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Why Is Country Music So Popular in Europe?

Country music may have been born on this side of the pond, but, like all great things, it wasn’t meant to be contained. The very leaders of the British Invasion — The Beatles — personally requested that Capitol Records send them every new Buck Owens record as soon as it was released. And it wasn’t just the Fab Four who dug honky tonk. Country music has had a strong presence across the United Kingdom and all of Europe for years.

Independent country artists, such as Cale Tyson, enjoy great success and sell out multiple shows a year in the UK. Country music may just be the United States’ best export.

So just who’s keeping the boot scootin’ alive in the Old World?

Scandinavia

Country music was partially inspired by European folk ballads turned Appalachian folk songs, so it makes sense that twang is still alive and well around the globe.

Perhaps the most notable European country artists in recent years are Scandinavian sisters, Johanna and Klara Soderberg of First Aid Kit. The folk duo made waves with their 2012 single “Emmylou,” a tribute to the timeless harmonies and friendship of Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons. Emmylou herself was brought to tears when the sisters performed the song for her. Watch below:

Fellow Scandinavian Ellen Sundberg puts the pedal steel to good use in her dreamy ode to a rambler’s life, “Headlights.”

United Kingdom

In Great Britain, the Country 2 Country Festival provides a platform for American country artists to reach out to their European fans. Reba McEntire, Marty Stuart and Maren Morris are among this year’s performers at the festival.

However, Britain is making great country music all on its own. The UK Americana Music Association holds an annual Americana Festival. The event showcases European acts such as Robert Vincent, The Black Feathers and bluegrass band Flats and Sharps.

The roots of country and Americana music in Great Britain are intertwined with the classic UK television program The Old Grey Whistle Test, which showcased live performances from 1971 to 1988. Though the show primarily focused on rock artists, roots musicians such as Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris made prominent appearances on the program.

British radio presenter and former Whistle Test host Bob Harris has been a champion of country music through his Radio 2 program Bob Harris Country. 

Today, British artists such as Laura Marling are helping keep the UK’s folk roots alive. Marling recently stopped by A Prairie Home Companion to perform her single “Wild Fire” with host and Americana artist Chris Thile.

British country music duo My Darling Clementine deliver tear-in-your-beer country weepers in the vein of George and Tammy. The duo was named Americana Artist of the Year by the UK Country Music Association in 2012.

London Cowboy

When legendary Texas musician Gary P. Nunn went to London in the 1970s, he felt so out of place it inspired him to write “London Homesick Blues.” In the song, Nunn sings of the stares he gets walking around town in a cowboy hat and boots. But in today’s London Gary P. would get a much more positive reaction.

Places like Texas Joe’s, a Texas BBQ joint smack dab in the heart of London, are helping to bring American honky tonk culture to Brits. And the people love it.

Texas Joe’s owner Joe Walters, a Texas expat, calls rising country artists such as Cale Tyson, Nikki Lane and Robert Ellis friends and has a jukebox filled with Waylon and Willie that Londoners line up to feed dollars into.

So just what is the draw to country music for Brits? Maybe it’s an adventure in cultural tourism. In Europe, traditional country music is king. Artists that deliver bar room wailers in a Stetson and Wranglers may seem a bit exotic to European city dweller. It fits the image of the classic American cowboy or cowgirl they’ve seen on television.

But it’s also a genuine love of the music. Outlaw country queen Margo Price recently sold out London’s Islington Assembly Hall with her brand of fiery traditional country. Nashville-based country artist Cale Tyson spent most of 2016 touring Europe, where he filled venues with folks eager to two-step to sounds of heartbreak and steel guitar. Tyson is even signed to a UK record label, Clubhouse Records. Texas artist Weldon Henson, who packs the Broken Spoke in Austin every week, recently played a sold out show in Nantes, France.

With people across the globe shuffling to a honky tonk beat, one thing is certain: country music is worldwide.

France

If you thought the only country music with Paris flavor originated in Paris, Texas, you’d be wrong. The south France town of Mirande is home to Europe’s largest country music festival, Le Festival Country de Mirande. Ok, so it’s a ways from Paris, but who would expect a country music festival in the south of France? Past performers include Austin singer-songwriter Amanda Cevallos and roots artist Randy Thompson.

Ireland

Ireland’s Celtic roots have kept the country tradition alive in the Emerald Isle. Venues such as The Ramble Inn and the Ryandale are hosting great Irish country acts every night. Events like the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival provides an outlet for Irish singer songwriters to showcase their songwriting chops. American country-folk artist Nanci Griffith is a supporter of the festival, which has helped to boost the career of homegrown talent like Gareth Dunlop.

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Why Is Country Music So Popular in Europe?