Chicago’s relationship with country music is quite an enigma. Depending on where you are, and with whom, you will either discover that Chicago is the next best thing since Nashville….or you’ll hear crickets when you ask, “Hey, have you heard of Jason Aldean?!” For me, personally, I’ve been a country fan as long as I can remember…even growing up in Lake View. Shockingly, my Sicilian immigrant father got me hooked on Waylon, Willie, Conway, The Gatlin Brothers, and the Oak Ridge Boys before I could even walk. I think the first song I learned when I was two was, “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.”
Yet today, I have my friends divided into two groups: My country friends, and my non-country friends. I know when I’m with my “country friends” I can put on the most obscure Garth Brooks, or the newest hit from Little Big Town, and they’ll know every word and turn whatever venue we’re at into our own little honky-tonk. I also know when I’m with my “non-country friends” I better not even mention how excited I am for the upcoming Zac Brown Band show, or god forbid play any Eric Church for them on my iPod. I will, without a doubt, get the “How can you listen to that stuff?” or “Turn that redneck music off!!”
I believe this happens because in Chicago, it’s easy to go your entire life and not necessarily be exposed to country music. This would NOT happen if you grew up or lived in the South. You may not be country’s biggest fan, but you will damn sure be familiar with the genre. In the Windy City, there are no fair-weather country fans. I’ve noticed you’re either a “die-hard” or a “hater”. Now, I’ve also noticed that the “haters” are people who just haven’t given country a chance. Almost every “hater” I’ve encountered can easily be converted into a “die-hard” by listening to a few key crossover artists who can gingerly swing them over into the country-friendly realm.
Once you become a fan of country, Chicago is an amazing place to be. We have the country’s BIGGEST country music radio station inUS99.5 (in terms of listenership…quite the accomplishment). We are also a mega-hub for every country artist to appear… major and minor alike. This is why our beloved Joe’s Bar is such a phenomenon. It gives the “die-hards” a place to see their favorite artists up close and personal, yet also provides chance to experience up and coming artists. It’s also the perfect venue for a “die-hard” to bring a “hater” friend for a non-threatening and eye-opening introduction to country music. There is NO way the non-country lover will leave a show at Joe’s and say they didn’t have a blast and a new found appreciation for the genre they’ve been shying away from.
Clearly, the people at Joe’s, US99, and myself (wow, I’m in good company) have made it our mission to bring country music to the masses and to the forefront of our fair city. It is a big undertaking, but fortunately, the music speaks for itself and does most of the work. However, there is no better feeling of accomplishment than turning a “hater” into a “die-hard.”