Chattanooga’s Live Music Scene – New Country Vs. Old Country

Thursday, February 14, 2013 - by Bob Payne
Bob Payne
Bob Payne
- photo by M. Lambert

There has been a lot of discussion lately about “New Country” and “Old Country” music. Blake Shelton angered more than a few country music fans after he publically said some disparaging things about “Old Country music”. Basically, he said Country music has to continually evolve in order to bring in new fans. On that part, he was right. Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and many more “Old Country” stars blazed some new trails with their music and they too were criticized at the time of their rise to popularity.

Where Blake Shelton goofed up was when he said nobody wanted to listen to their grandpa’s music anymore and continued with a few other screwy thoughts. Blake must not have been at the SOLD OUT Tivoli Theater to see Merle Haggard last night.

While sitting in my seat at the Tivoli, I thought about Mr. Shelton and his comments. I thought about Merle Haggard and Ray Price and George Jones. I was trying to think of what the real differences between the “New Country” artists and the “Old Country” artist really are – other than the obvious difference in musical styles.

It only took a minute to realize the difference between Merle Haggard and Blake Shelton. Both have many fans. Both play some version of country music. Here is the real difference (other than the music) - Merle’s fans truly admire him. Blake’s fans may like his music, but Merle’s fans love Merle and admire him. To see that, all one had to do is be in the Tivoli last night. I mean really – a standing ovation from the entire Tivoli Theater audience when he simply walked on stage? The pure admiration for Merle by that audience was as evident as it would be if a Little League boy got to see Babe Ruth hit a home run in person.

So, is it possible to have “Old Country” music that is new? I believe it is. Merle is still writing and performing new songs and he has remained true to “Old Country” with some really good stuff. Go see Nathan Farrow Davey Smith, or Channing Wilson and you will see real country music that is young, fresh, and new. It can be done.

Oh, and one more thing. Merle Haggard’s songs are a history lesson on the real life of Merle Haggard. Blake sings about whatever his professional songwriter teams have written for him, like Hillbilly Bones and such.

Merle Haggard performed about 25 songs last night at the Tivoli Theater. Most reached number-one at the time of their release. He wrote most of them. He has 38 number-one songs to his credit. Merle Haggard was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame 7 years before Blake Shelton had his first hit. As mentioned earlier in the column, the Tivoli SOLD OUT for the Merle Haggard show, and had been sold out for quite some time. (And they say Chattanooga is a “walk-up town”)

As for me – I’ll take “Old Country” any day. I was always taught to respect your elders, and perhaps that is a lesson Blake Shelton could use.

For local music info, try or They both have great local music info and schedules. For local info on Country music, try Jim Boles’ site

Email Bob Payne at or catch him on Facebook at .

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