When you think of Brooklyn and L.A., country music is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. The taste-maker capitals are better known for their stereotypical hipster havens with nary a steel guitar in sight. But the truth is, while the genre may have been born in the south, some of the most authentic traditional country music is coming out of places with more yoga studios than honky tonks per capita.
If you think this is some coastal hipsters playing “ironic” country music in a newly purchased cowboy hat, vintage Waylon t-shirt and thrifted Wranglers, you can rest easy. This is music about real life experiences and, at the end of the day, that’s what country music is all about.
Country in the City
Brooklyn’s rep as a cultural melting pot has attracted folks from every corner of the world, each bringing their own unique influences and experiences. Venues such as Sunny’s Bar and Skinny Dennis host regular live bluegrass jams and honky-tonk bands. (Skinny Dennis hosts the Brooklyn Country Cantina, a yearly country soiree, at Austin’s SXSW.) Bands with tongue-in-cheek names like Kings County Queens and Cobble Hillbillies don’t shy away from their citified upbringing while making the kind of downhome country that would make the Carter Family proud.
One of Brooklyn’s most promising country exports is Zephaniah O’Hora, who pulls double duty as a promoter and booking agent at Skinny Dennis and a keeper of the old guard country tradition. Ohora’s stellar This Highway (released in June) perfects the Countrypolitan sound of 1960s Nashville. And he did it among the condos and co-ops of the most populous borough in New York City.
West Coast Country
Bakersfield typically gets the bulk of the California country cred. But Los Angeles has a long history of embracing and shaping the genre. For over 40 years, The Palomino Club in North Hollywood hosted country legends from George Jones to Gram Parsons. L.A. celebrities turned up to catch sets from Jerry Lee Lewis and Charley Pride.
Famed country fashion designer Nudie Cohn brought Hollywood flare to the hillbilly business with his rhinestone-studded Nudie suits. Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors in North Hollywood. L.A. became the center of a country revolution, led by groups like the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Byrds.
In the late 80s, Dwight Yoakam brought his brand of hardcore honky tonk to L.A. where he shared gigs with bands in the newly-formed “cowpunk” scene. Groups like Rank and File and Lone Justice married a punk attitude with the soul of country.
The New Generation
Like the Brooklyn set, they’re not worried about proving how “country” they are. Gone are the references to dirt roads, jacked up trucks and drinking in fields. Outlaw sings about lonely hearts drinking bottomless mimosas at brunch with the same ease and honesty as he sings about late night barroom hookups and heartbreaks. With his mix of the Laurel Canyon sound with neo-traditional country (think Jackson Browne meets Vince Gill), Outlaw’s not trying to fit the Music City mold. And that’s exactly what makes it so damn good.
Jaime Wyatt, reared in Washington and now based in L.A., effortlessly blends West Coast influences with classic country sentiment. “Your Loving Saves Me,” which features fellow Golden State troubadour Sam Outlaw, touts a love of country music that transcends regions and borders.
With country labels and venues popping up in major cities across the nation, it’s clear that the future of country music is in good hands. From coast to coast, country music is for everyone.