As a music fan, I’m just not that into country. But as a journalist, dedicated to telling stories about individuals, their lives, and the forces that affect people, most other music just lets me down.
Sure, it’s great to rock out to a song filled with power chords, or turn the lights low and groove to some acid jazz, but what about listening to a real, human story? Going to a place where it’s not out of line to plead for social justice, like Garth does in “Face to Face” or the Dixie Chicks in “Goodbye Earl?”
Musicians are forever claiming that their lyrics draw on their life experiences, but the truth is, even most folk singers write fiction. When I’m looking for a true story, with a toe-tapping score, a plot, characters, conflict, and — sometimes — resolution, all set to music, I’m looking for one thing: country.
I don’t know anything about Portland’s country scene, but I just know there has to be one. Walking along Spring Street a while back when Kenny Chesney was in town, I could barely make my way against the tide of humanity flowing into the Civic Center. Switching radio stations all around the dial, I land on country a lot. There must be hat-and-boot-clad locals singing their hearts out hereabouts. So where the hell are they?
It’s a short ride for me, but plenty of folk seem to come a long way to the most obvious place for country, Austin’s Boot & Buckle Saloon out on Warren Avenue. Country DJs, line dancing with a caller, plenty of space, and an all-country-artist jukebox ranging from the classics like Johnny Cash to newer stars like Faith Hill. (Plus bras hanging from the rafters, pool, and cheap beer specials! Who can argue?) Keep an eye on the bullriding and NASCAR schedules, though — last weekend’s line-dancing class was canceled to avoid conflicting with the Daytona 500.
Austin’s Boot & Buckle draws all ages, from grooving 20-somethings to quick-stepping oldsters, and is conveniently located just off I-95 for folks coming from rural areas off Portland’s peninsula. And they come from all over — Waterboro, Harrison, and Naples were town names on bumper stickers of pickups and wagons in the lot.
But while the crowds will pack in for line dancing and DJs, the bands didn’t git ’r done. Austin’s owner Deb DiLuisa says live music didn’t draw as well as she had hoped, and after a year of having bands at least some nights, she has canceled all the live gigs she had planned in 2006.
“It’s unfortunate,” DiLuisa says. She had started with a band once a month, someone like the Debbie Myers Band, and when that didn’t get as many people in the door as DiLuisa needed, she stepped shows up to every other week, hoping the increased regularity would help. “That didn’t work either.” DiLuisa says the $5 cover might have been a barrier for folks, though $2 and $3 covers are common at Austin’s.