Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 03.29.06
Stanstead, Quebec


Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to hate country

Around these parts, this is like saying René Levesque might have been on to something, but I'll say it anyway: I don't like country music.

Most every other type of music I'm fine with. I like rock, pop, jazz, folk. I can stomach bluegrass and some hip hop. I can even take a little opera, especially if I can imagine Elmer Fudd singing it.

I like some country-influenced rock like The Band or Blue Rodeo. But I have a visceral reaction to straight-up country music, whether it's "new country" or "and western." It just gets under my skin. The "Achy Breaky Heart" era was a particularly traumatic time for me.

This goes way back. Growing up, my parents didn't listen to country but our crummy local radio station played a heavy rotation of country hits. The soundtrack of my formative years includes plenty Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. I can sing you the chorus of "Coward of the County" if you doubt me.

At the time, I also couldn't stand fiddle music. Every evening, this same radio station would present a show called "Scottish Strings." I knew it better as "Scottish Screaming for the Exits."

Yet today, I enjoy and appreciate Celtic music by the likes of Buddy MacMaster, Buddy MacDonald, Buddy MacBuddy… any Buddy for that matter.

I haven't developed a similar tolerance for country music. And I have a theory why: cowboy hats.

I strongly believe that hats should be worn only for the practical purposes of warmth or shade or by those whose jobs require them to do so, like firefighters, chefs, and beekeepers.

Unless you are herding cattle or performing non-recreational branding, there is no reason for you to wear a cowboy hat. Holding a microphone and singing about your truck is not hat-worthy.

This theory may explain Tim McGraw (dude, it's about the goatee…). But it doesn't quite explain why Shania Twain makes me want to drive chopsticks into my ears.

All this to say that I had reservations about attending last weekend's wine-and-cheese benefit for Sunnyside Elementary's cafeteria once I learned that the band would be of the country ilk. But we had the tickets already and, as I explained to Deb, that wine wasn't going to drink itself.

(I'm still not clear on the concept of "wine and cheese." Why not wine and pickles or wine and shrimp kabobs? I guess you have to say "wine and something" and "cheese" is as good as anything. Certainly it sounds better than "wine and more wine.")

But back to the music. Maybe it was the wine talking or maybe it was the cheese listening but the band was pretty darned good. Fronted by Brian Curtis, who I know more for his many other guises than for his music, Slightly Haggard was one tight outfit: energetic, entertaining, and talented. I didn't cringe at all. I know that sounds like a backhanded compliment but skin not crawling is really something for me.

Moreover, I was kind of jealous. As I watched the dance floor from our table, I learned that apparently with an appreciation of country music comes an ability to dance.

I was amazed by the agility and ease of couples of all sizes, gender and age as they two-stepped around the floor.

Meanwhile, Deb and I sat it out, waiting for a song we could dance to without the risk of getting run over. As it was, at one point I did get blind-sided by some line-dancers.

So have I been converted? Not really. But I'm willing to keep an open mind, especially when it comes to hearing talented local people like Brian and his gang. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who can make people get up and dance deserves my respect and admiration, cowboy hat or not.