Due to a production error, in which we ran the second-to-last column twice in today's print edition, Brian J. Barr's superb exploration of Seattle's country music scene was not given the benefit of a proper ending. The omitted text appears after the jump, and will be printed somewhere in next week's issue. The online version, thankfully, is just fine.The Tallboys are a young trio who got their start busking at Pike Place Market. They specialize in raw, old-time music, and now help kick off the workweek by hosting Monday Night Square Dance at the Tractor. Here, snap-button shirts and cowboy hats are abundant, but, unlike at the Hen, worn with a touch of irony.
While their audience consists mainly of folks whose taste in country has less to do with Toby Keith than with O Brother, Where Art Thou?, each song the Tallboys sing is nonetheless rooted in the three conservative American values—God, family, and country—Brenner likes to tout. Their music is plunked out on old acoustic instruments, with the female member prone to bursts of clog dancing and a bearded hippie type standing center stage calling out Appalachian square-dancing instructions as though he were on the set of Coal Miner's Daughter.
"Don't be shy...now promenade...do-si-do...swing your partner."
And the crowd does swing. Aesthetically, mainstream and alt-country are different, but the fundamentals are the same. Which begs the question: Why is it that the Tractor's rural fantasy is somehow considered cooler than what transpires on any given night at the Hen?
Last year, Yates heard a track by Toby Keith called "Get My Drink On" that he thought was one of the best country songs of the year. The cover of the Keith album that song is from, Big Dog Daddy, speaks volumes about why so many turn their noses up at the genre. It's a close-up of a bearded, grinning Keith in a cowboy hat, looking every bit like the unintelligent doofus that he's derided as by liberals. The album title is scrawled out in graffiti, as if Keith has something in common with Snoop Dogg. In short, it looks desperate.
Yet on Big Dog Daddy are songs that, if listened to closely, are as good as any you'll hear in the alt-country genre, suggesting that, underneath the sheen and blandness of its often overly image-conscious singers, there are good things happening in mainstream country. Perhaps all it needs is more discerning listeners willing to let go of stale biases.
"What's not to like about it?" Arneson argues. "Country music is not hard to listen to. I mean, it's one of the only kinds of music with lyrics that are so easy to understand. I honestly think people just don't give it a chance."