Chesney, who has sold out nine shows at Gillette Stadium over the last seven years, concurred when speaking to the Globe this summer. “The fans up there, shoot, they’re more than fans, they’re family. I mean that. This thing we’ve built with them over the years — even when we were playing the small clubs and the amphitheaters, it was just a passionate bunch of people.”
That passion was something Rogers and Brophey identified early and have slowly convinced the country booking agents and artists exists.
“We gave them a comfort level,” says Rogers. “As they saw the ratings grow they realized, ‘We do need to play up there more often.’ ”
The station also brought budding artists into the city to play its acoustic “Rockin’ Country Music” series at the Hard Rock Cafe over the last four years, including now-big names like “The Voice” star Blake Shelton. “I think the promoters and the artists realize that it is cool to play downtown Boston, and the people that live in the city do listen to country music and it’s not just the suburbs,” Rogers says.
When calculating the surge in local popularity, all concede the fact that country music is closer than ever to pop music is a major element.
“The music is better than it ever has been before,” says Brophey. “I’ve been involved in country since 1984 and the early ’90s was a heyday with Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, and Brooks and Dunn, and that was huge. But it’s also more varied than it’s ever been.”
“Country music has evolved into a really great blend of the music people [the current artists’] age have grown up on,” says Rogers, of contemporary country acts who were reared on rock and top 40 as well as country. “So those rock people have come over because they’re a little disenfranchised. Pop people have come over because we’re easier to listen to. We try to make a mix where everyone of all ages are satisfied.”
“Maybe it’s more defined now because of the stark differences of the artists,” says Moore. “If you look at the country music spectrum you can find just about every flavor. But clearly the newer acts lean more heavily pop and rock than some of the more traditional fare and that’s led to some making the tent bigger.”
That bigger tent also helped welcome New Englanders with outmoded images in their heads about the genre.
“We think that people were afraid they were going to have to go out and buy boots and a cowboy hat and learn line-dancing to be part of the format, when nothing could be further from the truth,” says Rogers. “When people reference bull riding and hay bales that’s so not us. We’ve spent 20 years trying to cast aside those stereotypes.”
“It really is America’s pop music now,” says Marsden.