ON the surface, it would appear that American country music has a very limited following in India. Talk about the genre, and the average western music listener will mention only a handful of artistes and songs. The number of albums sold in Indian stores is much lower than rock or pop, and there have hardly been any country shows in India, in comparison to western classical and jazz. The only show I remember attending was Dan Seals at a private US consulate appearance in 1995. The death of the legendary Ray Price in December went unnoticed in the Indian media.
Yet, if you were at the Willingdon Catholic Gymkhana in Santa Cruz on Tuesday, February 4, you’d have been surprised to see the turnout and enthusiasm at the Bellamy Brothers show. It simply proved that there is a cult following for country music in India.
While the total crowd strength was estimated at 3,500 ― 12-15 per cent of which may probably have been those with complimentary tickets ― what added to whole show was the sheer ambience. Mostly comprising Goans and local Christians, people came in their Stetson hats and cowboy boots, and danced to the peppier numbers. Even more surprising was the fact that a few people sang along the lyrics of most songs, something one has seen at rock shows like Roger Waters or Scorpions.
Personally, I have had a limited exposure to David and Howard Bellamy. Back in the late 1970s, one heard their hits ‘Let Your Love Flow’ and ‘If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me?’ on the radio. Then, in the late 1990s, I had heard their album ‘Live at Gilley’s’, which featured the songs ‘For All The Wrong Reasons’, ‘Getting Into Reggae Cowboy’ and ‘Do You Love As Good As You Look?’. But that was it.
These five songs were among the highlights of the 90-minute set, besides the opener ‘Feeling The Feeling’, ‘For All The Wrong Reasons’, ‘Get Into Reggae Cowboy’ , ‘Redneck Girl’, ‘Old Hippie’, ‘You Ain’t Just Whistlin’ Dixie’ and ‘Crazy from the Heart’. A highlight was ‘Pray For Me’, the concluding gospel track which lent variety. Besides the regular lead and acoustic guitars, bass, keyboard and drums, a highlight of the sound was the use of the steel guitar, which gave a typical country feel.
Hailing from Darby, Florida, the Bellamy Brothers were formed in 1968 but took almost eight years to achieve mainstream success. While they initially focused on pop songs, they later began concentrating on country and country-rock, getting a more devoted audience. Their popularity was at its peak in the 1980s, and though chart success eluded them later, their core audience continued to grow.
On this tour, the Bellamy Brothers also played in Goa. The success of the Mumbai show proves a couple of things.
One, the choice of venue was fantastic. Though there was one drawback in that there were a couple of residential buildings nearby (probably enjoying free music), it was a pleasant space, suited for live entertainment. One hasn’t seen a major show at Willingdon, and this could be used for more concerts in future. Reasonably priced food and beverages added to the audience’s satisfaction.
Secondly, and more important, the concert gave good evidence that there is a market for live country acts in India. Though the opponents of country music may feel the songs are too structured and even repetitive, there are clearly many takers for this sound too. For some strange reason, this area has remained untouched by event organisers, and hopefully, this show will be an eye-opener. Time to think of organising shows by Billy Ray Cyrus, Shania Twain, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum.