country boy.

  1. Coupland Dance Hall via BYX ft. Terry Lee Hughes and the Debonaires

    Me n Gabe. Gabe n me.

    Me n Gabe. Gabe n me.

My friend Gabe took me to his BYX date event at the Coupland Dance Hall a month or two ago and it was so much fun! Coupland is the saloon style venue that you picture in your mind when you think of country dancing. In Coupland, Texas, driving to the dance hall feels like starring in a horror film (there is even a myth that it’s haunted); the dirt road is empty and there are no street lights. Then, you ride up a hill and on the other side of it is the Dance Hall. The funniest part of this place is that there is a painting of a young naked woman above the bar and the manager, an old gray-haired woman, will openly admit to you that the painting is of her! I highly recommend Coupland Dance Hall and the Debonaires (who only covered songs, but they rocked it! My favorite/most accurate covers they did were Josh Abbott Band).

  1. Steve Moakler concert

    I could've posted a better picture of the set list I stole, but this was taken in an excited stupor and I thought it was funny that I couldn't even get the names of the songs in it.

    I could’ve posted a better picture of the set list I stole, but this was taken in an excited stupor and I thought it was funny that I couldn’t even get the names of the songs in it.

I wrote about Steve Moakler earlier in the semester because he is one of my favorite singer-songwriters gone Country. The concert was at none other than Stubb’s Barbecue. Sweet Steve raked in approximately 30 people, most of whom were middle-aged couples, whereas in his hometown of Pittsburgh, he sold out a show at the Rex Theater. My roommate and I were giggling to ourselves the whole time because all of the sudden this Pittsburgh native had a country accent that he incorporated not only into his add-lib, but even his songs (pre-country phase). Steve is always a good time, though. It was probably one of my favorite concerts solely because I could stand with a lot of space around me, only 10 feet from the band, and listen to the music without being shoved or hear people screaming the lyrics so loud you can’t even hear the artist. 10/10 would recommend smaller artists like Steve Moakler before they get big! (and Stubb’s BBQ of course)


I thoroughly enjoyed being brought out of my comfort zone by this class in order to gain an understanding of something that is loved by so many people and I believe that to fully understand another person, you have to understand what they like/dislike and why. It’s kind of like a more fun version of sociology–you get the point.

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Filed under Austin, Blog Post 5, Concert, Dancing, Lists, Live Music

Radical Rednecks

I’m sure most of you who read this title were a little confused, while others of you probably could think of a few times that your favorite country artists said something that went against the staunch-republican-country grain. What may surprise you, though, is that there are more country artists that lean left (in one way or the other) than you think. Here’s a brief list of artists that don’t fit the conservative stereotype of country music completely like you might think they do:

  1. Kacey Musgraves

Alright, this one might be blatantly obvious. Kacey Musgraves’s second single was “Follow Your Arrow,” a song advocating, well, doing whatever the hell makes you happy. This was a very risky decision considering she was just starting out in her career and didn’t have a solid foundation yet, but it’s been met with approval (and some disproval) by her younger target audience. The most obvious “offense” against the stereotype that Musgraves commits is the mention of “kiss[ing] lots of girls, if that’s something you’re into”—it’s no secret that Kasey is a supporter of marriage equality, but did we know that she also supports the use of marijuana? “When the straight and narrow gets a little too straight, roll up a joint.” She also makes mention of sex before marriage *gasp*. So risqué, Kasey.

  1. Toby Keith

Are you shocked? I am. With his harsh twang, I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that Keith is a “bleeding heart liberal,” but apparently he is. According to the Witty Bitches website (The name makes me question credibility), Toby Keith advocates for marriage equality, universal healthcare, and women in combat. But, here’s the kicker: he banned guns from his Virginia restaurant. WHAT?! Toby Keith hates the Second Amendment??? Okay, I’m clearly hyperbolizing, but still.

  1. Tim McGraw

Wipe your tears, everyone. Tim McGraw told People magazine that “It’s innate in me to be a blue-dog Democrat.” He and his wife vehemently support President Obama. SURPRISE he also advocates for gun control. And you thought you knew him…. It’s a crying shame.* Actually surprising, though, is that his song “Red Ragtop” touches on the issue of abortion and lyrics indicate that a couple who becomes pregnant decides not to keep their child–very controversial, indeed.

  1. Garth Brooks

Depending on how much you know about Garth Brooks, this might be surprising. Brooks sang at Obama’s 2009 inauguration and is a “long-time democrat.” His song “We Shall Be Free” speaks about being free to love whoever you chose and “worship from our own kind of pew.” He apparently also sings songs about civil rights, race, and domestic violence, some less controversial causes.

  1. The Dixie Chicks

Possibly one of the most obvious on this list, the Dixie Chicks are known for their criticism of President George W. Bush. Perhaps this doesn’t make them liberal, but it certainly puts them at odds with many conservatives. At a show in London in 2003 (introducing the song “Travelin’ Soldier“), lead singer Natalie Maines told the crowd “We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.”

  1. Willie Nelson

This list would not be complete without our pot-smoking, quasi-religious, country folk star. It is said that once he offered up a joint to Jesus (sweet Willie), but he still believes in reincarnation and wrote a book called the Tao of Willie, detailing Taoism. As you can probably guess, he advocates for the legalization of marijuana. Despite all the criticism that he receives, many country-lovers of every sociopolitical background love their Willie Nelson.

There are many more that make up this list, but these I feel are the most relevant. Regardless of political agendas or causes advocated, we still love our favorite country artists—Keep on keepin’ on.

*note: I am being highly sarcastic and exaggerating in this entire article, especially here.


Filed under Blog Post 4, Garth Brooks, Politics

On Bro-Country…

In August 2013, New York Magazine published Jody Rosen’s article about the rise of “Bro-Country.” If you’re like me, you haven’t heard of Bro-Country, but you probably have a pretty good guess as to what it is. Rosen defines Bro-Country as “Music by and of the tatted, gym-toned, party-hearty young American white dude.” Shots fired. He wastes no time in condemning the lucky artist who topped the Billboard’s Hot Country Songs for 22 weeks in a row (breaking a record that has been in place since 1955): Florida Georgia Line with their song “Cruise.”

Rosen describes the song as an average-looking guy in a bar talking to the hottest blonde girl in the room, loudly laughing at his own jokes, and after crashing-and-burning with lame pick-up lines, pulls out his iPhone, asking “Have you heard this awesome song?” while simultaneously “dial[ing] up the video for Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Cruise.’” Are you laughing yet? This guy is pretty harsh, but I think he feels the way a lot of traditional country fans do when they see that auto-tuned sounds like those of Florida Georgia Line top the charts and ring in the big bucks.

Okay, here’s the part you’re going to hate…. This phenomenon isn’t news, nor is it shocking. Throughout music history, we have seen different genres and subgenres arise that some people have labeled “crap,” while others really find to their liking. It was only a matter of time before we had a new reason to complain, honestly.

Much like many young millennials enjoy the sounds of Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan, so the youth of the 1980’s enjoyed the beginnings of Grunge. Just as this new “Bro-Country” tends to err on the riskier side with lyrics and themes, Grunge challenged the norms of fashion, responsibility, and acceptable topics. Many people thought that Grunge was a blemish on the face of alternative rock, but that didn’t prevent it from sky-rocketing in popularity—even MTV picked it up and was exposing its viewers to the new sounds. Even my dad (the music snob I wrote about in my first blog post, “The Conflicting-Interest Blues”) said that popular Grunge band, Nirvana, “redefined everything.” (Does this count as a primary source?)

Some of you might be thinking, “But Grunge isn’t nearly as bad as Bro-Country” or “Hey! I like Grunge.” Well, I agree with you (I can’t stand to listen to songs like Cruise and I love Pearl Jam). But, it’s time to recognize that our tastes in music and what we can relate to is different than people younger than us that the country music industry is now catering to. And apparently it sells, so why wouldn’t they keep doing it?


Filed under Blog Post 3, Bro Country, Country Subgenres

Watch Out, Chart-Toppers

steve moakler picIn December of 2015, Huffington Post published an article by Brittany Hodak titled “Top 20 Country Artists to Watch in 2016.” I’ll admit, although I am a lover of all things music, I don’t typically look into up-and-coming country artists. But, much to my surprise, I came across an artist I have been familiar with for a few years: Steve Moakler. I didn’t think that Steve qualified as Country, but since listening to his new stuff have come to realize that Country is definitely the mold into which he is casting himself. How did he get to #3 on Hodak’s list? Let me unpack it for ya.

Steve Moakler was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Interesting, huh? Yankee-boy turned Country. In 2006, he picked up and moved to the Promised Land—Nashville, Tennessee—to pursue opportunity. And, just like thousands of others of his kind, he didn’t strike gold right away. Sweet Steve worked odd jobs while writing music in order to make his dream a reality. His expectations, like most Nashville-bound artists, were high and left him disappointed countless times.

When he had time, he played show after show to get his name out to a building fan-base and awaiting record-labels. “Thousands of songs later,” (according to his website) Steve released his first album by way of a Kickstarter funding campaign, under Free the Birds Records.

He’s come a long way. Steve has 115,000 monthly listeners on Spotify and his most recent album, Suitcase, produced by Creative Nation Records, has yet to release more than the single, “Suitcase,” which has already shot to number 187 on the iTunes Country charts. His record Watching Time Run rose to #1 on the Singer/Songwriter chart and was in the top 50 in overall charts. In addition, Steve’s music has been sung by notable artists such as Dierks Bentley, Jake Owen, Ben Rector, Matt Wertz, and Kellie Pickler, among others. Pretty impressive for a dude who produced his first album from a freaking KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN. It just goes to show how powerful his hipster-country fan-base truly is and makes me believe in the future of good music.

Not only is he a talented singer/songwriter, but he’s hilarious. Steve showcases his dry sense of humor on his Twitter and in his adorable friendship with Ben Rector. He’s also ridiculously photogenic—just check out his Instagram (@stevemoakler).

So what makes him different than any other charming, angelic-voiced country-singer? I would say what brought him to #3 on Hodak’s list of country artists to watch in 2016 is initiative. He completely financed his first album with funds from a donation website. Who are we to limit this guy?! I think Hodak sees his potential because of his willingness to make moves and humility to let other artists sing his music. Keep on doin’ you, Steve. It’s working.

Still not convinced? Watch this.


Filed under Blog Post 2, Reviews

The “Conflicting Interest” Blues

I grew up listening to alternative rock music; I received my first iPod when I was eight, fully loaded with my dad’s favorite tunes. While my friends were listening to Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys, I was listening to Greenday and the Killers. I’m not going to lie, it made me feel like a badass (hence the pretentiousness I held myself with regarding music).

It is interesting that this is the way my family ended up because my mother’s parents are from rural Mississippi and my dad is from Kilgore in east Texas, a.k.a two breeding grounds for country-lovers. Don’t ask me how it came about that both my parents despise country music because I don’t know and I don’t think I ever will. What did they like? It’s very difficult to pin down one genre, but if I had to guess, it would be alternative rock, or what my dad would call “the antithesis of country music.” Yep, you guessed it; among the rather long list of genres my family hates is country.

george straight sign

Reads: “Unless you’re God or George Strait, take off your boots!”

I was introduced to country music in the ninth grade by two of my first high school friends, twins, Mason and Shelby. Their momma and daddy (their words not mine) were born ‘n’ raised country and it apparently trickled down to them. The first song was hard to swallow… I’m fairly certain it was George Strait. I wasn’t allowed to say anything negative about the King in front of Mr. and Mrs. Conine, so for four years I sucked it up whenever I was with them and listened to all kinds of country music. And… I began to like it, much to my surprise (/dismay).

You know who else was surprised? My parents. Actually, horrified is a better word. They could not believe that I had used their money to buy “that crap.” I distinctly remember my dad singing his best idea of what a country song’s lyrics sound like, something along the lines of “I married my cousin, we honeymooned in mah pickup truck…” It goes without saying that I never mentioned it again.

Since then, they’ve warmed up a little more to the idea of me listening to country, but every now and again I will play something slightly more hardcore and they will lose their crap; it’s become somewhat of a game for me. They’ll never understand how much it has helped me fit into other communities, like the summer camp at which I’ve grown up in East Texas, or my friends who go to A&M and two-step every weekend.

I remember I was working up at a camp in Colorado (based in Texas) a few summers ago, right at the peak of my interest in country music. Apparently, I had a lot to learn. Every Tuesday and Thursday nights, we would throw a barn dance for the families and kids at camp that week. We would two-step the night away, meanwhile I was taking mental notes from the dope playlist of songs to buy on iTunes.

Me before my affair with country music

Me before my affair with country music

By the end of the summer, I had an arsenal of songs that I could whip out in the car back home when someone handed me the aux cord, because maybe, just maybe, with this new repertoire of mine, my friends might actually take a chance on handing me the aux cord (I was previously banned from it due to my tendency to play “depressing” songs). So, even though I have “betrayed” my own flesh and blood, I have no regrets. Rock on, country-lovers. And Yee-haw.



Filed under Blog Post 1