“Not a lot moves the needle these days. But this show moves the needle.”
That was Hayes Carll, putting it out there as succinctly as possible about the impact the Paramount TV series Yellowstone has had on independent country music now for four seasons, with the fifth set to commence in November.
It seems a bit uncanny that a TV show of all things would play a primary role, if not the most important role in helping foster the independent country revolution we’ve seen over the past few years. But as the most popular show on television at the moment, Yellowstone’s soundtrack of primarily independent and under-the-radar country artists has done nothing short of launched careers in some instances, and it’s likely to launch a few more.
Recognizing this phenomenon, the Americana Music Association put together a special in-the-round performance and discussion on Wednesday, September 14th at the Hutton Hotel in Nashville as part of AmericanaFest. Along with Hayes Carll, another stunning songwriter and performer William Prince, as well as fast rising superstar Lainey Wilson—who leads all nominees for the upcoming CMA Awards, and is part of the Yellowstone cast for the 5th season—the discussion also included the Music Supervisor for the show, Andrea von Foerster.
It’s Foerster and the show’s creator Taylor Sharidan who are primarily responsible for the Yellowstone phenomenon so many independent country artists that have been a benefactor of.
“The one thing people don’t always realize is that obviously the songs have to fit the story of the show. It’s not a playlist,” Andrea von Foerster explained. “You got to wait for the right time for things. Sometimes it can take two years, five years, but we never forget a song that we want to use. I don’t remember where I live sometimes, but I can tell you the first time I heard a song, and every lyric to it, and why I want to use it, and where … We started ‘Yellowstone’ and I haven’t had a day off since we started. Because of our schedule, I’m sharing music with Taylor [Sheridan] all year round.”
Hayes Carll, William Prince, and Lainey Wilson all took turns playing songs from the show, while Andrea von Foerster talked about the process of how they choose songs and artists. With the way appearances by Whiskey Myers and Ryan Bingham have launched those guys into the stratosphere, the same is expected to happen for Lainey Wilson, right as her new album Bell Bottom Country is slotted to be released.
“We just kept coming back to Lainey’s voice, because there’s not a lot of female vocals in country music right now that have the same kind of grit, or for lack of a better term, balls,” Foerster explained. “I hate the words ‘sassy’ and ‘feisty’ because you would never use those words about a guy. But just really tough, female singers. There weren’t a lot of people around at that time that didn’t have more pop-centric vocals. So every time we had a badass scene, [it was] Lainey.”
Lainey then talked about the song placement she received for “Small Town Girl” that was especially meaningful.
“I think of the songs that were playing when I was running barrels, it was songs like ‘Small Town Girl.’ Never in a million years when I was writing that song did I think I would be writing it for a moment like that [in ‘Yellowstone’]. It was really just a full circle moment for me. And when my daddy got to see my song during a barrel racing scene—he’s a cowboy—he said, ‘Okay, she really is doing something.’”
Foerster went on to explain, “Taylor loves working with musicians, and there’s just a soul you can’t find anywhere else … and we are pretty loyal in our music universe. We like to come back to the same people. We don’t consider them one and done. If we love you, we keep loving you.”
William Prince especially stunned the intimate audience with his performances, while all the participants had to dance around playing songs, but not giving away any of the plot of the upcoming season. “This song is called ‘Everybody Dies,’” William Prince joked.
The song placements in Yellowstone not only earn the songwriters royalties and expose a mainstream audience to music they otherwise may not hear on commercial radio or television, the songs of Yellowstone also help spread the seed of independent country music, offering a window into an entirely different music world some, if not many don’t know is out there.
“I’m just so appreciative of this show, of Andrea and Taylor,” Lainey Wilson said. “It really has introduced my music to people who might not listen to radio, or stream music. And it’s crazy the amount of people who’ve come to my shows and said they found me from ‘Yellowstone.’
As for appearing in the new season, Wilson said, “This is going to change my life. So I appreciate it.”