Music City has long been an epicenter for country music. But once upon a time, Nashville's country music stars had to fight for creative control of their own songs and sounds. That's why artists like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Bobby Blare moved to Austin, Texas.
The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum's upcoming major exhibition, Outlaws & Armadillos: Country's Roaring '70s, will explore the era of cultural and artistic exchange between the two cities that spurred country music's outlaw revolution.
The rising popularity of rock 'n' roll in the 1950s dealt a blow to country music sales. In response, country producers—especially Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley—developed a mellow pop-country hybrid known as the Nashville Sound. While commercially successful, some artists found the Music Row recording model uninspiring.
"It fit me about like syrup on sugar or something. It just didn't work," Jennings said about the Nashville Sound.
By the early 1970s, artists like Jennings and Nelson were envisioning a music industry in which they could write, sing and produce their own music.
Nelson moved to Austin, where country, bluegrass, folk, blues, rock and conjunto blended to create a thriving music center. Other artists, such as Jennings and Blare, remained in Nashville to fight for creative control of their own sound. They won, recording albums such as Blare's Lullabys, Legends and Lies, which kickstarted the Outlaw Movement.
When Nelson told them that something special was happening in Austin, however, they followed him Southwest to perform in venues like the Armadillo World Headquarters.
Country music's Outlaw Movement of the 1970s reached a new audience.
Artists wrote and produced their own records, often recording outside of Nashville. They adopted the dress and hairstyles of rock 'n' roll stars and wrote candidly about truths and topics that were not widely heard on country radio.
The music that was produced in both Tennessee and Texas motivated and influenced many of today's Americana and country artists, such as Dierks Bentley, Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert and more.
Outlaws & Armadillos: Country's Roaring '70s—which opens May 25, 2018, for a nearly three-year run—will be accompanied by educational programs and feature film content that will include exclusive interviews and concert footage by Austin-based filmmaker and exhibit co-curator Eric Geadelmann, as well as visual art from Austin's underground.
The exhibit will reveal untold stories and never-before-seen artifacts of country's Golden Age and the music rebels who propelled country music forward.
Written by Cassie Westrate, staff writer for Groups Today.
Photo Courtesy of Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum.