June 9, 2009 — Alan Jackson just announced his first Scandinavian tour, Dierks Bentley ventured last month to Australia, and Randy Travis has a series of August dates slated for Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Country artists periodically attempt to stake out a claim beyond North America, and the idea of making the genre a global commodity seems to be taking hold once again. Joe Nichols, Deana Carter and Taylor Swift all appeared recently for the first time Down Under, and Pam Tillis hit Ireland and the U.K. for the first time in April.
For many, touring overseas is a tough decision. Most other nations don't have radio stations or TV channels devoted solely to the the genre, making it more difficult to give fans a taste of the artists beyond the top crossover performers. Plus, travel is expensive and they're likely to get a smaller fee, making it much more difficult on the bottom line than playing in the U. S.
Still, while the music industry is a business, it's also an art that's meant that to be shared.
"You can't forget that little dream you had to begin with," Dierks told the Associated Press. "If someone told you when you were 17 years old that there would be a chance to go to Europe and sing in front of people, you would have jumped at the chance. It's not all about making money."
Dierks opened for Brooks & Dunn on the Aussie tour, which was the second for the duo in two years. But Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn had waited more than 15 years to finally cross the ocean. Some other acts in the past — notably Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Don Williams and Glen Campbell — made a point of playing other parts of the world, and it gave their careers some longevity.
In addition, working other countries gives them some pretty unique experiences. In some parts of Europe, for example, there's an element of the audience that still thinks of country music as country & western music, with some of the fans appearing at shows in full cowboy regalia. Plus, music listeners in Europe care about the backing musicians as much as the stars. Guitarists, keyboard players and drummers are just as likely to get hit up for autographs as the headliners.
And, of course, there's the accent.
"We played this place in Berlin not too long ago, and I was up there singing 'Raining on Sunday' and let the audience sing," Keith Urban told the Associated Press. "They sing in English, but it's this real thick German accent. It seemed pretty surreal."
With the CMA Music Festival officially revving up Thursday, the Country Music Association and Aristo Media organized showcases for international artists in Nashville Monday and Tuesday. Former Mavericks bass player Robert Reynolds hosts Tuesday's show at the Lower Broadway club Second Fiddle. Collectively, the 16 acts presented during the two days represent France, Australia, Norway, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.