Club 2016. “The Year the Music Died.” Those are a couple of ways folks are describing the tremendous music losses of this year. First Bowie, then Haggard, and yesterday, Prince — the greatest living pop performer and musical genius of our time.
We’re sad in an almost inexplicable way. Aside from a select few among us, we never knew these people personally, but their passing feels like the death of someone we’ve known intimately. Like a friend or family member, they left a tremendous footprint on our lives. Their music adds color to our life experiences, from the mundane to the watershed moments.
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We’re also grieving because, as these living legends die off, it feels like great American music is dying out too, that it’s becoming a faded memory of the past. Don’t fall into that way of thinking — there is much to be excited and hopeful about in music.
Since you’re here, you’re probably most concerned with country music. We’re living through a sea change in our format. People are tired of the vapid, over-indulgence and want substance. They want vision.
The new visionaries are alive and starting to come into their heyday. You won’t hear many of them on country radio because that industry is out of touch with vision. It is wholly concerned with commercialism, the antithesis of the spirit of music. It always has been, but it’s grown into a massive corporate bureaucracy that’s out of touch with the spirit of music where it used to have a finger on its pulse.
Look at the fringes of our genre, and you’ll find the visionaries. Listen to Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, who’s rapidly become country’s biggest star, and you’ll hear something fresh. They are all coming into their prime with music that’s a unique expression of what its really like to live in this confusing age. Those guys have the most exposure now, but there are many artists out there carrying the torch, evolving American music to greater heights.
We play a big role in taking our music to new heights, too. Go out and support live music. Shows are where artists make their living today, not on the internet. Support both the big names on the theatre marquees and the troubadours at your local watering hole. There are musicians out there now that we will reflect on 50 years from now the way we looked at Bowie, Haggard and Prince. Just remember, it’s a partnership. The artists rely on the fans to continue their craft.
So don’t give up hope. Great music will never die. As long as people continue to love and lose, it will endure.