As a country music fan, growing up in central Texas in the 2000s was spectacular. I would drive my truck to our town’s only high school with the windows down, blaring some Randy Rogers or Casey Donahew. The only thing missing from this imaginary country music video would be girls on the tailgate cracking open some cheap American beer. That was Friday night though, obviously.
I graduated from high school in 2010 and Texas country had pretty much reached its pinnacle. Randy Rogers had just come out with Burning the Day which was a little disappointing and Cross Canadian Ragweed had just broken up which was detrimental. The writing was clearly on the wall that Texas country might have been on the down-slide but one thing in particular set everything into motion; Nashville.
The Texas country music scene at the time had a saying; “Nashville Sucks.”
In 2010, Eli Young Band was one of the biggest names in the Texas country music scene. With the album, Level, the band gained huge fame from songs like So Close Now, Oklahoma Girl and especially, When It Rains. Due to their status within the community, their demise had a bigger effect than imaginable.
It all began with their 2011 album, Life at Best. To the outside ear, this might have sounded like just another Eli Young album but for Texans, that couldn’t have been further from the truth. The album’s hit songs; Crazy Girl, Even If It Breaks Your Heart and Say Goodnight, sounded like more than just Nashville clones, they sounded like the death of Texas country music.
The reason Texas country music had become so popular was because it was a rebellious sound to the mainstream Nashville radio hits. It was truly a grassroots music movement that was specific to one state that loves country. People sick of what the radio was considering country at the time could show their rebellion while supporting local artist by proudly wearing a shirt that said, “Nashville Sucks,” while drinking a Lone Star tall boy.
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Eli Young Band’s album, Life at Best, was like your favorite player being traded to the rival team. Of course, unbeknownst to us, most of the Texas country bands at the time had already signed record deals with Nashville labels. Also, other great Texas artists had already “sold out” years ago like Pat Green with Wave on Wave. There was something nostalgically morbid about hearing Crazy Girl for the first time however.
Obviously, Texas country music wasn’t completely destroyed after this album in 2011. Plenty of great artists continued to emerge afterwards like Cody Johnson, Whiskey Meyers and Turnpike Troubadours. It was my Texas country music that died. The modern golden era of Texas country that died. The era that got too big for its own good. Fortunately, the rebellious passion against Nashville radio country music didn’t go away but instead, spread out wider.
Today, great artist like Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, Ryan Bingham, Jason Isbell and American Aquarium create genuinely great music that isn’t specifically designed for the masses listening to the radio. Instead of just Texas, the anti-radio country movement can be heard across America. Bands will never stop “selling out” as long as there is money to be made but as long as there are people who demand passion and creativity in their country music, there will always been great artist to enjoy.
If you’re the type of person who enjoys supporting people who haven’t sold out, feel free to read some of my other material, listen to the podcast or even buy a shirt. Lord knows I would sell out quick to pay the bills but for the time being, I’m a totally independent, completely broke, “artist.”