Country Music in the Netherlands: Why It Is Still Marginal?

Mel van Elteren. Popular Music & Society. Volume 20, Issue 3. Fall 1996.

All kinds of American popular music have been embraced by large groups in the Netherlands during the postwar era. One major exception to this general tendency is country and western music. Although its vari­ous brands, from old-time music to country-rock, do have their enthusi­astic groups of Dutch aficionados, none of these draws a really large audience, comparable to, let’s say, middle-of-the road pop music, rock, or even rap music. Country is hardly visible or audible in the public realm. This is strange, considering that not only in the domain of popular music but also in many other respects Holland is very strongly within the orbit of U.S. popular culture. In this study I will try to offer an adequate explanation for this intriguing fact.

A Late Start

Country music evolved rather slowly in the Netherlands. In the 1930s and 1940s some records may have been brought to Holland by crews of ships that sailed to and from America, other travelers who vis­ited the United States, or American tourists, businessmen, and soldiers coming to this country. But these influences have left no clear traces. Country music was certainly not the background soundtrack of everyday life as it was in many southern parts of the United States. In the 1950s there was almost no airplay for country music in Holland. More gener­ally, popular music then was quite suspect in the Dutch society with its restrictive cultural climate, particularly in the first decade after the World War II. The respectable middle class classified the performers of the popular music genre, in spite of their tidy clothing and decent demeanor, in the category of circus artists. Popular music, and rock and roll in particular, had a low status, due to its supposedly vulgar character. This kept Philips, just like some other large record companies, from starting a record division for these segments of the music market (ter Bogt 588). Furthermore, American records were only released in limited numbers, and often with some delay in Holland. The big exporting record companies in the United States waited for the success of the inde­pendent labels. Their own exports took off later and mostly encompassed the softer variants of rock and roll, and high school pop. Nevertheless, almost from the outset jukeboxes in the larger cities stocked rock and roll records, due to sailors returning from the United States and to the import channels of shops that sold jazz records (de Graaf 53).

The national radio programs—on the “pillarized” basis which was still so characteristic of Dutch society—hardly broadcast the originals of American popular music, let alone country music. Radio did broadcast some western music (that is, film music of westerns), songs like “Oh Susanna,” “Home on the Range,” and Dutchified “hillbilly music,” mostly in the cowboy genre. There were no Dutch commercial radio sta­tions yet. From 1945 onward, Dixieland music and “amusement jazz”— heavily domesticated swing music—were widely disseminated through the public radio. There were also the many cover versions of soft pop songs by the various radio and entertainment orchestras which were ori­ented towards the instrumental swing standards of the 1930s. The best- known radio orchestras, the Ramblers and the Skymasters, employed vocalists who may be considered Dutch equivalents of the American crooners; they sang the latest Tin Pan Alley hits from the United States. In these programs also, Dutch songs were tried out. High school and uni­versity students considered Dixieland the height of fun, whereas the indigenous popular music with soft-crooning Dutch singers like Annie Palmen, Mieke Telkamp, and singing guitarist Eddy Christiani, supple­mented with some German “schlagers” (top hits) catered to the large majority’s needs. Some of the songs of Eddy Christiani were Dutch covers of American country songs, but not presented as country. Another popular genre was the levenslied (popular ballad) sung by populist artists like Johnny Jordaan, Willy Alberti, and the Zangeres zonder Naam. This genre of tearjerkers was not valued at all by the power elites of the broadcasting organizations, and therefore seldom broadcast. Last but not least, there was the very sweet, Dutchified variant of Hawaiian music, which was immensely popular in the first decade after the war. In this genre the Kilima Hawaiians (led by Bill and Mary Buysman)—who had their radio debut as the Kilima Trio in 1934—were the leading quality act and at the commercial top as well. They also made the Dutch more acquainted with the sound of the steel guitar, and their repertoire con­tained some cowboy songs—among which was the great hit “Daar Hangt een Paardenhoofdstel aan de Muur” (“There a Horse Headstall Hangs on the Wall”) (de Bakker 41-43; Mutsaers; Labree 65).

For original American music one could tune to the VARA (Verenig- ing van Arbeiders Radio Amateurs) radio program Swing and Sweet in 52nd Street, mainly doing American entertainment music and jazz. During half an hour a month disk jockey Pete Fellema played the ten best-selling records in America. There were also some foreign radio sta­tions. For instance, Radio Luxembourg, a station modeled on American radio—although with a deeply British approach (Frith 166)—played rock music, and incidentally some popular country hits, in its English evening programs. This station, however, could only be received well in certain parts of the country. Another alternative in specific regions, espe­cially in the East and the South, was listening to the American Forces Network (AFN) in West Germany, which had been set up as part of the welfare operation for the troops. It broadcast country music on a regular basis, partly owing to the large number of the army men stationed in Germany who came from the South and Midwest of the United States and AFN tried to cater to their musical tastes, which included a strong preference for country music (Helt 831-32). Since 1958 those Dutch country aficionados who could receive the Belgium radio station BRT 2 might also listen to the country program Melody Ranch (soon renamed Country Music Club), which was inspired by an American program of Gene Autry in the early days of American country music. It was the very first European program of country music and was presented by the Dutch country singer Kitty Prins. Previously she had made cover records of songs on the Philips label of Hank Williams, Eddy Arnold, and Jimmie Rodgers, which were still called “hillbilly” music in Holland in the 1950s. Because she could not realize her own ideas about broadcast­ing real country and bluegrass music on Dutch public radio, she had tried her luck in Belgium.

The situation on Dutch radio improved, however, in 1959, when Lex Tondeur started a weekly country record show on KRO radio (Catholic Broadcasting Organization) almost from scratch. From 1960 Wim Harsma presented his weekly country program Y’All Come on AVRO (Algemene Vereniging ‘Radio Omroep’) radio (Country Gazette

July 1973: 27). In the same year the radio ship (pirate sender) Veronica, founded the year before as the broadcasting company Vrije Radio Omroep Nederland (Free Radio Broadcaster the Netherlands) started broadcasting (Labree 115-16). Initially Veronica had a half-hour country program on Sunday afternoon, with mostly traditional country, presented by a Dutch and an American student. In 1964 country singer Gerard de Vries, called “cowboy Gerard,” took over this program, which he renamed Nashville Tennessee, and put a stronger emphasis on main­stream country. In addition, in those years Veronica also broadcast a spe­cial Jim Reeves program once a week as well as country music on Tues­day and Friday night (one hour) and on Wednesday afternoon (half-hour) {Country Gazette: Sept. 1974:16).

The year 1959 was also the starting point of the Nederpop (indige­nous Dutch pop music) with an original Dutch rock song Kom van dat dak af (“Get off that roof’) by Peter Koelewijn and His Rockets. This song combined American rock and roll with a primitive Dutch text, and became a major hit (more than 100,000 copies were sold). It had a humoristic tenor that was far removed from the raw, expressive feeling of life so central to the original American rockabilly style. In the follow­ing years Koelewijn composed three other hits, but nobody was to follow in this exciting track (Mol 620; Bajema et al. 8-10).

Generally the musical context was not very favorable to country music. Yet, there are older musical traditions in the Netherlands such as old sailors’ ballads, accordion music, street-band, carnival-like music, brass band music, waltz, and polka dancing which have clear affinities with specific subgenres of country music, particular Tex-Mex music. The latter is an almost natural result of playing up-tempo versions of tra­ditional “Dutch” accordion music. The strong resemblance between Tex- Mex music and the musical style of southern Dutch bands as regards the polkalike rhythm may be explained from the Germanic influences both regions underwent in the past. Especially in the southernmost province of Limburg the influence of southern German culture has always been strong in the local fairs’ music and brass band (“oom-pah-pah”) music.

Crucial Intermediaries

Intriguingly, specific minorities of color took the lead in the broader dissemination of “white” American country music in the Netherlands: Eurasians and Amboinese from the former Dutch colonies of Indonesia. The first group repatriated to the Netherlands, in succes­sive waves until the beginning of the sixties, after Indonesia had offi­cially become an independent state in December 1949. The adult men among the Amboinese had served as soldiers in the KNIL (Koninklijk Nederlands-Indie Leger = Royal Dutch Indonesian Army). They were shipped to the Netherlands in 1951 on military order and were lodged in camps (Mutsaers Rocking: 9-10).

These two ethnic minorities, which in various ways constituted mar­ginal groups in Dutch society, played a significant intermediary role in acquainting the autochthonous Dutch with American popular music. In this their children—teenagers and young adults—fulfilled a function that somewhat resembled that of black and white performers from the South in the creation and dissemination of early rock and roll in the United States. Though not third-generation immigrants and internal migrants like the Southerners and Jewish entrepreneurs concerned (see Curtis 17-34), they too were outsiders coming from cultural areas with a strong residue of an oral culture, and made a rapid transition to a literature culture which may release creative energy, particularly in music and literature. In this case white ideas about the “primitive” were involved as well. Natural spontaneity, innocence, primitiveness, emotionality, and playfulness were also “personality characteristics” which the white Dutch generally tended to attribute to the new immigrants who came from the Malayan Archipel­ago and who were conceived as “others.” Not infrequently the whites did this with strong ethnocentristic, if not truly racist, undertones.

The young among these immigrants functioned as pioneers of rock and roll in Holland. They almost monopolized this musical genre and kept that position for several years. The Eurasians brought with them their love of Hawaiian music and the American repertoire of popular music to which they had listened in Indonesia, through the Australian radio stations and the American stations at the Philippines. These senders played country and western music, as well as the popular music of the day: Nat King Cole, Les Paul and Mary Ford, and Fats Domino. And most important of all: rock and roll, before it was introduced in the Netherlands. The Amboinese’s musical heritage was globally the same as that of the Indonesian repatriates; in their culture the use of stringed instruments such as the guitar and ukulele was central too. An important musical background of the Amboinese was, moreover, the religious com­munity singing, the “Moluccan gospel” which had both Polynesian and

Dutch-Reformed roots. Music making and dancing took place at wed­dings, which lasted from the early morning till the peep of the next day. For Amboinese people a wedding was the occasion par excellence to invite Dutch friends. At a Moluccan wedding Hawaiian music was played a lot. This musical form was already quite current in the Dutch entertainment world, where the popular Kilima Hawaiians were synony­mous with the genre, and in which the whites were commercially the most successful. Amboinese were to play a big role in Hawaiian music, both live and on records (Mutsaers Rocking: 11-13, 20-21).

Between 1956 and 1965 young Eurasians and Amboinese put their stamp on Dutch popular music through a musical trend which would later be called Indorock in Holland. The main part of the repertoire of the Indorock bands, especially those who mainly played on the Indone­sian circuit, was country and western music, but with stylistic features of Hawaiian music (Mutsaers Rocking: 41, 51; Mutsaers “Indorock”). A standard song was Hank Locklin’s tearjerker “Please Help Me, I’m Falling” (1955). Significantly, the very first Dutch teenage star after the example of American teenage idols was a Eurasian girl, Lydia Tuinen- burg, who had a big hit with a cover of Connie Francis’s pop version of Hank Locklin’s country and western song “Send Me The Pillow You Dream On” (1959).

The specific way in which rock and roll became popular in the Netherlands also led to a greater interest in its predecessors, American country and western music and the rhythm and blues of the black popu­lation, which until then had hardly been known in the Netherlands. Thus the Dutch became better acquainted with the musical styles that went into the making of rock and roll in reverse order.

A key figure with regard to the early reception of bluegrass and old- time country music was an American living in England, Bill Clifton. He had his first gigs in the Netherlands at the turn of 1966/1967, in folk club De Waag in Haarlem, and in the early 1970s he also gave perfor­mances in a Rotterdam folk club, the Folk Kring Rotterdam, founded in October 1970 by, among others, Hans and Janny van Dam (van Dam “Bill Clifton”). (They would both be involved with the magazine Coun­try Gazette, which was started by Hans van Dam, Jaap Loef, and Cor Sanne in 1973). Bill Clifton, who had his primary base in the folk clubs of England, was very much dedicated to the international acceptance of American bluegrass and old-time country music. Country historian Bill

Malone gives the following characterization of this artist in his history of U.S. country music:

After about eleven years of performance in the United States, Clifton moved to England in 1963 and became an entertainer in the folk clubs there. At first his audiences had little knowledge or appreciation of the music he performed, but he was such an avid missionary for old-time country music (as well as a compe­tent performer) that by 1966 he was playing six nights a week in the clubs, appearing often on the continent, and hosting a weekly BBC radio show called Cellar Full of Folk. Clifton’s schedule became so exhaustive that he joined the Peace Corps in 1967 for a three-year stint. By October 1970, however, he had returned to England and was once again educating the folk club audiences about the beauties of American country music. (277)

According to Malone, Bill Clifton was country music’s most important link to the folk revival movement of the sixties, as well as a bridge to the international community (353).

Bill Clifton would regularly return to the Netherlands to perform in the local bluegrass scene until the mid-1980s. Through his many con­tacts with American old-time and bluegrass musicians, other well-known American acts showed their interest to perform in Holland. Thus in the mid-1970s Mac Wiseman, Jim and Jesse and the Virginia Boys, and Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys gave concerts in the Netherlands.

The Counterculture of the Sixties

In the late 1960s the longing for community that became strongly manifest within the youth counterculture expressed itself in a turn toward musical forms that still had their roots in real or supposedly living communities. As to country music, attention was not focused on the commercialized Nashville variant but rather on the more “authentic” bluegrass. In this the annual “Folk and Country Meeting” in Neusii- dende, near Oldenburg, in Lower Saxony, the northwestern part of the Federal Republic of Germany, was a crucial event for the Netherlands too. In the background the American Forces Network (AFN) played an important role, because a not insignificant amount of music program­ming on AFN featured genres—bluegrass and various forms of country and western—which were the favorites of many of the Southerners and rural Midwesterners who constituted a substantially higher percentage of the GIs in Germany and France than were represented in the American population as a whole (Helt 824, 826-27).

The impact of country music on American rock music was watched closely in the counterculture, after the Byrds with their album Sweet­heart of the Rodeo (1968) had called for a return to country roots in reac­tion against psychedelia. This orientation of the rising country-rock was put high on the agenda of Dutch youths by the “alternative” youth maga­zine Hitweek. This contributed to the strong increase in popularity of the melancholic music of the Byrds, which reached its peak in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Holland. The Byrds were the main attraction at the Holland Pop Festival in Kralingen, June 1970. In the same year the LP The Gilded Palace of Sin by the Flying Burrito Brothers, a spinoff from the Byrds (with Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman, and Chris Etheridge), was declared the record of all time by the ten leading pop critics of the Netherlands (Mol 658-59).

The more general turn toward country and western music was soon abandoned in the counterculture, however, in connection with the rise of anti-American sentiments directed against the conservative attitudes of the “silent majority” in the United States. Then the search for a non- American “authenticity” in indigenous Western European ways became a main issue in the world of Dutch folk music and kindred forms of folk rock. Paradoxically, from the “true to convention” adage, which then prevailed, the popularity of foreign folk music led to a (modest) cultiva­tion of Dutch folk music (van Elteren “Sounds”). At the same time, how­ever, Anglo-American rock sustained its hegemony in the other domains of rock music, including country-rock. In the early seventies American country-rock bands like Poco and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, fol­lowed by Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles, the Outlaws, as well as others, became very popular in the Netherlands, even more so than in their home country. Then also a cultlike following of Gram Parsons developed in the Netherlands, in relation to his album GP (1973) and his posthu­mously released album Grievous Angel (1974), both featuring duets with Emmylou Harris.

Country Music in Holland Today

At present the major tendencies in North American country music also all have their following in the Netherlands: mainstream country from Nashville; the new traditionalists; the “outlaw” tradition from

Austin, Texas, and now also partly accepted in Nashville; western swing from Texas and California; honky tonk music from Bakersfield, Califor­nia; cross-overs to pop, new country-rock etc.; and their counterparts in Canada. The monthly Country Gazette (published since 1973, chief editor Hans van Dam, with a current circulation of 4,500 copies) covers all these subgenres, as well as musics at the margins of country such as (neo-)rockabilly, Indorock, and singer-songwriters with country influences. It is first of all a fanzine for aficionados of mainstream country music, with the usual information on their favorite artists and rising new stars. Country Gazette also covers recent festivals and concerts by Amer­ican, Canadian, and Dutch acts in the Netherlands, as well as country music awards in the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands.

Country Gazette holds an annual country music poll among its readers. This poll is organized by the Dutch Country Music Association (DCMA). In addition, Country Gazette organizes an annual fortnight tour of Dutch country fans to the Fan Fair in Nashville, which is held in June. At this five-day event (with some 24,000 visitors) stars from all the major Nashville labels give performances and meet their fans “person­ally” on the spot when they mix with the audience and hand out signa­tures to their fans at the label stands. The tour also includes visits to local clubs in Nashville, Opryland and the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Ryman Auditorium, as well as a Memphis tour (visits to Graceland, Bede Street, dinner at B. B. King’s).

A special category is the rather small group of adherents (some 1,000 people who publicly manifest themselves) of the more purist ten­dency, or “strictly country” as it is called in Holland, which entails first of all bluegrass (with its various strains: traditional bluegrass, new grass, jazz grass and new grass revival), and also other acoustic forms of coun­try music, old-time music, and those forms of hard country of the forties and fifties which preferably do not use electrical instruments or drums (though exceptions are made for specific artists—for example, Hank Williams). Adherents of “strictly country” tend to have an aversion to cowboy outfits and country and western imagery in relation to country music and are primarily interested in the music itself. Though many purists among bluegrass devotees may stress their love of authentic blue­grass, it should be borne in mind that bluegrass was actually “created anew” in the late 1930s and 1940s from various elements of the tradi­tional music of the American South: ballads, fiddle dance tunes, and reli­gious music brought by European setttlers—particularly from the British Isles—which interacted with African-American contributions such as rhythm, syncopation, choice of notes, phrasing, and form. One may very well call this a specific form of “fabricated authenticity,” as Richard Peterson has done in a broader context of country music. Thus he wants to highlight the fact that authenticity is not inherent in the cultural object that is designated as authentic, but is a social construct in which the past is to some degree misremembered, in order to serve current needs of the people concerned (Peterson; van Elteren “Populist”)—for instance, a nostalgic longing for a communitarian way of life that they miss in modem society.

The major mouthpiece of Dutch “strictly country” fans is the bimonthly magazine Strictly Country (published since 1971, chief editor Rienk Janssen, and a circulation of about 600). It started as a magazine for record collectors of old-time and bluegrass music as well as of “down-to-earth” country of the 1950s. Till about 1970 records were vir­tually the only way in which people were able to enjoy these musics in the Netherlands. The prevailing situation was one of listening to the records concerned, both individually and in small groups of like-minded people (Janssen 40). Strictly Country publishes elaborate, well-informed articles on bluegrass and acoustic country music, contains reviews and information on new releases, and also frequently publishes full discogra­phies of a specific record label, individual artist, or group of artists, meant as a kind of “reference book” for those who are interested.

One should be aware of the specific subculture of bluegrass, which is first of all a “musician’s music” in the Netherlands as well as else­where in the world. Many bluegrass lovers play this music themselves and do not attend concerts merely to listen, but want to play instruments and sing themselves in the margins and after the concert whenever possi­ble. Sociability plays a crucial role in the world of bluegrass (Nuss- baum). This is very clear at the annual meeting of the International Blue­grass Music Association (IBMA) in Owensboro, Kentucky, and at blue­grass festivals, where after the official program is finished at night everywhere on the festival site members of the audience take part in spontaneous jam sessions. Bluegrass remains first of all a musical ten­dency of connoisseurs in the United States and various other parts of the world, especially the Netherlands, Japan, Italy, Great Britain, France, Finland, Czechoslovakia, Canada, and Australia.”

Next to the tendencies in the Dutch country scene mentioned above, one can also recognize religious country as a specific branch with some overlaps with other forms of country: country-gospel and the country part of relipop. These music genres are mostly disseminated by the EO (Evangelische Omroep), an Evangelical Protestant broadcasting organi­zation on public radio, and are quite popular among its listeners.

A Relatively Small Country Music Market and Little Airplay

One can get some insight into the relative impact of country music in Holland from figures on the sales of sound carriers. According to the 1994 Music Business International (MBI) World Report the Netherlands holds a 2.3% share of the world music market, and music sales are $647.4 million. Per capita the music expenditure is “very high” and the percentage of albums sold in CD format is the highest in the world: 93% of all album sales are in CD format. The biggest asset for the music industry in general is that Holland is the home of Philips, which owns Polygram (with the German firm Siemens) and is originator of the com­pact cassette, compact disc (with Sony), and DCC. Its retail penetration is high, with one music outlet per 12,500 people, as compared with around one per 26,000 for the United States, one per 20,500 for Japan and one per 13,000 in the U.K. in 1993. Problems are its aging popula­tion and low birth rate, which have caused a decline in the singles market but have helped the CD establish itself in the Netherlands, as the generations of the 1960s and 1970s have been, and still are, recapturing the music of their youth on a digital format (1993 MBI World Report 79- 93; 1994 MBI World Report).

The supply share of country music in the Dutch music market, that is the share of country albums of all popular music albums released in the Netherlands, is small: 2.7% on average in the years 1975-1994, com­pared to the much larger share of 40.4% for pop music and even 13.9% for modem jazz. (The supply share of the rest of the albums released— classical music albums—fluctuated between approximately 30% and 35% in the years 1975-1994. This implies that the annual supply share of country music albums of all albums released in Holland then was 1.8% or 1.9%.)

The mentioned percentage of country music hardly differs from, for instance, the 2.2% supply share of blues and the 2.5% supply share on average of American swing music among all popular music albums released in the Netherlands in the same period. The average index of the number of releases for country was 75 in the years 1975-1979, 86 over 1980-1984, 117 over 1985-1989, and 122 in the years 1990-1994 (aver­age over 1975-1994 = 100), which indicates a relatively strong rise in more recent years (Christianen, “Culture”: appendix, tables 6 and 12). There is the crucial problem, however, that according to country music experts in the Netherlands, many albums are purchased through distribu­tors (“import shops”) that import their CDs directly from the United States. These sales are not reflected in the official numbers of sales of Dutch affiliates of the record companies concerned. These direct imports—most of which which are from small number of large distribu­tors—occur partly because until recently the record companies released new albums later than in the United States; hardcore country fans, in particular, want to obtain new releases as soon as possible. Some of these companies have started releasing simultaneously with the U.S. releases, although this remains the exception rather than the rule.

Other indications of country music’s impact may be derived from its dissemination through the mass media in Holland. There are no full-time country music stations that broadcast in the Netherlands or to the Nether­lands from abroad—with the exception of Country Music Radio (CMR), on the audio channel of CMT Europe (Astra) from 8:00 RM. until 8:00 A.M. CMR can be received only by those people who receive CMT Europe via their local cable or an individual dish antenna (see below).

Dutch public radio broadcasts only a few hours of country music per week, and until recently horizontal programming was lacking. This was not favorable to a large and stable audience. In October 1992, the NCRV (Nederlandse Christelijke Radio Vereniging) discontinued the long-running program Strictly Country Style presented by Harro de Jonge, and playing bluegrass and acoustic country music, which was unique in Europe. Since then there is no longer any special radio pro­gram that is fully dedicated to this musical genre on Dutch public radio. From September 1, 1995, there has been a horizontal country program­ming block on Dutch public radio, broadcast by the NCRV, EO, and KRO, Monday through Friday, 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., in which their sep­arate country hours, previously broadcast at different times, are placed in the same time slot.

In many localities special country programs broadcast by the Voice of America and BBC Radio Two 2 can be received on the cable, and fer­vent country fans tune in. The American Forces Network, also broadcast­ing several hours of country music weekly, is on the cable only in a lim­ited number of Dutch towns. Yet its program American Country Count­down is very popular among Dutch country fans. There are also country hours broadcast by commercial radio stations that can be received on the local cable and/or FM: Sky Radio, Radio 10 Gold, Power FM, Holland FM, Hit Radio, RTL Radio, and Radio Noordzee Nationaal. And there are also around 400 local radio stations (some with a large local market share), many of which broadcast country programs—usually one or two hours a week—and 14 regional radio stations, two of which broadcast real country programs: Radio Lelystad, in the province of Flevoland, in the central part of the Netherlands, and Radio Oost, in the eastern part of the Netherlands. Besides, all regional stations tend to broadcast a mix of popular music—including country music—in contradistinction to the more segregrated programming of the national broadcasters along the line of different kinds of music programs.

The impact of the special country programs should be relativized, though. The people who tune to these programs are hard-core country fans and occasional listeners—as far as FM frequencies are concerned, particularly people driving a longer distance in a car who put on the radio. But traveling distances are not very far in the Netherlands. For instance, the distance from the northernmost city, Groningen, to the southernmost city, Maastricht, is only 217 miles, and from the city of Haarlem, close to the west coast, to Enschede in the east of the country, not far from the German border, it is no more than 115 miles by car. In this small, cozy country with large urbanized and semiurbanized areas particularly in its western and central parts, people will almost never experience the trancelike state that driving on American highways in the American heartland may entail (Brinckerhoff Jackson 152-53). Such car driving is particularly conducive to appreciating country music, which like the blues both deplores and celebrates “being on the road” (Hatch and Millward 16-18). The existence of special country radio programs also has its possible drawbacks. Listeners who rely on the label “country music” may for that very reason switch to another station or even switch off their radio set altogether. A sandwich formula of music program­ming, in which country music alternates with other popular music genres, may make it easier to reach people who may like country music but are not fans.

Almost no country music is broadcast on Dutch television. Recent exceptions within the public broadcasting system have been specials on Garth Brooks and Billy Ray Cyrus. As to Christian country music, EO Television broadcasts Late Nite Concert and Spoor 7 specials. Occasion­ally there is also country music on foreign TV stations like BBC2, NBC, Super Channel, and Filmnet Plus (which are on many Dutch cable net­works), which observant country fans may watch (DCMA Jaarboek 1995: 18).

So far, Country Music Television, launched in Europe in October and marketed in Holland from February 1994, is on the cable only in a limited number of mostly small localities in parts of the provinces of North and South Holland and a single town in Gelderland. Penetration of CMT is proceeding very slowly; there is resistance from cable operators and city councils because CMT asks for a small payment (25 Dutch cents per household the first year, 50 cents the second year, and 75 cents from the third year onwards), whereas many other commercial broad­casters do not ask for money at all; in the case of public commercial broadcasters, cable operators may even receive money for giving them access on the cable (see below). Therefore there is no general agreement with VECAI (Vereniging van Exploitanten en Machtiginghouders van Centrale Antenne Inrichtingen), the national organization of cable opera­tors. In 1995 the number of households receiving the channel increased to more than 202,100, but it had decreased to somewhat less than 131,200 by January 1996. This was due to a change of management at Multikabel, the local cable operator in the north or North Holland, which did not follow up its “experiment of transmitting CMT by a regular transmission of this channel but took it off the cable instead” (Country Gazette, Feb. 1966: 3, 40, 44). Compared to the 5.4 million households that have cable in the Netherlands this is a very small number indeed. The reception by individual dish antennas is not included in this number, of course, but the number of such antennas is not yet very large in the Netherlands.

In Europe, CMT is broadcast from London, and it aims at a general European market. CMT fine-tunes the playlist for Europe by using best­seller charts and input from a viewer panel in the U.K. and Scandinavia. In addition to videoclips that appear on CMT in the United States, it spotlights what CMT itself calls “edgier artists” such as k.d. lang, Lyle Lovett, John Prine, and Nanci Griffith—as mentioned in the Nashville ’94 Music Industry Yearbook (54-55)—as well as European country acts like Sarah Jory (a very successful British country singer and pedal-steel guitarist), the Rockingbirds and country-rock veteran Chris Norman (also from the U.K.) and Somebody’s Darling, an acclaimed female duo from Norway. Due to the relatively high costs of the production of videoclips, however, only a few European acts have had opportunities to produce such clips yet. CMT’s basic philosophy for Europe is to be “par­ticularly sensitive to the specific needs of record companies and artist managers.” In addition, it also works with the record labels “to coordi­nate music videos with overseas product releases or concert appear­ances” (55). CMT believes that it will draw similar demographic groups—especially women between 18 and 54 years old—and large numbers of advertisers as it has been doing in the United States for some years now. In the United States, CMT has been the springboard for a new generation of young and hip country artists, and the network tries to spread this strong growth in country music to foreign markets as well. CMT expects that the European public, which shares America’s love for rock music, is inclined to embrace CMT and the new face of country music. One may wonder to what extent wishful thinking is involved here, in the case of the Netherlands, still with a general reluctance to country music.

In general, we may conclude that the number of hours of radio air­play of country music for the broader public is quite small, whereas its number of hours of television airplay is negligible—except, of course, in those localities where CMT is on the local cable network or is received at satellite dish homes. Even for jazz the situation is much better. Besides various jazz programs on public radio, there is also the broad­caster Eurojazz, on the cable in almost all localities in the Netherlands.

Concerts and Other Live Performances

American country music artists do give concerts in the Nether­lands—mostly mediated by the booking agency CMS productions (run by Cor and Greet Sanne), in recent years in cooperation with Mojo Con­certs, the most renowned booking agency in Europe. However, big stars who are currently famous in the United States perform only sporadically in Holland, mainly because of financial factors. If they visit Europe, they usually give performances only in the United Kingdom and Switzerland, where there are large venues and broadcasters who are able and willing to pay their high fees. They can earn much more in the United State than they ever will in Europe. The situation is quite differ­ent in the case of American bluegrass artists. Even major bluegrass acts will not always have enough opportunities to perform in the US— because this specific market is not very large there either—and may be eager to tour in Europe. Besides, not a few bluegrass musicians are ama­teurs or semiprofessionals who have other sources of income (e.g., as teachers, instrument craftsmen, repairmen, manufacturers of instruments, or owners of sales outlets). On the other hand, because the public for bluegrass and acoustric country music is not very large, booking agen­cies such as Strictly Country Agency can only organize a couple of tours a year, or link up to international tours organized by individuals or agen­cies elsewhere in Europe, and then organize one or two of the concerts in the Netherlands.

Younger top country acts have not yet drawn a large following in the Netherlands. Among others, stars like Vince Gill, Dwight Yoakam, Nanci Griffith, Alison Krauss, and Union Station have recently given concerts in Holland, but they have not become as popular as one would expect on the basis of their American successes. Diehards Johnny Cash and Way Ion Jennings, however, who both have a steady following in Holland, gave very succesful concerts in this country in 1995. Garth Brooks, including his large entourage, appeared on stage in the Nether­lands (Ahoy Hall in Rotterdam), heavily promoted by his recording company (EMI), on April 17, 1994. Though there was a full house (8,000 people)—country fans came from all parts of the Netherlands— watchers of country music in the Netherlands did not consider the con­cert itself a success with regard to the promotion of American country music. The act was much too big to get into closer contact with the Dutch audience. EMI Holland would like to have Garth Brooks back, but the grandiose format of his concerts would not work in Holland, according to its management. Just filling up the Ahoy with country fans does not accomplish anything; a different approach should be taken.

The situation is more favorable with regard to singer-songwriters. Especially artists at the margins of country music, with crossovers to blues, pop, rock, and occasionally even jazz, like John Hyatt, Lyle Lovett, and Bonnie Raitt, have a relatively large following in the Nether­lands, most of all among the Dutch counterpart of the Rolling Stone-gen­eration (often readers of Muziekkrant OOR). In the club circuit, which partly consists of govemmentally subsidized venues such as Paradiso and De Melkweg in Amsterdam, and Tivoli in Utrecht, “alternative” singer-songwriters outside the Nashville-based music industry have recently given quite a number of concerts which were highly appreciated by the growing number of aficionados of roots music in Holland. Rele­vant names here are Jimmy LaFave and his band Night Tribe, Buddie Miller, Steve Earle, Chris Smither, Ray Wylie Hubbard (“the last red­neck country-rocker”), Tom Russell, Wayne Hancock (“reincarnation of Hank Wiliams”), Townes Van Zandt, Jann Browne, and Ricky Lee Jones.

There is also a small but steady influx of Canadian country artists, mainly through the efforts of Crossroads Music, which is fully oriented toward Canada’s country and western scene. One should recognize that Canada is about 242 times as large as the Netherlands but has only 25 million inhabitants (including Quebec with around 8 million people), while the Netherlands has more than 15 million inhabitants. The spa­ciousness of Canada offers problems for touring country acts, and there is also much competition from the invasion of American country artists in Canada and a tendency among Canadian country artists who have reached fame and fortune in the United States to settle there. Initially, in the period 1987-1990, Crossroads Music organized festivals and tours of Canadian artists in the Netherlands, partly with the help from subsidies of the Cultural Departments of the provinces of Alberta and Ontario, and of Factor, a foundation that aims to encourage the production and the marketing of Canadian recordings and to stimulate the demand for Cana­dian records, artists, and composers. Paradoxically, through giving an international tour support grant this organization founded “to assist Canadian talent and records” (qtd. in Rutten and Oud 239-40) actually helped to disseminate music made by Canadian artists which was heav­ily based on American models, though they might give their specific “indigenousness” emphases. This is a problem that often arises when attempts are made to stimulate “national” cultural productions in a global context of mass-mediated culture with strong overtones of Ameri­can popular culture.

Major Canadian country acts such as Gary Fjellgaard, the Bobby Lalonde Band, Prairie Oyster, Michelle Wright (currently Nashville- based), Ian Tyson, the Goods and Farmer’s Daughter have toured in Hol­land and mostly performed in small towns in South Holland and South­ern Limburg, sometimes with a performance and interview on public radio’s program KRO’s Country Comer in Hilversum. These tours are usually part of a broader European tour that brings the artists involved also to country clubs and festivals in Germany and Switzerland.

Marketing and Promoting Country Music in the Netherlands

Currently three agencies in particular are active in promoting coun­try music in the Netherlands: the Dutch Country Music Association (DCMA), the Benelux Representative of the Country Music Association (CMA), and the music and entertainment conglomerate BMG-Ariola, in cooperation with MCA and CMT.

The main objective of the DMCA, founded in 1989, is to promote country music in the Netherlands, with special emphasis on Dutch coun­try music, though the international developments are taken into account as well. DMCA’s aims are also to inform and professionalize this music sector through various activities (Buma/Stemra Magazine). It is co-orga­nizer of the annual Dutch Country Music Award Show and holds song­writer sessions on a regular basis, in cooperation with Conamus (a national foundation which tries to promote Dutch musical works, origi­nal songs, etc.), Country Gazette, and the broadcasting organization KRO. Together with Conamus, the Edison Stichting (a Dutch foundation of the record industries for the promotion of popular music), and OLON (the national organization of local broadcasters), DCMA has released two samplers of original Dutch country music (in 1994 and 1995), meant primarily as promotional CDs for radio programmers who are members of DCMA. The aim is, of course, to have the listeners to the individual tracks purchase the albums. Also, the album Country Behind the Dikes (1995) was commercially released by Dino Music, for which compila­tion it had followed the suggestions of Conamus and DCMA. In its wake the label Telstar/CNR released a compilation of songs by its own country acts on the album The Best of Dutch Country (1995). DCMA has also taken the initiative for the monthly Country Album Top which has been published and promoted since 1991; it is compiled in cooperation with the Stichting Mega Top 50. DCMA sends a monthly mailing to local broadcasters with information about new releases, biographies about artists, etc. Another goal is the sale of new albums at cost to radio programmers and presenters. It registers the names of radio and TV producers and disc jockeys who have shown a positive attitude toward country music to be used by record companies in plugging CDs and so forath. Currently DCMA has about 250 members. Remarkably, thus far DCMA members are mainly representatives of local radio sta­tions rather than country artists (which number only 15 to 20).

In 1992 the Country Music Association (CMA) began to develop a really international approach to marketing country music. CMA then opened a Nashville-based international department (an investment of $.75 million) and also spent $200,000 operating the CMA European office in London (established in 1982). Since March 1994 the Interna­tional Committee of CMA has employed a deliberate marketing and pro­motion strategy to raise more interest in country music and increase its sales in the Netherlands (as part of Benelux). So far, CMA’s other main targeted territories in Europe are the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, and Scandinavia.

Aside from various incidental promotional activities the CMA Benelux Representative, Karen Holt, is responsible for the organization of two major promotional campaigns in the Benelux: the “CDX Interna­tional CD Service” and “Music City Now” projects. The first project (CDX) was launched in Europe in March 1994 to draw more attention to new country music, because the record labels do not yet release many country products in Europe or the Netherlands. Each month country music radio programmers—at the local, regional, and national level—are enabled to stay in touch with the latest releases and also the many new artists, through two CD compilations they receive from CMA (Country Gazette, Winter 1994/1995: 6). Music City Now is a CD compilation that is distributed regularly (about four times a year) among key figures and taste-makers in the music and media industries, mainstream radio and TV programmers, promotors and agents, record shops, publishers, journal­ists, critics, advertising agencies, etc. The latter compilation is aimed at people who may not be well aware of the current state of affairs in coun­try music but who fulfill a significant role as gatekeepers and should therefore be confronted with new developments in country in order to book progress for this musical genre. Both projects entail attempts to “educate” people and to raise and support interest in country music.

In attempts to popularize mainstream country worldwide, the record company MCA has organized a so-called New American Music tour with Marty Stuart, Trisha Yearwood, and Emmylou Harris (and a reunion of her former Hot Band—including Rodney Crowell—for this occasion) in Europe, which included a performance in the Congresgebouw in The Hague, April 1995. This tour was mainly sponsored by General Motors (which, through its network of Opel dealers in the Netherlands, distributed many free tickets among its regular customers) and secondarily by CMT. In a deliberate attempt to promote country music to a wider audience the term “New American Music” was employed, which led to negative responses among country aficionados, editors of country magazines, and booking agencies in the Netherlands (van Dam “New”).

All of these efforts concern mostly country music produced in, and distributed from, Nashville. Country music from outside of Nashville— especially those subgenres and hybrid genres from the Southwest United States—Texas (Austin) and California (Bakersfield, Los Angeles)—is not promoted as thoroughly. With some major exceptions like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and other “outlaws,” who more or less became accepted by Nashville in the mid-1980s, this music reaches Holland mostly through small-scale tours by some of these artists, reviews of their albums—often released on small labels—in Dutch coun­try magazines and sometimes pop magazine OOR (the Dutch counterpart of Rolling Stone), and sales of albums via import shops. It needs no fur­ther explanation that thus non-Nashville country remains even more strongly confined to connoisseurs of these musical styles and artists.

For one or two years BMG-Ariola Benelux has made special efforts to market country music in the Netherlands. For this purpose it has established a special unit, which also markets various so-called “alterna­tive” musics (rap, heavy metal, progressive guitar bands, grunge, etc.). In 1994-1995 it ran two so-called Absolute Country campaigns in coop­eration with MCA and opted for a more aggressive and articulate image of country music than in the New American Music tour mentioned above, which had not been very successful. Like other record compa­nies, BMG-Ariola is focused on breaking individual (country) artists rather than the genre itself. Its strategy is, through promotion of the genre and by trial and error, to try to get hit singles, ultimately to break specific country artists, and to sell a large number of their albums. In record shops that took part in these campaigns (advertised in magazines and newspapers and also indicated by special posters) customers could purchase a sampler CD of country music (released on the labels con­cerned, among which are the largest ones in Nashville: MCA, Arista, and RCA) at an inexpensive price: somehat less than ten Dutch guilders, whereas a regular, new CD would cost at least 30 guilders. Each month of the campaign (which lasted five months), with the “month” coupons in question, one could get a reduction of five guilders on maximally three CDs from a large number of album titles mentioned on a special leaflet published monthly. The second campaign was also carried out in cooperation with Country Music Television, which offered a compilation video with videoclips with partly the same newer country acts as on the sampler CD, to be shown in the Absolute Country record shops. The videotape contained a still in-between the videoclips, which was accom­panied by a spoken text in Dutch that made clear that people watched CMT videoclips and encouraged people to write to their municipal coun­cil or call their cable operator if they also wanted CMT on their local cable network.

Both campaigns were part of the proactive approach that BMG-Ariola was taking with the product. The basic strategy was to attack from the grassroots level of the existing “country public” and from thereon spread up, instead of the other way around. This public was seen as the crucial basis for whatever progress in the popularization of coun­try could be made. It also concerned a cross-company promotion effort through the cooperation with MCA and CMT. Absolute Country 1 was primarily sold in shops that already had reasonable to good country sales, though there were a couple of exceptions: shops that now sold country but had never done so. In the Absolute Country 2 campaign new retailers were participating, including the major department store Vroom & Dreesmann. The first Absolute Country sampler sold some 12,000 copies, with a spinoff of 10,000 artist albums (concentrated on certain high-sellers, especially superstar Alan Jackson and the solid country- rock group the Tractors) over a period of twelve weeks. The Absolute Country 2 sampler, with songs by Radney Foster, Lee Roy Parnell, Rodney Crowell, and the Tractors among others sold 5,000 copies in the first three weeks (the campaign started in August), which number had increased to 7,000 or 8,000 copies by mid-October 1995.

On the basis on these rather disappointing results BMG-Ariola has decided not to plan a follow-up to these campaigns. Its basic strategy now is to release new products much sooner than used to be the case— and whenever possible even before their release in the US—and also to add one or two bonus tracks to its CDs released in Europe, in order to gain benefits over direct imports from the United States.

Barriers to Greater Popularity of Country Music in the Netherlands

Because of its underlying values and associated lifestyles, country music tends to be experienced as more “American” and at a greater dis­tance from the everyday world of the Dutchmen than various other pop­ular music forms from the USA. This need not be an obstacle as such. On the contrary, it may even have strong appeal to particular groups of Dutchmen who are attracted to the symbolic world that is involved here. They may also not share all values, but still empathize with the thoughts and feelings that are involved. This issue refers more generally to the appeals that various forms of an imaginary America may exert upon as many different groups of people. Despite their differences, these imagi­nations all have the aura of “Americanicity” (Barthes’s Americanicite) or Americanness in common: elementary connotations of freedom, casual­ness, liberality, vitality, modernity, and youthfulness.

Duncan Webster has pointed out that American popular music is heavily involved with versions of an imaginary America, or rather with visions, as so much of this music and the discussions of it relate to cinema: music, landscape, and films are inextricably linked. Reference to films is part of American music’s resonance, whether through associa­tions with an American landscape, or direct allusion, or even actual involvement. When one listens to American music, it is heard with visual images in mind, and not just when it is actually attached to visual images (film, advertising, videos). Memories of films, television, and photography are brought into play, mediating music through ideas and images of the American city or countryside. This is enhanced by the fact that similar characters, settings, and themes are revisited in various media, and thus accumulate their specific connotations (Webster 158, 162-63). This back-projection mechanism implies an identification of popular culture and America.

Within the United States, various myths about “America” play an eminent role in everyday culture. There are also versions of an imagi­nary America related to specific regions or localities, for instance the mythic reverberations of the South (e.g., the Louisiana swamps, the Mis­sissippi Delta, the Ozarks), of the American Southwest, and of Texas in particular. These tendencies have their impact on contemporary Euro­pean audiences too. Paradoxically, this may even give audiences some sense of place through experiencing an imaginary American landscape, as it refers to deep-rooted feelings linked to experiences of growing up in postwar Europe under the impact of American popular culture. In the postmodern world of today we can be as much “at home” here or there as anywhere else. We may ask whether the place in question can really be home. There is no space that we “authentically” occupy. The home we miss is no longer a geographically defined place but rather a state of mind (Chase and Shaw 1, 15). A collective nostalgia may for the time being remain a basic experience of postmodemity for many people. Pop­ular culture may fill the gap by manufacturing images of home and root­edness. In that context country music can fulfill a special function for those people who are susceptible to its messages in this respect.

Certainly in the Netherlands—a small country, culturally firmly embedded in the U.S. orbit—“America” often functions as a projection screen for people’s fantasies and longings. Taking part in such an imagi­nary America may offer significant degrees of psychological freedom for those Dutch who experience their own society as too restrictive. Particu­larly the strong presence of expressive individualism in American cul­ture may be highly attractive to Europeans living in cultures that put much more emphasis on a communitarian structure of feelings, at the expense of precisely this kind of individualism (Bellah et al.). In this connection we should take into account that Holland is still a welfare state with its characteristics of a rather predictable way of life, and care- taking from the cradle to the grave, so to speak. From this perspective, immersing oneself in an imaginary America offers a way out of every­day boredom and the pettiness of Holland that the Dutch may experience (van Elteren, “I’m Free”).

It is the picaresque theme in American popular culture that has great attractiveness here. This component prevails in much American literature that focuses on ordinary people: from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, the works of John Steinbeck and Jim Thompson, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, to, more recently, the wave of “Dirty Realism” (with authors such as Bobbie Ann Mason, Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, Tobias Wolff, Elizabeth Tallent, and Frederic Barthelme), dealing with forgotten char­acters and regions in contemporary America, situated within the complex relationships between the local and national regional popular culture (Webster 4). Through its many westerns, B-movies, and road movies, Hollywood has also presented the romantic legends and myths about the cowboy, the pioneer, and the backwoodsman, the okie and hobo, the hell’s angel and the trucker to a general audience. These male characters all entail the archetype of the drifter or the rambling man. The character of the “honky tonk woman” may be considered a female counterpart, although not the only one. Especially in country and western music and country blues the urge to “travel on” is both celebrated and bemoaned. These musical traditions offered successive generations of American musicians a cultural reservoir of picaresque themes, phrases, and images, as well as complete songs (Hatch and Millward 16-18).

Though these appeal, values are present in most country music— and foremost embodied in the “outlaw” tradition—there are other ele­ments that make it less attractive to many of the Dutch, when compared with American pop and rock music. Yet even in pop/rock music Ameri­can images need not generate the same reverberations in the Netherlands as in the United States. Huub van der Lubbe, lead singer of the popular Amsterdam rock group De Dijk, which combines 1960s rhythm and blues music with Dutch-language lyrics that refer to very recognizable everyday situations in the Netherlands, has stressed the oddity of Dutch artists who sing about prototypical American things. Holland does not have endless highways, mountains, and millions of stars in the open sky at night. A big car does not stand for freedom in Holland but for trouble with the parking service. (Yet, the same applies to parking in big cities in America—although up to now this is hardly reflected in American imagery and lyrics about cars.) Another American icon in popular music lyrics, the train, may have similar connotations in the Dutch context, though. Everybody in the Netherlands knows about rain, canals, wet walls, and gray weather—therefore, rainy situations are often mentioned in the lyrics of songs of De Dijk (Hulsman; see also van der Lubbe). On the other hand, it can be argued that Dutch rock fans may appreciate American rock songs and their lyrics, even when covered by Dutch rock singers, because of the imaginary America that is involved. Vicariously driving a big American car on an endless highway, with a clear blue sky above, in the wide open space of “America” may be very attractive to those people who experience “little Holland” as stifling.

Among the general public in the Netherlands country music remains to be seen as “simple cowboy music,” associated with bams, haybales, and other rustic elements. It is considered waggish, very tradi­tional, and not innovative—its major themes would always stay the same. On the other hand, it is associated with pickup trucks, honky tonks, alcohol, bragging and fighting men, and seductive “evil women,” usually with negative connotations among this public. In contradistinc­tion to recent developments in the United States, country music has hardly crossed over to middle-class audiences, especially in the cities of the Randstad (the urban agglomeration bordered by the cities of Amster­dam, Haarlem, Rotterdam, and Utrecht), where people are more cos­mopolitan and have a general disdain for the parochialism and narrow­mindedness they are inclined to associate with country music. Unlike the situation in the United States, country music has also not gained much popularity among the baby boomers and the young in Holland.

In this connection we have to recognize a major difference between the United States and the Netherlands as regards social attitudes toward “the country.” In America there is a close link between cultural and political rhetorics and ideas of the land, which has been there from the very outset. This means that issues concerning “the land,” e.g., the farm crisis, touch on many more people than the estimated 3% of the popula­tion living on farms. The struggle is not only about the survival of small- scale agriculture, but it also, even more significantly, concerns the tradi­tions, myths, and symbols clustered around the image of the independent farmer. Farming is associated with a virtuous life, its labor producing not only food but also “moral simplicity” and independence. More generally, it refers to the idea of the United States as “a nation of cultivators” (Webster 2, 67). There is also probably no other country where the con­cept of “hometown” has such emotional resonance as in the United States. Archetypical of many ordinary Americans may be a nostalgia for what never was. They cling to the small-town myth, and often the mass media also glorify it (Lingeman 107; den Hollander).

In the Netherlands urbanization took off much earlier and set through more rapidly and more intensively in central parts of the coun­try. The Dutch Republic of the 17th century was more urbanized than other western nation-states at the time. A well-known expression is that “God made the earth, but the Dutch made the Netherlands.” It refers to the fact that few lands have been as much crafted by humans as has the Netherlands. Since more than half of the Netherlands lies below sea level, most of the country today would be under water if there had not been massive projects to modify the environment. There have been tech­nological interventions such as draining land from lakes and reclaiming the Zuider Zee. The Dutch have built thousands of polders. (A polder is a piece of land that is created by draining water from an area.) A second distinctive modification of the landscape in the Netherlands is the con­struction of massive dikes to prevent the North Sea from flooding much of the country. So the Netherlands is largely a manufactured and hardly a “naturally grown” land. Its latest manifestation is what has touchingly been called the “illusion landscape”: Farming-lands that have recently fallen vacant, and some remaining open spaces in the ever-growing urban environment, are transformed into “natural” ecological sites or even “natural reserves” with a highly planned biodiversity (Metz). This cultural heritage has produced very different social attitudes toward “the land” and toward farmers and farming in Holland than in America. For these reasons, generally, Dutchmen tend to be less attracted to rustic ele­ments, and the small-town myth in particular, as embedded in part of the imagery and lyrics connected with country music. They, too, do occa­sionally feel the need to escape from stressful urban-technological set­tings, though, and try to find some rest in places of “pure nature,” with­out the sights of pylons and apartment buildings and the roaring sound of the freeway in the distance. As in other modem western societies, there was a trend toward “living in the countryside” and “back to nature” among young urbanites in Holland during the late 1960s and 1970s. Yet, among the Dutch the general attitude toward “the land” tends to be very different from that of Americans. Compare the “bucolic nostalgia” that characterizes contemporary Japan, which has thriving country and blue­grass scenes—that owe their initial impetus to the American occupation after the Second World War. For that reason American country songs that refer to the countryside, such as John Denver’s “Country Roads”— which is also very popular in the Japanese karaoke bars—strike a chord even among those Japanese who have only a rudimentary understanding of the lyrics (Thompson 36-37; Kelly).

In the Netherlands most gatekeepers at strategic places in the music industry and mass media—disc jockeys and journalists of leading news­papers, in particular—share the negative opinions about country men­tioned earlier. Country is still the stepchild of a large number of radio programmers, though it seems to compare favorably with folk and blues music in this regard. Many disc jockeys of pop music and also other radio and TV programmers still tend to ridicule country music and even their colleagues who present country music programs. Some TV pro­grams have reinforced negative stereotypes about country music by overemphasizing rustic imagery (haybales and the like) and odd “west- em” outfits of specific individuals and groups among the audiences at concerts and festivals. These negative images resemble similar ones in other European countries—for instance, the United Kingdom (de Jong 16 and appendix II). Recently there is a change in the attitudes of DJs and radio programmers on public radio in the Netherlands, however. More country records are played during the daytime as DJs on Radio 2 (programmed as a “family station” with easy listening music and the like) discover the musical quality of new country acts like, for instance, Shania Twain. For the time being the overall attitude on public radio out­side Radio 2 remains one of resistance though. This might partly be a result of ignorance of contemporary country music productions exacer­bated by the fact that there are only a few hours of airplay of country music and the unwillingness of many local cable operaters to put CMT on one of their channels. Furthermore, new albums and concerts of country artists are hardly covered in the Dutch newspapers. This even applies to American top acts in country music. Such coverage occurs mostly in the Dutch country magazine Country Gazette, and as far as a select group of “better quality” country artists is concerned, in OOR. With only a few exceptions—some articles on “alternative” acts, country artists who cross over to pop, singer-songwriters in OOR and inciden­tally in the newspapers De Telegraaf, De Volkskrant, Trouw, recently even the high-brow newspaper NRC Handelsblad (Thomese; Meijer)— country music is not covered in the Dutch press. This offers problems with regard to the wider penetration of country music in the Netherlands. This is a great contrast to the way in which even very marginal Ameri­can rock and pop groups are covered in general newspapers and maga­zines, provided that they seem to offer something new or different to the journalists concerned.

There is another factor which may make country music less accessi­ble to a wider audience outside the United States. According to several experts, the lyrics are very important: they are meant to be heard. They have been called “3-minute word movies” (John Hartford, quoted in Lewis, All That Glitters 208), which hits their essential point quite nicely. In general, the melody is the more important factor in the selec­tion of material in rock music, but in country music the lyrics are crucial: the instrumental is subordinate to the vocal part (Buckley 199). One may ask whether this is always the case: a particular song may sound very attractive to people, though they need not understand all of the lyrics, or not even understand them altogether. More generally, of course, this con­cerns the complex issue of the meanings of musical texts. These entail more than just the lyrics but also components such as “the grain of the voice,” the performance, visual images (including videoclips more recently), and charisma in the case of stars, all to be analyzed in terms of the musical (sub)genre in question. For lack of necessary data I have to refrain from dealing with this issue here (for interesting discussions see Longhurst 158-92; Moore 154-87).

Although many of the Dutch understand colloquial American Eng­lish quite well, they may have problems with lyrics sung or spoken with a heavy southern drawl—if they do not have these lyrics available in print. Furthermore, they may not grasp the exact meanings of specific expressions in the country songs, because the symbolic world of most Dutch people is very different from that of American country fans. This problem applies especially to the tensions, conflicts, and contradictions in the country music themes (Buckley 198-207; Lewis “Tension,” 208- 20), which are very likely not to become clear from just a superficial hearing of the lyrics but need an adequate interpretation in terms of the everyday vicissitudes of “ordinary people” in America. These inconsis­tencies do not form a unified and neat pattern. According to George L. Lewis, who studied the core values embodied in the lyrics of country music:

There are concerns for individual expression and freedom, but also yearnings for the security and dependence of a stable family life. There are strong expres­sions of social conservatism, yet also an economic position that is in many ways liberal. There is the reverence of individual worth and character and, with it, the beckon of the honky tonks. There is the importance of work and the rejection of it as alienating, dull, and demeaning. There is the glorification of illicit sex and the yearning for a stable love marriage. (Lewis, “Mapping” 12)

Lewis has also stressed that musicians and songwriters are at their best “when they are probing the central tensions, irrationalities, and sources of potential variation of the culture in which they are working” (12).

On the other hand, the music itself usually appeals to the (modem western) ear very easily, and does not offer problems to listeners, except that they may consider the music too simple, predictable, or monoto­nous—which can be another reason to reject the country and western genre, of course. To audiences who are susceptible to this, the monotony aspect may be overcome by artists with highly individual voices and stage personalities with a magnetic appeal.

People in Holland may not easily recognize the ambiguities, am­bivalences, and tensions in the lyrics of many country music songs, and only think of a reactionary redneck mentality, thereby ignoring antiestab­lishment sentiments in various cases. Country music shares the tensions and complexity in its lyrical messages with the ideology of most populist movements in North America, within which there were and are similar tensions between “people power” and redneck conservatism. Besides, from the mid-1970s onwards, through the medium of country music, in particular the “outlaw” music scene in Austin, Texas, the southern arche­type of the redneck has partly turned into a heroic figure with “progres­sive” populist characteristics (Reid; Rodgers). Yet, as in most stereo­types, there are kernels of truth in the view of country music as a conser­vative enterprise, which makes country music less accessible to the Dutch. Strong U.S. patriotism as expressed in many country songs, both past and present, is an obstacle to many Dutch people, of course. Sym­bolic imagery that refers to the racist history of the South (confederate flags and ribbons), which specific country acts carry with them, may fur­ther evoke resistance among the receivers. This problem is exacerbated by the tendency of the Dutch to be more progressive in social and politi­cal affairs than Americans, at least in their self-perceptions and their social attitudes as verbally expressed in opinion polls and surveys (van den Broek and Heunks). Country music can then be pigeonholed as an essential component of the everyday culture of the vilified out-group.

Most people outside of the country scene in Holland (and not a few Americans as well) are unaware of the crucial changes that have occurred in American country music more recently. Many baby boomers in the United States have turned to country in their musical preferences. New artists have come forward who are more cosmopolitan and publicly demonstrate their progressive political stances and an awareness of envi­ronmental issues and AIDS. Country “is no longer the property of red­necks and honky-tonkers; it is the music choice of the mainstream,” according to Thomas G. Endres, who studied family themes in the top 100 country songs of 1992. This is reflected in the predominant themes in the lyrics concerned: “the dramatic images found within those songs advocate traditional family values of marriage, fidelity, and supportive parent-child relationships … love and mothers are replacing beer and prisons” (Endres 40). (He also emphasizes that this is consistent with the general conclusions of Jimmy N. Rogers’s 1989 book The Country Music Message: Revisited.) Only a small group of connoisseurs in the Netherlands are aware of the “New Country” sophistication that current singers like Rosanne Cash, Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, and others convey. It refers to some new images of the South that reflect economic shifts: Northern factories that moved to the relatively nonunionized Southern states and the arrival of capital and middle-class Northern immigrants in the transformed Southern cities, next to contemporary issues of more liberated male-female relationships. Admittedly, old ver­sions of the South live on and have even risen again in some new coun­try and rock music (Webster 164), but this is certainly not the main ten­dency.

Another barrier to a broader acceptance of country music in the Netherlands is the Christian emphasis in the themes of songs and public stances of quite a number of country artists, which is not received well among the general audience in the Netherlands. It cannot be denied that religion and country music remain symbiotic cultural institutions in the South, though the lyrics of country music often contain critiques of the values of organized religion and its messengers—which do not pertain to the individualistic religious orientation of many Southerners (Rogers and Smith). In this context it should be taken into account that nowadays Holland is one of the most secularized countries in the world, whereas Americans generally remain a religious people, according to findings in comparative survey research and opinion polls (Becker and Vink). Artic­ulate Christian country stars are popular among the orthodox Calvinist groups, however. The religious or Christian image of (part of) country music in the Netherlands is enhanced by the fact that from the national public broadcasters, only the three Christian-oriented organizations now have special country music programs: KRO (Catholic), EO (Evangelical Protestant) and NCRV (mainstream Protestant orientation). Especially the EO articulates its evangelical messages by broadcasting many Chris­tian country artists. So there is an element of truth in this particular image of country. In EO’s Country Trail a relatively large number of songs have explicitly Christian lyrics, in order to spread the gospel. Besides, this broadcasting organization also has special gospel music programs. Programmer Wim Pols and his Country Trail Band (one of the best-known gospel bands in Holland), assisted by Thirza (a singing group of three women), tour the Nederlands frequently and perform at Country Trail festivals organized by the EO, together with American top artists in the domain of Christian Country Music. This dissemination of Christian country music is part of a larger set of missionary evangelical organizations and activities of this growing evangelical movement in Holland (Vellenga, Tennekes, and Dekker). Intriguingly, in a paradoxical combination of modem media technology and fundamentalist antimod- emism, the EO borrows selectively from the U.S. cultural repertoire and employs American TV productions of a fundamentalist Christian bent to resist modernity and spread its ideas about creationism and fundamental­ism in the Netherlands, according to the Dutch Americanist, Rob Kroes (7-8).

Through a relatively strong emphasis on Nashille-oriented country music on Dutch public radio (somewhat less in NCRV’s Route 66), pre­vailing views of country music among the general public may be further reinforced. Other strains of country music get only little airplay on Dutch radio, with the exception of a few so-called roots music programs, usually scheduled at very inconvenient hours for most people. Moreover, several of these programs have been canceled by the public broadcasting organizations: not long ago Op Slag van Maandag, presented by Hubert van Hoof on Radio 3, from 10 p.m. until midnight, and very recently Jan Donkers’s VPRO radio program Sunday Morning Coming Down, in which many Austin-oriented singer-songwriters gave live performances. This means that aficionados of this genre have to resort to the very few programs left—particularly Paezens & Moddergat (named after two adjoining hamlets at the north coast of Friesland) by Wim Bloemendaal on VPRO radio, Wednesday and Saturday, Radio 1, 5:00- 7:00 a.m. and Radio 1, 5:00-6:00 a.m.—and to special labels in this cate­gory, such as Rounder Records, High Tone Records, and Munich Records.

Men dressing in cowboy outfits at festivals and concerts and at out­door festivals in western style in the still prevailing ways are likely to reinforce the negative images of country music mentioned earlier in this article. This is even more the case in Holland, since the cowboy figure does not exercise such attraction to Dutch men as it still does for a con­siderable segment of the American male population (Dunne 236-37). Understandably, it is a deliberate policy of key figures in Strictly Coun­try circles not to allow western wear stands at their festivals, as they do not want excessive cowboy imagery to be associated with their music.

There is also a strong feeling among promotors of country music in the Netherlands that the primary focus should be on artists who do not have an articulate cowboy image. Several of these promotors are of the opinion, however, that currently such an image is becoming more pro­nounced in the looks and songs of the newer country acts from Nash­ville. This would offer fewer chances for country singles to become hits in the Netherlands than those released a few years ago.

Country music is not the only genre that is struggling against a neg­ative image. Until recently the national popular-populist repertoire, with its characteristic tearjerker-type of songs, also had a phony kind of image in Holland. But due to its belated acceptance as part of the Dutch musical heritage by some influential disc jockeys and pop music critics, as well as its temporary popularity as camp among students and young intellectuals, this genre is now doing better than ever.

Finally, a restrictive factor for a broader reception of country music in Holland is a strong tendency among adherents of country music to keep things cozy and small-scale within groups of like-minded people. This may partly be due to the fact that they are a “denounced” minority with specific musical tastes, which is always likely to turn into a close- knit community of music aficionados. We find similar tendencies among adherents of heavy metal and grunge rock, for instance. Yet, this in­group mentality makes country music less accessible to potential adher­ents, or even to real fans of the music who precisely for this reason will not take part in local country scenes.


For various reasons described earlier in this study, country music is not very popular in the Netherlands, despite the musical and sociopsy- chological appeals that its various subgenres may entail to particular cat­egories of the Dutch. A broad crossover of mainstream country to middle and high socioeconomic groups, or to baby boomers and younger age groups, as has occurred in the United States in recent years, has failed to come yet—if it ever does. As a whole the Dutch country scene that does exist is strongly oriented toward the Nashville variants of country, whereas the other significant sites of today’s country music produc­tion—Austin, Texas, in particular—draw much less attention (see, for an overview of the local variants of country music, van Elteren “Dutch”). This is starting to change, however, not least of all because the American and European labels concerned have recently become more active in marketing and promoting their products in Europe. They serve a small but growing group of aficionados of these forms of country and related kinds of roots music. Furthermore, there is a thriving scene of bluegrass and old-time country music of international stature, notwithstanding its small scale.

Up to now attempts to promote new American acts in Holland among a general audience have not been very successful—even megas­tar Garth Brooks is not a top star here, although through recent cam­paigns some progress has been made in radio airplay and the sales of albums. For the time being country music in the Netherlands remains a marginal genre in the world of popular music.