Country's cool, you just have to listen

THE TOPP TWINS: Lynda Topp says start with the greats on your mission to appreciate country music.
THE TOPP TWINS: Lynda Topp says start with the greats on your mission to appreciate country music.

I listened to country music all weekend - well, whatever passes for country music that I could scrape up in my house.

With the New Zealand Gold Guitars in Gore this month, I refuse to be yet another Townie with no idea of what country is.

Is it all Red Sovine's Teddy Bear? What about the infectious, amazing Dolly Parton? Or Willie Nelson? He's as cool as Snoop Dogg with all his pot smoking but had huge crossover success with his Stardust album (my Mum had it - it was a big Saturday morning housework-time standard).

The Rhinestone Cowboy hisself, Glen Campbell - I even saw him at Stadium Southland MKI a few years ago.

Nathan Rabin, writing for excellent blog AV Club, talks about country untouchables.

"When it comes to country, the big exceptions are Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. Who doesn't like Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash? Only a black-hearted Nazi robot, that's who. Cash and Nelson almost don't count, however, since they transcend country."

Then there's Taylor Swift. She's country, kiddies. Garth Brooks - he's massive, and he's country. There's kd lang. The Dixie Chicks. Shania Twain. Roger Miller (King of the Road). Steve Earle's Copperhead Road? Is that country? Then does that mean Metallica are country crossover stars because of Whiskey in the Jar?.

This is when I started to realise that country is all music. It can be found anywhere.

Thank the Man in Black, then, for Lynda Topp and her calm advice.

Any music, she said, could be changed into country.

"And country can become pop in the same way, it's just how it's performed. There is even a country version of Lorde's Royals on YouTube by a band called The Beef Seeds."

One of the biggest selling songs of all time, I Will Always Love You, sung by Whitney Houston, was originally a hit for Dolly Parton, who wrote it, in 1973.

Get your head around the genre by simply listening to it.

Start with the old greats, Topp said - Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette.

While songs like Achy Breaky Heart and memories of old cowboy heartbreakers may have dented the wider public's perception of country, several people I've spoken to talk about being "trapped" in a car or in the house on a Sunday morning, forced to listen to their parents' country music - nothing has done more harm than the lack of airplay it gets here, Topp said.

"The fact that they don't play country music on the radio in New Zealand has harmed country music more than anything. "Country music is cool! Get out there and listen to it!"


STEP ONE: The greats. Lynda Topp says get some Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette into your ears.

STEP TWO: Change your perceptions. It's not all depressing howling cowboys – country can be sly, rollicking, sexy, dreamy – it can be anything. It's a broad . . . prairie.

STEP THREE: Listen – and start in your own gosh-durned, possum- picking back yard. New Zealand has some amazing country musicians to listen to – glorious Mel Parsons, Southland's own (and also super, super nice) Anna van Riel, who was up for a New Zealand Country Music award last weekend. Even our southern darlings Into the East have a wee lovely twang, although they're more folk, I guess. Again, it's a broad prairie. And the Topp Twins. They are amazing.

Wednesday, May 28

7.30pm: Gore Country Music Club Walkup Concert, Longford Function Centre. Door sales, non-members $10.

Thursday, May 29

9am to 2.30pm: MLT Songwriting Seminar/Workshop, Heartland Hotel.

Friday, May 30

8.15am: Auditions for all sections at Gore Town & Country Club Stadium, Calvin Community and Baptist churches. Tickets, adults $8, seniors $5, kids free.

Noon to 2pm: Freeze Ya Bits Off busking auditions at main shopping area. Register at Cairns Music Works, 30 Irk St. Admission $10 per entry, 15 years-plus.

1-3pm: Jammin' at the Junction at H&J Smiths Cafe. No charge.

7.30pm: Hands of Fame Induction Concert at Gore Town & Country Club Stadium. Admission $25

Saturday, May 31

Noon to 2pm: "Freeze" auditions.

4.30pm: Freeze Ya Bits Off finals at Heartland Hotel. $5, under-14s free.

8.15am: Auditions for all sections at Gore Town & Country Club Stadium, Calvin Community and Baptist churches. Adults $10, seniors $7, children free.

7.30pm: NZ Gold Guitar Awards Intermediate and Southern Wide Real Estate Junior Finals, Gore Town & Country Club Stadium. Backing band, The Southerners. Admission $10 to $32.

Sunday, June 1

8.15am: Auditions, senior sections only; Gore Town & Country Club Stadium and venue to be advised.

7.30pm: The Southland Times Newslink senior finals, Gore Town & Country Club Stadium. Featuring Senior Gold Guitar finalists. Backing band, Tightazz. Admission, $40 for adults (reserved), $35 for unreserved and $10 for children. 

The Southland Times