Trae Crowder grew up in rural Tennessee, a little town called Celina that’s not near anything, really. It’s situated a few miles south of the Kentucky state line, and it’s about as far northeast of Nashville as it is northwest of Knoxville. Crowder parlayed that life into viral fame as “The Liberal Redneck,” a series of videos on YouTube and Facebook in which he discussed his political views; views that often sounded strange coming from his accent, at least, to people not from around here.
Along with his writing partners and comedy team, Drew Morgan and Corey Ryan Forrester, he published a book titled Liberal Redneck Manifesto: Draggin Dixie Outta the Dark. The trio has toured non-stop in recent years, and they’ve been featured on The View, Real Time with Bill Maher, Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, and CNN Tonight with Don Lemon. They also have a podcast and a live album. They’ve stayed busy.
Crowder now lives in California, and on the day I am set to speak to him by phone, I also find myself on the west coast. I had just seen Alabama’s own Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit at the Les Schwab Amphitheater in Bend, Oregon, and opening with that small talk carried us straight into our chat. We talked about his time opening for Isbell, country and Americana music, California living and the Tennessee Volunteers.
I know you opened a few west coast shows for Isbell a few years ago. How did that go?
It was good! It was fun! I was apprehensive about it; Isbell is one of my favorite, if not favorite, working musicians right now, so I was very excited about it. But I was apprehensive from a performing perspective because people that go to a music show aren’t really expecting comedy. And you want people to know that they are about to see comedy if you’re about to perform comedy in front of them. As a general rule. It’s like live music. It’s way better if people are prepared for it and down with it. I love him. But…not the most happy-go-lucky dude. [laughs]
The Anaheim show went awesome; then the Vegas show was good. It wasn’t great, but it was good. There were definitely people there that were like, “What is happening right now? I thought we came to a music concert.” But it was mostly fine; the first one in Anaheim was great. It was a good time.
Other than Jason, who do you think is doing the most for country and Americana music right now?
I love Sturgill [Simpson], too. I love Tyler Childers. I love Sarah Shook and the Disarmers. I love Margo Price. I love American Aquarium, Turnpike Troubadours. Hayes Carll. Lydia Loveless. I think there’s a lot out there if you know where to look. A lot of people don’t know it exists – a lot of people out here, in particular. They think country music and they think of Luke Bryan and all that stuff. So I totally understand why people hate it, but I try to tell people all the time. People out here will ask me if I like music, then they’ll ask me if I like country. “Yeah, I love country. But probably not what you’re thinking of when you say that.”
I know she’s gone fully mainstream now, but I think Kacey Musgraves is phenomenal, too.
How important did you think it was for Eric Church to say the things that he said in Rolling Stone a few years back? For someone that mainstream to put their face on issues like that?
I loved that. I gained a lot of respect back for him. When he first came out years ago, I thought he was pretty solid. Then I thought he was a little over-promoted. I haven’t really listened to him in a long time, but I used to back in the day. When he said all that stuff, I thought it was great. It was right up my alley. I gained a lot of respect for him. If you’re in that position, you really can’t do that, for the most part.
I did a thing for BBC Radio recently. They did a special on Nashville; they did a two-hour plus live radio special on the city of Nashville. They covered country music a lot. And I knew before I went that it was going to be “radio country.” People don’t know; that’s what the popular perception is. And it was, mostly. They had a guy [on the panel] that had been in country radio for years and years. They had a big record executive lady. And me. They were talking a lot about radio country. And the audience was great; they were asking a lot of tough questions about, “Why there aren’t more women in country radio?” and “Why they don’t reflect any issues at all?” It’s all just partying and that type of [expletive]. People were asking those questions and the response was, basically, if you do that, you can’t get on the radio right now. That’s where the money’s at; it’s no big shocker or anything.
So it’s a big deal for someone like Eric Church to do that, for sure. I appreciated that when he did.
Do you think other guys at that level are starting to open up about speaking out progressively because of that?
These things are not remotely evenly weighted, but I think Las Vegas had a part to play in it for a lot of them. I think a few of those guys, after that, thought, “You know, I don’t really give a [expletive] about perception. My life was endangered.” As far as gun control and all of that goes. And with Eric Church, I certainly hope that it will get the ball rolling in that direction, but who knows.
A lot of the artists I was mentioning earlier – the Americana artists – I’ve met and gotten to know some, which is awesome. I don’t really know any of the country radio type people. But I’ve met people who do, and just anecdotally, they have told me that the vast majority of them were actually very liberal in their private lives. But they aren’t allowed to talk about it. And I feel like that’s probably true; I have no trouble believing that, even though it’s, like, third-hand information.
What are the advantages for you living in California versus Tennessee? What do you like better about California?
The biggest advantage – and the reason I moved out here – is that I’m trying to get a TV show made. I’ve wanted to do that for a long time. The kind of show that I’ve wanted to make – the type of show that I haven’t seen before – would be right in line with the type of comedy I do, showing a different side of where I’m from and everything. It’s a major goal of mine, and if you’re going to do that, you pretty much have to live out here. You don’t fully have to, but if you don’t, you’re going to be spending a lot of time taking a lot of trips out here. I have a six and seven year old son, and I couldn’t be away from them that much, so I just packed us up and moved us out here.
That’s the main reason I came. Having said that, I do like a lot of things about it. When you grow up dirt poor in the middle of nowhere like I did, Southern California is Shangri-La in a lot of ways. My memaw is always worried about me because I live in the “big city” now, and I try to tell her, “The part I live in is Burbank. It’s a suburb.” But she doesn’t get it. She thinks there’s danger around every turn.
It’s just Murfreesboro, memaw!
Yeah, I know! There was this thing called myBurbankNEWS – a Twitter account – it’s like a police scanner on Twitter. It shows current events happening in Burbank, and my wife follows it. She showed me last night that the police here in Burbank locked down the Macy’s because of a reported shooting, and it turned out that it was two balloons popping. [laughs] That’s what all the hubbub was about. So I need to call my memaw later and read that to her and try to calm her down. But, yeah, that’s the type of place I live in.
My sons – they go to Walt Disney Elementary School, which is at the end of the street we live on. They walk to school and back. It’s all very idyllic in a lot of ways. Don’t get me wrong. I’m enjoying it. But I do miss Tennessee. The reason I came was because I felt like I pretty much had to to do the things that I want to do in my career. So here we are.
Is that ever a thing that you feel compelled to explain to your kids? Like, hey this is the way I grew up and you’re growing up much differently than me…
Yeah. Yeah, for sure. They’re six and seven. They don’t really grasp all that type of stuff yet. We were just in Celina at the house I grew up in; where my memaw lives now. We were there, like, ten weeks ago. We go at least once a year; probably twice a year. And it’ll be like that the entire time they’re growing up. So they see Celina. They see what the downtown area looks like. They see how different it is than out here. And I do talk to them about it. I’m hopeful that they’ll have somewhat of an understanding of it as they get older. It’s definitely something that I think about.
I went to Auburn. But I’d be remiss not to ask, do you think Tennessee will ever beat Alabama again?
[sighs] I mean…I’d like to hope so [expletive]. I mean…we beat y ‘all this year!
So there’s some hope. It’s been a brutal decade plus now for us Tennessee fans. It’s weird. I don’t know if you’re aware of the whole dynamic, but there was a generational divide between Tennessee fans. When I was growing up, we were great, but Florida was always the team that we’d have a hard time with; Steve Spurrier’s Florida teams. And we always handled Alabama; like every year. So my generation of Tennessee fans – for the most part – hated Florida way more than Alabama. The older generation that remembered Bear Bryant and all that, they’re like, “No, y ‘all don’t understand.”
Then Nick Saban came along. And I get it now; can’t stand ’em. I do have a begrudging respect for him, though. It’s like they say about blind squirrels and nuts; statistically speaking, surely we will pull one out before, you know, I die. [laughs] He can’t coach forever. There will eventually be something of a sea change. But in the immediate future? Nah. I don’t feel very good about it any time soon.
Do you think [Jeremy] Pruitt is the right guy? Do you like him?
I like him so far! I was always that type of guy – that type of fan, in my early adulthood – that I would always buy fully in when we got a new coach or whatever. I thought [Derek] Dooley was the guy when we got him. I bought Butch Jones’s [expletive]. But now, after that – and not to mention Lane Kiffin starting that whole carousel of [expletive] off – after living through all of that, I like Pruitt so far. But I’m not going to sit here and be like, “Yeah. We’ve got our guy. Definitely.” I’m just going to sit back, temper my expectations and just see what happens. He’s done a fine job so far. We’ll see.
The WellRED Comedy Tour featuring Trae Crowder, Drew Morgan and Corey Ryan Forrester returns to Stardome on Sunday, June 30 for two performances at 6:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. Limited tickets remain for both shows at stardome.com and can be purchased in advance for $28-$53.