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.”