Alternative Country/Americana Music Movements

Updated: February 28, 2011

Americana is an umbrella term used to categorize a variety of hybrid musical styles incorporating elements of genres considered native to America, including American folk, country, rock, blues, and jazz.

Americana is an umbrella term used to categorize a variety of hybrid musical styles incorporating elements of genres considered native to America, including American folk, country, rock, blues, and jazz. Alternative country, a term often employed synonymously with Americana, refers more specifically to a contemporary subgenre of country music that finds influence and inspiration in earlier, traditional country music (including that from Appalachia), while rejecting the more polished crossover country music associated with Nashville since the 1960s.

Alternative country music (sometimes called alt.country) celebrates the rural-based, traditional sounds of the early years of recorded country music; the “hard-core” country music of the 1950s and early 1960s; and previous country and rock musicians who incorporated those earlier styles into such amalgams as country rock and progressive country music. The alternative country scene is also de- voted to the ballad traditions of America’s early settlers, as well as to blues, old-time music, bluegrass, and folk music (including labor and protest songs).

Within the context of its acknowledgment of earlier genres of rural music, the alternative country movement has embraced a number of Appalachian musicians. From its inception in 1995, No Depression, the magazine that most comprehensively chronicles the alternative country movement and the Americana sound, has published articles on numerous Appalachian musicians, including Dock Boggs, Sarah Ogan Gunning, Ralph Stanley and the Stanley Brothers, Merle Travis, the Louvin Brothers, Hazel Dickens, Jean Ritchie, Roscoe Holcomb, Jimmy Martin, Doyle Lawson, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton. To contemporary alternative country musicians, such Appalachian musicians, as well as particular musicians from other American regions, embody the cultural roots of country music.

While numerous musicians had offered alternatives to mainstream country and urban pop and rock styles since the late 1960s, the alternative country movement crystallized in the early 1990s around the fan base of the country- influenced rock group Uncle Tupelo. Many other musicians gained from the burgeoning interest in American roots music. Several natives of Appalachia who were formerly major commercial country music stars (including Ricky Skaggs, Dolly Parton, and Patty Loveless) by the turn of the century had embraced a more traditional sound and garnered renewed artistic and commercial success.

The alternative country movement’s dramatically widened fan base was evident in the popularity of the 2000 soundtrack to the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which over the next few years was one of the best-selling and most discussed albums in any genre. This soundtrack not only featured such Appalachian musicians as Norman Blake and Ralph Stanley, but also included a number of non-native musicians performing traditional and older commercial southern and Appalachian songs in arrangements strongly influenced stylistically by the Appalachian musical legacy. The soundtrack’s success at the Grammy Awards—where it won in the Album of the Year and the Best Soundtrack Album categories for 2001—confirmed an unprecedented popular appreciation for Appalachian music.

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MLA Style

"Alternative Country/Americana Music Movements," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2017, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 24 Apr 2017 <http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=25>

APA Style

"Alternative Country/Americana Music Movements." (2017) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved April 24, 2017, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=25

David Rawlings and Gillian Welch