Country music plays well in Michigan
OU News Bureau Reporter Scott Sandora spoke with Rob Stone from 99.5 WYCD about the presence of country music in Michigan.
Was country music a big influence for you growing up in Michigan?
Actually no, I’ll be honest. It was not when I was younger. I was more of a rocker, listened to more of what my parents listened to like classic rock. Being from Romeo, Michigan, I was a big fan of Kid Rock, but that transitioned into country a little bit more as I got older. When I went to Michigan State, I worked at a country music station and it’s been nothing but country since then.
When people think of music in Detroit they usually think of the Motown Sound, but how big would you say country music has been in Detroit since you joined the business?
It has definitely changed a lot over the years but I think the perception of country music has been improving in Detroit recently.
Since WYCD took over the Detroit Downtown Hoedown in 2000, has the venue attracted more people or more popular artists?
The popularity of the artists is still the same caliber as it was, but the turnout isn’t quite what it used to be. Like you said, when the festival was at Hart Plaza through the ‘80s and ’90s, hundreds of thousands of people would show up over the weekend. However, the Hoedown used to be free admission and eventually got too big. There were so many people down there that there weren’t enough facilities for everyone. Plus, only about 20 percent of the people there were diehard country music fans and the rest were just random people there for the free party. So the way we do things now is just to keep everyone safe and get people who are actually country music fans at our festival.
What are some of the reasons why some of the biggest artists in country music keep coming back to play shows in Detroit year after year?
Well, they’re getting paid. … No, but honestly just from talking to a lot of country guys you can tell they do know the history of music in Detroit. Motown is huge and there are some really famous rock ’n’ roll artists to come out of Michigan. The country crowd knows the history, they know it’s a music town and that country music today is different than before. Now, country is a lot more rock-influenced and a lot more pop-influenced. When you think of country music from 30 years ago it was a lot twangier. I think that’s why it works so well now here in Detroit because country is wide-ranging now and appeals to people who like other genres of music. I always tell people, if you’re not a huge fan right away, it’ll grow on you.
Have you seen more and more country music stars who were raised in Michigan?
I wouldn’t necessarily say there have been more artists than in the past. There’s always going to be artists from Detroit because of how big it is in the music community. As far as country goes, to become in the mainstream you do have to eventually move to Nashville. I’ve seen people stick around here and do it, but not nearly on a level that other Michigan natives such as Frankie Ballard, Josh Gracin and Jana Kramer have. You really have to go where the country music hub is at, which is Nashville.
Despite country music originating in the South, have you seen more “diehard” country fans in Michigan compared to other states throughout the North and Midwest?
I think country music is just big nationwide right now. Music in general, as far as genre goes, comes and goes in waves. Country music, particularly, has been super popular for the last 10 years and I don’t really see that changing. As far as radio goes, our station here in Detroit is fortunate enough to be on the map as one of the best country music stations in the country. Our program director, Tim Roberts, and radio personality Linda Lee were inducted into the Country Music Radio Hall of Fame, we won CMA station of the year last year and this year Linda and I won personalities of the year. Detroit and country music, man, who would have thought. It’s huge.
Between your station being one of the best in the country and the enormous music festivals every year, why do you think Michigan is such a great place for country music?
Michigan rednecks, man. We’re all over the place, so when you put our love of Michigan, partying, camping and being outdoors together it works. We work hard, but party harder and that’s what country music is all about.
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