Nashville may be a little hotter than usual next month, and it will have nothing to do with the spring weather.
As previously reported, there has been considerable backlash to Blake Shelton's snide remarks about those who love old country music being "old farts and jackasses." Ray Price jumped on the singer immediately, and other boots soon pounded on him (including Merle Haggard, who said that Shelton is "drinking his own bath water"). Willie Nelson renamed his tour the "Old Farts & Jackasses" tour. And lo and behold, a group called "Old Farts and Jackasses" popped up on Facebook, currently (as of this writing) with over 29,000 members.
And now a protest march is scheduled for April 17 in Nashville. The primary focus is to get Shelton removed from the membership of the Opry. Although the people sponsoring the protest have been using the "old farts & jackasses" term, the Facebook group emphasizes that they are not affiliated with the march.
I must admit that I have mixed feelings about the march. In 1973 Skeeter Davis was suspended by the Grand Ole Opry for a year for criticizing the arrest of some evangelical Christians at a Nashville shopping center and dedicating "One Tin Soldier" (the song at the conclusion of the film Billy Jack, which Davis had a hit version of) to the arrested Christians during her portion of the Opry. So yes, the Opry management does suspend members when they open mouth and insert foot. Given the fact that the Opry appears to be on pretty thin ice, with fewer and fewer (and shorter) shows playing to less-than-full houses (something the Opry of the 1960's and 70's never had a problem with) one would think that Opry management wouldn't take too kindly to the blatant criticism of people who have for generations had the reputation of being "the most loyal fans" anywhere. It is hard to believe that people who rely on fans purchasing tickets will just shrug off an insult such as this. I absolutely believe Shelton should pay for his words, because it wasn't just Ray Price or Merle Haggard he insulted, it was you and me and everyone who decides they're going to make a pilgrimage to Nashville for the purpose of paying tribute to country music.
Also, I am the first in line when it comes to being a staunch supporter of country music, and of the notion that something called country music should sound like country music. Last year I wrote an article in which I opined that it is time for modern music to give itself a different name than "country," because the modern "country" music is decidedly NOT country. I pointed out that new names are frequently given to new styles of music. "Punk," for instance, described a style of music completely different from what was being played on the radio in 1977. Yes, I will admit that people can go overboard with names ("math rock"?) and sub-sub-sub-sub genres of music, but we also must admit that this ain't your daddy's country music. (I believe Mr. Shelton made that point clear.) Bill Monroe gave his music a new name; they gave what Elvis and Buddy Holly were doing a new name; even Sam Bush's style of music has a different name (newgrass as opposed to bluegrass). So why not give it a different name?
Having said that, the march itself is something I might take a little issue with. By now we all know that the days of the music industry being about music are long dead and gone. That was obvious 20 years ago, when an unnamed record company CEO in Nashville said that, if he were given the option of signing someone who was tremendously talented but didn't have looks (think Lyle Lovett) or someone with no talent but great looks (think just about anyone in the past 20 years), he would opt for the latter. That's hard to fathom: visual sensory overruling the audio in a form of art that is designed to be ingested by the ears. Still, when Michael Jackson spent more money making a video than he did the entire album the song for the video came from you knew there was trouble brewing, and it was only time until it caught up to country music.
So will the march do any good? My gut says no. As the Eagles put it in "The Sad Café, "We thought we could change this world with words like 'love' and 'freedom.'" Didn't work then, and I don't think it'll work now. My brain says they won't listen, not even if 29,000 people show up and march down 16th Avenue.
I think, instead, the much louder message can be sent through a boycott than a march, because, as the old saying goes, "money talks." If the money stops flowing in (as I pointed out in my other blog, the average amount of money spent on music last year was $17, which is enough for a couple of downloads and nothing else) then they would probably be far more appreciative of the message.
I do hope the march is successful, but I'm not holding my breath. I think a far more successful campaign is to give someone a Dale Watson or Amber Digby or Justin Trevino CD. One listen to any of those great artists and they will soon be saying, "Blake WHO?"
UPDATE: After receiving the comment below I have modified this to remove the statement that Old Farts & Jackasses is sponsoring the march to be held April 17. They are not the sponsors for the march, and as I understand it they are not affiliated with it in any way. Thank you very much to the anonymous poster who pointed this out.