Playlist: 100% Country, 0% A**hole

Growing up, I avoided country music like most kids do green vegetables. The genre’s overbearing fiddles and drawling vocals bored me to death. Then, there were those predictable themes of alcoholism, agrarian life and patriotism.

I eventually realized why I really disliked country: Yearning for an antebellum home and cotton fields to match, it seemed to be trapped in the “good ole days.” Country music was all too willing to pawn away my hard-earned rights as a woman and person of color for the sake of three minutes and forty-five seconds of twangy nostalgia. It was hyper-conservative; I was anything but. The moment those tell-tale plucks of a dulcimer appeared on the airwaves, I’d spin the radio’s dial in the opposite direction. I wasn’t having any of it, and I’d be damned if a bigoted musician profited from my listenership.

And then Natalie “mic drop” Maines dissed George W. Bush.

oh my hell has it really been ten years already?

We’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas. All it took were twelve dissenting words to forever change my perspective on country music. I’d never listened to Dixie Chicks before, but the subsequent media firestorm surrounding the incident schooled me in everything I needed to know about the trio: They were rural, whip-smart and opinionated as all get out.

My sentiments toward country music were both affirmed and invalidated. Yes, the country music community is chock-full of conservative zealots. But there are a handful of people who — like Maines –aren’t afraid to call out a social injustice when they see one.

The Chicks are in good company. Many of the artists we now consider country music legends lean(ed) to the political left. Johnny Cash‘s “The Man In Black” is a liberal anti-war, anti-prison industrial complex manifesto. When asked about his political affiliation in 2005, Merle Haggard quipped, “Let’s just say I didn’t vote for George Bush.” And when it comes to having a queer fanbase, Lord knows Dolly Parton is the original Mother Monster.

While Dixie Chicks fans were passive aggressively cracking their copies of Wide Open Spaces in half over their knees in ’03, I was buying their entire discography.

I fell in love with country music a little.

Then I fell in love with country music a lot.

I’m still politically correct when it comes to not supporting country musicians who do not support me. I self-flagellate whenever I catch myself humming along to Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman” or Miranda Lambert’s “Kerosene.” But whenever an unlikely country musician comes out, be it literally (Chely Wright) or in support of marriage equality (Carrie Underwood), listening to their music becomes all the more satisfying.

The following are songs on which I allow my radio dial to linger. These are songs I’m okay humming along with as they play over a supermarket intercom.

These are songs by country musicians who’ll love you back.

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100% Country, 0% A**hole

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[STREAM THE PLAYLIST HERE]

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Wrong Side Of Memphis – Trisha Yearwood
Thank God I’m A Country Boy – John Denver
Beer Run – Todd Snider
Personal Jesus – Johnny Cash (Depeche Mode cover)
The Scientist – Willie Nelson (Coldplay cover)
Cupid’s Got A Shotgun – Carrie Underwood
9 to 5 – Dolly Parton
Last Dollar (Fly Away) – Tim McGraw
Mississippi – Dixie Chicks (Bob Dylan cover)
She’s Not Just A Pretty Face – Shania Twain
Be Back Home – Big Kenny
Damn Liar – Chely Wright
You Can Never Tell (C’est La Vie) – Emmylou Harris
Copperhead Road – Steve Earle
True Believers – Darius Rucker
Mama Tried - Merle Haggard
You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go - Miley Cyrus (Bob Dylan cover)
Friends In Low Places – Garth Brooks

100% Country, 0% Asshole from Autostraddle on 8tracks Radio.

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Tell me your favorite tracks by progressive country artists below.

Want to suggest a playlist theme? Hit Crystal up on Formspring and someone on the team will make it for you.

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Sarah Fonseca is from tiny Georgia towns yet always finds herself in big cities. An essayist and journal-keeper by heart, her work has been featured in Lambda Review, Lavender Review, Diverse Voices Quarterly, and Thought Catalog. Her ultimate goal in life is to get back to that seven year-old place where everything was backwards ballcaps, long hair, and red rover.

fonseca has written 47 articles for us.

83 Comments

  1. Thumb up 3

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    Ohmygod, “Friends in Low Places.”

    I like to be a classic-county-only kind of snob and get snooty about anything past, like… ’76, but I will screech along with Garth like nobody’s business.

    Just don’t tell anybody.

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    I was at the concert in London where Natalie Maines made the comment about George Bush. It got a big cheer. :D

    There’s a great song called “I Feel Lucky” by Mary Chapin Carpenter — it might be a bit mainstream for hardcore country fans, but the lyrics are great and it namechecks Dwight Yoakam and Lyle Lovett. Check it out.

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    This news about Miranda Lambert…it distresses me. Where did you hear this? I need to know if I have to outright stop listening to her music or if torrenting it is enough of a “damn the man” statement to secretly keep it on my computer.

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    Yes to a non-gay bashing country playlist!! I grew up in a town where a week long rodeo was the biggest (and only) event each year. I love country and yet every time I listen I cringe and wait for the politics to align far away from my own personal views and freedoms.

    This post not only gives me a great playlist to clean house to, but also gives me hope I could date someone who likes country too, as all of my exes have hated me each time I put it on. None of my exes live in Texas.

    Let’s throw some Bonnie Rait in here too. It’s country blues but that woman deserves every accolade she can get. Mary Chapin Carpenter too. I’m also going to mention lesbian Garrison Starr, but not because she’s country as much as because she lives in Nashville and has the sexiest country accent.

  5. Pingback: Playlist: 100% Country, 0% A**hole – Autostraddle | Country Music Friends

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    I’d like to claim Loretta Lynn – she says “I’m still an old Bible girl, one man and one woman, but everybody to their own.”
    That’s all we really need, right? Because goddamn.

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    The whole Natalie Mains comment and the whole shit storm that occurred after it made me love the band even more. They are definitely my favorite country group, pretty much my favorite country anything. Did anybody see that documentary about what happened afterwards? About how they got so much hate mail and someone even said “shut up and sing or your life will be over”

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    Johnny Cash will always remind me of a road trip I took with my friend years ago, we just listened to American III: Solitary Man on repeat.

    You should check out Neko Case, she’s labeled as alt-country but I guess it still counts? Middle Cyclone is brilliant, but this might be my favorite song:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0vk5SGmw3w&feature=related

    Several of my friends know her and they all say she is the kindest, sweetest person. Also, gorgeous. And lately she worked on soundtracks for True Blood and The Hunger Games…

  9. Thumb up 2

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    So I may have forced my girlfriend to go to Stagecoach last year and needless to say she was not excited about it. I tried hard to convince her not all country music and country fans are gay-hating rednecks. Thanks for the support that you CAN be a liberal, lesbian who enjoys country :)

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    Fred Eaglesmith (of Canada) is my own personal Jesus; he sings a lot about guns but please don’t let that put you off if you love a song to put you back together even as it breaks you down look no further. He sings a lot about women or from women’s perspectives too and subsequently been covered by a lot of country singing women.
    I don’t have a playlist that doesn’t feature Mary Gauthier (out lesbian to boot) and Neko Case – try Gauthier’s ‘Sugarcane’ or ‘Jackie’s Train’ from her album ‘Drag queens in Limousines’. And I wouldn’t forget Canadian Carolyn Mark, bawdy and boozy and funny as hell. I defy you not to be charmed by her album with Neko Case as ‘The Corn Sisters’ covering a bunch of country standards. There’s definitely something in the Canadian country water as I’m obsessed with the Sadies, more of a gritty country-noir-rock band. Also I’d include Devon Sproule’s ‘old Virginia block’ on all my playlists of any genre. There are so many fusions and sub-genres within country or featuring country, these days I’ve given up separating them and just call them all country.
    Thanks for the playlist Autostrad, if I had to choose only 1 track to add it would be ‘Old St Helen’s’ by Jim and Jennie and The Pinetops from their bluegrass album ‘Rivers roll on By’ or maybe Josh Ritter’s ‘wolves’ live.

  11. Thumb up 2

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    a) Thank God I’m a Country Boy is one of my favourite songs of all time. We found it by accident on a Big Country Vol 2 cd we’d grabbed out of a music shop for a roadtrip in New Zealand, and promptly rewound it about 15 times in glee.

    b) Country music and musical theatre are my favourite genres. I’d like to think it’s because they both have a narrative form that allows them to express human emotion and stories in a way other genres rarely achieve, but for reals I just love them forever.

    c) Citation please for John Denver and Garth Brooks being on our side? I desperately want that to be true but had never heard so? Although Garth does have that lyric about “When we’re free to love anyone we choose” which has always made me go ‘hmm’.

  12. Thumb up 1

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    Oh, someone already suggested Mary Gauthier — although my favorites are her darker ones like “Snakebit” and “Can’t Find the Way” and… really, most of her songs are really dark. Last winter I had to drive a long way and my MP3 player decided it really liked Mary Gauthier and Patty Griffin. By the time I got there I was all, “Huh, I felt fine this morning, and now OH MY GOD I JUST WANT TO GO HOME AND HIDE BEHIND THE BED AND CRY.”

    Although actually one of my favorites of hers is not dark at all, just fun and surreal and kind of addictive: http://youtu.be/m2rVFS5vmZo

    Mary Chapin Carpenter and Neko Case are also awesome.

    I’ll add Corb Lund. Most of his songs are fun and light-hearted and clever, but often with a little bit of a bitter or regretful twist. I will forever love “Counterfeiter’s Blues” http://youtu.be/KeEyAt4Ewhg for its self-deprecating last verse. I have no idea what his political opinions are, but his songs definitely suggest a non-asshole.

    And Kathy Mattea, whom you may remember from 80s radio, but her album Coal is freaking awesome even if it’s all covers. “Coal Tattoo” is my favorite: http://youtu.be/jK7S0k0dj7M

    Oh, and Lucinda Williams! I have no idea what her opinions are re: gay rights, but you can’t not love her after this song: http://youtu.be/8R6LEtBDVdA

    Okay, now I have to go create a playlist of country songs that don’t suck.

  13. Thumb up 6

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    Thank you for putting Steve Earle on this playlist. He is my favorite. I saw him on my birthday last year after breaking up with my girlfriend. He remembered me (and girlfriend) from a book signing we had went to earlier that year. I spent the intermission crying to him. He sang a song for me. I have never been the same.

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    I am such a hipster when it comes to country– johnny cash of course, lucina williams, emmylou harris. But secretly? Yeah, I owned those dixie chicks cds, although now I have to confess I find them kind of saccharine. I prefer Alison Moorer and her sister Shelby Lynne (oh how I love me some Shelby Lynne. And then I get her confused with Chely Wright :P ). And don’t get me stared on. Bonnie Raitt. I’ve been in love with her music FOREVER. Like my entire life. Soooo yeah. Country is something I love sonically if not politically. Thanks for this!

  15. Thumb up 0

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    I was always one of those people that said, “I listen to everything but country.” My brother got me into alt country bands like Son Volt and Drive-By Truckers and through those bands, I realized I really love some country. There are some bad ass women in country music for real. Anyway, this playlist is 100% awesome.

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    Fabulous playlist. Going to listen to this during work tomorrow and dance merrily around.

    Like Beez and Lauren, I also really wanna know if Miranda Lambert is homofriendly or not. I was so hoping she was, but she seems to be wary of stating most of her political views publicly… hm.

    This is the best info I could find (from Paste Magazine, Issue 18):

    “Miranda Lambert’s new solo album, Four the Record, begins with a backwoods dobro solo over a marching-band drum pattern, a collision of sounds that sets up the song’s title, “All Kinds of Kinds.” It’s a hillbilly anthem of open-minded tolerance, suggesting that if a skinny circus acrobat can marry a short, round Human Cannonball, we’re in no position to judge who should marry whom. The song doesn’t actually come out and endorse same-sex marriage, but it does say that there’s nothing wrong with a U.S. senator dressing up as a woman on Fridays as long as his wife is cool with it. “Ever since the beginning, to keep the world spinning,” Lambert sings on the chorus, “it takes all kinds of kinds.”

    “I just love that song,” she says. “It’s a cool message that I had never put out there before. People are willing to listen to the message, because the song is so funny and so much fun. Traveling around the world like I do, I meet all kinds of people and I’ve learned to accept them all. I grew up with that attitude to a certain extent, but I’ve also opened up my mind a lot since I left home—and I still have a lot of growing to do. Every time I judge someone, it always comes back to bite me because I end up doing the same thing myself.

    “For instance, I used to think that people with tattoos and mohawks were weird, but then I ended up with a tattoo myself, and my bass player, who was an awesome guy, had a mohawk. I’ve learned to love being out there and meeting different kinds of people, even if they’re outside my comfort zone; I might not have said that five years ago, but now I do now. Even within the band on the bus, there are both rednecks and hippies, so we all have to learn to get along.” “

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    ohmygod, this is the best playlist ever! And it’s real country, not watered-down indie folk rock that has country influences! (don’t get me wrong, I like some of that too, just don’t call it “country”). I’ve always loved country but totally get the liberal guilt thing.

    But guys, what is the distressing Miranda Lambert news?alsoalso i’m super excited that she and brandi are friends, that is totally great and I’m going to go google that now.
    This playlist is so refreshing and affirming! Thank you for this!
    makes me want to know more about more progressive country roots.

  18. Thumb up 0

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    I can’t really condone.. miley cyrus or darius rucker as country..

    but add anything by Lydia Loveless and Neko Case. .. and maybe Streets of Bakersfield by Dwight Yoakum and yeah this is pretty soild

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      Okay, also there’s Sugarland. Except, I can’t bring myself to like them — not because there’s anything wrong with them, it’s just that Jennifer Nettles kicked so much ass before she switched to mainstream country. Her music with Sugarland seems bland in comparison.

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    Garth Brooks was the first country music I ever remember hearing (it didn’t get played a lot on Suburban Australian radio back in the day), I was watching Entertainment Tonight and they played the video for The Change, which made me cry, but I loved the song and bought his CDs, which led me to Trisha, and so on, so I’m glad he’s on our side.

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    I am constantly clasping my hands and begging the universe to let me have Brandi Carlile and Emmylou Harris for Christmas. Harris’s “Red Dirt Girl” consistently makes me weep all of the tears, and Carlile’s “Raise Hell” has got to be the best country song ever. Full stop.

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