On The Homefront

A Look Back at the 2018 Local Country Music Scene


Nationally, 2018 was a good year overall for country music. Newer artists like Luke Combs, Kane Brown and Brett Young continued to dominate the sales charts. Many established national artists had large tours playing to near capacity and sold-out shows around the country.

Locally, 2018 was a year of changes for the area’s country bands and venues. There is no shortage of talent on the local music scene and 2018 saw many local artists hitting the clubs every weekend demonstrating their passion for country music. However, given the fast rising popularity of the genre and the emergence of many new bands and clubs in northeast Ohio during the past few years, it was only a matter of time that the local country music scene experienced some changes and adjustments. With the end of 2018 here, it’s a good time to take a look back and reflect on the year gone by and propose some “musical” resolutions to challenge everyone on the local country music scene for the upcoming year.

Big Breakouts in 2018
While there were no real big breakouts for northeast Ohio country music in 2018, some artists continued their steady climb toward greater success. Mark Leach continued gaining momentum and expanded his reach nationally by performing at festivals and opening up for major recording artists. A few other local acts tried for national recording contracts but found that the process of getting signed to a major label more difficult than originally imagined.

Country Redford and Post Road both released newly recorded music that helped to grow their audience and popularity in 2018. Both of these groups have emerged as premier local acts for drawing large crowds, playing festivals and delivering quality original music. We can expect to see more from both of these groups in 2019 as they plan to expand their performing area outside of northeast Ohio.

Decline in Venues
One of the most disturbing yet frequent occurrence of 2018 was the number of venues that closed or cut back on live music. Sure, a few new venues opened in 2018, but it seemed that almost every week we heard the news that some bar or club was closing its doors. These closures affect the local live music scene in many ways:

* Obviously, there are fewer places for bands to play or for fans to go and listen to live music;

* Because there are fewer places, the competition among bands to find a place to play increases. Club owners know this and soon, they are offering less money to bands to play; and

* Club owners also want bands that bring in bigger crowds so they rely on a smaller rotation of bands with bigger followings. This means less opportunities to hear newer bands.

We also saw an increase in the number of bars that cancelled groups because of televised sporting events. This trend seems to be growing and bars seem to be attracting customers who prefer watching television than hearing live music.

A big thank you to places like 44Sharp, The Wild Eagle Saloon, The Harvest Saloon and The Boot for opening their doors or expanding in 2018 and continuing their commitment to local country music.

A Change In The Players
Bands come and go and the players within the bands also seem to change frequently. The musical landscape experienced numerous changes in 2018. Several bands emerged more prominently and some artists seem to drop off completely.

Some of the local artists who had moderate success in the last couple of years working toward a national recording contract had trouble continuing their momentum in 2018. Several of the area’s most popular bands also had changes in key personnel throughout the year.

Given the overall surge in popularity for country music on a national level it is no surprise that many new local country music bands are forming. Bands such as Allegiance, 77 South, Frontier, Dirty Spurs and 42 South emerged on the scene hoping to stake their claim in the local scene.

However, given the increased competition for places to play, it was harder to see newer band and exposure was limited to a few clubs or festivals.

Time For New Set Lists
One big thing I noticed this past year was that most modern country bands seem to be stuck with set lists from 2008 – 2010 instead of 2018.

While we all enjoy some good throwbacks or “classics”, perhaps a good resolution for 2019 will be to update song lists with more current materials or to try songs that are different from what every other bands plays. With increased competition on the local scene it is important for each local band to stand out.

For example, almost every “modern” band with a female singer performs “Gunpowder & Lead” or “Kerosene” despite the songs being more than 10 years old. The same can be said for modern country bands with a male singer. I can’t tell you how many times I heard “She’s Country,” or “My Kind of Party.” Why not perform one of artist’s newer songs that has actually had a higher charting position and currently being played on the radio

Here is a resolution for the local country music scene to set for 2019; Be different. Take some risks. Don’t play the same older songs at every show. Create a set list that makes your band different and memorable.

Lack of Showmanship
A question I kept asking myself in 2018 was, “where is the show?” Watching national level, touring acts, you see the bands interacting with the audience, and giving everything they can to deliver an exciting and engaging show.

The local musicians need to take a page out of their playbook and focus on how to put on a solid show. In 2018, the trend seemed to be to just stand on stage and play. It was refreshing to see a couple of bands interact with the audience and pull their fans into the show, but for the most part, there was very little interaction.

In order for the local scene to grow, the audience must have fun and become part of the show experience. That way, they will talk about it to their friends, post pictures and make plans to come out and see their favorite local group. Without true showmanship, the bands simply become background music.

Let’s see a resolution for 2019 to step up the showmanship and transform your event from being “just another gig” to being an “experience” for the fans.

Some Resolutions For 2019
Overall, it seemed that 2018 was a year for the local music scene to take a deep breath and do some soul searching. The previous few years saw rapid growth in the formation of new country bands and the opening of clubs. 2018 was a year where the local music scene started to make some adjustments that will hopefully provide for an exciting and innovative local country music scene in 2019.

So here are some resolutions we should all consider for 2019:

* Support local music more. As local country music fans, we need to make a resolution to get out and support more local bands. We need to continue toi support our favorites, but also take chances and go see new bands and visit different venues. The more we support the local bands, the more vibrant the scene will become.

* Second, areas bands should make a resolution to “be bold and take chances” in 2019. It’s been said that fortune favors the bold and I hope that local artists take this to heart and focus on setting the bar high. Take a chance to set yourself apart and don’t be afraid to experiment. It will pay off in the end.

Given the talent in Northeast Ohio and appreciation for good country music in this area, we all need to work hard and bring more people back to the clubs to experience the excitement of great local country music.

Happy New Year!

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