Saturday, May 24, 2008

North Idaho Country Music

Country music carves it's name into North Idaho's leather seats.

Growing up in Idaho, country music seemed like it was just a natural part of the landscape. In the 1930’s my grandmother sang in a popular local western act known as “The Hill Lilies” and according to her, they made quite a name for themselves with their popular weekly radio gig. For as long as I can remember, George Jones has been grandma’s all-time-favorite singer and growing up I must have heard everything he recorded, as well as her own impromptu a cappella versions of his songs. Memories of summertime family road trips include the unnerving mid-song ka-thunk of the 8-track player playing chunky tapes of Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and most repeatedly, the “Classics” album by big-haired crooners Kenny Rogers and Dottie West.

Despite its ubiquity, I realized early on that country schmaltz was not for me. Growing up, I much preferred the Beatles and the Supremes to my parents’ Glen Campbell or Charley Pride records and even “Hee Haw” made me queasy. Once I discovered Disco and New Wave, there was no looking back and for many years I turned my nose up at Country music, dismissing it as twangy, trashy noise for backwoods Barbies and their truck-driving boyfriends.

Several years ago, I took a pop music history class and developed a new appreciation for the original, old-timey country sound. I discovered the various joys of the original singing cowboys and the unhinged croon of Hank Williams, the Nashville Sound of Patsy Cline and Jim Reeves and the rockabilly spunk of Johnny Cash and early Elvis. At the time, I was working in a convenience store where the owner kept the radio dial glued permanently to the mainstream country station. Although I felt strong in my belief that modern Country was musically overproduced, lyrically clich├ęd and painfully cloying, the endless repetitiveness of the playlist gradually, involuntarily sucked me in to the point that I knew every word of “Redneck Woman” by heart and found myself giddy with excitement upon the opening notes of “I Love This Bar.”

Close friends seemed worried about my mental health, but my countrypolitan phase faded soon after landing a better job. Ultimately, my experiences with the genre left me with a newfound amount of respect for its many fans and musicians. Certainly, it continues to be an integral part of the North Idaho experience, and there’s a tractor load of opportunities to slide into your cowboy boots and your tightest pair of Wranglers and head out for a night on the town, country style.

The Coeur d’Alene Casino has made sure that lovers of mainstream country will have a lot to get excited about this summer by hosting a series of several major concerts by national acts. The line-up starts on June 4 with an appearance by Grammy award winning vocalist LeAnn Rimes, who emerged in her young teens doing a masterful Patsy Cline impression with “Blue”, and went on to sell an amazing 37 million albums by the time she was 24. Former Alabama lead singer Randy Owen takes the Casino stage on July 31 in support of his first-ever solo album One on One and it’s lead single “Braid My Hair.” Judging from Randy’s recent promo photo he could use a serious shampoo and conditioning as well. Sitcom star and comic country musician Rodney Carrington will appear on August 21, when fans will be lining up to watch him perform such questionable-taste classics as “Letter to My Penis”, “Morning Wood”, and others with titles that can’t be printed here.

On a local level, there’s no bigger country act around than Kelly Hughes and his band. His musical career started at age 14 at the Garwood Saloon and at age 21 he opened “Kelly’s” at Stateline, one of the most notoriously rowdy honky-tonks in the storied history of North Idaho. Hughes sold the place in 2004 to spend some time riding around in his giant silver bus and playing music. He doesn’t appear to be hanging up his American flag guitar anytime soon with summer concerts booked all over the place including the Community Bank in Post Falls on June 5, the Hayden Country Club on July 18, and a string of dates starting next weekend at his own former roadhouse, now operating as Big Al’s.

In addition to the region’s most lady-friendly mechanical bull, Big Al’s features a rotating music schedule which includes the all-around best of the North Idaho country music scene. Julie Ann & the Jukebox Junkies will be rattling the rafters of the old place this weekend, and come early to check out the action at Big Al’s infamous mud bogs. Or show up before the concert each Friday for line dance lessons, then stick around to get your eye poked out in one of the weekly Dart tournaments and scoot boots to the tune of upcoming performers like Whiskey Ridge and Rattle Trap.

Another Big Al’s regular act is the Jim Huntsman Band, whose energetic blend of covers and originals has risen exponentially with the seemingly endless gigs they’re willing to play. This is a band with few days off, as evidenced by their live calendar, which lists shows everywhere from this weekend at Hill’s Resort in Priest River, Arbor Crest Winery on June 1, and Post Falls Days on June 6. Recently, downtown Coeur d’Alene’s most chaotic watering hole The Iron Horse has thrown it’s Stetson hat into the country music ring by introducing “Country Sundays” featuring cleverly-named tribute act The Haggard Willies starting tomorrow, May 25. On the band’s MySpace page they describe their sound as “a couple drunk musicians falling down a long flight of stairs.” Actually, if I remember correctly from my music history class, I think that might be how country music started way back when.


OrangeTV said...


Question: Which country music song -- or musician -- is your favorite?
Posted by DFO | 24 May 1:01 AM

There are 17 comments on this post. (XML Subscribe to comments on this post)

I love Toby Keith, Gretchen Wilson and a whole slew of others, but I have to say my all time favorite is Brad Paisley. He can have me giggling hysterically and then sobbing my heart out in the next minute.
Posted by JeanC | 24 May 6:46 AM

Hank Thompson's "A Six pack to go." The song works.

Marty Robbins "Mister Shorty." Kind of a sad song.
Posted by Charlie | 24 May 7:02 AM

I like George Straight, and his song "Amarillo by Morning" is my favorite country music song.
Posted by James Bond | 24 May 8:56 AM

Country music panders to morons and stupids. The music ignores true emotional validity for cheap and tawdry histrionics and is the aural equivalent of a bright fuschia 75 Cadillac Eldorado parked at a Sierra Club meeting.

The only thing I find remotely fascinating about country music (besides the genetically damaged fans) is how the songwriters are forced to continually spew even more over the top lyrics to try to engage an increasingly dull fan base. The one about the kid buying his dying mom shoes or something for X-mas was a classic in stupifying efforts to dredge the emotional wasteland of the flyover states.

Country music is teh suck.
Posted by Bob | 24 May 9:13 AM

Thank God and Greyhound She's Gone

Redneck, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer

Now these are classics! :)
Posted by Jane Q. Citizen | 24 May 9:47 AM

I'm so not a country fan either, but it was a fun challenge to write about it without being majorly snarky and dismissive. Actually, I keep hearing the "Haggard Willies" are a ton of fun so I think I might try to sneak into the Iron Horse tomorrow night to check them out. I have to literally sneak in since being blacklisted by the owner after dissing the food there in print a couple of times. I doubt I'll be recognized in a cowboy hat and Carharts. Ha.
Posted by OrangeTV | 24 May 9:55 AM

I'm a metal guy, but grew up listening to "classic country."
For the longest time, I didn't think I'd be able to combine the two. Then I found Hank Williams III.
Posted by T.J. | 24 May 9:59 AM

I utterly loathe new-age country. Can't stand it, even though the wife can.

I most absolutely dig early Elvis and others from Sun Records who have that old-timey country twang to their rockabilly badassness. I dig it.

I also very much enjoy acoustic bluegrass with roots in songs like "Man of Constant Sorrow" type stuff. Nickel Creek is great. I've got a whole pandora play list of this stuff.

The Avett Brothers is a must if you're into southern bluegrass acoustic or just a damn good show. OTV ... please download some Avett Brothers I know you'll love'em.

Most recently they were on Conan O'Brien a few months back. They're fantastic.

I got hooked on them from their song "Will You Return" but most of their stuff is just as good if not better. But that song really is a pop sensation if it got more play.
Posted by Sam | 24 May 10:06 AM

Did anyone see how South Park made fun of Allan Jackson? Absolutely hillarious....
Posted by James Bond | 24 May 12:28 PM

Carrie Underwood does sumthin for me, that's why I'll be watching her and Josh Turner tonight in Spokane....
Of course now that Shania is single.....;)
Posted by keithincda | 24 May 3:18 PM

Johnny Cash...anything... the old stuff and the new of his...

Roy Clark, Hank Thompson, Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold, ....

Bob, ... you just won't understand.. you had to be there during that time, not your generation stuff...and while I was listening to that, I also listen to 3 Dog Night and Dr. Hook... so I guess there is no account for my taste..
Posted by Cis | 24 May 4:42 PM

When I hear modern country, most of it actually sounds like Rock and Roll With A Twang. I loved the older country music; it really had character. Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Buck Owens...George Strait is a favorite of mine; he's one of the last to carry the true-to-the-roots concept in terms of writing original music and singing it well.
Posted by IdAhO eScApEe | 24 May 10:07 PM

I seem to have really developed a taste for big-band swing lately, too. Of course, it's always been in the back of my mind; my folks used to play Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman on the stereo...I went into YouTube and watched a video called "Classics For Classics"...set to the tune "Sing, Sing, Sing, are stills of Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow and others, and the thot crossed my mind that things will perhaps never be that glamorous again. Here's that video (assuming this works!):

Posted by IdAhO eScApEe | 24 May 10:12 PM

I'm not a music snob. I like what I like and don't stick to any one genre. But I have this terrible propensity for adapting song lyrics to my mood and country music seems to be the most adaptable.
For instance Keith Urban's catchy, "You'll Think of Me," becomes:
"Take your Miller, take your corn chips. Take your Brut it makes me queasy. In fact, loathing you is easy. But you'll think of me.
Take your Shick and leave my panties. Have fun living at your aunties. I'm happy with our mailman, but you'll think of me."
Am I the only one who does this?
Posted by Cindy H. | 24 May 11:14 PM

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Willie Nelson.

He's my favorite country singer, and really the only one I've spent a lot of money on.

Other faves include George Jones, Dwight Yoakam, Kasey Chambers, Patsy Cline, and Dolly Parton.

But Willie's king of them all.
Posted by Family Phil | 24 May 11:20 PM

One of my favorite country songs is Sunday Morning Coming Down by Kris Kristopherson. Willie did a cover of it but Kristopherson's version of his own song is haunting.
Posted by KT | 25 May 12:31 AM

One of my favorites:

Posted by MikeS | 25 May 11:26 AM

Sharon Jensen said...

How many of you fans know that Country Music Legends "The Sons of the Pioneers" are coming to the Greyhound Park and Event Center on Saturday, April 9th, 2011 for two performances? 1:00 pm and 7:30 pm - Ticket prices are $40 reserved, $25 general and $15 wing seats. Tickets available through TicketsWest -800-325-SEAT.
It's a fundraiser for Benewah County Humane Society to expand Hope's Haven Animal Shelter.

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