By Nick Musumeci
On April 15, Long Islanders got their first monthly glimpse of the island’s first country music specific magazine, as JVC Broadcasting released its debut issue of “This Is Country.”
The magazine’s release comes as country music’s popularity continues to grow on Long Island, a region not normally associated with the southern twang more commonly found in places like Nashville, Tennessee.
“The magazine will be filled with content. That includes articles on some of the biggest artists and new acts, album reviews, local events, and more, plus, it will have many local businesses and advertisers offering deals to our community,” “Phathead,” the Director of Country Programming for JVC Broadcasting, said shortly before the magazine’s release. “The magazine is a fantastic way to add to that experience and bring it all to life in the listener’s hands,” Phathead said.
Phathead is also the country music concert booker for Pennysaver Amphitheater in Selden, which hosts countless country concerts each year with artists like Brantley Gilbert and Luke Bryan. JVC Broadcasting owns both the amphitheater, and 96.1 FM, Long Island’s only country music station, in addition to the new magazine.
“With the local country music radio station, country music and line dancing has exploded on Long Island,” Terry Barrett, a board member for the Long Island Country Music Association, an organization dedicated to spreading country music and dance on Long Island, said. She believes that the new magazine is proof that country music is gaining a foothold on Long Island.
Barrett sites the fact that their membership has continued to grow as an example of that. “People love to dance to country music. It is contagious. Country music and line dancing go hand-in-hand and is very popular today,” Barrett said.
“Our members range from 15 years old to 90,very diversified personalities, professions and all very enthusiastic when they come to our dances,” Donna Eidinger, who founded the group over 30 years ago, said.
“They are always welcomed by a big “Howdy” when they come in and it is great seeing some of the people who have been with us since the beginning, 32 years and counting,” Eidinger said.
“There are several popular line dance groups and organizations [On the Island],” Norman Prusslin, a media arts professor at Stony Brook University, said. Prusslin believes that the so- called “country lifestyle” is growing on Long Island, and benefiting organizations like JVC and LICMA.
Others believe that because country music’s sound has evolved over the years, more Long Islanders are warming up to the genre. “I think it’s grown because of the different types of country music out now, because now there’s not just one plain ‘country,’” said Keith O’Brien, a country music fan from LI. O’Brien added that he’d like to read JVC’s new magazine.
“I think that’s exactly why country is becoming more popular, it’s because it’s made that kind of connection to these other musical traditions,” Judith Lochhead, a music history professor at Stony Brook University, said. “In particular a more kind of rock or pop sound, that in and of itself will get more listeners,” Lochhead said.
Some also point to country’s growing popularity being reflected in concerts and events on Long Island. JVC’s Pennysaver Amphitheater puts on “FreedomFest” every summer, a country music festival. Big country acts are also booked for Jones Beach, Madison Square Garden and the newly-renovated Nassau Coliseum.
“Down at Jones Beach this summer there is a series of concerts going on, and they’re almost all sold out,” Jim Teeple, the president of LICMA, said. Teeple also believes that the evolution of country music away from just the “twang” of Johnny Cash, has helped to broaden the genre’s appeal nationwide.
“I see country music continuing to be strong on Long Island,” Teeple said.
Perhaps one of the most interesting points-of-view on the growth of country on Long Island comes from a resident who wasn’t born on the island. “In parts of Texas, country is the only music they listen to, but I definitely was surprised coming here and seeing how everybody loved country music,” said Troy Davern, who moved from Texas to Long Island in high school.
“People from here compared to Richardson Texas where I am from, actually like country more, and it was a shock to me,” Davern said. “I think the magazine will do well because the fan base here is huge.”
Phathead added that his radio station has been a big factor in creating that huge fan base Davern mentioned. “96.1 is proud to have played a role in the popularity of country music on Long Island,” Phathead said.
Although he didn’t have an exact number, Phathead stated that 96.1’s listenership has increased each year the station has been in operation. “Country fans existed before we arrived 6 and a half years ago, but we do feel that we have helped greatly and created some of the passionate fans that exist here,” Phathead said.
“This Is Country” is now available in stores like King Kullen and Stop & Shop.