A little bit country

PHOTO: Timothy Wildey, Flickr CC
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

The misguided passions of youth run strong. It took time for me to mature into an emotionally stable adult. How old am I? About that long. Maybe longer.

One of the teenage fervencies I now regret was my disdain for country music. I grew up in Cherry, which isn’t a town so much as a confederation of hayfields outside Hibbing. More accurately I grew up in the suburbs of Cherry, just a step behind the sophistication of Iron Junction’s urban core. And to steal a line from “The Blues Brothers,” we had both kinds of music: country *and* western.

Oh, sure. The girls liked New Kids on the Block for a while. A lot of my friends loved Nine Inch Nails and Metallica. I couldn’t go for those, myself. But everyone seemed to coalesce around country when it counted. If you wanted to sway awkwardly with a female friend you had to slow dance to Garth Brooks. The football team dressed like Garth Brooks. The marching band dressed like Garth Brooks. So did the student council. OK, yes, at Cherry many of these were the same people. But still, for some reason it drove me absolutely nuts.

I despised country music. Given the choice between country music and static on my car radio, I would choose static. Perhaps if I drove long enough that frequency would produce a radio station. And if it was a country station I would change it back to static.

At the time I listened to classic rock, especially Credence Clearwater Revival and Bob Dylan. Of course I missed the irony that both of those acts actually owe their origins to country, blues, and old time folk. Instead, I was stuck on how annoying I found the overproduced, predictable sound of contemporary country.

I realize now that this is a little like dismissing the collected works of William Shakespeare based on one plot synopsis rendered by a moron. (“I dunno, guy kills his brother with ear poison and marries his sister-in-law and it messes up the kid real bad.”) It’s just not fair.

This came to mind last week as the latest Ken Burns documentary “Country Music” aired on local PBS stations. Watching one of the segments forced me to accept a hard truth: I actually like country music. In fact, I love it. It’s my favorite.

How did this happen?

Well, it started with exploring the music I enjoyed. Classic rock leads you folk and blues. But then you realize that those same elements combine to form country. And before country was even a thing, old time music traces roots to Europe and Africa. Everywhere this music went it produced something different: reggae and ska in the Caribbean, cajun music in New Orleans. Then the music would cycle back on itself, like when American folk and blues went to the United Kingdom and returned as the Beatles and Rolling Stones.

After wallowing around the adult world of politics and journalism a while I realized that I craved music and culture that didn’t just sound good, but that told the truth. In a world that sells fake like it was a pair of shoes I wanted something real. And I found that one of my favorite programs was “Backporch Harmony” on the local public station KAXE. They play bluegrass and old country. And that’s what made me feel alright. Before long the country oldies station got to sound pretty good.

I still don’t like the rigid culture of modern country music — the notion that a bunch of record producers and radio stations strictly control what gets to be called country music. I think the genre needs acts like the Dixie Chicks and, for that matter, Lil Nas X. Yes, “Old Town Road” is definitely a country song. He didn’t need Billy Ray Cyrus to make it one, but that cinches it. Music always outlasts and outsmarts its gatekeepers.

It’s only good for music to grow and change with the times. It always comes back to the truth, the fundamental experience of being a person on this Earth. And so yes, Sam I am, I like country music. Which, frankly, ought to help a lot at the next high school reunion.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


  1. Country music isn’t classical music.

    I think of it as pop music for adults. And yes, older does tend to be better.

  2. If I ever hear Peter Coyote rambling on and on about a unemployed coal miner’s son from desperation hollar catching a Greyhound bus bound for nowhere with a home-made fiddle and a dream I will puke!

  3. Theodore S Fiskevold says

    Speaking of Shakespeare, one cannot love country music unless one can “suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks an egg.” AS YOU LIKE IT, Act II, Scene V

  4. David W Kannas says

    I grew up on the Range listening to country music. Saturday nights, after sauna, we listened to the Grand Ole Opre. Then there was WWVA that played only country. Both stations were broadcast on “clear” AM. That meant that there were no other stations powerful enough to interfere with their signal. I loved the music. Hank Williams’ lonesome sound, Minny Pearl, Hank Snow, all the old timers, performing live was world expanding. Then country changed and I left it, or it left me. You mention Garth Brooks. Well he and every other singer trying to sound like him turned me off to country. Classic Rock and Classical are now my choices. Then came along Ken Burns and “Country Music.” I almost got back into Country, but not quite. I confess, however, to pulling out an old vinyl disc of Hank Williams that I love.

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