Author Archives: Matt Wills

Finding the Country in Austin, Texas

From the day I started to discover music, country music has undoubtedly been my favorite genre. Whether I was with my friends back in Colorado or just putting in my earbuds for a long flight, country music was always my go-to genre. While searching through the long list of classes to take for my fall 2015 semester at the University of Texas, I saw “Rhetoric of Country Music” and immediately knew it was a class I needed to take. As I have discovered this semester, Austin is much more than just the capital of Texas, but an amazing country music town as well. This class has taught me how to take advantage of many of the amazing opportunities in the country music realm that Austin has to offer. Here are just a couple activities that Rhetoric of Country Music opened my eyes to!

  1. Seeing a Zac Brown concert at Austin 360 Amphitheatre

I have always been a big fan of concerts, and this semester I was able to learn about Austin’s incredible music scene. Artists from all over the nation travel here to perform and there is never a lack of concerts in the Texas capital. This past semester, Tyler and I both bought tickets to see The Zac Brown Band after the release of their newest album Jekyll and Hyde. I had no idea how popular Austin was for live performances for big artists such as Zac Brown, and I won’t ever forget the show they put on. Being surrounded by friends in such a great city was an awesome experience I never would have had if it weren’t for Rhetoric of Country Music!

2. Watching the CMAs

My family has always casually watched music and movie awards shows, but this last year Tyler and I continued our tradition of sitting down and intently watching the CMAs. From the great performances to watching artists earn awards they have worked towards for their entire lives, it’s a really great program to watch if you take the time to actually sit down and pay attention to what’s happening on the screen. Rhetoric of Country Music piqued my interest in the country music industry as a whole, and helped me learn that what’s going on behind the songs can be just as interesting, if not more interesting, than the actual songs themselves

3. Watching the movie “Walk the Line”

Most listeners simply forget about the artists themselves in favor of the music they perform, but watching the movie “Walk the Line” has helped me realize the trials and tribulations that some artists must endure throughout their lives. We often see artists not as people, but as icons who release some of our favorite songs, but we forget that they are much more than that. “Walk the Line” is a great movie which goes in to the details of Johnny Cash’s personal life and struggles, and it helps the audience realize that he is much more than a famed performer. Rhetoric of Country Music helped me discover that these artists are simply just talented people, and that there is always more than just one dimension to the people featured on album covers. This class was more than just listening to country music, it was about exploring the industry and artists as a whole.

There is no better town to take a class such as Rhetoric of Country Music in, and the class a truly helped me expand my horizons when it comes to country music. The class showed me many different subgenres aside from the normal, popular “Nashville country” and how deep the industry really goes. From songwriters to Hall of Fame inductees and artist’s personal lives, there is so much to learn and know about country music. If nothing else, the class really opened my mind to how big a genre of music can really be and taught me to take advantage of my surroundings. I had an amazing time learning about the country music industry and Austin as a music town, and I never would have been able to gain the knowledge that was readily available to me in Rhetoric of Country Music.

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Filed under Blog Post 5

To See Sam Hunt’s Real Talent, You Just Have to Look “Between the Pines”

Sam Hunt has become known for his “metro-country” hits such as “Break Up in a Small Town,” “Ex to See” and, of course, “Take Your Time.” Before the release of his album, “Montevallo,” however, Sam Hunt’s style was far from the metro-country sounds of his radio hits. While Sam Hunt is undoubtedly an extremely talented artist, he is often criticized for not being “truly country.” His radio giant “Take Your Time” may lack the traditional characteristics of country music, but his acoustic mixtape (which has recently been released on iTunes and Spotify) reveals a very different side of Hunt. There is quite a variety of songs on Hunt’s mixtape, Between the Pines, from the acoustic first-versions of hits such as “Ex to See” and “Raised on it” along with songs not polished by the Nashville machine and released on Montevallo. My personal favorite, I Met a Girl, is a masterfully written love song about a girl Hunt just met, and while it has yet to be released as a polished single, I have few doubts that it will eventually show up on the iTunes charts under Hunt’s name. Between the Pines is a completely different animal than the mainstream music Hunt has been releasing recently. All of the songs have been written by the artist, and vary in style as Hunt experimented with different sounds on the mixtape. From Vacation to Saturday Night, each song has its own character and its own style, the only constant being Hunt’s natural voice, instead of the altered version of his singing often seen on his mass-released tracks.

Before his career as a popular musician, Sam Hunt was a successful songwriter. Writing songs for artists such as Billy Currington, Keith Urban, Reba McEntire and Kenny Chesney, it is evident in Hunt’s mixtape just how strong his songwriting skills truly are. These skills really shine through in Between the Pines, and are much stronger than what is showcased on Montevallo. Yes, Take Your Time is a great song, with an excellent music video to go with it, but there is no comparison between the original, raw sounds of the tracks on Between the Pines compared to Montevallo and its cookie-cutter Nashville style. Sam Hunt’s real strengths lie in his songwriting abilities and his un-altered voice. Paired with just a guitar, it is easy for the listener to see how much talent Hunt possesses.

The Nashville music machine has been extremely successful at pumping out mainstream country artists who end up gaining incredible success, however, in the case of Sam Hunt, who has been a songwriter for some of the best, he really shines in an acoustic setting and when he is given room to experiment with and write his own music. I highly recommend that fans of Sam Hunt listen to Between the Pines, now that it has been recently released on Spotify and iTunes. Montevallo is a good album in its own right, but to really see another aspect of Hunt and what he can truly be as an artist, all it takes is a single listen of Between the Pines.

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What The Country Music Industry Can Learn From Jason Eady

A good friend and I decided to go see the up-and-coming Nashville artist Chris Stapleton not too long ago, and while Stapleton put on a show that I will not soon forget, I found another star among the fray of openers that took the stage in a little honky-tonk down by the river in New Braunfels, Texas. Seeing that doors opened at 6pm that night, our group made the classic mistake of arriving right as the honky-tonk opened its doors in order to get the best possible spot for the Nashville star we were so eager to see. 3 small Texas country artists later, with still 2 more to go before Stapleton even took the stage, we discovered a red dirt artist who rivals the big Texas country names such as the Randy Rogers band or Pat Green: Jason Eady.

While many of the Texas country bands we saw at the River Road Ice House seemed to all blend together, their songs all sounding like the twangy slow songs occasionally accompanied by a steel guitar, something stood out about Jason Eady. He was an incredible performer, getting the crowd excited to hear music by an artist who has next to no presence on iTunes or Spotify and at many times throughout the performance I found myself surrounded by people two-stepping or swaying where they had been simply standing still for every other artist who had taken the stage thus far. My favorite song played by Eady (and one of my favorite songs of the entire night, believe it or not) was “Back to Jackson.” The song starts out with the typical neo-traditionalist sound of red dirt country music, but by the extremely catchy hook I couldn’t help but sing along. As someone whose music library is composed almost exclusively of country music and who is proud of their country music knowledge, I was genuinely surprised to talk to a local couple who had come not for Chris Stapleton (the main act and the talk of town in Nashville,) but simply for Jason Eady. The band has taken a genre which I found to be becoming a little worn out through songs which all sound too similar and cover the same couple topics such as back roads, the glorification of Texas and what it’s like to grow up in a little “water tower” town, reinventing the sub-genre through a mix of blues, Texas country a little small hint of Nashville’s polished style.

While it was great to hear an artist making Texas country a great genre again, there is a bigger lesson to be learned, both for listeners and for the Nashville music machine. Country music is a much more diverse genre than it is given credit for, or is approached by via the Nashville music industry. There are an unlimited amount of sounds that can be contained in the genre and so many topics that are yet to be explored. Why subject listeners to a legion of new songs that all sound the same or cover the same topic? When there is so much leeway concerning what can be produced musically, the country music industry as a whole is “dropping the ball” concerning new innovations in the genre, both musically and lyrically. Instead of giving listeners the same old thing they expect from country music, it’s time for the industry to mix it up a little bit and give audiences a taste of how diverse and unique country music can be.

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Filed under Blog Post 3, Live Music, Texas

Why Country Music Fans Can’t Stop Listening to the “Same Old Song”

Brantley Gilbert has never been known for the depth of his lyrics in his songs. As a disciple of the “bro country” fad which has seemingly dominated Nashville for the past couple years, most of Gilbert’s songs convey a pretty similar message about tailgates, tan lines and moonshine. I use the word “most,” however, as one of his more recent songs containing some of the same stereotypical ideas of “bro country,” takes on a completely different message. Everyone knows Brantley Gilbert for his hits such as “Bottoms Up” and his more recent “Hell of an Amen,” but not many have heard the less popular song off of his new album, “Same Old Song.” While “Same Old Song” has all the bro country components of bonfires, whiskey and tailgates, the meaning behind the song is stronger than one might think. In the song, Gilbert argues that although these subjects may be cliché by now, it’s what he knows and it’s what he grew up on: “I hear there’s folks/Tired of us talking about dirt roads/Tailgates, tan lines and corn rows/ It sounds made up but that’s the life I know.”

Most country songs being released from Nashville these days all contain the same content, and Gilbert acknowledges this, but he retorts by saying that although it may seem made up, it’s what he was surrounded by growing up in Georgia and its part of the culture many country artists hail from. Undoubtedly, Brantley Gilbert blows the situation way out of proportion, essentially stating that bonfires, whiskey and tailgates completely dominate every southerner’s experience, but at the heart of the song, his message rings true.

Growing up in a rural area, as many Americans across the nation do, “Moonlight, bonfires/Seein’ all the stars on a summer night” are very real and common experiences. It’s something many listeners can relate to, and that’s why it has become such a staple. While nobody wants the country music industry to transform in to a genre of homogeneous music all based on the same five or six concepts, subjects such as bonfires and a night sky full of stars have become country music staples for a reason. At the end of the day, country music is about relatability and American culture. Just like Brantley argues, country music can be criticized for being repetitive, but it’s repetitive because the ideas expressed in many country songs are based on experiences that thousands of Americans are familiar with, and which have become a source of pride for many. Nashville is undoubtedly becoming too unoriginal in the ideas that it portrays in its songs, no matter the artist, but who can blame the industry for releasing music based on what most listeners know and treasure? The reign of bro country might finally be coming to an end in the country music genre, and for all of its faults and lack of depth, the relatable lyrics and catchy tunes will keep many of us “sangin’ that same old song” for a little while longer.


Filed under Blog Post 2, Bro Country

Marijuana in Colorado may be legal, but “Rocky Mountain High” has a completely different meaning.

Despite Aspen’s infamous reputation as the playground for the rich and famous, the Aspen that I grew up in was a tight knit community of friendly, hardworking people. Throughout my eighteen years growing up in the little mountain town, I became very close with a small group of my peers who helped shape both my childhood and my adolescence. There were no private jets or hillside mansions with ski slope access. It was simply a bunch of kids who loved the little town and the mountains that surrounded it. In my community, we were constantly outside, always doing things like skiing, hiking or spending our nights camping at one of our favorite spots. I have many fond memories sitting around the campfire with my friends, gazing up at the stars and listening to “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver. Rocky Mountain High, written by a local legend in Aspen, embodies the experience of growing up in a small mountain town. In the song, he touches on subjects like climbing “cathedral mountains” and “the serenity of a clear blue mountain lake,” something all Aspen residents can relate to. Country music and the subjects contained in its songs are ideas and experiences that all people can relate to, and that is the beauty of the genre. The ideas behind the songs are relatable for Americans across the nation, no matter what part of the country they are from. Rocky Mountain High is a great example of this. Growing up in a mountain community is a niche subject, but John Denver makes it relatable for listeners from all different backgrounds. Country music is music created for the common man. No matter your community, you can still relate the experiences of the writer who almost surely has been in the same position or felt the same way. I grew up with John Denver’s music, and while his style does not exactly fit with the current direction of country music today, his relatability and the subjects he addresses have helped define what country music is to me. Country music is not about stereotypical moonshine and daisy dukes. It’s about where you come from, the ideals you were raised with, and the experiences you had while growing up in America. I will never forget sitting around the campfire with my close friends watching it “raining fire in the sky” as the sun set, or swimming in a “clear blue mountain lake,” and John Denver’s songs reflect those memories and brings me right back to the place and the people who helped make me who I am. I truly would be a poorer man if I “never saw an eagle fly.”


Filed under Blog Post 1