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Country Music

Country Music

Often viewed as the music of the white American South, country music gives expression to rural concerns and an enduring sincerity, which may explain why it has transcended stereotypes to become one of the most prolific forms of popular American music. Among the genre's most celebrated figures are Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and, more recently, Garth Brooks.

Country Music

Although country music officially began in the 1920s in the American South, the genre, according to many sources, dates back to the Appalachian music of the late 18th century – a music of traditional ballads and fiddle tunes played by Irish and Scottish immigrants, combined with Baptist hymns and the blues. The result was an antique form of country music commonly known as "hillbilly." The instruments popularized during this period included the dulcimer, the guitar, the fiddle and the five-string banjo – the iconic symbol of Appalachian culture, brought to America by African slaves.

American fiddler Eck Robertson is credited with making the first recording of country music in 1922. In 1925, singer Vernon Dalhart scored its first big hit, titled Wreck of the Old ‘97, and two years later, in Tennessee, talent scout Ralph Peer recorded Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family – the two biggest names in country music during the inter-war period.

This period also saw the genre benefit greatly from the advent of radio. Also in 1925, the popular program Grand Ole Opry hit the airwaves in Nashville, helping to make the city the capital of country.

Western Swing and Bluegrass and Honky Tonk

In about 1935, country musician Bob Wills – the father of western swing – took the bold step of integrating percussion; a few years later, he was also among the first to feature an electric guitarist in his band. After the end of Second World War, Bill Monroe popularized bluegrass using only stringed instruments.

Texas, in the 1950s, gave birth to honky-tonk, a sub-genre of country music that transformed rural hillbilly and appealed to a wider urban audience. Hank Williams was its driving force (interesting to note is that some of Williams' songs, like Move It On Over, were closer to rock and roll).

Country music also inspired the development of rockabilly, a rhythmic dance music first heard in Memphis in about 1954. In 1956, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash scored monster hits with Heartbreak Hotel and I Walk the Line, two of rockabilly's signature songs. Also popular during this period was the gospel-inspired country of Red Foley.

Nashville: Home of Country Music

Bill Frisell In the 1960s, the Nashville Sound transformed country music into a lucrative industry, with producers such as Chet Atkins (also a guitar genius) and Owen Bradley opting for a more commercial sound. The sixties were also the heyday of such recording artists as Marty Robbins, Porter Wagoner and Roger Miller.

By the mid-1960s, folk legends like Bob Dylan were descending on Nashville to record with local session players. Dylan's Nashville Skyline, released in 1969, was a blend of country and rock, as was Sweetheart of the Rodeo, an album recorded a year earlier by The Byrds. By the 1970s the country and western influence extended to such bands as The Eagles and Poco.

Later in the decade, singers Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton experienced superstardom with well-crafted, middle-of-the-road songs which owed as much to pop music as they did to country music.

After a period of sharp decline, country music rebounded in the 1980s thanks, again, to Nashville-based artists like Ricky Skaggs and Randy Travis. Today, the likes of Alan Jackson, Faith Hill and Garth Brooks have returned country music to its rightful place - back in the saddle!

Homegrown Cowboys

The Kitchen Shakers Québec has long had its own country music star system. In the 1940s, Soldat Lebrun vaulted to success with L'adieu du soldat and La complainte d'une mère, songs that dealt with the concerns of soldiers and their loved ones. Also popular among Quebecers in the late 1940s were Marcel Martel, father of Renée Martel, and Willie Lamothe, aka "King of Country and Western." In a career spanning 35 years, Martel the elder sold close to 2 million records. English Canada has also had its share of country music stars, among them Stompin' Tom Connors, Anne Murray and, much later, Shania Twain.

Country Music at the Festival

Charlie Haden A stalwart at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, jazz guitarist Bill Frisell has fostered a lifelong interest in folk and country. In 1997, the multi-instrumentalist from Colorado gave a command performance highlighting his country roots. Alongside Jerry Douglas on the dobro guitar, the inimitable Frisell did not disappoint.

In 2009, legendary bassist Charlie Haden appeared at the Festival with family and friends, presenting songs from the album Rambling Boy, which saw Haden return to his folk and country music roots.

The Kitchen Shakers have also brought their festive brand of cajun country to the Festival, performing in the same year as The League of Extraordinary Country Gentlemen, a Québec-based band made up of Alex Cattaneo, Rick Haworth and Mario Légaré. The latter played a mixed bag of country classics together with some lesser known country songs.

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