North By East
Why is country and western Mainers' favorite music?
Why is country and western the favorite music of Mainers?
One of Maine’s quirks, an aspect to life in the Pine Tree State that flummoxes visitors, especially those from our neighboring urban states, is our unabashed affection for country and western music. The northeastern U.S. is not generally thought of as an outpost of Nashville, a place where George Strait reigns supreme, but Mainers are the exceptions to the rule, dating back to the days when Dick Curliss warbled about a tombstone every mile. Nine out of ten lobstermen prefer Carrie Underwood to Mariah Carey.
Just ask Slim Andrews, country musician and co-founder of the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame. He says that country music and Maine make for a good match. “Country music is soul music, really,” he says. “It tells a story, and people in Maine are, well, down-home people.”
The bluegrassy, old-time country tunes were also some of the only music rural parts of the state could get back in the forties when Andrews was growing up in New Auburn. “Back in the days when you didn’t have TV, and all you had was radio, country music was some of the only music you heard because it came from fifty thousand-watt clear stations,” says Andrews. “The only [station] I could bring in was from Wheeling, West Virginia. I would go to sleep with my earphones on listening to that music. It had a tremendous influence on the people in Maine.”
Andrews is not exaggerating. Five organizations, encompassing more than one thousand members, devote themselves entirely to picking and grinning. There’s the Pine Tree State Country Music Association, the Maine Country Music Association (the oldest), the Down East Country Music Association, the Bluegrass Music Association of Maine, and the Maine Academy of Country Music (the largest and newest).
But there’s only one Maine Country Music Hall of Fame. Founded in 1977 by Slim Andrews and Barry Dean, the hall took a while to settle down (sort of like that hard, hard traveling man, Dick Curliss, when you think about it). But as of last year, it has occupied a space above the Silver Spur club on Route 11/121 in Mechanic Falls, where it displays memorabilia and mementos from more than sixty honorees (another thirty will be inducted this year) who have made their mark on this Maine musical genre.
Soon the hall will have a permanent home of its own. After decades of fund-raising, the organizers have purchased five acres in the town of Greene with intentions to build a facility there, a dream come true for Andrews who is quite aware of the fact that country music in Maine isn’t a lucrative industry. “A lot of the Maine entertainers never gravitated towards Nashville, where the actions is, because music has always been a part-time thing up here. It’s a labor of love.”