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Concert controversy hits the country scene
Country Scene

Concert controversy hits the country scene

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A dark cloud of controversy is hanging over the country music world and emotional salvos are being fired by some of the biggest names in the industry.

Since March, practically all concert activity has been canceled because of government restrictions banning crowds of any significant size. Seats at outdoor amphitheaters from coast to coast are gathering dust. Hot beds of live music are silent. Austin seems like a ghost town.

Concerts are the cash cow that drives the business. The revenue stream pays for buses, sound equipment, lightening and a small army of support staff that handles the music, merchandise and countless other logistical concerns.

Although it was a tough pill to swallow and the economic impact would be catastrophic, aspiring newcomers on Lower Broadway and established superstars living in suburban luxury all hunkered down, wearing masks and socially distancing.

Then, with startled eyes they started watching the news and seeing big crowds for demonstrations/riots in Portland, Seattle and Minneapolis. Also, there was President Donald Trump’s massive MAGA rallies, followed by equally as big victory celebrations for apparent President-elect Joe Biden.

Morgan Wallen had finally had enough.

His career was about to explode at the start of the year. Hitting the Top 5 with five straight singles — tunes like “Whiskey Glasses,” “Up Down” and “7 Summers” — had him perfectly positioned for the fast path to super stardom, a trail blazed similar to Luke Combs. Wallen was the overwhelming favorite to take home New Artist of the Year honors from the Country Music Association.

As his financial concerns spiraled out of control, Wallen was fed up. He took to Instagram to rail against it being illegal for country music fans to congregate in mass, but they were doing it for various others reasons all over the country without legal implications.

“Time to start booking shows,” he posted. “If you don’t agree with me, fine. We can still be friends. But I have a family, band and crew that need to be provided for and taken care of. If its okay to party in the streets with no ‘social distancing,’ then we can book shows right now.”

It should be noted that events on a smaller scale are starting to fire back up in Music City. Kendell Marvel and special guest Leah Blevins will be playing an intimate unplugged show at 7 p.m. Monday at The Hatchery at Acme Feed & Seed in Nashville.

Another singer anxious to see concert activity regain momentum is Matt Stell, a virtual unknown when the pandemic abruptly pulled the curtain closed in March.

Stell is a unique character that has been banging on doors in Nashville since 2010. A 36-year-old Arkansas native, he used his 6-foot-7 frame to earn a basketball scholarship at Drury College, a private liberal arts school in Springfield, Missouri. He played there 2002-06.

He has a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas and was accepted as a premed student at Harvard, but at the last minute had an opportunity to sign a publishing deal with Wide Open Music, so he stayed true to his honky-tonk roots and packed his bags for the Tennessee capital.

Five years of persistence paid off last year when debut single “Prayed for You” soared to No. 1.

Fellow Wide Open Music team member Lance Miller of Fairfield helped him compose knockout follow-up “Everywhere but On.”

Released Dec. 2, 2019, the tune was steadily climbing the Billboard singles chart when COVID-19 appeared in March and slowed the ascent to a snail’s pace, but it continued to inch forward for 48 weeks, finally reaching No. 1 last week.

Stell calls the song “super personal.” It includes raw emotions from a recent failed relationship that had him thinking, “I’ve moved everywhere but on.”

“I had lived a lot of ‘Everywhere but On’ when we wrote it, and once it was released I lived a lot more of it,” Stell says. “Now its a No. 1 and I can’t thank y’all enough.”

Spotify plastered his picture on the “hot country” category of its platform when “Everywhere but On” was at it’s peak.

“It’s kinda like having your face on a box of Wheaties, but instead of cereal, it’s ear candy,” Stell says.

It has been an amazing productive spurt for Miller, who has been laboring in the fabled songwriting trenches of Nashville since 1995. He wrote Jerrod Niemann’s chart-topping single “Drink to that all Night” in 2013. Since then, he had been “chiseling at the rock” with limited success for seven years, developing the patience of Job.

Now, jarring the memory banks of music fans that remember him as lead singer for local band Jackson Junction, Miller has written two No. 1 songs in the last four weeks. It started in October with “I Called Mama” for long-time friend Tim McGraw and he followed-up with “Everywhere but On” on Nov. 2.

Vince Hoffard can be reached at vincehoffard@gmail.com or 618-658-9095.

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