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Free Shows = Happy Fans

Alan Jackson, one of the most respected singer-songwriters of country music is giving his fans the opportunity to fight for a free show. Using Eventful Inc., fans can go online, complete a couple simple steps and cast their vote for Jackson to play a free show in their hometown. But while this seemingly straightforward and generous gesture rewards his most loyal fans for their dedicated support, it benefits him in so many more ways.

Jackson already has a strong fan base, and he doesn’t have to give away this show, but he is more than willing to do so for a couple of reasons. First of all, happy fans are a great thing. When you make fans feel special, they are more likely to be lifelong supporters of your career, rather than fair-weather fans. But even more than this, the information provided to Jackson and his team in this giveaway is priceless. When fans go online to demand the show, they are required to submit information like email, gender and birth date which provides Jackson with an in-depth analysis of his fan base. This is SUCH a valuable marketing asset for Jackson (or any artist for that matter) and will more than make up for the revenue he’s giving up from the show. And, of course, he still has other streams of revenue from the show with merch and sales of his upcoming album.

It seems like more and more artists are catching onto this idea, from giving away a free track in return for an email address, to having competitions for fans to connect more directly with their favorite bands. The Red Hot Chili Peppers recently paired up with BBC Radio 1 to promote their album, I’m With You, which is set to be released August 30th. They are giving away around 500 pairs of tickets to an exclusive gig, using a random ticket ballot, to anyone who registers online on BBC Radio 1′s Web site.

Rather than holding on too tightly to the reigns, artists should be less preoccupied with the now, and more interested in the whole picture. It takes creativity and patience to make a musical career last these days, and oftentimes you need to give away a product in order to hook a new fan.

Your Country’s Right Here: Crystal Bowersox Follows Her Heart

Crystal Bowersox was surrounded by boxes in her Chicago home as she chatted by telephone about the rollercoaster she’s been riding since she was the runner up on Season 9 of Fox television’s American Idol.

Packed and ready for a move to Nashville, the “Farmer’s Daughter” singer now juggles married life as the mom of an infant son, Tony, and a blossoming music career thanks in large part to her stellar performances on the show that won her praise from none other than the notoriously picky Simon Cowell.

“I’m always writing,” she said of her songwriting prowess. “The move to Nashville will just be an asset to me. I want to be there, able to access all of the talent there…and plus, our house will have a bigger back yard!”

The woman who grew up poor began shaping a music career even before she was in high school. The idea to super size her goals came about when she learned she was pregnant and wanted to “give my son everything I never had growing up.”

“I don’t really consider myself an ‘Idol’ contestant,” she said while acknowledging her gratitude to the show. “I was a performer starting at ten years old and I played gigs all over. When I found out I was pregnant, I was playing $100 gigs. I had to find a way to do what I loved and provide for my family.”

Although she’s been embraced by the country music community, Bowersox is ready to let her music muse guide her into whatever genre feels right.

“I love country and pop and rock and all kinds of things,” she said rattling off her favorite performers including Eric Church whose latest single “Homeboy” she deemed “really cool” and the New Jersey-based duo Hoots & Hellmouth.”"It  used to be when I was a single lady living alone whenever the moment struck me I would write. Now I write down little phrases and lines and when it comes album time, I have all these notes. Sometimes, though, songs come from somewhere else and it could be pop or country or I don’t know.”

Although she’s looking forward to joining the Nashville music community and will likely consider co-writing, she said she is still warming to that process.

“The cowriting is a little awkward to me right now,” she said. “I have to find a middle ground. It’ll be a challenge and a fun process to get into. I’ll see what happens when I get into Nashville and [meet] new writers.”

For now, Bowersox is continuing to write and tour plus has some high-profile gigs around the corner including an August 15 benefit concert, “Lifting Lives,” with LeAnn Rimes Cibrian at Joe’s Bar in Chicago.

“I don’t want to just sit and make any kind of music; I want to make music that I love,” said Bowersox. “That is where my heart is.”

For more information about Crystal Bowersox and the “Lifting Lives” benefit, check her Web site.

CMA Festival: Country’s Night To Follow

The Country Music Association set the stage again for their annual CMA Festival in Nashville, TN. With artist appearances ranging from fan-favorites Taylor Swift and Shania Twain to newer guns like American Idol winner Scott McCreery, there was certainly something for everyone to enjoy.

But this isn’t your typical festival. Yes, fans do get to experience a weekend full of their favorite music, but this is a different business model. Artists volunteer their time, money and equipment to perform for them. What gives? As impressive as the lineup was and how many celebrities showed up to mingle with the crowd throughout the weekend, what’s more impressive is what purpose this gathering serves for the CMA. In 2006 CMA launched “Keep The Music Playing” (KTMP), a charity that supports music education in Metro NAshville Public Schools through the Alliance for Public Education. With the money raised from ticket sales and donations, the CMA has purchased nearly 4,000 instruments, funded music education campaigns, built music labs and donated to various regional charitable causes.

If a single institution can raise nearly 1.5 million dollars to charity in a single weekend event, how much of an impact could the collective efforts of the entire music world have on their surrounding communities? Yes, we’re all familiar with Live Aid and some of us in the younger crowd might have even been a part of the more recent Live 8, and these events had massive political backing. But this is a singularity: there is no consistency in what is done. Of course, there’s no denying the effect that tthe Live Aid concerts and rallies had, but it came and went. There was no follow-up, nothing continuous. It left our minds after the media hype was over. Since the CMA has a long-term investment with KTMP and needs to show results in order to keep functioning, it assuredly manages its funds and expenses in a decidedly more detailed manner. Not only that, but the whole country music community will be consistently aware of this particular social necessity.

Music has the power to bring people together: what better cause than this?

Your Country’s Right Here: Vince Gill Returns to his Bluegrass Roots

So just where do you go after you’ve won nineteen GRAMMY Awards and grabbed international chart success?

For Vince Gill, the musical answer is to go home to bluegrass. Although he started his career in the genre and still truly loves it, he moved to mainstream country years ago. Now that he’s arguably starting a new chapter in his career, with the release of the album Guitar Slinger later this year, he’s taking pains to insure he doesn’t lose sight of his musical roots.

“Anybody who is thinking of a bluegrass career, I really wouldn’t recommend it,” said Gill with a laugh to a near-capacity concert audience at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, Virginia last month. “I stopped playing it because I had hoped to own my own home someday.”

It’s a good bet, though, that Gill’s comment was really more tongue-in-cheek than anything. Although the line brought a great amount of laughter from the audience, Gill said by telephone from the Nashville home that he shares with his wife, singer Amy Grant, that a healthy bank account is really only one of the reasons he loves his career.

“It has never been to a point where it was a drag or I didn’t feel it was a complete success even just factoring in the people I have played with,” said Gill. “Gosh, it has provided me with a better life than I could have ever dreamed for myself…and it has nothing to do with [money]… I truly love the music.”

Any doubters need only have sat in on this four-hour plus concert during which Gill played a host of classic bluegrass hits—including “My Rose of Old Kentucky,” and “My Walking Shoes”— and talked about career highlights including playing with bluegrass legends Ricky Skaggs and Del McCoury.

With such a background, it’s likely no surprise that the eleven songs on his newest album are richly textured, moving from contemporary to traditional and from somewhat light hearted to dark.

That’s especially true on the album’s first single “Threaten Me With Heaven,” that Gill co-wrote with Grant, Dillon O’Brian and Will Owsley. Since the song was written, Owsley committed suicide.

“The the song has a profound impact on me now,” said Gill, adding that the loss of Owsley and other close friends in the past few years has truly made him take stock of his life. “It’s a powerful, powerful song. I feel like it’s the crown jewel of the new record.”

Bright spots in the recording of the record were the duet he did with Grant and the guest appearances of three of the couple’s daughters—Jenny, Sarah and Corrina.

“It was really cool,” said Gill of having his family work with him in the studio he recently built at his home. “They all can’t help it. Music has a [very strong] place in their lives. Having them on this was very sweet.”

Find out more about Vince Gill and his upcoming album on his Web site.

Eric Church Speaks His Mind

Eric Church has never been one to keep his mouth closed. He prides himself on speaking his mind, no matter what. And in the past, this trait has cost him quite a bit. Back in 2006, he was kicked off the Rascal Flatts tour for playing longer and louder than he was allowed, which caused the headliner to start late and violated the rules of the venue. Additionally, he dealt with a great deal of backlash after his song, “Two Pink Lines” was released. Fans didn’t like the fact that the song seemed so relaxed on the topic of teenage pregnancy.

But controversy has never stopped Church. After being kicked off the Rascal Flatts tour, instead of going home, he followed the tour for eight stops, playing free shows at clubs and bars for his fans. As he said in an interview, “We did it because we said we would. It’s a great thing to come and say, ‘Hey, man, we got fired from across the street, but we said we were coming, so we’re here anyway’”. And because of his perseverance, and his fun and exciting live shows, he has cultivated a strong fan base. These fans care about what Church has to say, and they have been eagerly anticipating his new record, Chief, for some time.

The album, which was released on July 26th, stays very true to the outspoken, wild Church that his fans have grown to love. With songs like “Jack Daniels” and “I’m Getting Stoned” he shows that he is willing to tell the real story, not skim over the tough parts. Chief is a hit because it is made up of well-crafted songs with a lot of attitude. As he will tell you, “I’m a guy who’s going to tell you what I think. I’m going to rub you the wrong way”. But somehow this works for him. Now that nobody is expecting him to hold back or keep his opinions to himself, he is able to make the kind of music he’s always wanted to. And the music is phenomenal, which explains why the album just hit Number 1 on the Billboard 200.

Watch the video for his hit single “Homeboy” below.

Is There More To Miley Than Meets The Eye?

Miley Cyrus is no stranger to controversy—when she isn’t busy creating country-pop hybrid hits, she’s getting caught on camera making offensive faces or on video taking monster bong hits. (Or facing scrutiny for smoking a cigarette or getting hacked and having illicit photos circulated around the Internet…) But she made headlines last week for a slightly nobler reason after she tweeted a picture of her new, pro-gay rights tattoo accompanied by the 18 character message “All LOVE is equal.”

Miley even responded civilly to one fan who didn’t exactly agree with the message behind the new ink, tweeting, “Where does it say in the bible to judge others? Oh right. It doesn’t. GOD is the only judge honey. ‘GOD is love.’”

If you find yourself confused by where this display of maturity is coming from, well, you probably aren’t alone. But the eighteen-year-old songstress has taken to Twitter to drop knowledge on her followers before. This June, she hopped up on her soapbox to oust Urban Outfitters after they donated to the political action committee of notoriously anti-gay senator Rick Santorum. “Love that everybody is hating on Urban Outfitters,” she tweeted. “Not only do they steal from artists but every time you give them money you help finance a campaign against gay equality. #SHADYASHELL.”

Of course, there’s always the possibility that this latest declaration is nothing but a well-timed publicity stunt. Engaging one of your fans in a theological discussion on Twitter and announcing that you’re starring in and producing a God-themed comedy two days later? Preety convenient there, Miley. And yes, it brings up the eternal question, “Why do we care about celebrity opinions, anyway?” We get it: there’s no way that starring in a Disney Channel comedy qualifies you to engage in political debate. But you have to admit that it’s pretty ballsy of the young Cyrus to risk alienating her fanbase like this. After all, what if fewer people go to see her upcoming film because of her opinion on gay rights? While she’s often the center of controversy, at least this time it’s for something she believes in, not because one of her “friends” leaked questionable video content to TMZ. You go, girl!

Your Country’s Right Here: Jake Owen ‘Gets Closer’ with ‘Barefoot Blue Jean Nights’

Jake Owen has to be a believer in the number three.

As he travels around the country on Keith Urban‘s “Get Closer” Tour, the man behind this summer’s hot single “Barefoot Blue Jean Night”—the title track of his upcoming album (watch the music video below)—sounds convinced some kind of great karma has come into his life.

“It is kind of ironic that my new album is being released on August 30, two days after I turn 30, and this is my third record,” said Owen. “This album is a big step for me and my career and I can’t wait for people to hear it.”

Although the album isn’t yet available, fans can get a taste of it during his current concerts—and soak in the audio sun it brings.

“When we recorded ‘Barefoot Blue Jean Night,’ I was really looking forward to summertime,” said Owen.  ”This song has that nostalgic feeling of growing up, running around barefoot and feeling free. It doesn’t matter whether you grew up along the coast, on the lake or in the country, most everyone remembers that feeling.”

Although Owen is looking forward to his own headlining tours in the future, he’s full of praise for Urban and fully enjoying his role in the “Get Closer” Tour.

“We are so lucky to be…on the Keith Urban tour,” said Jake who has also toured with Kenny Chesney, Sugarland and Brad Paisley. “I am excited for the fans to hear some new songs from the new record. And while we are out on tour, I really want to celebrate summertime so I’m [pulling] my boat behind my bus. I have a Malibu, which is a great wakeboarding boat, and I really want to spend my days out in the sun, meeting people and hanging out.”

Since releasing his debut album, Startin’ with Me in 2006, Owen has had five consecutive Top 15 singles.

“Everything is amazing right now. I have other artists, song publishers, promotion reps, people at other record labels coming up to me and saying, ‘Jake, I really like your new song. We’re pulling for you, dude.’ That validates everything I’ve ever done up to this point. Now I have people cheering for me and that is an awesome feeling.”

Find out more about Jake Owen, his new album and upcoming music on his website.

Your Country’s Right Here: Yonder Mountain String Band Keeps Bluegrass Jammin’

Go ahead and call Yonder Mountain String Band a bluegrass group if you want to, but if you take in some of their shows this summer—such as one at FloydFest in Floyd, VA on July 30 or their headlining gig at Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Morrison, CO on Aug. 20—prepare for a surprise.

Not only will the band likely debut some of its new music slated to be released in 2012, but all of their songs will showcase why they are revered as one of the most progressive bluegrass bands out there. Their signature sound not only swirls rock, pop and hints of other genres into the bluegrass mix but the players’ expertise have made them a darling of jam band aficionados.

“It’s cool there are a lot of other voices [in the] bluegrass world,” said bassist Ben Kaufmann. “I feel kind of like [our band is] part of an icebreaker. We’ve proven you don’t need drums and electric amplification to attract a young audience.”

Of course, bluegrass fans know that those who follow the genre are passionate about what constitutes true bluegrass. The father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe, was a strict traditionalist who didn’t enjoy any type of variation in the sound. Not so strict is Del McCoury, who was a member of Monroe’s band and is now thought of by many as the leader of bluegrass. McCoury has not only championed progressive bluegrass bands but has mixed his own music with other genres including New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

A love for both traditional bluegrass and the new grass movement is what initially brought banjo player Dave Johnston and  Jeff Austin, who plays mandolin in the band, together musically as students in Urbana, IL. Their collaborations continued and expanded after the two moved west and met Kaufmann and guitarist Adam Aijala.

Yonder Mountain String Band, which officially formed in 1998 and was playing legendary venues such as San Francisco’s Fillmore within a few years, sees their band as one of the pioneers in further opening up the genre to younger audiences.

“I see us being an important band because we have kind of taken the starch off the collars and church out of the music,” said Johnston, noting that although they don’t play more pop-oriented bluegrass, they are still fans of that part of the genre. “It’s kind of like we have fulfilled an essential need because kids come to see us. Although we’re based in bluegrass and new grass, we don’t try to limit our sound or what we want to do.”

That’s one reason younger audience respond to the sound, the band mates say. Pure forms of country, rock and other traditional genres are almost non existent in contemporary music.

“Country isn’t one thing, rock isn’t one thing, and that’s where music is going,” said Johnston. “We have existed our entire careers not caring what genre our music is from. We are looking for a blend of genres and experimentation…We aren’t looking for hits, we are looking for good songs.”

For news about the band, go to their web site.

Your Country’s Right Here: Dolly Parton Offers A ‘Better Day’

Dolly Parton reminds fans that ”Better Day” is much more than the name of her new studio album.

Even though the legendary singer, musician, actress and philanthropist —who, by the way, writes the majority of the songs she performs —is an international superstar now, she well remembers struggles that culminated in her own “Better Day” triumphs. Certainly one such time was in the mid 1960s when the late Porter Wagoner, known as the King of Country Gospel, championed her. At that time, Wagoner had a popular syndicated television show. When his duet partner left in 1967 to get married, he took a chance and made Parton his duet partner.

“I would say the same thing I’ve said all through the years—’Thank you,’” said Dolly when asked what she’d say to Wagoner if she could speak to him now. “Porter gave me my first big break. When I wrote [the song released in 1974 and dedicated to Wagoner] ‘I Will Always Love You,’ I wrote it from the heart. I will always be grateful to Porter.”

The spot on Wagoner’s television show gave Parton her first taste of success. The duos’ award-winning songs paved the way for Parton to sign with RCA Records in 1968 and be inducted into the Grand Ole Opry the following year.

Parton continued on Wagoner’s show until 1974 when her singles, such as “Jolene” and “Coat of Many Colors,” made her a superstar in her own right.

That status she’s maintained all of these years has only heightened her enthusiasm for writing and performing. Parton said she wrote all of the songs on the album with the exception of “Country Is,” which she-cowrote with Mac Davis.

Her goal for the album was simple—to help lift the spirits of those that are feeling downtrodden by the economy and international unrest.

“I wanted to do an album that would be very uplifting and positive, as well as inspirational,” she said. “Times are hard all over. I think people need to feel better and I though ‘Better Day’ was a perfect title because it says ‘hope.’”

Find out more about Parton, her new album and her tour on her Web site and watch her latest video for “Together (You And I)” below.

Your Country’s Right Here: Stealing Angels Will Swipe Your Heart

Before you ween yourself from listening to more up-and-coming country musicians—after all, there are only so many hours in a day—you owe it to yourself to check out the music of Stealing Angels.

Caroline Cutbirth, Jennifer Wayne and Tayla Lynn—who are currently on a tour ten-day tour of Iraq and Kuwait to entertain US troops—are set to release their first album Paper Heart in a few months. Early word is that the songs are musical magic. The trio, who are related to Daniel Boone, John Wayne and Loretta Lynn respectively, have been wowing audiences as they have toured in support of Lady Antebellum, Kid Rock and others.

“We were just three girls in Nashville trying to make it,” said Lynn of her chance meeting with Cutbirth and Wayne. “Our agents got us together for an audition for a reality show (that never materialized) and it just went from there.”

Although happenstance brought the three together, the music they crafted was anything but random. Famed producer Paul Worley was so captivated by the trio’s sound that he signed them to his Skyville Records label and produced their upcoming album. That, say the trio, made their music truly come alive.

“Paul is a genius and the way he produced it is magic,” said Cutbirth, who had met Wayne a few months before they made the acquaintance of Lynn. “The first couple times welistened to it, it sounded like poetry. It’s that beautiful.”

Yet the two singles Stealing Angels have released—the title track of the album and the song “He Better Be Dead” (check out the music video below)—are about the universal topics of romance and heartbreak to which everyone can relate. Although the three said they had plenty of fodder for songs, the real trick was to take their three solo songwriting artistry and make them one.

“Everyone talks about heart break and love in different ways,” said Cutbirth. “We started writing together and that really helped us gel as a trio even though we were each solo artists. I’m more more pop country, Jen is more Patsy Cline and Tayla is more Lucinda Williams. We bring that all together when we write songs.”

It’s almost too easy to say the three were born to continue the tradition of country music, yet listening to them you do begin to wonder if destiny has played a role in their careers.

“I remember when I was nineteen years old standing in the wings at concert when really realized who my grandmother was,” said Lynn. “The shows she puts on, the woman she is and what she’s done for country music. I just knew I had to perform…And now we’ve gotten so many fans of [my grandmother's] and John Wayne and Daniel Boone, it sure feels right.”

Find out more about Stealing Angels by going to their Web site.

 


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