Finding Country In Berkshire County
Dolly Parton, one of country music’s all-time superstars, is performing in Berkshire County today — kicking off the Tanglewood summer season. The area is known for its rural landscape and feel, typically a hotbed for country music. But, the region’s country scene is a mixed bag.According to data from Nielsen and Pew, country music is the top radio format in the U.S. followed by news and talk — a la WAMC — and pop or contemporary music. There are nearly 1,900 country stations nationwide, eclipsing news and talk by roughly 550. With its blue collar, dirt road and down home messaging you might think country music would blossom in the hilly, farm-dotted Berkshires. And that is true to some extent…
Whiskey City is among the best known bands playing modern country music in the Berkshires.
“There’s the wonderful crowd that we get, people in their 40s and 50s, that go back into old school country,” said Beth Maturevich, a lead vocalist with the group. “Yet they have allowed us to bring them up to the way that the genre has changed, which has been great. They’ve been with us for all of our six years."
Maturevich says people in their 20s and 30s, who tend to listen to the newer country artists, are also following Whiskey City.
The current national country music scene includes groups like Florida Georgia Line, whose hits have crossed over into top 40 and pop, stretching the boundaries of what’s considered “country.” Whiskey City has also found success in having its music played and promoted on LIVE 95.9, which broadcasts contemporary hits out of Pittsfield, the county’s largest city. But outside of nearby Greenfield and Albany, NY the Berkshires don’t have a dedicated mainstream country radio station. Maturevich says the more the merrier when it comes to stations, but believes the area is covered pretty well.
“For us it’s about finding the bigger venues that’ll hold the 200 to 300 people that have been so gracious to give us their attention,” Maturevich said. “So places like The Tavern at the A are fantastic and the ITAM Lodge. The more outdoor shows that we can do in the summer is actually what we prefer. We almost don’t book anything at all indoors in the summertime.”
The lack of a hyper-local country station and quote-unquote country bar also affects how venues like MASS MoCA market performances by Dwight Yoakam, Roseanne Cash and Steve Earle.
“Country Tack in Lanesborough is our sort of idyllic poster place for a country music show,” said Jodi Joseph, the museum's communications director. “We go to Central Tractor, hardware stores, beer bars and Mexican food restaurants. We really just try to figure out where our down home country friends might be.”
Still, Joseph says those shows sell out. Yoakam’s performance was part of a multi-day bluegrass festival. With most of his hits landing in the 80s and 90s, Yoakam’s fans might not fall in line with today’s modern country fans, who tend to blur the boundaries between genres.
“They came for him around 6 o’clock that night,” Joseph said. “So they would settle in on our concert field and they left right after he stopped playing even though we had one more performance to go. They were devoted. They were wearing their rhinestone jeans and had vintage Dwight Yoakam T-shirts, which was really fun to see, but they were not really interested in anything we were doing that weekend, which was interesting to us.”
Still, since Berkshire County is a creative and artistic area, niche bands can find local success. Paula Bradley plays in a number of largely retro country groups, including Moonshine Holler, a duo with her husband that plays mountain and Appalachian music.
“We’re really not a bar band to speak of,” Bradley said. “We do a lot of festivals and fairs.”
So whether it be toe-tapping, swing dancing or beer-drinking country music that makes you tip your hat, you can find it in the Berkshires…you just have to know where to look and listen.