The Return of the Jedi to Nashville's Empire. Has the 'Force' Awakened?
Nashville is changing. The line that separates pop music and country music was once clear. In the 90's that line of distinction began to become fuzzy. In the 00's the line grew blurred. Today, in the latter part of second decade of the new millennium, that line is so milky and cloudy and murky that one could hardly tell the difference.
Nashville's empire of polished productions, catchy jingles, and formulaic songs are written in a manner to capture the attention of the broadest audience that it can. By aiming so wide, it spreads the content so thin that it touches a great many people, but it misses the goal of connection altogether.
The generalized narratives of today strive to make a collective song and seek to make a universal experience.
Lyrical topics such as: hunting, fishing, and loving everyday make for light listening, but where is the substance?
Nashville can have it's formula to make it's hits, but it has lost it's ability to write a song. Nashville's Country Pop Empire misses the mark by attempting to sell an 'ideal' that it thinks the audience wants to hear.
Have the decades of Billboard charts and insider methods and the next big thing corrupted Nashville? Has the promise of stardom and money and fame brought a 'dark side' to it's galaxy?
A quick Google search reminds us of all of the synopsis of The Return of the Jedi: Luke Skywalker battles horrible Jabba the Hut and cruel Darth Vader to save his comrades in the Rebel Alliance and triumph over the Galactic Empire.
What does Star Wars have to do with Nashville?
In Literature, a tool known as allegory, uses characters and events of a story or situation to stand in for an abstract idea.
In the allegorical investigation of the music of Nashville a division is growing. An uprising is stirring. A rebellion has came.
The dilemma of Nashville and it's division in music, tastes, and direction can be seen in the story of Star Wars.
Nashville is the 'Galaxy Far Away'.
Country Pop is the 'Empire'.
The 'Empire''s polished celebrities placate the masses with their simplfied lyrics and mildly satisfying songs that threaten to numb and destroy any memories of when the mainstream country scene represented names such as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash.
Darth Vader is the continually 'resurrected star' of Nashville's Empire.
Just when you thought he was gone, he puts his mask on and changes his voice, and returns year after year.
But, take heart, the Jedi have returned.
The growing Americana Music Scene has brought country music back to where it's home. Where the art comes before money. Where the artist draws from her experience and pours her heart out through the lyrics and the picking of the guitar.
In Americana, the music is written to last.
Americana might not appeal to all, but those that connect with it form a bond that no 'Empire' could break. No 'Dark Side' could ever pull this growing audience away.
Americana, as defined by the Americana Music Association (AMA), is "contemporary music that incorporates elements of various mostly acoustic American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk and bluegrass resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw. While acoustic instruments are often present and vital, Americana also often uses a full electric band."
"The Jedi are the main protagonists in the Star Wars universe. They are depicted as an ancient monastic, academic, meritocratic and paramilitary organization."
Star Wars contained an idea known as 'the force'. The force was a power that could be used by both sides: good and evil. Star Wars defined it as an,“Energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.”
The force is the power that lives in the universe of Star Wars. One can harness the power only after accepting it, and then must make the choice to use it for good or evil.
The force in the universe of Country Music is the song.
Country Music can use the power of the song for both the good and evil. It can choose the light or the dark side.
An Americana song comes from the personal experience of the singer songwriter. It connects deeper and for far longer than any Country Pop hit song.
A live performance is more of a story telling session than a show. The audience hears of heartbreak or loss or redemption, and ultimately all the songs end the same: with change.
Isn't that what everyone is ultimately after? Witnessing another change their life with hope that one day we can do the same?
Art should inspire those who witness it to change in some way.
It shouldn't strive to satisfy the status quo of what is already there.
The characters of the Return of the Jedi can be seen in today's Americana scene.
These few brave men and women are working hard to put the song back into it's proper place in the 'Galaxy Far Away' of Nashville.
Sturgill Simpson as Han Solo.
Han Solo was a reckless smuggler with a sarcastic wit. He was 'a very practical guy' and was said to consider himself as 'a materialist'.
With three albums out to date: High Top Mountain, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, and A Sailor's Guide to Earth; Sturgill Simpon hasn't shied away from reliving his own experiences with drugs such as Marijuana and DMT through the lyrics of his songs.
Find his music and tour dates here.
John Moreland as Chewbacca.
Wookipedia, yes 'Wookiepedia' not Wikipedia the Star Wars version of the multi-author platform, says that "Chewbacca [was] known as a warrior, smuggler, and resistance fighter against the empire."
John Moreland is is an American singer-songwriter from Tulsa, Oklahoma. With four albums out to date: BIG BAD LUV, HIGH ON TULSA HEAT, IN THE THROES, EARTHBOUND BLUES; Moreland's growing name in the Americana music scene is a welcome resistance to Country Pop music.
Moreland's gritty and heart felt lyrics connect a deep level to the art of the song.
Find John Moreland's albums and tour dates here.
Margo Price as Princess Leia.
Princess Leia is a princess of the planet Alderaan, a member of the Imperial Senate and an agent of the Rebel Alliance. Leia serves as the feminine ideal in Star Wars's world. She's pure, honest, and at times ruthless in her defense of the light.
Margo Price is an American singer-songwriter based in Nashville, Tennessee.
Price's first album, Midwest Farmer's Daughter, is a travelogue of her life's journey. She bears witness to her ups and downs in a hope that the listener might do the same. October 20 of this year is the due date of her next album: All American Made.
Find Margo Price's website here.
Jason Isbell is Luke Skywalker.
Luke Skywalker was a Tatooine farmboy who rose from humble beginnings to become one of the greatest Jedi the galaxy has ever known a (Star Wars Databank).
Jason Isbell is a Grammy Award winning American singer-songwriter and guitarist from Green Hill, Alabama, in Lauderdale County.
Isbell's six albums out to date: Sirens of the Ditch (2007), Jason Isbell and the 400 unit (2009), Here We Rest (2011), Southeastern, Something More Than Free (2013), The Nashville Sound (2017); strive to place at the forefront of the Americana music scene.
Jason Isbell is the protagonist leading the way against the empire that has threatened to rule Nashville for the foreseeable future.
Is Isbell the last of a dying breed? Or the beginning of something new? Check out the track "Last of My Kind" of his newest album: The Nashville Sound.
It should be asked, "Are these the waining days of the Americana scene as we bear witness to Country Music losing it's soul to the empire?"
Or are there new faces coming to the genre of Americana?
The newest addition to Star Wars, "The Last Jedi", comes out in time for Christmas.
With the reintroduction of the Star War's franchise a new protagonist has been born.
Amada Shires as Rey.
The Star Wars Databank describes Rey as, "Rey is a Jakku scavenger, a survivor toughened by life on a harsh desert planet. When the fugitive droid BB-8 appeals to her for help, Rey finds herself drawn into a galaxy-spanning conflict."
Wikipedia says that Amanda Shires "is an American singer-songwriter and violin player. She has performed as a member of the Texas Playboys, Thrift Store Cowboys and Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, as well as in a duo with Rod Picott. Shires has released five solo albums, her most recent My Piece of Land on the BMG Rights Management label in 2016."
One of Shires best songs, "Harmless", performed live below.
Find Amanda Shires music and tour dates here.
It should be asked, What do the two Star Wars protagonists have in common?
Luke and Rey, both had droids: R2D2 & BB8 respectively, but besides a robotic sidekick do they have more in common?