After spending the past week on a beautiful Bahamian beach listening to nothing but the waves on the shore and country music, it dawned on me that there may just be a new subgenre of country that, though small, is growing. Usually country contains themes of back roads and conservative ideals, but beach country has definitely changed that, evoking themes of sand, surf, and piña coladas.
This trend seemed to grow out of greats like Jimmy Buffett and his Margaritaville to Kenny Chesney and is now dominated by Luke Bryan and, to an extent, Zach Brown Band. Of course there are many others who have made music that sounds more beach-y than country, from Brad Paisley to Garth Brooks, everyone is hoping on the sandy bandwagon.
Luke Bryan in particular took advantage of this niche market by creating multiple spring break sets and performing in popular spring break locale Panama Beach. For the past seven years, Bryan has released a Spring Break EP to accompany his shows. Although the music isn’t his highest quality, it definitely is meant for the beach and the young adults that flock to it. This spring break marks his final shows and at 38 that’s probably an appropriate move as he’s two decades older than the average college freshman.
I think the expansion creates an interests from a wider fan base, one that might have traditionally listened to soulful and smooth Colbie Callait or Jason Mraz and wants to hear more sunny tunes. It definitely appeals to younger audiences and allows them an easy segue into more traditional country, particularly when such big names and well-known artists delve into the beachy trend.
However, I think the island tunes are become a lot more than a trend. Many have begun to incorporate more Caribbean sounds like the steel pan and mimic some defining characteristics of Calypso music with rhythmic and harmonic vocals.
Here are some of what I think are the most defining songs of the beach country movement:
Margaritaville – Jimmy Buffett
This is probably the most iconic and well-known beach country song. First recorded in 1977, it eventually reached number 8 on the USA music charts and number 1 on the Easy Listening charts. It evokes images of the beach, margaritas, and women. What makes it country is mostly the guitar and the alcohol and women references.
Two Pina Coladas- Garth Brooks
Garth Brooks is largely celebrated as one of the best country artists of all time. When he released this song in 1998, it hit number 1 on the US and Canadian country charts. It, too, evokes the slower, harmonic vocals with some call-and-response tactics while using themes of alcohol, lovesickness and the beach.
No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem – Kenny Chesney
Kenny Chesney is nearly unparalleled in his ability to capture the laid-back living that comes at the seaside. In this instant classic, there’s a clear mix of country and Calypso with steel guitars, acoustic guitars, drums, and tambourine. The island escapism so often seen in many of these songs is clearly evident here as he sings, “no boss, no clocks, no dress code.”
Suntan City – Luke Bryan
Like said, Luke Bryan’s spring break EPs aren’t his greatest works. While this song sounds different from the previous three, I think it still stands as beach country or a blend of bro-country and beach. It was released on Luke Bryan’s first spring break EP, “Spring Break… Here to Party.” It talks about a lot of similar themes as bro-country like women, beer, and kicking back with friends (in this case on the beach).