When most people think “Country Music,” geographically, they often think about the Southern or Midwestern United States. But country is true “melting pot music,” with roots from literally all around the world. The fiddle, from Europe. The banjo, from Africa. The mandolin, from Italy. And with each addition, the genre evolved, splitting off like tree branches, and giving birth to more and more nuanced subgenres of this signature sound.
This season on FST’s Cabaret stage, we’re celebrating one of those new genres that sprang from this long line of music history. It all began when artists like Garth Brooks, Miranda Lambert, and George Strait spiked their honky-tonk with Rock & Roll flair. And they called this sound “New Country.”
“With the birth of New Country, you start to see an increased emphasis on the band,” said Rebecca Hopkins, Lead Developer of Friends in Low Places. “The drums and bass had a bigger presence, and you start to see electric guitar solos as well.”
It wasn’t just the music that changed. It was also the experience. Inspired by the onstage energy of Rock & Roll artists like KISS and Freddie Mercury, Brooks started to move around the stage, energizing the crowd, instead of staying in one place like many of his contemporaries. Small changes like these not only brought the artist unprecedented success, but also helped country music cross into the mainstream. Soon, others followed.
“Like Brooks, Juice Newton is considered both a country and a pop singer, songwriter, and musician,” added Hopkins. “She has won Grammy Awards in both categories, and her song ‘Queen of Heart’ not only reached the top of the charts in America, but also in Canada, Australia, Denmark, and New Zealand.”
Brooks and Newton inspired artists like Miranda Lambert and Brad Paisley, who have each sold millions of albums and released several hits that topped both the country and pop charts. The most awarded female artist in Country Music Association history, Lambert is a powerful vocalist who, in a field long dominated by men, does not shy away from putting a woman’s perspective front and center. Paisley often uses the electric guitar to add an edge and power to his songs—whether they’re about something as serious as pure heartbreak or about a man’s trivial decision between going fishing and spending time with his lover.
“Paisley is one of the funniest writers,” said Hopkins. “He sings about everyday things, but he adds modern elements—like reality TV and the Internet—into the mix while also building on what Garth Brooks did with the big band.”
You don’t have to be a fan of country music to enjoy this lively Cabaret. With hits like “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett, “Could I Have This Dance” by Amy Grant, and “Cowboy Take Me Away” by The Chicks, Friends in Low Places shares stories of universal experiences.
“Every song in this show may have a different lyrical style and melody, but they all tell relatable stories in a new light,” said cast member Carrie Lyn Brandon.
“Country music is by and for the people,” added fellow cast member Grant Alan Watkins. “At its heart, the genre is about the human experience of salt-of-the-earth people.”
Regardless of how the artists highlighted in Friends in Low Places pushed the boundaries of country music, they never forgot the genre’s roots: telling the stories of everyday people.
“You can be rough around the edges, poised, sad, happy, confused, excited, content, or miserable…and country music will meet you there,” said Madalyn McHugh, who returns to FST after appearing in Three Pianos this spring. “It will never fail you.”
We look forward to having all of our friends—in both high places and low—join us for a rockin’ celebration of melting pot music, electrified.