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Coastal Americana – What’s in a Name?

It appears that an idea that I had some years ago is not only beginning to get some traction in the musical genre I occasionally occupy…but that I’m getting at least some of the credit for it. Both of these are delightful and unusual things in my world. For more info, check out this blog entry by my good friend “Key West” Chris Rehm.

Before it gets further lost in the mists of history and memory, I figured I’d dig back and share some of how I got to this place in my own thinking. Because maybe somebody will care, someday, and I’ll get to be a footnote in someone’s highly successful music history book. 🙂

The genre of music inspired by the works of Jimmy Buffett has gone by many names, in its approximately 20 years of existence. Buffett fans are called “Parrotheads,” but the name “Parrothead music” never caught on for the rest of us. Tom & Michelle Becker (Latitude) were among the first to use the phrase “trop rock” starting maybe 15 or so years ago, and that’s the phrase that a lot of folks adopted for our genre. By starting what became the Trop Rock Music Association, they managed to cement that name for a lot of people.

While short and catchy, the name never completely resonated for me. It really doesn’t properly describe the roots of our genre, which are likely more in country than rock, and also include reggae, calypso, folk, blues, and more. Back in those days I was out in California – not really “Buffett territory” – and I needed to find ways of describing my music to an audience that may not have even *heard* of Buffett before. I tried “escape art,” likely inspired in part by the title of a Sunny Jim album, and that caught people’s attention when I’d describe myself as an “escape artist.” “Well, what do you do?” “I create art that helps people escape from the stresses of daily life.” But as time went on, I knew that other good descriptive terms would be needed for the people who’d never heard of us before.

Enter the growth of contemporary folk and Americana music. At some point around 2012 I joined the Americana Music Association, because the more I dug deeper into what I was doing, the more I realized that it was way more Americana than rock. And thus my creative brain started playing with terms including “tropical Americana” (which I called “Tropicana” for short), and “coastal Americana.” Which I used as part of my own self-description for a couple of years, and one day a few years back mentioned it on a Facebook thread about our genre. Which Chris noticed at the time and remembered.

The name sat for a couple more years, along with some other names used by other artists including “Caribbean Country,” “beach country,” “saltwater country,” and so forth. In Nashville, they refer to it mostly as “beach songs” for artists like Zac Brown and Kenny Chesney.

In the last year, people have started coming up with new names for what we do. One of our radio stations, Tiki Man Radio, uses “Coastal Americana.” They may have coined it independently, or Danny Lynn may have read it someplace once (maybe on an old Facebook thread?) and it stuck in his subconscious. Now Radio A1A is picking it up with “tropical Americana.”

My guess is that, rather than everyone converging on a single name, we’re going to continue to have multiple names for what we do. At least for the next few years. It may be that, five or seven years down the line, people will converge on one name or another, because, reasons. Probably reasons having to do with making money. I’m not going to be invested in how it turns out; in the great scheme, it’s all good.

In the meantime, I’m in the position of maybe having started something bigger than me. Which is scary, but it rocks. And since naming things is sort of one of my superpowers, I’m good with that. Even if, after the current flurry of discussion, my name somehow gets dropped out of the discussion.

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