Boston Is Taking on the Country Trend

This is still Boston, not Austin. But there’s a new twang in town.
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Photograph Courtesy of WKLB

I thought there’d be more cowboy hats. It’s a rainy Sunday in July, and there’s a curbstone-to-curbstone crowd on ­Lansdowne Street stretching from the Cask to Jillian’s. And although it smells like beer and leather, this Sox cap–wearing crowd isn’t here for a ballgame; they’ve come to see a concert by Eric Paslay, Frankie Ballard, Dustin Lynch, and more as part of country station WKLB’s annual street party.

Our blue-hearted bastion of liberalism is (God help us) enjoying a country renaissance, much of it right on this block. This summer, the Zac Brown Band sold out Fenway Park two nights in a row, and Loretta’s Last Call, a country-themed restaurant, opened right across the street. Across town, the Harp—a bar better known for sports-watching than line dancing—has seen a 15 percent increase in attendance during its country-themed Friday nights.

Want to get down with the hoedown? Here’s how.

Step One: Drink moonshine. Located “deep in the heart of Fenway,” as one sign has it, Loretta’s Last Call has Lone Star in a can, Waylon albums on the wall, live bands on stage, and a jukebox for when they ain’t. It’s also the only place in town with a whiskey list and a moonshine list. Turns out city slickers aren’t afraid of the ’shine. “It’s been selling like crazy,” says operations manager Chris Williams.

Step Two: Change the presets on your radio dial. Is this town really big enough for two country-music stations? We’re about to find out, now that 101.7 FM has switched formats to “The Bull.” The station formerly known as alt-rocker WFNX—before undergoing an all-EDM “Evolution” in 2012—is now playing Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum, and Billy Currington in heavy rotation. Still, ratings for WKLB, the grandpappy of Boston country, are sky-high: According to program director Mike Brophey, the station rose to number two in the most recent ratings, up from eight in 2010.

Step Three: Cowboy (or cowgirl) up. Sure, you could go see country’s biggest stars—Miranda Lambert is at the Xfinity Center in Mans­field on September 6, and Trace Adkins is at the Wilbur on November 16—but there’s a slew of homegrown country bands right here. Locals like Dalton and the Sheriffs—who play regular gigs at the Bell in Hand and the Greatest Bar—were performing in half-empty rooms just two years ago. Now they’re opening for sold-out shows at the House of Blues. “When we first started, you would be hard-pressed to find a bar with a country night,” says lead singer Brian Scully, an Abington native. “And it seems like now every bar has at least one.”

Melissa Malamut
Melissa Malamut Melissa Malamut, Senior Editor, Health, at Boston Magazine