By: Liam Berti

Emerson Drive singer Brad Mates, left, joins Doc Walker’s Chris Thorsteinson for an encore performance. Roughly 700 people attended the concert.


The second that the booming snap of the snare drum sent the Robert C. Gillett Student Commons Theatre into frenzy the stage lights lit up the capacity crowd, revealing the new face of the country fan-base.

Those who filled the seats for Country Music Television Hitlist Tour on March 20 were a representation of the country-western genre’s relatively new addition to their devotees: the urban, college-age demographic.

While the traditional country fans were present in the crowd as well, the youthful enthusiasm of the college students was just as prominent. Despite Algonquin being the only college venue on the tour, the performers were quick to call attention to the growth of the new country demographic.

“When you listen to some of my songs, they’re just meant to be fun and this is the age group that loves to have fun,” said Aaron Pritchett before the show, one of the headlining acts of the tour. “The crowd is younger than it is older, but when you come to a college like this you expect it to be high energy and rowdy.”

With sound check complete and weeks of anticipation ready to come to fruition, Pritchett took to the stage in front of roughly 700 fans, most of which were Algonquin students. Pritchett’s unique sound, which packs a heavy punch similar to rock, sparked an enormous reception from the crowd before Doc Walker and Emerson Drive followed suit.

“Ultimately the common denominator of the demographic that I write for is the 16-30-year-old that just likes to have fun,” said Pritchett. “I try to keep in mind something that everybody can relate to.”

Music critics across the country have attributed the new surge of fans to the genre’s blending of traditional country-western sound with new pop and rock music trends.

A brand that was once identified with southern United States outlaws and rural folk has slowly crept into the hearts of young urban listeners across the continent. When exactly the transition took place is up for debate, but critics and musicians alike are starting to take notice of the new diversity of fans.

“Country music, historically, goes through these cycles,” said Jada Watson, a PhD student at Université Laval whose specialization and dissertation focus on country music and its identity. “You maybe don’t hear all the country instruments such as fiddle, mandolins and banjos, so you’re seeing that artists are moving towards more experimentation in their instrumentation.

“Country is more than a twangy voice and a banjo, and if we look at country history, we’ll see that its constantly in this cycle between a pop-rock sound and a traditional one,” said Watson. “As the wave of tradition versus popular music it happens, these artists just pull from everything around them.”

Last year alone, the Billboard charts reported that five of the top 10 highest selling albums of 2012 were from the country-western genre, with those records accounting for roughly seven million albums sold. According to their website, the country brand had never claimed more than four of the top 10 spots before 2012.

But while the music is still associated as a single, unified genre, even some of the listeners are starting to adapt to the new sound that has reeled in a noticeably new mainstream crowd.

“There’s a little bit more of a ‘show’ aspect to country performances and I think that helps draw in a younger audience,” said Colin Mills, program coordinator for the music industry arts program at Algonquin. “The production is increased to be more of a show with big lights and big sound, where traditionally those aspects were more geared towards rock and pop acts.”

Ultimately, the brand that people now call country is drawing more attention than ever, both in album sales and concert attendance. Whether it’s because of varied instrumentation or an experimentation in sound, the fans are loving it and the crowd is growing.

“Country music is kind of a melting pot genre,” said Watson. “It’s not necessarily to do with the music itself, but some type of perceived notion of what country is for them.”