Inside the Mix

Uniting of New York and country music has megahit potential for media and ad execs

Uniting of New York and country music has megahit potential for media and ad execs

In every city, there's a hidden faction; a group of people whose interests seem to run quietly counter to their surroundings, and therefore exist in a kind of underground pocket of society.

It's the ability to find these people that makes a city immediately more interesting (and the reason I love Houston), and an interesting marketing proposition.

The Country Music Association (CMA) seems to be taking a bet on this being the case for country music fans in New York, as it plans to bring the annual Country Music Awards here for the first time this November. As of two weeks ago, it's actively seeking sponsors and branded partnerships - a compelling proposition for brands who want to bridge the seemingly oil-and-water audiences of New Yorkers and country music fans.

The only time I've come across country fans en masse in New York was a couple of years ago when I went to the Bowery Ballroom - home of alternative rock and gathering place for Lower East Side hipsters - to see Jerry Jeff Walker, an old timer from Texas who wrote such classics as Up Against The Wall Redneck Mothers. I'd heretofore kept my recent interest to myself, but on seeing all the (non-ironic) cowboy hats, boots, and buckles suddenly swarming on Delancey Street, I felt the kind of relief that attending an encounter group meeting brings. But where did they all come from?

In fact, New York jockeys for position with Los Angeles as the largest country-music market by record sales, despite the fact that it doesn't have a radio station devoted to the genre. Kimberly Spell, director of communications for local development body NYC Marketing (who worked in partnership with the CMA to bring the awards here), confirms that despite conventional wisdom, New Yorkers have a fascination and a familiarity with country music that goes beyond kitsch.

For the CMA, while the "intrigue factor" was a compelling reason to consider holding the awards ceremony in the Big Apple, the real goal is along the lines of bringing the mountain to Muhammad. While the city's residents will enjoy the hoopla, the real audience is the media and ad execs who haven't yet been persuaded to make the trip to Nashville to see the industry up close. Rick Murray, the CMA's senior director of strategic marketing, says it's about engaging partners who wouldn't normally be associated with country music, and who didn't have the genre on their radar.

For its part, New York, says Spell, will benefit from the visitors that will come in from other parts of the country to see their idols and spend money on Times Square hotels. But rather than give people what they'd expect from country music events at home, there are plans afoot for more New York-style events - "high-end fashion, cutting edge, dark New York

things." Think Faith Hill scowling in black Prada.

The creative potential for sponsors is enormous, not least because a traditional arena for attracting music fans - radio - is pretty much out of the mix. The clever ones will find a way to bring out New York City's closet country fans and make them feel OK about their penchant for the hat acts. And maybe one day I'll be able to wear my Jerry Jeff Walker T-shirt without embarrassment.

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