Author Archives: Ginny Montalbano

Country Music Experiences & Reflection

This year I am living in my sorority house, and rooming with one of my good friends, Emma. Emma took this class last spring and she is the reason I decided to take the class, based off of her high recommendation. She loves country music as much as I do and we actually got to go to the iHeart Country Music Festival last May!

BP51It was an unspoken agreement that she and I would be watching the CMAs on November 4th. Of course, as you know, my sisters back home love all things country. The past couple years we have face-timed and texted to share our thoughts about the show and the different moments and performances. I promise we like and respect plenty more country artists than just Luke Bryan, but as I followed the various Twitter feeds during the show, I couldn’t help but send them a couple of my favorite pictures of him that were popping up, such a comical moment between Justin Timberlake helping Luke Bryan fix his tie on the red carpet.

I’ll admit, I didn’t know much about Chris Stapleton besides the fact that he wrote and sang on Luke’s “Drink A Beer”, but after quickly catching up on his biography and songs, it was wonderful to see that someone as talented as he is was being recognized, a sentiment that Luke Bryan later echoed during his Entertainer of the Year acceptance speech. Kenny Chesney is another artist that I really enjoy. His career is consistent and successful, and it is nice to see that he is still very active and performing on these award shows.

LouisNashville is not a show that I would normally watch, but I have recently had a good reason to watch a couple of episodes. My godfather and cousin, Louis Gusemano, is an actor and he landed the role of the detective this past season. Naturally, I watched his episode with some friends when it aired last spring, but I have occasionally kept up with it during the current season.

Overall it is not my favorite show, but the interpretations and depictions of life within the country music industry are fascinating. I recently found an article on Saving Country Music’s website that correlated the various characters with their real-life country star counterparts. I also appreciate that the show depicts aspects of country music that are unique to the genre, such as the overall closeness and openness of the artists as a whole.

Nashville1As I discussed in my Blog Post #4, my sisters and I got to see Luke Bryan on his Kick the Dust Up tour in October. In this post however, I want to focus more on his opening acts, which were so solid and exciting that I truly felt like we got to experience three different concerts during one night.

Randy Houser and Dustin Lynch both have naturally good voices, and seemed genuinely excited to be performing for such a big crowd. They also had longer sets than I anticipated- which was a great development! Their camaraderie with Luke later on during his set (Moscow Mules and George Strait!) raised the bar for any future concerts! Randy Houser’s vocals during “Like A Cowboy” were outstanding. I highly recommend finding a video on YouTube of him performing the song live- you won’t be disappointed!

randyTo understand the current trends and direction of country music, it is important to understand the past, as with any historical movement. In fact, Trisha Yearwood recently told reporters that based on her experience and knowledge of country music; she foresees a somewhat inevitable decline in “bro-country”, and a rise in more traditional “grassroots” and singer-songwriter artists. Chris Stapleton’s rise definitely supports her prediction.

Rhetoric of Country Music and these experiences have expanded my knowledge on the history of country music more so than I thought possible and made me start thinking more analytically about country music and the direction it is headed. I have also been introduced to certain performers from the past or who are up and coming that I might not have ever noticed before.


Filed under Blog Post 5, Reflection

Thank You, Luke – A Country Night I’ll Never Forget

‘Do you think he’ll remember you?’ my mom called and asked me on Friday as I sat delayed in the Austin airport. After seeing Luke five times in concert, and getting to meet him once, she has come to realize when it comes to Luke my sisters and I don’t mess around.

I tried to explain to her Luke Bryan, the ACM and CMA reigning Entertainer of the Year, has performed for over a million people just this year, and would absolutely not recognize my sisters and I in a crowd. Our evening started around 5:00pm- a solid two hours before the first opener even came on. We staked out our spots in the pit and ended up standing in the same spot for about a solid six and a half hours- but it was more than worth it.Luke3

Luke busted out on stage like an energizer buddy, blasting “Kick the Dust Up”. Without missing a beat, he seamlessly transitioned into one of his oldest hits, and my personal favorite “All My Friends”. Sure, no Luke concert would be complete without some booty shaking, growling into the mike (I think only he can get away with that one), and some other funny but scripted moments.

In formal interviews, he’s a little more guarded now. After suffering another family tragedy, the loss of his brother-in-law (husband to the sister Luke lost almost 10 years ago), and wary of some reporters constantly trying to nail him with ‘Gotcha!’ questions about the bro-country debate, it’s not unexpected.Luke2

We saw how spontaneous he is on stage, when he’s in his element and in control doing what he loves. So many times he would just crack himself up about something, or he would bust out a move that no one else could have pulled off with pride unless they had a great sense of humor. We could even see him motioning to the sound crew to turn down the music volume- he can hold his great vocals on his own more than fine- shenanigans and all.

Oh, and one more thing. He can sing. Besides playing over 18 of his own songs, from “Rain is a Good Thing” and to “Strip it Down”, Luke went above and beyond to make the concert as fun and amusing as he himself is.

From DJ-ing “Apple Bottom Jeans” on the piano (only Luke), admitting that yes, he’s no Calvin Harris, to entertaining the crowd with a delightful discussion of the Whip, to killing it on the piano to one Alabama’s classic hits, to then rolling right into George Strait’s “The Chair”, beyond showcasing his mastery of the piano, Luke was making a much larger point.

No matter how many awards he racks up or how many albums he sells, slacking off as an entertainer isn’t something he’s interested in.

He brought out his opening acts again mid-concert, Dustin Lynch and Randy Houser, on stage for an awesome harmonization of “Sugar”- but not without some Moscow Mules and tequila. Luke created THE funniest and most fun concert environment I have ever been in.


The concert felt just as intimate as when he first performed at the Houston Rodeo as a nervously excited but energetic 34 year old. I attribute that not to a venue, manager, or set list- but to the performer. My 11-year-old sister put it best, ‘When I think of Luke Bryan, I just think he’s my buddy.’

History will determine his place in country music, bro-country debate included. As the Dallas Morning News wrote in their assessment, it seems like he’s put it behind him, regardless of what nitpicky skeptics still say. But for now, it’s his likability and love and talent for what he’s doing that has him on top.

So no, mom. In the pit as he leaned down and sang a double encore of Country Girl, he didn’t recognize us- unfortunate but not unexpected. But from how much fun he was having, and how his contagious humor and energy infected the whole performance and venue from start to finish, it sure felt like he did.


Filed under Blog Post 4, Concert

Making the Most of Everything: Country Music Lessons

For every nostalgic song produced by country music, there is one that reflects on the opposite message. Living in the moment is important for everyone, especially in a time where little distractions are so common. In order to have no regrets, you have to make the most of every minute, which is a hard task. Country music always cuts to the heart of a matter, and this topic is no different. As someone in college who is trying to make the most of these four years, these songs will always have a special place. Here are five of the greatest ‘living in the moment’ country songs:

“I Hope You Dance” – Lee Ann Womack

This country pop song came out in March 2000, and won multiple awards. Lee Ann Womack reminds me of Carrie Underwood in some ways. This song is filled with hope about the future and emphasizes not letting any time go by without making the most of it. It’s hard not to feel inspired!

“Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along, / Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder where those years have gone”

“Don’t Blink” – Kenny Chesney

If you’re a fan of Kenny Chesney, then you know that this song is one of his all-time greats. It veers away from his traditional carefree, relaxed beach vacation songs. (Beer in Mexico will always be a classic!) It is fitting that the 2007 album was titled Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates. He tries to figure out the secret to life, and it’s pretty simple, just live! It seems like just yesterday when I first came to UT, so I definitely relate to this song.

“Trust me friend a hundred years goes faster than you think…So don’t blink”

“I Saw God Today” – George Strait

You wouldn’t think that a song about new baby would really be relatable to most college students, but it’s the general idea that any major life event creates some reflection and a desire to not let things go by so fast. George Strait released this song on his album Troubadour in 2008- considered one of the finest in his long career.

“His fingerprints are everywhere / I just slowed down to stop and stare / Opened my eyes and man I swear, I saw God today”

“You’re Gonna Miss This” – Trace Adkins

A dad who is watching his daughter grow up narrates this song. Each stage of her life brings struggles but also blessings, something everyone can relate to. When the times get too trying, it’s easy to wish you get over the hump and be past it, but there’s so much good you could miss with that kind of outlook. He stresses to her to enjoy every stage of life, because there’s always a part of it she’s going to miss.

“You’re gonna miss this / You’re gonna want this back / You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast”

“Live Like You Were Dying”

In my opinion, this is the ultimate song about living in the moment. I have gotten to see Tim McGraw perform this song three different times in person, and I still get goosebumps. Between the lyrics, the sound, and the way Tim McGraw sings the song, it extremely powerful. The message is clear in this 2004 hit- don’t just live life, live it to the fullest and truly appreciate every moment.

“And he said someday I hope you get the chance, to live like you were dying”

No matter the situation or circumstances, or even the phase of our lives that we find ourselves in, country music remains clear on one thing. Enjoy life and don’t take time for granted- live in the moment!


Filed under Blog Post 3, Classic Country, Country Pop, Song Analysis

Carrie Underwood: Still at the Top of Her Game

Seven-time Grammy winner Carrie Underwood isn’t bowing out anytime soon. The country music queen and former American Idol winner is the most successful Idol finalist of all-time. Actually, Carrie Underwood is one of the most successful artists of all-time, period. It is hard to believe that it has been ten years since her outstanding powerhouse career took off. She has been a one-of-a-kind influence on country music, leaving a certain impact that not even Taylor Swift could. As an avid long-time fan, nothing makes me happier than to hear that Carrie Underwood isn’t slowing down.

carriedollyCarrie’s unbelievable vocals and numerous record-breaking albums and singles have been groundbreaking in the country music industry and beyond. She has been one of the first female country singers to maintain such a tremendously successful career because she appeals to even to people who normally don’t like female country singers. She is an influence and an inspiration to artists of all ages and of different genres. Underwood remains dedicated to continued success. At only 32, she already has a Greatest Hits album that chronicles her numerous chart-topping singles.

Carrie welcomed her first child in late February 2015, and the new mom has no plans to slow down anytime soon. Her fifth album, titled Storyteller will be released in October. Many people have the assumption, and not without precedence, that country female singers almost disappear and lose momentum once they begin a family. Carrie Underwood is indicating that she is planning on doing anything but.

The first single off of the new album “Smoke Break”, is already a major success. Many notable critics have been raving about the lyrics, Underwood’s vocals, and the sound of the song in general. Carrie Underwood is fantastic at sticking with what works, exploring trends, but never straying too far away from the type of sound that has made her successful and that country music embraces.

Carrie Underwood's latest album will be released on October 23rd.

Carrie has been very vocal about the sound of Storyteller, and “Smoke Break” gives a good indication of what is yet to come when the full album is released. She is striving to release a more “laidback” album compared to Blow Away, which was released in 2013. Senior year of high school I got to see her Blown Away Tour, and it was one of the best, most entertaining and well-done tours I have ever seen. Fans of Carrie’s early albums will certainly be happy with the more relaxed tunes. At the same time, Underwood continues to explore with country rock as she has on previous albums to great approval.

Besides the outstanding vocals and sound, “Smoke Break” skyrocketed to the top of the charts because of the message and reliability of the lyrics to everyday Americans. The same message has also created some controversy, with a group people upset because they feel Carrie Underwood is somehow promoting smoking. Many critics and reporters have defended the song and its message. Smoke Break is a “filler for any vice” someone might have when they need to get away, and just take a break. In fact, many outlets have praised this latest single as an exceptional “Blue Collar Anthem”.

One of the last seasons of American Idol I watched was when Carrie Underwood won. As a lover of country music and a big fan of Carrie, I have followed her career since my middle school days. I can still remember my dad taking me to get her album Carnival Ride. I am constantly shocked by how good she is and how much better she continues to get as time goes on, even when it seems impossible. Her good friend, collaborator, and country superstar in his own right, Brad Paisley sums it up best when told TIME Magazine, “not only has she earned her place, she’s also raised the bar: she’s a prolific songwriter, a trendsetter.”


Filed under Blog Post 2

The Houston Rodeo, That’s What Country Is

The Houston Livestock and Rodeo is one of the most prominent events every spring in Houston. Every March I bring out my cowboy boots and look forward to three weeks of entertainment and Texas culture. Growing up, my dad was always very involved with the Rodeo and still is today. Those who are involved in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo are a family, and it is a community that will always remind me of country music.

The Rodeo embraces country music of every sub-genre. George Strait, Eric Church, Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Alan Jackson, Blake Shelton, and Miranda Lambert can all play within the same three weeks and be equally appreciated and enjoyed.

One of my favorite country songs is an underappreciated Luke Bryan song from one of his first albums. This is a song long before the “Country Girl Shake It” days. “What Country Is” is a catchy but adamant tune.

The song follows the tradition of many mainstream country singers in the present day by putting out a song that speaks against typical country music stereotypes. Every time I hear this song I am reminded of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo community.

I am reminded of the Houston Rodeo for two different reasons. It reminds me what the Houston Rodeo can do for a young, aspiring entertainer. Four years ago, Luke Bryan was a relatively unknown country artist.

The Rodeo took a chance on him, and his success one Saturday afternoon helped propel him to where he is now, a two-time Entertainer of the Year. At the same time, the Rodeo honors and appreciates more traditional country singers like Brad Paisley, George Strait, or Rascal Flatts.

lukeb123The song “What Country Is” also argues against the stereotypes thrown at country music. The Houston Rodeo itself faces stereotypes from those who know little about the extravaganza. The song describes how country music is not a “rebel flag you bought at the mall,” referencing how people who listen to country music can be unfairly judged.

At the end of the song, he talks about how a love for country music is something that cannot be bought, but “it’s something you’re born with”. As a Texan and a Houstonian, I grew up immersed in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo community.

Being involved in this community has introduced me to the different facets of country music and culture, and overall made me a more open-minded and appreciative person of everything country music has to offer. I see country music, whether old or new, representative of American values that are celebrated and cherished, especially during those special three weeks in March.


Filed under Blog Post 1, Country Pop, New Country