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Mass Country

Mike Sudhalter  |  August 29, 2007

I just read that Ashley Gearing, a country artist I'd never heard of, signed a record deal with Curb Records. I also discovered that the up and coming artist hails from Springfield, Mass.

This represents an ongoing trend of country artists emerging from the Bay State. And I'm kind of confused. Does this validate Massachusetts as a viable country music state? Or is country music getting so watered down that someone who can't pronounce their 'Rs' able to make a record, call it country and get Nashville to comply? What do you think?.

I listened to some of Gearing's music and realized that she does qualify as country. No, she's not Lee Ann Womack, but in the Taylor Swift-Carrie Underwood vein.

I think there's a little bit of truth in both of the aforementioned questions. I'll start with the first one.

People who have never been to Massachusetts tend to think the entire state is urbanized. They don't give its country credentials enough attention. Sure, country isn't the first thing you think of when you think of the state, but it's there if you want it.

The New England Capital of Country Music is located in Webster, Mass. - Indian Ranch, not in the more rural New England states of Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine. To its credit, the capital is centrally located in New England.

The Big E (Eastern States Exposition), based in West Springfield, Mass., represents the state fair of almost a dozen states on the Eastern seaboard. Unfortunately, I've never attended this event, but I've met people from as far away as Delaware who have. And what's more country than a state fair?

Country concerts, especially at Foxboro's Gillette Stadium, have fared well, attendance-wise.

On the other hand, many of Massachusetts' recent contributors to the genre have shaky honky-tonk credentials. JoDee Messina of Holliston, Mass. represented good contemporary country when she started in 1996, but it seems like everything she's done this decade has been mediocre adult contemporary.

Alabama drummer Mark Herndon hails from Springfield, Mass., but he just happened to be a drummer in a band with three guys from Alabama. Right place, right time for him.

And Lori McKenna, who still lives in Stoughton, Mass. (probably the closest to Sharon for any country artist), has made some noise on the country scene. She's been opening for the Tim McGraw-Faith Hill tour. Yes, McKenna wrote some songs for Hill and few others, but truth be told, she's a folk artist. And while the lines have been blurred between country and folk, there's a difference between playing coffeehouses in Boston and honky-tonks in Texas.

Maybe we've reached the beyond in our history where country has more to do with a state of mind than your actual hometown/upbringing. I know that's the case for me. None of my immediate family, except my wife who grew up all over the world, is a big country music fan.

In conclusion, I'm proud to see country music artists emerge from the Bay State, just as long as they're not simply pop-wannabes.

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