IASPM 2014: The American Far West of the French Far East: Country Music Fans in Alsace

Elsa Grassy, University of Strasbourg

CoverABSTRACT: The Alsace region, located in the north east of France, is well known for its wines, its storks, and its Christmas Markets as well as its role in the European Union, with twelve of the Parliamentary sessions taking place in Strasbourg every year. What it is less known for is its love of American country music, unmatched by any other French region. This could be explained by specific migration patterns and by the region’s proximity to American military bases in Germany, among other factors.

In this presentation, I will report on the second Giant Country Festival, which will take place on May 30th and June 1st in Brumath, near Strasbourg. Last year, the even featured country music shows, line dancing, rodeos, horse shows, American cars and bikes, a Buffalo Bill-style “Wild West” show, and a self-proclaimed “western old style” camping site.

My goal is to analyze Alsatian country fans’ representations of the American Far West and to see how much of the original music and style is adopted, and how much is adapted. The performance of Americanness in an Alsatian country music festival raises issues of cultural appropriation, exoticism and fetishization, and allows one to analyze how these processes are connected to the construction of local identities. This field study is the first step in a larger project on the special relationship that links the region to the American Southwest, culturally and demographically.

Elsa shows several examples [sorry I didn’t summarise – brief Mac problems] of country music festivals in the region, noting that these are more about country music culture than about the music itself (camping, rodeo activities, [recently] line-dancing, horse-jumping, and literally US flag-waving etc).

Country circles (and particularly the CMA) are concerned about the rise of line-dancing because they believe it makes the music secondary, due to the fact that many line dancers (in Alsace also) really are happy with just a DJ. Rules begin to be imposed to counter this – “Il n’y a pas de danse sans musique’ (there’s no dancing without music).

We now explore politics more literally. Links between the Iron Cross and the confederate flag are discussed, although Elsa notes that the cross’s double meaning (Nazi and biker) does not seem to bother many country fans in Alsace. Alain Sanders’ pro-confederate journalism is discussed in relation to Elsa’s emerging research – she is trying to link the history of Country in Alsace with any deeper Country lineage – or to explore the more straightforward possible explanation that the rise of line dancing has driven festival growth. She ends by speculating about her concerns that this innocent dance-driven motivation for the festivals may be a future pathway for the darker political side of country music.

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