You can ask people in the building, and I can be quoted several times a day, “If you’re not on country radio, you don’t exist.” Again I can’t think of one star, much less superstar in country music, who wasn’t broken by country radio.
You know what that is? It’s trying to define an entity into relevancy. I don’t know how Overton would define “star” or “superstar,” but there are a lot of artists out there who are doing all right without country radio. Besides all the folks on the Texas scene, of course, there’s Sturgill Simpson, who has sold 100,000 copies of his latest album (and has been basically forced to go from clubs to theaters for his live shows because of the demand) with virtually zero airplay from country radio. Now, that might not exactly be “making it big” or “becoming a star” by Overton’s standards, but in this musical environment, album sales of 100,000 from even one of those big stars would still be pretty good. And none of that really matters in the end anyway as long as enough people buy the music and/or go to the shows that the artists don’t have to go fill out apps for the greeter positions at Walmart.
Or, the tl/dr, if you like: Indie country is totally still a thing, even if it doesn’t have as big of an audience.
In other news, I scored $150 in Amazon credit last week and went shopping yesterday. Among the albums I bought so far: the Dixie Chicks’ Home and Lee Ann Womack’s I Hope You Dance. I can hear the gasps now with the latter.
I remember being skeptical back then about that album precisely because of the horrendously overrated title track, and “Ashes By Now” didn’t exactly inspire confidence even though it wasn’t a bad song. But beyond those two songs, I Hope You Dance is a pretty typical Lee Ann Womack album (in other words, worth the money if you’re a fan of what she’s known for), with some great songs from the likes of Whitey Shafer and Dean Dillion (“Thinkin’ with My Heart Again”), Bruce Robison (“Lonely Too”), and Buddy and Julie Miller (“Does My Ring Burn Your Finger”), and a beautiful cover of the old Don Williams chestnut “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good” closing it out.
And politics be damned, the Dixie Chicks’ Home is just as gorgeous a piece of Real Country Music as it was back in 2002. Well, it was more of a straight-ahead bluegrass album than honky-tonk, swing or what-have-you, but all those subgenres are pretty much the essence of country music. And when you look at how mainstream country music has changed in the years since it was released, and think about how it would be received if it came out now versus how it was received when it did come out (two Top 2 hits on country radio, one No. 1, and 6 million-plus copies of the album sold), it’s just downright depressing.