Country music fans break out the cowboy hats at Berlin festival

Ten stars of country music

Kacey Musgraves (born 1988)

There are many contemporary female voices in country, but only one who won best album of the year at the 2019 Grammys. Though she's considered a newcomer compared to other performing country singers like Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert and Shania Twain, Musgraves carries the hope of exporting modern country to Europe and beyond.

Ten stars of country music

Conway Twitty (1933-1993)

Long before country music was hip, Conway Twitty represented a generation of male singers who, with honky-tonk twang and tons of Brylcreem hair gel, managed to reach a wide-ranging audience with several chart-topping hits, including "Hello Darlin'." Twitty, whose real name was Harold Lloyd Jenkins, died in 1993, but his performances have been resurrected in several episodes of "Family Guy."

Ten stars of country music

Tammy Wynette (1942-1998)

She taught generations of women to always "Stand by Your Man," though her music also reflected themes of emancipation, self-sufficiency and "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" — decades before the #MeToo movement. Dubbed "The First Lady of Country," Wynette went on to become one of country music's biggest-selling female singers. She recorded and performed up until five years before her death.

Ten stars of country music

Johnny Cash (1932-2003)

The world of country as it is today would be unthinkable with the contributions that Johnny Cash made to the genre. Cash was a rebel who brought a certain Blues music sensitivity to country and didn't care much about success — despite selling over 90 million records. His signature songs include "I Walk the Line" and "Ring of Fire." Several posthumous albums have been released.

Ten stars of country music

Loretta Lynn (born 1932)

Many think of Loretta Lynn as the Grande Dame of country. After all, she's been in the biz for over 60 years. Known for her quick-witted lyrics and her down to earth attitude, Lynn is the most awarded female country recording artist of all time. Lynn champions women's rights in her music, singing about infidelity and even birth control. Her biggest hits include "Fist City" and "She's Got You."

Ten stars of country music

Willie Nelson (born 1933)

Willie Nelson is the free-wheeling persona who channels the spirit of many Texan urbanites. The octogenarian singer is known the world over for numbers like "On The Road Again" and his touching interpretation of Elvis Presley's "Always on My Mind." He is also a staunch activist for environmental issues and a proud Democrat, proving that country isn't only music for conservatives.

Ten stars of country music

Dolly Parton (born 1946)

An icon of country music, Dolly Parton has been on the scene for over 50 years. While her greatest hit might be "Jolene," few people outside of country circles realize that she penned "I Will Always Love You," which later became a global success for Whitney Houston. Parton even has her own theme park in Tennessee: Dollywood.

Ten stars of country music

George Strait (born 1952)

You might be kicked out of Texas if you say a bad word about George Strait. "King George" reigns supreme over the Lone Star State, where he was born, and its country scene. His music can be characterized as a return to traditional country from the mid-20th century but with a contemporary twist. Strait has more than 60 number one hits under his belt buckle, including "All My Ex's Live in Texas."

Ten stars of country music

Reba McEntire (born 1955)

Second only to Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire is considered a queen of country. The Oklahoma native launched her career in the mid-1970s, though she originally intended to become an elementary school teacher. Over time, the fiery redhead won over critics with hits like "You Lie" and "Fancy." In addition to winning countless Country Music Awards, McEntire is also an accomplished actress.

Ten stars of country music

Garth Brooks (born 1962)

Garth Brooks is the literal rock star of country singers, giving the genre a harder, yet sensitive edge. The hat-clad singer with the Takemine guitar will tug at your heart strings with narrative songs like "If Tomorrow Never Comes," while a track like "Friends in Low Places" still makes his fans laugh whenever it's played on the radio today — nearly three decades after he got started in country.

You don't often see cowboy boots in Berlin. But when DW's Sertan Sanderson heard the German capital had an annual country music festival, he grabbed the chance to dust off his pair and do a little Western line dancing.

Every year in February for one weekend, the northwest Berlin suburb of Wittenau becomes Germany's capital of country. Thousands of country-music fans flock to the Fontane House cultural center, where the annual Country Music Meeting (CMM) offers an exhibition area of 4,500 square meters (48,400 square feet) and four stages showcasing country music acts.

The event bills itself as "the pilgrimage site of country music in Europe" and includes musical performances covering the spectrum of country sound, including country rock, bluegrass, Cajun, and southern rock, to name a few. 

It's clear that people take the CMM pretty seriously. Many wear top-of-the-line Stetson cowboy hats, real cowboy boots from the USA, leather jackets with plentiful fringe. Some of the ladies go the whole hog with frilly dresses and petticoats that seem to have jumped straight out of the 19th century.

In the maze-like corridors and passages of the Fontane House, exhibitors are selling everything from country music CDs to boots and western jewelry. There's a merchandise stand to gladden every cowboy heart and complete the perfect Wild-West outfit.

Everything a cowboy's heart desires to complete the perfect Wild-West look

We're not in Kansas any more…

Every year, country fans come from all over Germany, and even from neighboring countries, to visit this country-music extravaganza, dance the two-step and belt along to Johnny Cash songs at the top of their lungs. 

Anita Geisendorfer has come here to kick up her heels, traveling all the way from Bavaria in Germany's south. And she's certainly dressed for the occasion. I feel distinctly underdressed, my cowboy boots being my only concession to the style of the day.

The author's cowboy boots are the real Texan deal

"During the year we go to many similar events," says Geisendorfer, a country music convert who's spent the last ten years traveling all over Germany and meeting up with other country fans. It's obvious she's in her element. "Germany has a massive country scene," she says, as she straightens the ruffles on her dress.

"In Bavaria we're used to getting dressed up to fit with different kinds of music. We also wear dirndls," she explains, referring to a traditional dress for women that is commonly associated outside of Germany with Oktoberfest and its blaring brass bands.

Read more: Germany's Oktoberfest gets underway in Munich

Folk music on another level

On the main stage, the Swedish band Sentiment Falls is rocking the crowd with their contemporary country sounds. The audience seems to be enjoying it, some spontaneously breaking out their best line-dance moves. One could be almost be at a barn dance or a country hoedown in Alabama. But instead of spicy spare ribs and juicy steaks, the culinary offerings are limited to well-known German classics: currywurst and large doughy pretzels. At least the Jack Daniels is flowing freely.

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Sentiment Falls from Sweden, playing on the Country Music Meeting main stage

At one of the stands outside the auditorium, a band calling themselves The Forgotten Sons of Ben Cartwright are on the stump. The group comes from Lower Saxony, but its name alludes to the 1960s American western TV show Bonanza. They play cover versions of country golden oldies to tug at audience heartstrings. The fun factor is the band's driving force, says Kay Dee Cartwright, one of the founders of the band.

"We're a country party band, and we play music that people like to dance to and to listen to when they party," he says. "In a way, country music is a form of folk music. But German folk music doesn't really speak to us, so we like to lean more towards America."

Read more: Winnetou: Why so many Germans fell in love with the unrealistic 'Indian'

When choosing a outfit, it's no holds barred for German country music fans

'An unloved stepchild'

Marion Freier feels the same way. She's one of the organizers of the the CMM and a fully fledged country fan. The event manager and DJ has spent months planning this three-day event with her team. For the 56-year-old, country is more than just music or work; it's a complete lifestyle.

"Country music is one of the few music types that you can really listen to all day, without getting aggressive, because it's very complex," says Freier. "There are rock influences, acoustic elements, there's something fast in there, and then there's also slower moments."

Freier emphasizes that she believes country also has a legitimate home in Europe.

CMM organizer Marion Freier has yet to travel to the US

"Country music is also very much loved in Europe. Only a very few people know that, because the media treats the genre like an unloved stepchild," says Freier. "There are an amazing number of live music events, clubs, line-dancing clubs and courses. And that's not just in Germany but across the whole of Europe — it's very big in Scandinavia, Great Britain, the Benelux countries. One just has to know where to find it."

But, with 30-year-old country singer Kacey Musgrave recently roping the 2019 Grammy Award for album of the year, perhaps it's a sign that the genre is beginning to reach wider audiences, especially outside the US. 

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Popxport | 02.11.2018

Berlin Backstage: The BossHoss

American Dream

Freier, who particularly enjoys the music of country superstar George Strait, admits that she has only enjoyed her American passion from the other side of the Atlantic.

"I have worked with many, many musicians from the United States here in Germany. But I haven't managed to travel over there," she says.

Next year will be the tenth year of the CMM. Maybe that will be the trigger for Freier to finally make the pilgrimage to the USA. She wants to visit the home of country music, Nashville, Tennessee, and also to travel around Texas.

But meanwhile, German country-music fans don't need a passport or a visa to live tout their American dreams. They're happy to have it all at home, surrounded by their mother tongue, and ready seasoned according to the German palate.