I have been wanting to start blogging on here for a while, but just haven't gotten around to it, so I've finally decided it's time to start. I thought I would start by giving my perspective as a young person on the modern Americana movement.
It occurred to me recently that I have essentially grown up at the same time that the modern Americana movement has; Uncle Tupelo, arguably the cornerstone of the genre, released their final album the same year that I was born. I was raised on albums such as Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Revival, and, of course, the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. While albums such as these brought attention to Americana artists to audiences who may have been previously unacquainted with this type of music, they also attracted my young, malleable musical pallet. My father is mostly to blame for this, who began listening to roots-oriented music after some of his favorite songwriters, like T-Bone Burnett and Mark Heard, began dabbling in the genre in the late 1980's. But I don't give him all the credit; my sister cannot stand anything that doesn't use auto-tune and usually leaves the room whenever I try to put on some classic Doc Watson. I like to think that the reason I have been drawn to Americana music is the quality of the music, relatable lyrics, and pure musicianship which sets it apart from any other music out there.
But obviously, not everyone my age is drawn to this type of music. As is the case with my sister, even people who have been exposed to it may view it as "outdated," and, perhaps out of a desire to distance themselves from their parents' music, rarely listen to anything remotely resembling Americana. So what can be done to attract more young listeners such as myself?
In my opinion, the movement should not resist the urge to continue to evolve, while, at the same time, continue to remember its roots. So far, this is almost exactly what has occurred. It's only natural that younger ears yearn for an edgier sound that cannot be found in more traditional acts. Acts such as Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers draw as much from indie rock and jam band audience as they do an Americana one, serving as proof that Americana artists can have broader appeal while still staying somewhat true to the form. Personally, I find myself drawn to groups like the Punch Brothers, which mix virtuosity, modern flare, and traditional sounds to create musics that is as likely to attract fans of Bill Monroe as it is to attract Radiohead fans.
I suppose the real question here is 'how can more traditional roots artists draw a young, non-niche audience?' Again, I think the answer is that these artists should continue to evolve. I think the perfect example of this is Emmylou Harris. The sound on her albums has certainly changed over the years, from a more traditional country sound to more of a singer-songwriter sound. This gradual change has given her both critical and commercial success in recent years, but does not diminish her previous body of work. Her live shows continue to draw heavily from her more roots-oriented material, which in turn exposes her newer, younger audiences that may have been drawn in my her new material to more traditional Americana music.
Whenever I try to introduce any of my friends to the music I listen to, I find that, most of the time, they are fairly receptive to the music. However, the are usually unaware of what roots music is or its importance. While there is much we can do to spread the music itself, it has become apparent to me that, at least in light of conversations with my peers, spreading the message of Americana and its history is much more difficult. This is a duty best left in the hands of parents. Even if future generations reject the music (as I have seen happen first hand), the importance of the music will still be instilled. Hopefully more people continue to be raised on this great music the way that I was, and maybe one day everyone will realize how great this music really is.