“Country music is three chords and the truth.”
Just like food, music is one of humanity’s well-known ‘universal languages.’
Both elicit positive emotions, elevate our lives, and come in infinite varieties.
One of the most beloved musical forms is country, which is why we are here to celebrate International Country Music Day.
First celebrated in 2003, this holiday is commemorated every year on September 17th through a myriad of country music festivals held worldwide.
Where Does Country Music Come From?
While country music is beloved across the globe, it is uniquely American.
Originating in the 1920s in the south, country music started as a folk music for the working-class American.
It is typically associated with instruments like banjos, electric, acoustic or steel guitars, mandolin, autoharp, fiddles, and harmonicas.
The term ‘country music’ only emerged in the late 1940s. Before that time, the genre was called ‘hillbilly;’ it was changed because many believed that name to be degrading.
Over the years, country music has come to embrace many other musical forms, including Irish and Celtic fiddle tunes, English ballads, church music, blues, jazz, cowboy songs, rock, and pop.
The legendary (and highly popular) live country music variety show the Grand Ole Opry put country music on the map. Broadcast from Nashville, Tennessee beginning in 1925, it cemented the city’s reputation as the center of the country music business.
Country Music Is Many Things
‘Country music’ is an umbrella term and underneath it lies several sub-categories:
- Western Swing: Popular in Texas, Oklahoma, and California, western swing is an energetic blend of country music and swing jazz that uses amplified instruments (like pedal steel guitar) to create loud music that can be heard in large dance halls.
- Rockabilly: Rockabilly was born when Western swing bands began to add R&B songs into the mix. Singers like Elvis Presley were immediately attracted to this style of country and R&B, which uses a blend of acoustic guitar, electric guitar, stand-up bass, and drums.
- Honky-tonk: Honky-tonk music—which features acoustic guitar, pedal steel guitar, fiddle, stand-up bass, and drums—first emerged from the working-class bars near the oil fields of Texas. This genre of country music is associated with the singer-songwriter Hank Williams who died tragically at the young age of 29.
- Bluegrass: Bluegrass developed in the early 1950s and was essentially a revival of old-time country music. Greatly influenced by Appalachian music, bluegrass is a blend of Irish, Scottish and English traditional music as well as jazz elements. Alison Krauss is probably one of the most successful recent bluegrass artists.
- Outlaw Country: In the mid-1950s, Nashville created a new style combining sweet ballads with orchestral strings, an attempt to appeal to those who did not like rock and roll, soul, or conventional country music. Many country music artists vehemently opposed this ‘watered down’ version of country music. To show their disdain, they developed outlaw country, which combined honky tonk with rockabilly. Johnny Cash is one of the most famous singers to embrace outlaw country.
- Country Rock: Country rock emerged in the mid-60s. Gram Parsons was among the first artists to combine country and rock by adding rock and roll pianos, guitars and elements of folk rock to his band. Bob Dylan also famously mixed some features of country music into his folk-rock at about the same time.
- Country Pop: In the early 60s, country pop also leapt onto the scene when former rockabilly artist Roy Orbison started to produce pop records. His influence was far-reaching, and country pop legends who followed in his footsteps include Glen Campbell, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift.
Are You Ready to Celebrate?
So what is the best way to celebrate this unique holiday?
- Listen: Probably the most obvious ways is to turn up the radio or open your music library and rediscover all of your favorite country music songs.
- Explore: If you have never been introduced, NOW is the time to try out this wonderful music genre.
- See: Even better, check if there are any local country music concerts near you. You can even dress appropriately in country music attire.
- Eat: Last, but definitely not least, how about enjoying some great country-style plant-based food? Our Vegan Jambalaya recipe will get everyone in your house in the country music mood!
Happy International Country Music Day to all!