During the mid-20th century, it was common to hear Country and Western music on the radio. It was a poetic sound stripe to the American migration, whether it be to northern industrial cities or west along the magical ribbon of Route 66. By the 1980s, more country radio stations fell into the hands of corporate ownership and focus groups. The truth was lost. A new generation of adventurous Country singers had limited options.

Americana was born.

Americana music is identified with a progressive Country sound that incorporates Rock, Folk, and Bluegrass. But it stretches into a pastiche of American roots music that includes Gospel, Blues, lost Honky-Tonk, and Rhythm and Blues Music. The generous rewards for the listener have been all over the map.

Who could have imagined a young girl from Decatur, Il. (Alison Krauss) having a successful artistic collaboration with the lead singer of Led Zeppelin (Robert Plant)? Or a punk band from Leeds, England (the Mekons, with Jon Langford and Sally Timms) landing in Chicago and learning about traditional country music and dress under the charms of the Sundowners?

Similarly, there are no boundaries in the music of Chicago’s Robbie Fulks with a repertoire that includes traditional Country, Folk, Pop, Bluegrass, and Michael Jackson. Don’t forget Chicago songwriter Shel Silverstein (1930-1999). Besides being a successful children’s author and poet, the former Roosevelt University student wrote the country hit “A Boy Named Sue” for Johnny Cash,” “Tequila Shelia” for Bobby Bare Sr., and “Queen of the Silver Dollar” for Emmylou Harris.

If you find the right exit ramps, Country music remains compelling, rebellious, and full of discovery. Its Illinois roots are responsible for much of that energy.

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