However often you listen to contemporary country, there’s no denying that the socio-cultural and political factors that once defined its fan base have slowly but surely changed. Over the past few years, what was once a space reserved for straight white cisgender conservatives with an affinity for Christianity has gradually opened up to those who may not fit into this hyper-specific demographic. And a sign of that is Orville Peck, whose performance at Coachella this year helped cement his place at the center of a subtle but powerful shift in country music.
For too long, country listeners have forgotten the genre’s roots as a historically black, working-class, anti-establishment form of expression. However, the line between country and other genres has been thinning for some time now, with many country and country-adjacent musicians challenging the outdated and, frankly, bigoted beliefs of its original fanbase, proving that it is ready to be reclaimed by those who were unjustly removed from its imagery.
Within the country itself, young artists have become more aware of its black roots and how the genre has been shaped by black artists like Charley Pride. Some might even argue that the emergence of “bro-country” artists like Florida Georgia Line — who are influenced by hip-hop and R&B and collaborate with black artists from those genres — has helped mainstream country listeners s open to other musical styles, even if this particular sub-genre sometimes remains misogynistic and homophobic. That said, there’s also a new wave of female country artists like Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris, and (at one point) Taylor Swift, who have continued to push back against the anti-black, feminist, and LGBTQ+ stance of the genre, while by making more country music more accessible through non-country sound elements.
Although not yet famous, Orville has turned the idea of traditional “country” upside down in his own way. Writing decidedly progressive songs accompanied by melodrama reminiscent of country’s golden age, he lets his emotive baritone quiver with wistful nostalgia in a way that feels perfectly at home alongside a pedalboard. nasal. Yet he’s able to keep it fresh by incorporating elements of new wave, indie rock and psychedelia into his songs, making his music an example of cross-genre swapping that will speak to the people it was always intended for: everything the world.
Original country themes that speak of heartache, struggle and the experiences of marginalized people were sorely lacking during the post-9/11, pop-country ideal, with a jingoist undercurrent that seemed to many to exclude. And maybe that’s why people from all walks of life can enjoy new music from artists like Peck; his music has all the soulful romance of country but speaks to everyone, comforting the lonely and the misunderstood. And the musician isn’t just modernizing country’s image at Coachella, he’s simultaneously taking the genre back to its roots as music for underdogs, because as he sings in his rich baritone, “It’s not letting go is more about the things you take with you.
Country fandom is a musical subculture that remains largely separate from the types of crowds that flock to Coachella. Mostly it’s booked for its sister festival, Stagecoach, which takes place next weekend. Redefining country music’s place in Southern California’s festival lineup is a daunting but groundbreaking task that artists in the genre aim to change every day. And Orville’s back-to-back appearance at both events is something to admire, as it hints that the worlds of two very different festivals may finally collide in the Indio wasteland.
While it’s impossible to say what his Stagecoach audience will look like, the crowd on Orville Peck’s set was diverse to the point that it would be impossible to consider them homogeneous. From ethnicity, style to genre and beyond, Peck has successfully garnered a crowd of viewers who couldn’t be pinned down as country fans with just a glance. And it was obvious they weren’t wanderers looking for rest or shade – they were lively, deeply involved fans, visibly acknowledging and cheering each song as Peck moved from one to the next. .
Kicking off his set was “Daytona Sand,” an indie-infused and more accessible pick for a less traditional country crowd from his latest album, Bronco: Chapters 1 and 2, which was followed by live renditions of his songs “Turn to Hate” and “The Curse of the Blackened Eye”, which he described as “for anyone who’s ever been abused before”. It’s something that’s reflected in the music video, which sees actor Norman Reedus haunt the crooning country singer for most of it before Orville finally invites the darkness Reedus represents into a warm embrace – signaling perhaps his healing and embrace of personal growth stemming from his aforementioned abuse.
Peck’s poignant lyricism, combination of modern rock and nostalgic country, and enigmatic performing style are consistent throughout, making the final song in his set “Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call)” – a classic of Orville’s discography – a seemingly perfect closing choice that sums up his artistry in less than 4 minutes.
But there are other reasons why Orville in particular found a niche among non-country listeners, as evidenced by the swell of the crowd and the hundreds of hands flying in the air once Peck started playing the first strums of “Dead of Night,” passers-by even stopping to listen better.
Perhaps part of their fascination came from seeing a man who, at first glance, looks like a “real man”, looking like an armed cowboy straight out of a Western – aside from his tasselled mask. , of course, and, more recently, his appearance in Euphoria. Or maybe it’s because he included a performance of “Drive Me, Crazy” from his Show Pony EP explaining that “these are gay truckers”. Either way, her performance was a stark reminder to listeners that her songs paint a story about her true identity behind the tassels and her status within the LGBTQ+ community, which appreciates her less toxic take on traditional American norms. on masculinity.
As we move towards a more inclusive culture and country music is here to stay in the mainstream, trailblazing artists like Peck will bring with them some of the country’s most legendary musical practices while leaving behind the ideologies that no longer serve us. His set at Coachella is the perfect indication for Stagecoach attendees that they’re in for a treat, and the two crowds might not be as different as we assume.