FAREWELL TO ARMS?

Many in coun­try mu­sic stay mum as gun con­trol laws in spot­light

Edmonton Journal - - MOVIES - KRISTIN M. HALL

NASH­VILLE When singer Meghan Lin­sey first started her coun­try duo Steel Mag­no­lia, a part­ner­ship with the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion was sug­gested as a way to grow their au­di­ence. The pro­posal, which she re­fused, was a com­mon­place ex­am­ple of how in­ter­twined gun own­er­ship is with coun­try mu­sic.

The mass shoot­ing on the fi­nal day of Route 91 Har­vest Fes­ti­val in Las Ve­gas has em­bold­ened some coun­try mu­si­cians to call for gun con­trol, even as many oth­ers de­clined to weigh in. Plenty of artists avoid the is­sue be­cause there’s a real risk of back­lash as gun lob­by­ists have bol­stered a con­nec­tion be­tween the pa­tri­otic themes found in coun­try mu­sic to gun own­er­ship in re­cent years.

“I just feel like you’re so cen­sored as a coun­try artist,” said Lin­sey, an in­de­pen­dent mu­si­cian who took a knee af­ter singing the an­them at an NFL game.

“I feel like the la­bels like to keep you that way. They don’t want you to speak out. They don’t want you to say things that would up­set coun­try mu­sic lis­ten­ers.”

She added: “Peo­ple worry about be­ing Dixie Chick-ed.”

The Dixie Chicks still loom large as a les­son in coun­try-mu­sic pol­i­tics. The hugely pop­u­lar group was boy­cotted af­ter lead singer Natalie Maines crit­i­cized then-U. S. pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush on the eve of the Iraq War in 2003.

The Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion has fur­ther strength­ened the re­la­tion­ship be­tween guns and coun­try mu­sic with its life­style and mu­sic brand called NRA Coun­try. NRA Coun­try has sought to tie the mu­sic to gun-linked ac­tiv­i­ties like hunt­ing or out­door sports, but with­out men­tion of po­lit­i­cal is­sues.

Since about 2010, the NRA Coun­try brand has been placed on coun­try mu­sic tours and con­certs, mer­chan­dise, an al­bum called This Is NRA Coun­try, a mu­sic video and more. It fea­tures performers such as Hank Wil­liams Jr. and Trace Ad­kins. It’s un­clear how much the NRA has spent on the brand, and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the group did not re­spond to re­quests for in­for­ma­tion.

Coun­try duo Big & Rich, who have per­formed at NRA-spon­sored events, were at the fes­ti­val just hours be­fore Stephen Pad­dock be­gan fir­ing from his room at the Man­dalay Bay Ho­tel. They said it wasn’t the weapons that were the prob­lem, but the man us­ing them.

“I think if a man has ill will in his heart, then there’s weapons ev­ery­where,” Big Kenny said.

“I mean he can pick up a — any­thing — make a bomb, put it in his shoe. We have some­body try­ing to blow up stuff on trains con­stantly.”

The shoot­ing changed the mind of Caleb Keeter, a gui­tarist for the Josh Abbott Band, who was among those at the fes­ti­val dur­ing the at­tack.

He wrote in a widely shared tweet that he had been a life­long Sec­ond Amend­ment sup­porter: “I can­not ex­press how wrong I was.”

Keeter said a sin­gle man laid waste to a city be­cause of “ac­cess to an in­sane amount of fire­power.” Pad­dock had 23 guns in his room, some of which had at­tach­ments that al­low a semi-au­to­matic ri­fle to mimic a fully au­to­matic weapon. Oth­ers, in­clud­ing Jen­nifer Net­tles of the band Su­gar­land and Sh­eryl Crow, have joined the call for gun con­trol.

But there are risks.

When coun­try artists have in the past tried to wade into gun pol­i­tics, it can turn into a no-win sit­u­a­tion.

Tim Mc­Graw had to de­fend his par­tic­i­pa­tion in a ben­e­fit con­cert for vic­tims of a mass shoot­ing at the Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School in Con­necti­cut af­ter crit­i­cism from gun-rights ad­vo­cates. His open­ing act, Billy Cur­ring­ton, pulled out of the per­for­mance over the con­tro­versy.

“As a gun owner, I sup­port gun own­er­ship, I also be­lieve that with gun own­er­ship comes the re­spon­si­bil­ity of ed­u­ca­tion and safety — most cer­tainly when it re­lates to what we value most, our chil­dren,” Mc­Graw said in 2015. “I can’t imag­ine any­one who dis­agrees with that.”

Many artists ex­pressed grief over the Las Ve­gas killings with­out wad­ing into pol­i­tics. Along­side her hus­band Vince Gill, Amy Grant led a prayer at a vigil in Nash­ville a day af­ter the shoot­ing, while Maren Mor­ris re­leased a song called Dear Hate, in which she but de­clares “love con­quers all.”

Ja­son Aldean, who was on stage at the fes­ti­val when the shooter opened fire, said, “This world is be­com­ing the kind of place I am afraid to raise my chil­dren in.” Many oth­ers have do­nated to funds set up to help the vic­tims.

Singer Rosanne Cash, a long­time gun-con­trol ad­vo­cate, called on the coun­try mu­sic com­mu­nity to do more in an op-ed in the New York Times.

“It is no longer enough to sep­a­rate your­self qui­etly,” Cash wrote. “The laws the NRA would pass are a threat to you, your fans, and to the con­certs and fes­ti­vals we en­joy.”

DALE MACMIL­LAN

Coun­try su­per­star Ja­son Aldean was on stage when a gun­man fired into a crowd of con­cert­go­ers in Las Ve­gas on Oct. 1. The shoot­ing left more than 50 peo­ple dead and 500 in­jured.

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