The sound of county music will be twanging from the East Room of the White House later tonight. First Lady Michelle Obama has decided to celebrate the genre for the second time in her continuing “In Performance at the White House” concert series.
And this one probably qualifies as a doozy. Performers include country legends (Kris Kristofferson, Lyle Lovett, Alison Krauss), Nashville stars (Darius Rucker, Dierks Bentley), big name rookies ( The Band Perry, Lauren Alaina) and — for some reason that we won’t argue with — James Taylor. Lovett and Rucker are scheduled to speak with local high school students at an educational workshop at 2 p.m and the concert starts around 7 p.m., with both events streaming live online. (WETA and PBS stations nationwide will air an edited version of the concert on Wednesday night at 8 p.m.)
Earlier today at the White House — as Grand Ole Opry music director Steve Gibson tuned up the band inside — Lovett, Rucker and Bentley came out to the front steps to talk about country music, national politics, and the intersection of the two (or the lack thereof).
Here’s some of what they had to say.
Lyle Lovett on country music’s expanding 21st century palette: “In this age of hyper-technology... the days of someone growing up out in the country and being exposed to one type, one particular type of anything are over... We live in an age where we’re able to experience influences from just all around.”
Lovett on why playing at the Clinton, second Bush and now Obama White Houses is a bipartisan gesture: “Our president is our president and I think it’s always important to support our president... I’ve never campaigned for a candidate but I’m always excited to support the people that run our country.”
Dierks Bentley on being excited to be here: “On my phone... I keep going to down to my Google maps, trying to get my blue dot to go on the White House. Hey! It worked! ... I guess ‘cause we’re outside... [Let me] take a screen saver shot of that blue dot.”
Bentley on why Americans are currently disillusioned with with the government: “‘We’re the greatest country in the world.’ Well, that’s an easy thing to say but clearly there’s work that has to be done to make that actually happen... There’s a real sense of... working toward the common good that has to happen and I don’t really sense that at all in this town... I don’t think anyone really does.”
Bentley on why we should support our returning veterans: “Now is the time that these guys are coming back, you know, with health problems and obviously they’re trying to put their families back together. And the economy’s crap. Now is the time to really show your patriotism, your support, and do something... It’s more than just a yellow ribbon... How do we incorporate these folks back into our society, into our economy, so they can have productive lives?”
Darius Rucker on what it means to be a black star in contemporary country: “It means to me that they’re listening to the music, you know, and not worrying about anything else. And that’s a great thing to see. Country is getting more diverse and opening its doors and growing... It’s the new rock-and-roll, really.”
On why he won’t be stumping for anyone on the campaign trail next year: “I don’t campaign for anybody, man. I don’t do that stuff... Don’t vote for somebody because I did. Vote for somebody because you studied the candidates and figured out that’s the candidate for you.”
On why he doesn’t blend politics with his music: “Politics is ripping this country apart enough. It’s dividing the country right in the middle... I don’t want my music to divide the country. I just want to make music that people like.”