Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Toby Keith Takes Over Boston

We got cowboys … We got truckers …
Broken-hearted fools and suckers …

~Toby Keith, “I Love This Bar”

Now, it seems, Toby Keith has added Bostonians to his camp.
Keith played Boston on the Fourth of July, and while he’s one of my favorites, it wasn’t the right move for the city.
First, some background: With his strong voice and inspired lyrics, Keith is one of country’s biggest contemporary stars, right up there with Garth Brooks and Martina McBride. Unlike Garth or Martina, T.K. revels in being edgy (one of his albums: “White Trash With Money”) and is sometimes prone to stupid statements when he talks politics. Yet he also seems like a guy with a big heart. He regularly visits US servicemembers stationed overseas, including in war-torn countries like Iraq. He also dedicated a moving tribute to the late jazz/basketball star Wayman Tisdale.
With all that going for him -- and the fact that I own his last three albums, plus two greatest-hits compilations -- you’d think I’d give the decision for him to play Boston on the Fourth two thumbs up, right? Wrong. This is the latest example of corporate America dictating to everyone else how things will run. Reminds me of another far-off power writing rules for the little people … the British Parliament of the 1770s.
Back then, we had taxation without representation. Now we have celebration without representation. T.K.’s lyrics are enjoyable, but they have nothing to do with Boston. Texas, yes. Oklahoma, yes. Arkansas, yes. Even New York. But no Massachusetts and no Boston.
I’m guessing that selecting T.K. had little to do with an understanding of or interest in Bostonians’ musical tastes and everything to do with marketing the Fourth to a national audience, many of whose members might find Keith more palatable. (Who do you care about more, the 500K watching on the Esplanade or the six million tuning in on CBS?) Thus the grand traditions of Arthur Fiedler decay into televised tripe where the locals get dissed in favor of people in other states … and, of course, the advertisers.
The organizers of Boston’s Fourth used to show an interest in the music preferences of the host city, bringing in Aerosmith not long ago. But they’re also reaching out to performers with audiences based in other regions -- like Keith’s country contemporary Rascal Flatts. I will admit that country music does have a following in Massachusetts; I regularly listen to it on WKLB-FM (102.5) and, with my muse, attended a packed Keith concert at the Tweeter Center in 2007. But on the big occasions like the Fourth, you should bring in the big guns to represent the host city. If Aerosmith was unavailable, what about Bruce Springsteen, the man who’s played both Fenway Park and the Zakim Bridge? And if they wanted a country star, why not Kenny Chesney (who’s actually performed a song about Boston)?
I didn’t go to the Fourth in Boston this year … I was in New Jersey, enjoying an inspired game of Scrabble with my muse and her family (including a fellow T.K. fan … thanks for the CDs!). I’m glad I missed the Fourth in Boston, too. The city that once resisted the tyranny of the Crown now seems all too willing to accept the tyranny of Big Business.

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