Yeehaw: Brooklyn’s country scene is blowing up

If you’ve found yourself trotting by a tipsy cavalcade of cowboy booted Brooklynites, or foisted into a line dance at your favorite watering hole, you’re not alone.

The country undercurrent in Brooklyn isn’t new — it’s always been here. But the music genre is undergoing a vibrant renaissance. Since the tailend of 2020, when Covid lockdown restrictions slackened, honky tonk events have been popping up across the borough, attracting a mix of multigenerational music lovers decked out in pearl-snaps, prairie dresses, big brass belt buckles and ten-gallon hats, ready to hoot, holler and scoot their boots.

As of late, classic country hubs like Skinny Dennis in Williamsburg and Red Hook’s Sunny’s Bar and Jalopy Tavern, which have been hosting live country shows for over a decade, have only grown more popular, while a new cowboy-themed bar called Desert Five Spot is set to open soon on Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg. Other venues like Alphaville in Bushwick have fully reinvented themselves, hosting legendary group-show hoedowns featuring bills packed with local country musicians playing covers to crowds caught up in the moment.

Patton Magee (of Brooklyn twang-rockers The Nude Party) played Alphaville’s Smoke Down Hoedown in April with New Jersey country icons Old Lady and couldn’t believe his eyes. “We closed with ‘Friends in Low Places’ by Garth Brooks and we did the chorus like six fucking times,” he says. “The whole room was singing along –– it’s a funny thing to see in New York.”

The scene has also forged roots just over the border in Ridgewood, Queens, where DJ Moonshine and DJ Prison Rodeo (a.k.a. Charles Watlington and Jonny Nichols) sell out monthly hoedowns at Gottscheer Hall, bringing in big names from Nashville and Austin, Texas, like Charley Crockett, who recently recorded his Honky Tonkin’ in Queens set for Sirius XM Radio.

“People have been waiting for something like this,” says Nichols. “It’s not just in Nashville anymore, it’s in New York, too.”

Because of an uptick in gig opportunities and audiences’ desire for live country music (due in part to a global phenomenon stoked by massive records like Beyonce’s “Cowboy Carter,” the most streamed album on Spotify in a single day) — local singer-songwriters have found themselves thrust into a collaborative and supportive scene that they feel provides people the perfect antidote in a post-lockdown world: sing-along storytelling, campy outfits, communal dancing and an all-around grand-tootin’ time.

Brooklyn Magazine chatted with some of the artists standing on the frontlines of the borough’s urban frontier to get a better sense of the sound going down around town. Yeehaw!

Dale Hollow
Dale Hollow, self-styled “Hack of the Year,” was “plucked out of obscurity” by Orville Peck in 2020 when the queer country icon asked Hollow to play his annual rodeo, then open up for him on the road. Since then, Hollow has made a name for himself, providing listeners with a satirical big-headed persona (“Your favorite country superstar [trademark pending]”), smart, cheeky lyricism that calls out industry tropes (“I’ve seen ‘Roadhouse’ 110 times / instead of the dialogue I’ve memorized the fights”) and a powerful bassy voice.

After lockdown, Hollow felt like he was “stalling out in Nashville” and moved up to Brooklyn, where he says he’s found a community of musicians and fans who are more receptive to his “y’allternative” “cow-punk” project. Channeling a wide variety of artists –– TV On The Radio, Lee Fields, Barbara Mandrell –– Hollow wants his fans to have a blast, but also listen in earnest –– “at the end of the day it’s all coming from my experience.”

Hollow has an EP of covers and originals on the way — giddy-up!

Low Roller
Veronica Davila formed Low Roller about five years back, when it wasn’t easy to book a gig or find other country bands to play local shows with. But when bars and venues started reopening after lockdown, suddenly “there was a thirst for authenticity and live music that promotes camaraderie and dancing,” Davila says. “People were really letting loose.”

With velvety free-flying vocals, buzzsaw slide riffs, and vibrant lyrical storylines, Low Roller makes a point at blending the roots of Laurel Canyon’s 70s folk-rock scene with outlaw and cosmic country’s cool boundlessness, defined by legends like Waylon Jennings and Flying Burrito Brothers.

Low Roller plays gigs around Brooklyn, headlining Honky Tonkin in Queens, participating in group shows at Alphaville, and locking down a residency at Skinny Dennis. The band is in the process of recording a debut record, with a single expected next month. Davila also helps promote local country shows with her partner John Epperly (who runs the Metropolitan Sound recording studio in Williamsburg) through their Instagram page, Northeast Country Coalition.

“It’s been a very fortunate evolution,” Davila adds. “I’m glad country is having its moment.”

Catch Lower Roller’s free show at Jones Bar on June 8.

Marley Hale
“If I can’t drink to ease the pain, then what can I do?” Marley Hale croons in her most recent single, “Drunk On You.” It’s a melancholic gem of a song with an unstoppable opening line — “‘If whiskey were a woman, I’d fuck her,’ he said over his drink across the bar” — which Hale weaves into a bittersweet tale about the bleak conundrum of being heartbroken over the thing that best mends her broken heart.

Hale has ample experience writing original songs, typically in the vein of folk and Americana, and performing them across the U.S. Only last year, though, did she become committed to a more specific country sound, around the same time she decided to quit drinking.

“Drunk On You” provides a sneak peek into Hale’s debut EP, “By My Own Ways,” due out July 26th. The five-song project will build on Hale’s folk roots while harvesting classic country-western sounds that celebrate her deepening involvement in Brooklyn’s evolving scene and the city’s growing appreciation of original country songwriting.

“Everybody wants to dance, but as country enters the mainstream consciousness there’s an expanding audience for original songs too,” says Hale.

Hale’s official EP release show will take place at Union Pool on August 2 alongside some other songwriters on our list — don’t miss it!

Olivia Ellen Lloyd
As a longtime Brooklyn-based performer and “country music philosopher,” Olivia Ellen Lloyd is attuned to the genre’s soul and passionate about its possibilities. The West Virginia-born singer-songwriter takes solace in the complexities hidden within country’s simple chord structure. “It’s seductive in that it welcomes you in, then poses the question, ‘Are we gonna be okay?’”

Lloyd sees country’s current popularity as a timely phenomenon for working through our current post-lockdown lives — dancing communally while pondering lyrics that encapsulate darker familiarities — “drinking too much, feeling so alone, not being able to see your friends again, huge themes in country music.”

With sparse pedal steel, the gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar and chilling vocals that rise and fall with strained sadness, Lloyd’s most recent single, “A Few Old Memories,” brings listeners through a head-on collision with another one of country’s most elemental themes: nostalgia.

A recent winner of Austin, Texas’s Kerryville Folk Festival New Folk Songwriting Competition, Lloyd has a polished full-length album, “Loose Cannon,” in her back pocket and gigs lined up across the country, including a show at Sunny’s in Red Hook on June 28 — go check her out.

Quartz Casino
It was during a tryptophan-induced nap that Andrew Spaulding dreamed he was wandering through a casino made of stone; when he woke up, the phrase “Quartz Casino” echoed through his mind. A longtime devotee of New York’s DIY punk scene (formerly the drummer of local experimental post-punk group Pill), Spaudling thought it a perfect name to encapsulate the new music he’d been writing during his recent divorce. Inspired by Lee Hazlewood and Hank Williams, he had an urge to play these “simple, sad songs” live.

Eventually, Spaulding tapped friend and fellow music teacher Oscar Allen to form Quartz Casino, a country outfit that manifests nostalgia with a dreamy twang. With “kind of a Hall and Oates songwriting dynamic,” Spaulding and Allen each write and sing lead on songs that may start simple and sad but when played live have the tendency to gain velocity like an 18-wheeler burning down a mountain pass with shot brakes.

With an EP out on Bandcamp, Spaulding and Allen are currently putting together a debut record. And starting July 7, Quartz Casino will be leading a free honky tonk at Alphaville every Sunday through the end of the summer, where the crowd is encouraged to get up and dance.

PANNING by Quartz Casino

The Slide-Stops
The Slide Stops had an issue, and it wasn’t their music — a tight, heartfelt blend of moseying steel pedal, steady guitar work, and warm harmonies. It was the crowd. Most New Yorkers didn’t know how to move to it. But that changed when Alex Udis, a dance teacher from Kentucky, asked The Slide Stops to stand in as the backing band for his dance lessons.

“It became immediately clear that this is how our shows should have always been,” says guitarist and vocalist Sam Talmadge. Now, several times a month, Talmadge, lead singer John Cushing and their pearl-snapped bandmates play to packed rooms of freewheelin’ Brooklynites who romp and sway across the floor like they grew up on Nashville’s Honky Tonk Highway.

Before stepping on stage to play originals off their debut EP, “The Slide Stops!” as well as covers (think “Countrified” by John Anderson) at Starr Bar, Sundown Bar and Jalopy Tavern, The Slide Stops hand the crowd over to The Saras — line dance expert Sara Lott and two step expert Sara Juran — who, according to Talmadge, “are responsible for everyone in Brooklyn suddenly knowing how to dance to country music.”

The Slide Stops play six gigs a month — go join the chorus line.

Sweetheart of the BQE
Olivia Lurrie equates her early days trying to play country music in New York to performing in the video game “The Sims” — “You have to win them over and at first they all hate you.”

That was back in 2017, two years before Lurrie started meeting other local country bands (like Low Roller). After releasing an album of country-folk tunes under the moniker Babies’ Babies, Lurrie devised Sweetheart of the BQE, a project that finds inspiration in Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra’s 1968 album, “Nancy & Lee,” as well as the songs of Loretta Lynn and cosmic country hero Emmylou Harris.

Lurrie, who once reveled in winning over indie-rock crowds with honky tonk music, now finds the growing country scene to be incredibly supportive. “It’s nice to play with people who want one another to succeed,” she says. Sweetheart of the BQE has a record in the works that showcases Lurrie’s smokey-sweet voice, whistle-worthy melodies and driving horse-clomp beat. Keep your eyes peeled for a single dropping later this month.

Van Vreeland
This band of country rockers has spent the past two years gigging across New York and the Northeast, winning the crowds’ hearts with story-focused songwriting, Sheryl Crow-esque pop sensibilities, and an overall feel-good vibe. Lead singer Katie Vreeland, a former bassist in Sloppy Jane, has stirred up “a nice secret sauce” with the Naess brothers — Spenser calling on his jazz guitar background to rip nasty country riffs while Cooper harmonizes vocals and keeps a mean beat and Shane Preece picks a soulful bass.

Self-described as “alt-country-soft-rock-acid-folk-indie-pop,” Van Vreeland started churning out material soon after forming in 2021, discovering a communal love of JJ Cale, Townes Van Zandt, Lucinda Williams, Neil Young, Ween, Tracy Chapman, and the song “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia.

Loose jam sessions resulted in a wistful blissed-out single, “Burgundy Red,” and a record deal with Nudie Records.

Go see Van Vreeland at Windjammer, June 15, but beware: “This is not your daddy’s country,” she warns.

The Victory Seeds
Upon first listen, it’s clear that The Victory Seeds’ music contains the same ceaseless young-gun spirit implicit in the group’s name; each song on the debut self-titled record forges its own path, carving out a hope-fueled future in country’s steadfast fusion of beauty and heartbreak.

Topped with a captivating array of instrumentals — from stalk-dry banjos and warm fiddle runs to jammy fun-loving organ, crunchy electric guitar and pounding rock drums — Sophia Bondi’s lyrics paint creative storylines of love, loss, and exploration made haunting by her deep, percolating vibrato and harmonies with guitarist and vocalist Frances Rodriguez. While some songs suck you into a distorted dreamworld (“Maiden of the Water”), others remind you of home (“Myrtle-Wyckoff Blues”).

Perhaps the youngest band on the scene, The Victory Seeds have quickly become a mainstay in the emerging country music community, playing group shows and honky tonk events around Brooklyn and Queens, bridging a gap between their love of the Grateful Dead and the dusty classics fit for a good ole fashion hootenanny.

Check out their next show at the Bushwick Public House on June 22.

The post Yeehaw: Brooklyn’s country scene is blowing up appeared first on Brooklyn Magazine.

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