Wesport ponies up for Nashville

If you listen to the music blaring through the stereos of Staples students’ cars as they drive to and from school every day, what you hear might surprise you.

“Shake it for the young bucks sittin’ in the honky-tonks/ For the rednecks rockin’ ‘till the break of dawn,” or maybe, “Yeah the boys ‘round here/ Drinking that ice cold beer/ Tallkin’ bout girls, talkin’ bout trucks/ Runnin’ them red dirt roads out, kicking up dust.”

The strumming of banjoes, a distinctive southern drawl and lyrics about pickup trucks are not what an outsider would typically associate with the Westport music scene. However, there has recently been a Nashville invasion of popular music in the Staples community with the once wildly unpopular genre of country music gaining new territory in FairfieldCounty, the Northeast, and beyond.

“I’ve definitely noticed that country has become more mainstream over the past few months,” Dayna Gelman ’14 said. “I’ve been a hardcore country fan since I spent a summer during middle school working on a ranch in Montana, but recently my friends have been getting into more popular country tracks.”

The 2012 NDP Group’s Annual Music Study revealed that Westport is not alone in the phenomenon, with a measured 1 percent increase in the percentage of country music fans nationwide. While this statistic may seem insignificant at first, the boost raised the percentage of country music fans to 28 percent, allowing them to surpass classic rock, the genre which was named king in 2011. Furthermore, country was ranked as the most popular genre across every age demographic polled.

“I think country music is definitely more relatable,”  Emma Mikesh ’14 said. “Rap and pop music might sing about ‘dropping that thun thun thun’ but not everyone is doing drugs,” she said. “Unlike pop and rap, country is not as vulgar most of the time.”

Many country fans at Staples claim that the recent boost in popularity is due to the success of country singers with pop influences such as Taylor Swift and Luke Bryan. Anna Daytz ’16 became a fan after listening to Swift and seeing her live in concert. “I like how pretty much all country songs are happy and upbeat,” she said.

The “feel-good” aspect of country seems to be another motive behind the increase in popularity. Especially for the typical stressed out high school student, country music provides an appealing escape.

“Country is just feel good music,” Natasja George ’14, who’s favorite artists include Florida Georgia Line, Billy Currington, and Luke Bryan said. “Even when the songs are about sad subjects, they still have a way of making you feel good.”

While many Staples country fans are pleased with country gaining new territory in Westport, some feel that there is a divide between what is popular country and what is authentic country. Henri Rizak ’14 enjoys listening to GeorgeStrait, Jason Aldean, and Jimmy Buffet, but thinks that more mainstream artists do not qualify as real country artists.

“I believe artists like Luke Bryan and Taylor Swift are making country more mainstream, but I don’t think that’s real country,” Rizack said. “I think Luke Bryan sucks.”

For the most part, however, the country music aficionados of Staples are just glad to have the opportunity to play their music without the immediate disapproval of friends. “I have some friends who will turn the radio off when I put country music on, but I also have friends who will turn it up,” Mikesh said.

Others, such as Gelman, have grown accustomed to being rebuked for their preferences and have learned not to care about the opinions of others. “Music has no location,” she said. “I don’t feel like it’s weird to listen to country music in the Northeast because it is so fun and relatable,” she said.

Although there has been a recent increase in the country music audience, the divide between fans and non-fans has always been clear. “A lot of the time, people either love it or hate it,” George said. “I haven’t really come across anyone who feels in the middle about it.”

But, whether you love it or hate it, country has definitely penetrated Northeastern pop culture, not only through music, but through popular television shows such as ABC’s Nashville. “When I first got into country music no one knew the songs I would play,” George said. “Now, it seems like everyone knows them, whether they like country or not.”