Southern music is full of high points—Stax Records in the sixties, Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” Elvis, Nat King Cole, Muscle Shoals in the in the 1970s… Muscle Shoals now.
But we think our sound has never been stronger. From new music fests popping up to all the regional acts making it big, we dare say the Southern sound leads the beat of the nation. Here, five reasons why:
1. Homegrown acts get the spotlight. 2013 has been the year of the breakout Southern artist. Less than a year after its debut EP, Alabama rock-a-blues band St. Paul & The Broken Bones is already selling out shows around the country. Charleston-based husband-and-wife duo Shovels & Rope beat out The Lumineers for Song of the Year at the Americana Awards in September, and new country darling Kacey Musgraves from Golden, Texas, is packing houses all across Europe.
2. New music fests. Music City Eats debuted in Nashville in August, led in part by Southern rockers Kings of Leon. The big to-do of the four-day event was Petty Fest, in which Emmylou Harris, The Black Keys, and dozens other musicians hit the stage to celebrate the legendary Tom Petty. In Birmingham, Cask & Drum broke ground on its folk-meets-rock concert headlined by Dwight Yoakam and a rockabilly-tinged roster of some of the region’s best new bands. Coming up, South Florida gets a dose of Americana with Lauderdale Live, an inaugural event featuring Lyle Lovett and Holly Williams in Fort Lauderdale December 6-8. Take that Coachella.
3. History on repeat. Roots are crucial to the Southern way of life. That’s why we’re all abuzz about ATO Records’ release of Divided & United, a two-disc compilation of 32 Civil War-era songs re-recorded by today’s country and folk hit makers. Music supervisor Randall Poster (he’s soundtracked all of Wes Anderson’s films) spent countless hours and pulled in nearly 40 artists—including Loretta Lynn, Old Crow Medicine Show, and A.A. Bondy—to bring these marching songs and ballads back to life.
4. Our music hubs rock on. Memphis, New Orleans, Athens—all these cities continue to create a significant mark on music culture. Arguably, one of the more interesting stories in music history is the tale of Muscle Shoals, a little Alabama river town that birthed some of rock’s most famous songs—“Wild Horses” from the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody,” and Etta James’ “Tell Mama” were all borne here. Today, the Muscle Shoals legacy is revived by musicians such as John Paul White, who launched a record label and studio, Single Lock Records, downtown this year; emerging bands such as The Bear and Belle Adair; and the release of Muscle Shoals—a new documentary that has everyone from Bono to Aretha Franklin explaining the “magic” that is the Shoals Sound.
5. Nashville, the show. Given big networks’ knack for turning Southern culture into a punchline, we were a little hesitant when we heard there was going to be a show about Nashville. But, not only does the show do a great job at repping Music City, it also turns a spotlight on the city’s rich songwriter community. John & Jacob (see the show’s actors perform their song “Be My Girl” below), Striking Matches, and Kate York are just a few of the musicians and songwriters whose music has been showcased.
What do you love about Southern music? Tell us in the comments!