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T’S MIDDLE-AGED MEN IN OVERSIZED HATS. It’s southern twang that pairs perfectly with only an acoustic guitar. It’s lyrics that describe life in all its hard-workin’, my-girlfriend-left-me, I-just- lost-my- job glory. It’s boots, aged whiskey and heartbreak. It’s country music, and it has invaded West Michigan.

If you’ve ever been downtown Grand Rapids the

night of a Kenny Chesney concert you know country music fans are anything but scarce in the area. But more and more, our coastal community is starting to embrace not only the Georges, Tims and Brads of the genre, but also names that have a more local flair. In the last several years, an array of local country has begun to crop up and with the recent success of Battle Creek native Frankie Ballard, hope of making it big in our little community is actually looking realistic. “We are ‘Lil’ Nashille’, no doubt about

it,” B93’s DJ Broadway said. “Since Frankie Ballard got his deal [with Warner Bros. Records], I think local country musicians see the summit of fame after climbing for all those years. The grind becomes worth it because one of ‘them’ was chosen.”

“You can connect to the country artist. You can’t connect to people clubbing and drinking Cristal.”

—KARI LYNCH And even though local country music seems to be

booming currently, it is not necessarily the quantity of musicians in the area, but the quality. The performers that we have access to in the area tend to be taking the trade a little more seriously than they have in the past, according to Broadway. His favorites in the local industry include Gunnar and the Grizzly Boys, Kari Lynch, Shelagh Brown and Brian Lorente. Richie Lampani, assistant talent buyer and marketing

director at The Intersection in Grand Rapids agrees. The music venue hosts a slew of country music, both local and national, providing a better outlet in West Michigan. “There are a lot of young, hungry people that really

want to follow their dreams. But, the market can only handle so much and it’s got a good balance right now.” And the talent that both Broadway and Lampani are referring to come partly from the Grand Rapids-based

Kari Lynch Band. The band is becoming the talk of the local music community with its traditional-meets- contemporary-meet-blues sound. Lynch is grateful for the opportunities that the band has been given and feels she has not only her fans but other musicians in the area to thank. “The country music community is really tight.

Everyone wants to be the best you can,” she said. “We have a level of competition [with other bands], but it’s healthy competition. That’s why we’re so happy to be a part of this genre in West Michigan. A lot of talent shines; we haven’t seen that everywhere else. There is something special about West Michigan country music.” That country sound is no longer only guitars and

banjos accompanying twangy lyrics about a down-and- out life. There are different niches within the genre which make the music so versatile in a community like ours.

doesn’t have the luxury of catchy rhythms to grasp our attention or the beat of a drum to get our feet moving. Instead, the music is more natural and relies on only the words to breed inspiration.

“I Kari Lynch and the Dudes “Country’s got more of a cross-over thing go-

ing on from rocky country to hardcore David Allan Coe,”Lampani said. “I think [fans] really like that.” And it’s not only the fans that appreciate it. “Local country is super supportive of each other,”

Lynch said. “That’s what I love about it. When something good happens to a band, it only brings more attention to West Michigan.” And opposite from the Kari Lynch Band on the lo-

cal country music spectrum lies Gunnar and the Grizzly Boys with its rock-inspired beer-and-bullets country. Frontman Gunnar Nyblad agrees that even though there is a lot of country music to choose from in the area, what makes them all work so well is the fact that they are all a little different. “We all cover different sides of country from tra-

ditional to popish, rock to country having a Detroit influence. I’ve seen everyone stick to what they know and what they’re good at.” But it’s not just the variety in the area that keeps the crowds swarming and the fans so dedicated. Country

know what you’re thinking: dogs, beer, cheating and pickup trucks,” Broadway said. “But country is more than that.” “You’re getting the

same song over and over again with pop,” Lynch

adds. “We’re inspired by pop, but [with country], you’re getting something real. At some point, people don’t just want to hear drums and synthesizers. Song writing is of upmost importance. It is really respected. We’re writing all our own songs and people really appreciate that. Straight to the core, honest. That’s one of the reasons country music has really taken off. “You can connect to the country

artist. You can’t connect to people clubbing and drinking Cristal.” Even though the fans of the genre

have heard these stories sung a thou- sand different ways, it never gets old. The words are what fans cling to and can always count on whether they’re looking for something to hold onto or someone to let go of. “For a song to be country, it no

longer has to have fiddle and steel guitar by default. It just has to tell a

good story and make you feel something,” Broadway said.

At the end of the day, the only thing that will keep

local country thriving in West Michigan is the assurance that the fans will keep coming back. From little girls to those who can remember listening to the original Grand Ole Opry on the radio, country music offers something for everyone. “The fans make the music,” Lynch said. “We write our

music for the fans. We’ll make music for them as long as they want to listen to it. They are the biggest reason [country music] is booming in West Michigan. They are relentless and they make us feel like rock stars.” And if you’re still not convinced, you will be…

eventually. “I will always tell people that you can only deny

country music for so long,” Nyblad said. “Eventually, one day you’re going to have a breakup or lose a loved one and you’re gonna turn on country and it will just capture you. You can call it hick, but everyone has a little hick in them.” n

REVUEWM.COM | JULY 2011 | 43

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