This Road Of Music

By Alan Rhody

I'd like to take this opportunity to dispel a couple of rumors that I was asked about recently while attending a Fan Fair event for the first time in quite a while here in Nashville. 1.) No, I didn't move to Florida and live down there for a while before moving back to Music City. 2.) No, I haven't moved back to Louisville, though I still love my hometown dearly and get up there whenever I can. I've lived in the same house for nineteen years here in Nashville, Tennessee and enjoy it very much. Thank you.

Now, as I was saying, I attended a label show or two at Fan Fair this year. I haven''t been to the "where fans can meet the stars" extravaganza in a few years and it's changed some. I had a back stage pass to the evening RCA/BNA show. Ten a.m. starts and 7 p.m.- 10 p.m. finishes are something new at Fan Fair due to the large number of labels and artists in the country music market place these days. In order for major labels and their "new" spin-off labels to showcase their established and new artists, the shows and times were drastically extended.

The twenty-four thousand or so fans were certainly up to it, with the entire five-day event selling out ahead of schedule, as has been the case for the past several years. Yes, the crowds are more mixed as far as income level, dress, nationality etc. Yes, most of the new singers and bands are younger.

Just how Country was Fan Fair? Well, based on the show I saw and heard, it was a toss-up. Even though Lorrie Morgan, Kenny Chesney, newcomer Sara Evans and surprise guest Clint Black kept it pretty much that way, Jim Lauderdale, Mindy McCready, The Thompson Bros. and Ray Vega turned the Fairgrounds stadium into a rock concert, as did Clay Walker previously in the Warner Reprise/Giant Records show when he followed Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" (yet another remake!) with the Jimmy Buffett-sounding "Then What," written by Randy Sharp and Jon Vezner, complete with beach balls knocked into the audience from the stage. It was all a lot of fun, but country music? I don't know.

This got me thinking about when rock and folk-pop acts of the Sixties and early Seventies first started using country elements in their music and how wonderful that was. But somehow when some country act would cover a song like "City Of New Orleans," it just wasn't happening. I felt the same way about the so-called Eagles "tribute" album by a list of country artists. Though it was a great vehicle and sold millions, I thought it was a joke.

Don't get me wrong, there have been many country artists who 'have successfully covered pop, rock and folk hits or even taken songs from those areas that weren't hits before and made them hits. Some that immediately come to mind are the late great Conway Twitty; Waylon Jennings; Willie Nelson; and, very recently, Kevin Sharp ("Nobody Knows But Me"). The last twenty years have shown us cross-pollination of all kinds in music and it's a really great thing – when it works.

The heading "country" takes in a wide array of sounds these days, which was caused by a number of things, mainly "Top 40" radio shutting the door on certain sounds and forcing them into "classic hit" or "Adult Contemporary" formats or forcing them into calling themselves country to try and get airplay. It also led to the birth. of the Americana chart and format.

What's country and what isn't? What's rock and what isn't? What's pop and what isn't? What should be on MTV and not on VH-l? What should be on CMT and also on VH-l?

Welcome to America – the country that, as the twentieth century is coming to a close, is both confused and happy about it's music!

Alan Rhody is an award-winning songwriter and painter who was born in Louisville. He will be performing at the Twice Told Coffee House on Sunday, July 6.