For the average 14th Street-haunting scenester, being a country fan is anything but easy. Your friends flip stations as soon as they hear a fiddle, you haunt the Birchmere alone, and you have a lot of explaining to do when your date looks through your CDs. Good news, though: Breaking down those walls may be easier than you think. Just face your friends' anti-country prejudices head-on, and -- who knows? -- you may have company for the Country Music Association Awards this year (Tuesday at 8 p.m. on CBS).
"I only like indie rock. Period." Earlier this year, Jack White of the White Stripes got together with Loretta Lynn, a honky-tonk singer who hadn't had a hit since the '80s. The unlikely pairing resulted in the critically acclaimed "Van Lear Rose," an offbeat country album with rocking, lo-fi production that even music snobs can't help but love. Bonus: You'll get to hear White sing a duet ("Portland, Oregon").
"I don't have time to tackle a new genre." In the '40s and '50s, Charlie and Ira Louvin made up one of country's most influential two-man acts. Some of their uber-religious lyrics may turn off modern listeners ("Satan Is Real"? No thanks!), but their impact can't be denied; musicians from the Everly Brothers to Gillian Welch have cited their influence. The 2003 tribute album "Livin', Lovin', Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers" showcases their hits as performed by faves including Merle Haggard and Patti Loveless, so you'll get a chance to hear some of the biggest songs in the country canon while figuring out which singers you like -- and which you can't stomach.
"Country's boring -- traditional and predictable." Not Steve Earle: His experimental, rock-influenced music exemplifies the alt-country sound embraced by bands like Whiskeytown and Uncle Tupelo, not to mention the cool kids who love them. Try his 2000 album, "Transcendental Blues" -- it's got incredible depth of emotion, and the title track's fuzzy guitars and doleful vocals sound more Wilco than Willie Nelson.
"It's too glossy and over-produced." Country's not all sequins and sappiness: In 1968, Johnny Cash performed a concert at California's Folsom Prison that remains one of the grittiest recordings in history. "At Folsom Prison" captures the legendary set, complete with PA announcements in the background and the cheers of hardened cons for lines like "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die."
"It's cheesy." There's nothing twee about Waylon Jennings. The hard-living, drug-addicted musician lived up to his "outlaw" moniker with the seminal 1973 album "Honky Tonk Heroes," written by the relatively unknown Billy Joe Shaver (legend says the two made a drunken alliance at one of Willie Nelson's barbecues). Recorded in defiance of Nashville norms -- execs at the time had total control over backup musicians hired and song choice -- it captured a new, incredibly controversial sound: unpolished, brutally honest and anything but easy listening.
"I only like bands that really rock out on their instruments." Fans of technical virtuosity need look no further than the Charlie Daniels Band, whose fiddle skills on songs like "The Devil Went to Georgia," off the 1979 multi-platinum album "Million Mile Reflections," earned them the respect of collaborators such as Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. In terms of sheer skill, Daniels and his band easily measure up to virtuosos like Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman (not to mention Slash).