Alternative Country

Primary Stylistic Influences:
Secondary Stylistic Influences:

"The defining mood of what is now usually described as 'Americana'... is something deep and folksy and slightly creepy, about family and nostalgia and blood and sex and religious faith and death."
—Brian Hinton, South by Southwest: A Road Map to Alternative Country

Alternative Country is what happens when you cross the outlaw strand of country with rock 'n' roll and the American folk tradition, held together by the do-it-yourself attitude of punk. Influenced by Neotraditional Country, Cowpunk and Alternative Rock, the scene coalesced in the mid-eighties and is going strong today.

Also called insurgent country or Americana (a term that also includes bluegrass and folk), alt-country is mainly defined by its resistance to the perceived commercialism of mainstream and pop country music. Stylistically the genre is a melting pot, with artists incorporating influences ranging from roots rock, bluegrass, rockabilly, Southern rock and honky-tonk to alternative rock (especially the Jangle Pop subgenre, which pioneered the idea of "roots" music with a punk attitude), folk rock, and punk. Instruments include banjos, pianos, guitars, rifts, keyboards, drums, and heavy to medium vocals.

Alt-country was pioneered by folk- and punk- influenced singer-songwriters like Lyle Lovett and John Prine in the mid-eighties. Other early pioneers of the sound were artists in an alt-rock subgenre called "Cowpunk", such as Meat Puppets, Lone Justice and the British group The Mekons. This came to prominence in The '90s, with artists like Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams and Dwight Yoakam and bands such as Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, and Wilco (who quickly moved into more general Alternative Rock) and broke into the rock mainstream in the 2000s with the success of Drive-By Truckers, Hank Williams III and Ryan Adams.

Because of the subgenre's attachment to regional folk cultures, artists can originate from all over the world, but are often from the Southern United States and the Appalachian Mountains region. The closest the scene has to a capital is Austin, Texas with its annual South by Southwest festival.

There has traditionally been very little overlap between the fandoms of mainstream country and alternative country, with the latter being treated closer to Alternative Rock and Folk Rock.

Alternative Country Artists:



Technically a separate genre of sorts (it preceded the solidification of Alt-Country as a genre by a few years), the bands of this primarily 80s movement combined Country with Punk Rock and New Wave to create a distinct hybrid. Many bands of the genre had a humorous slant to their lyrics- the Country influence was often Played for Laughs. Often overlaps with Jangle Pop, Punk Blues and Psychobilly.

Texas country music

From its humble origins as rock-infused music played in dive bars, Texas country includes some of the best known alt-country acts. The scene is centered on Austin, but there is a distinct West Texas sound.

Red Dirt

Centered on Stillwater, Oklahoma, Red Dirt resembles Texas Country but is, if anything, even more ornery.

Country Folk

Inspired by Bob Dylan's Nashville phase, this tends to be a mellower, "thinking person's" style of alt-country.

Underground Country

Beginning in the mid-90s, underground country emerged in Nashville by means of cross-pollination between that city's vibrant Country and Punk Rock scenes. Musically, acts tend to pay homage to hillbilly swing and pre-60s country such as the Louvin Brothers, but often with a punk twist and a rebellious attitude. Saving Country Music is the main scene blog.

Tropes common in alt-country include: