Wednesday, May 22

Go Country promotes genre


Despite beliefs that country music has few listeners, large fan base proves otherwise

When you ask most people what kind of music they listen to, a typical response is “everything but country.” This is especially true in Los Angeles, where country hasn’t been cool since John Travolta line-danced in “Urban Cowboy.” However, country music appears to have moved beyond this image and found a way to do more than just survive.

The proof is 105.1 Go Country, Los Angeles’ only country music radio station seated in the unlikely location of Westwood. While not the place one would usually think of for a country music stronghold, Go Country DJ Tonya Campos said that they are here to stay.

“We have 1.2 million listeners a week, so that says something,” Campos said. “There are too many listeners to not have a country station.”

Even so, a country music listener can be hard to spot in Los Angeles.

“We have tons of closet listeners in Los Angeles,” Campos said. “They don’t want to tell their friend that they’re a big country fan because the first thing they’ll get is “˜you listen to that hick stuff?’”

Much of the resistance to country music seems to be an issue with the perceived image of its listeners, one that Campos explains is no longer in play, but still repels people from listening.

“Country music has a reputation for attracting a hick, pick-up driving, boot-wearing, cowboy-hat-wearing crowd,” Campos said. “But if you play Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift or Dierks Bentley, it’s not the music of yesteryear. … If people gave it a chance with an open mind, people would tune in and wouldn’t turn it off.”

Also, the fact that Los Angeles is a city made up of people who moved here from all over the nation makes Campos suspect that many people were country fans to begin with.

Victoria Hong is one of these people. Having just graduated from UCLA over the summer, she explains that country music was very much part of her community in Florida.

“It wasn’t until I was forced to listen to it that I gave it a chance,” Hong said. “When I became a lifeguard in high school at a camp for kids, the only music they would play is country because it was the only music that was clean and it’s what most people there liked.”

Besides being forced to listen to it for her job, Hong explains that the kind of values expressed in country music attracted her as well.

“When country singers sing about love, it’s about once in a lifetime love. It’s really putting women on a pedestal,” Hong said.

While she cites 105.1 as a preset on her radio that she frequents to hear these types of songs, there exists still yet another type of country fan. They exist under the grouping of what’s known as alternative country. This kind of country is associated as being outside of the mainstream and the type of music that radio stations like Go Country generally stray away from.

“I don’t really listen to modern country too much. I think it’s just a little too commercial,” said Justin Lucas, a second-year ethnomusicology student. “Occasionally I might listen, but mainly I dictate the country I listen to.”

Above all, he prefers the older country artists and sounds such as Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Gram Parsons. He could have chosen any number of different musical ensembles to play in as part of the requisite for majoring in ethnomusicology, but Lucas chose to play in a bluegrass ensemble.

“It’s music that teaches you a lot about modern music and where it all came from,” Lucas said. “There’s the blues and rhythms from Africa and all kinds of crazy music being mixed together. It’s a hybrid of music.”

Alternative country tends to take traditional country to its bare essentials and then adds a twist that can take the music any number of ways, from more singer-songwriter oriented to adding more focus on rock and roll. The more popular artists who are considered offshoots of this bunch include the likes of Wilco, Ryan Adams and Neko Case. In an effort to cater to fans of this kind, 105.1 Go Country has included a two-hour program Sundays at 10 p.m. appropriately titled “Altville.”

“In the 1970s I heard people everywhere saying “˜I want my oldies,’” Campos said. “But things have to change. Just like anything else it’s got to move on. We might not like where it changes to, but we have to see what happens and it could turn into something great.”

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