A friend of mine moved from Texas to Wicklow when he was a child. He hadn’t realized he had changed countries in years – he was at a chicken farm in Avoca, and everyone was listening to Charley Pride.
remembered this story this week when Garth Brooks made his triumphant return to Ireland. This explains the connection that those of us who come from outside the capital have with the country superstar and with the country music itself.
I’m excited just to watch the TV commercial for Garth’s concerts, because I’m not from Dublin. The dominance of country music – its meaning – begins just outside of Pale, where I grew up.
Hoteliers know that the crowds for Garth will be on the outside, which is why room prices for concert dates have increased by 200pc.
There is a cultural change once you cross the borders of the capital. I might be a city dweller these days, but my roots are in the mountains. I too remember the chickens in the yard, and Charley singing The crystal chandelier.
Country music was massive, inescapable, in my childhood. Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash; and my favorite, Tammy Wynette, the first lady of country music.
The wheat was there with the tares.
For every Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings there was a Billy Ray Cyrus and a Cotton Eye Joe.
His biggest star was this guy in the Stetson hat everyone called âGarrett Brewksâ. It was like his 1991 album Ropin ‘the wind has been number one for about three years in a row.
You could try to be on top, but it was like the ‘Resistance is futile’ Borg. In all fairness, Garth Brooks is a brilliant performer with first class songs.
Why do regional and rural Irish people love country music so much? It is an identity shared with our counterparts across the Atlantic. Country music – and its culture – is familiar, accessible and resonates.
We know it, innately. American country has its roots in Celtic music, and therefore the instruments used are often the same as in the Irish tradition: violin, harmonica, banjo.
We have similar values, interests, interactions.
Their celebrations and struggles are the same as ours. Let us return to the great themes of country music: alcohol and death, two twin concerns in Ireland.
We love light and dark – tears and festive songs, proud patriotic hymns. They are also everywhere in traditional Irish music.
In country music and the Irish trad, songs are often about drinking and playing, leaving and coming back, love and loss.
The provocative status of outsider, outsider or rebel is another common theme, as is the strong identity of the place.
Garth Brooks’ biggest hits fall into these categories, from Friends in low places To Dance To Standing in front of the fire. It is the music of the people. Garth is one of us.
That’s why we love it here.