The genre is enjoying a renaissance thanks in part to the current #coastalcowboy trend, but for those in the know, country music has always been about the songs, the style and the sassiness …
As devotees of Irish chef Clodagh McKenna will know, music is as much a part of her life as food. Indeed the soundtrack in her gorgeous kitchen at Broadspear, New Hampshire, is often as inspiring as her easily achievable menus.
When I went on a culinary tour of Ireland with Clodagh aboard the Belmond Grand Hibernian, she entertained guests with impressive tribute acts to Dolly Parton (as well as Tina Turner) which showed her love of the genre. She was also an early adopter of the current #coastalcowgirl trend and is just one of many high profile women who love country music.
Others include actress Helen Mirren and Jennifer Garner who recently attended Willie Nelson’s 90th birthday concert (Long Story Short: Willie Nelson 90) at the Hollywood Bowl. Nelson was a key figure in outlaw country – a subgenre of country music that developed in the 1960s.
Other country music fans include socialite Amanda Brooks, a former buyer for Barney’s New York, who saw in the new year line dancing, proudly wearing a bespoke rhinestone cowboy ensemble. And at her wedding to Tom Bernthal, former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg included many western touches. “Dive bars, country music – this is all part of my life now, but I love it,” she told People magazine.
I asked five Irish women why they love the genre and who they rate on the contemporary scene:
Rachel Farrell, Elevate PR
I first got into country music on my J1 in Indiana – I was working in a kid’s summer camp right in the heart of the Midwest. I have great memories of driving past cornfields with the windows down in a pick-up truck, with country music playing on the radio. Maren Morris was the artist who got me hooked on the genre. She’s the ultimate cool girl, a blend of country, RnB and pop. I’ve seen her twice in concert and I’ll see her again this June supporting The Chicks.
After Maren, I started discovering the country queens – Dolly Parton and Shania Twain – and newer acts like Kacey Musgraves.
I think there’s a preconception that country music is twee and associated with jiving and Irish tunes, but that’s not the case. Irish artists like CMAT are really bringing the genre to a host of new fans, linking country with other genres and modernising it. It’s interesting to see cowboy style getting a revival too with the likes of Harry Styles – I love any excuse to wear my boots! @rachelvfarrell
Bryony Jewell, journalist
My love of country music comes down to the storytelling. While a catchy tune is obviously important it’s all about the words in songs for me and getting invested in the tale. Obviously, country music songs are known to be about heartbreak and strong emotions so I think that hooked in the story lover in me in.
Shania Twain was pivotal to my love of the genre: my parents had her albums and I’d constantly be playing them and making up dances to the songs but I wouldn’t say any of us were aware that her music counted as country. I’m still obsessed with her Come On Over album. As I got older, Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum (or Lady A as they’re now known) saw me through exam revision.
I’m learning more about Irish country music and love Catherine McGrath. I stumbled on her music accidentally after she released a duet with Hunter Hayes in 2018 and never looked back. I think she has a real Taylor Swift-style gift for writing songs. I also love following Lisa McHugh on Instagram.
I did a year abroad at the University of Tennessee and I’m not ashamed to admit I picked this school because I wanted to see where Dolly Parton came from! The college in Knoxville is not too far from Dollywood in Pigeon Forge and I made a couple of trips to Nashville over the year. When I returned to the UK to complete my degree I even managed to get a little country music into the syllabus. I compared Dolly to Shakespeare in one module with the music video to Romeo starring Billy Ray Cyrus playing a big role in the seminar presentation (I can admit it might have been a stretch but I enjoyed myself).
I go through obsessive phases with favourite albums – most recently it’s been TS’s Midnights and Kelsea Ballerini’s Subject To Change. I also love Kylie Morgan’s Songs To Say I Do EP and particularly the song Bridesmaids which my friends and I belted out during the celebrations at one of their weddings last year.
Irene O’Brien, Stylist
Country music has always had the ability to stop me in my tracks, to suck me in and get my full attention. It’s the story-telling for me – and even though I remember thinking that they mustn’t have much luck in love over in America (where of course everyone sang country, rode pick-ups and wore Stetsons), I loved their honesty and adored their resolve in the face of romantic adversity. I still rate that.
I remember on Sundays growing up there was a radio show that the whole family listened to in the background of our day; it played mostly country music from the 60s and 70s. My family were all big fans. I could sing Emmylou Harris and Nancy Griffith’s albums from start to finish because of her obsessions. But it was Dolly Parton who really stole my heart – the high hair, the crooked smile, the cheeky delivery of song introductions, the clever, clever, sometimes gut-wrenching lyrics … and then that unapologetic style; she had (and has) it all. Ours is an enduring love that has influenced decisions – in style and life – and one that brings endless joy, and a fabulous soundtrack, to my life.
When I was in college I did my work experience at Dublin’s Country FM. One of the jobs was to help categorise the songs into their music library. I was blown away by the number of genres within the genre – bluegrass, folk, Americana, Irish. I also became aware of the huge country music scene throughout the country, inspiring numerous concerts and gatherings. Irish fans were fanatical – and also have the Stetsons to prove it. But beyond that, so many great artists attributed their love of music and/ or song-writing to early exposure to country. The coolest of rock bands peppered their sets with their versions of hits from country music giants. They weren’t “making” country music cool; country music was the genesis of their cool.
In 2015 my Nashville dreams came true when my now-husband and I finally made it to the city that I had read and dreamed about! Music really did seep from the pores of every part of Nashville. And the style was incredible. To this day the vintage clothes I bought there are some of my absolute favourite pieces. I even got myself the red cowboy boots that I had coveted since first watching Footloose (‘my daddy hates these boots’ – what a line!). They’ve danced at multiple festivals and gigs, they are my happy feet.
From Nashville we took ourselves to Pigeon Forge Tennessee – home of Dollywood. And what a place to behold! Themed hotels with bonkers decor and less than average amenities, but it was worth every penny spent, mile driven and piece of plastic food consumed, especially The Chasing Rainbows museum. It’s home to hundreds of pieces of memorabilia, it was the outfits that captivated me
I’ve been to see Dolly live twice in Ireland but the best ever was seeing her play the main stage in Glastonbury. These days along with Dolly and other American artists, I listen to CMAT on loop. The lyrics, the melodies, the style, the personality, CMAT makes any festival instantly more appealing. I desperately want to see Dolly live again but for now I’ll just listen to her records on repeat in my kitchen and dance around with our dog, Dolly Parton. @ireneobrienstyle
Molly Kane, Photographer
I have very early childhood memories of lying in bed with my Mam singing Coat of Many Colours by Dolly Parton to me until I fell asleep. Dolly Parton was? the first artist that sparked my love for country music. She still is one of my favourites. As are The Chicks their Wide Open Spaces 1998 album was a staple in the house when I was growing up. I also have lovely memories of being on car journeys with my dad driving through the countryside with Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell or Harry Nilsson on the radio, and him singing along.
The modern Irish country, folk and trad scenes are thriving, and so many incredible artists exist. Carlsbad, from Cowboy Country in the US and now Dublin based, blends pop and country and she has a really unique sound. Moxie are an incredible contemporary amalgamation of trad and modern sounds. CMAT is another pop artist with strong country influences. I had her song I Wanna be a Cowboy, Baby on repeat for so long! Junior Brother is a genius alternative folk singer and musician. Lankum, another folk music group, are one of the best live acts I have ever seen. John Francis Flynn, a traditional folk singer and instrumentalist, is an incredible talent. I used to love working with?country and folk musicians when I worked primarily as a music photographer. They’re some of the kindest and most creative artists I have ever worked with.
I’ve never been to Nashville and it’s my dream to see Dolly Parton live, ideally in Nashville but I’ll go anywhere. As for favourite songs, Coat of Many Colours is so sentimental, as is Wide Open Spaces. Jolene needs to be mentioned too. Wichita Lineman and Southern Nights are two Glen Campbell favourites. He was a genius. John Prine’s self-titled album is a masterpiece. They’re all sentimental because they are all albums I have loved for most of my life and return to regularly.?@mollykeanephoto
Kate Stapleton, Senior Accounts Manager, Edelman
As a marketer, watching and analysing trends is key – and recently, we’re seeing cowboy and country-western styles going through a huge renaissance. A musical genre that was perhaps considered a bit naff by pop-culture trendsetters is being reimagined and redefined by musicians and style influencers alike.
We’ve seen this aesthetic briefly crop up in trends over the last few years. However, the difference this time is that it’s spanning from designer brands (like Calvin Klein, and Thom Browne ) right down to fast fashion versions being styled on TikTok and Lemon8 – everyone wants a bite of the cherry.
The “hard launch” of this in a wider pop culture sense is undoubtedly festival season, proved by styles seen at this year’s Coachella, where wide-brim hats, cowboy boots, and bandanas serve both as function and fashion, given the hot desert location. These major music events influence far more than what we listen to, they set the tone for fashion and style trends too.?
As for myself, I am a relative newcomer to the country scene – save for being a fan of Dolly Parton and Kacey Musgraves of course. I consider myself a huge CMAT fan and have gone to see her a number of times at gigs back home in Limerick, an intimate acoustic set in Dublin and her recent Olympia gigs. I also made sure to be right up at the barrier for her Primavera Sound performance in Barcelona last year!? This picture was taken after CMAT’s set at Electric Picnic last year. @katestaplehun