Many of my friends and colleagues have gravitated into the country music space over the past few years. It makes sense, given that Nashville is probably the last stronghold of the traditional music business model that relies on teams of writers, producers, artists, and marketers to make things happen. In so many ways, country is the new "pop" music for so many Americans.
Unfortunately, there's a gaping hole in the live country music market throughout the nation. Most potential concertgoers still think that a typical "country venue" looks like the roadhouse where Jake and Elwood had to perform behind chicken wire in The Blues Brothers. At a Nashville music conference a few years back, I showed a slide of the CGBG restroom and warned folks that music audiences were tired of venues that didn't make them feel comfortable. It's an even more important message for country musicians to hear, since so many concertgoers love the music but worry that they're going to have to put on spurs or a big hat just to fit in at a country music venue.
So, it was neat to see a feature piece about a new club in Fort Wayne, Indiana called the Neon Armadillo. The 'Dillo, as regulars like to call it, is a hybrid bar/restaurant/listening room with a strong country slant. By the looks of their MySpace page, the owner's building a strong following of audience members who love country music but want a clean, fun environment with a good sound system.
When singer/songwriter listening rooms were evolving in the 90s, I remember talent bookers worrying that certain artists would drift from folk through Americana and straight off into country. The fear was that cliche songs about breakups, dogs, and pickups would kill the yuppie vibe that the rooms needed to stay financially afloat. Now, yuppies love country music. But venues in so many towns are struggling with the concept that a country music listening room can be so much more than just a dive bar. Watching how the Dillo performs over the next few years will be a good indicator of how this trend plays out.