Big Apple produces big country sound

Country music should not be defined geographically.

Pigeonholing country music to meccas such as Nashville and Texas is a disservice, especially when cities like Brooklyn are embracing their own forms of country, albeit a bit more recklessly than that of other cities.

Southwest Colorado will get a dose of Brooklyn’s brand of country this weekend when The Defibulators take the stage on Reservoir Hill for the Pagosa Folk and Bluegrass Festival. Then Saturday, they’ll move west for a return appearance at the Dolores River Brewing Co.The Defibulators is a big bunch: Bug Jennings on banjo, guitar, harmonica and vocals; Erin Bru on vocals; Chris Hartway on electric guitar; Michael Riddleberger on drums; David Dawda on bass; and Bobby Hawk on fiddle. The group’s record “Corn Money” ended up on many best-of lists nationwide last year, including mine.Frontman Jennings, a Texas native, came late to the country party, although his draw toward the genre was a progression experienced by many Gen-Xers. He grew up listening to metal and punk, accidentally stumbled upon country music and dove in.

“I bought my first Hank Williams record at Tower Records on Fourth Street in Manhattan,” Jennings said from his Brooklyn home. “The moment I heard that, it was a huge shock and epiphany. The music had been under my nose the whole time, and somehow I wasn’t exposed to it. I became hooked immediately and started listening to as much classic country as I could.”

Sometime in 2005, a loose band was formed after a few guys were asked to play a show. A hazy memory revealed that the early Defibulators played some classic country, some rockabilly and some Misfits. They remained a bipolar version of a country band until they realized that maybe being that scattered could actually be their own sound.“For a while, we thought we’d be a straight-up rockabilly band. Then I picked up a banjo and thought, ‘now we got to be a bluegrass band.’ Then we got a fiddler, and I was thinking western swing is where it’s at,” Jennings said. “We didn’t really commit to any one of those particular styles, although at different times I wanted to. When we started writing original stuff, it ended up a combination of all those things.”The sheer beauty of their sound – from power chords on a banjo behind a twangy Telecaster solo, to a weep-in-your-beer ballad to a Cash cover – is that it’s country while giving a middle finger to the same “New Country” that purists may accuse them of playing. It’s not Nashville, and it’s not Austin. It’s New York’s brand of country, high-fiving Hank Williams and Joey Ramone while kicking Blake Shelton in the groin.

“Our band wouldn’t exist without New York City,” Jennings said. “I’m pretty confident that, for whatever reason, if I hadn’t moved to New York City and found country music, I wouldn’t have started this band. The energy of New York, the punk energy, fed our style and our drive to keep this music going.”

Liggett_b@fortlewis.edu. Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager.

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