On Tuesday night in Nashville, Brothers Osborne did what no major-label mainstream country artist has done this midterm season: publicly support a Democratic candidate. In this case, Tennessee gubernatorial hopeful Karl Dean. Playing an acoustic set at Dean’s fundraiser at Center 615 in East Nashville, TJ and John Osborne took the stage after an introduction from Dean’s son, Roscoe, and a speech from the candidate himself, who spoke strongly about the need for sensible gun laws, education reform and voter turnout. “If the turnout happens,” Dean told the crowd, “we win.”
“I agree with all of that,” TJ Osborne said before launching into their pot sing-along “Greener Pastures” and the workingman’s vacation ode “Rum” alongside brother John. As usual, the set showcased John’s incredibly nimble fingerpicking (he can rip a solo on an acoustic guitar just as easily as he can on a Telecaster) and TJ’s pitch-perfect, emotive baritone, which always has one foot in the future and one in the past.
The Maryland-born, Nashville-residing duo didn’t mince words when it came to talking about the potential of alienating fans with their politics — something they pointed out that their music videos have likely done already.
“I don’t know if us being here pissed off any of our fans, but our videos sure did,” said TJ before beginning “Shoot Me Straight,” the video for which lampooned President Trump’s “Space Force” initiative. “We pretty much attempted to end our own career with every video,” added John. “And somehow we keep getting bigger.”
But it was in the introduction for “Stay a Little Longer” where TJ drew a red line. He spoke of the video, which depicts couples from across the spectrum — interracial couples, gay couples, just love from every angle — and his surprise that those simple images could somehow be controversial. “If that pisses you off,” TJ told the audience firmly, “then I don’t give a shit.”
Before launching into their last song “It Ain’t My Fault” (“The (video) that probably pissed people off the most,” said TJ), John and TJ took a minute to explain how they were both feeling optimistic about the state of their adopted home, Nashville.
“Things are changing for the better,” said TJ. “There is a reason people are showing up by the hundred on pedal taverns,” John added with a laugh. “It has a lot to do with the people in this beautiful city. When people ask where I am from I say, ‘I’m from Nashville,’ and I am very proud to say that.'”
The choice to openly support a political candidate for an artist within the mainstream country world is contentious — particularly if that candidate is liberal. In Nashville, much of this has seemingly less to do with the leadership at record labels and much more to do with the conservative ownership of the radio stations that call the shots, and the supposition of a conservative listening audience. And while many in the genre have released vaguely political songs of late — Carrie Underwood’s “Love Wins,” Kenny Chesney’s “Get Along” —Brothers Osborne’s statement is firmly committal and not without potential risks. Still, they make their opinion on artistic and personal suppression for the sake of all-pleasing neutrality clear in their Twitter bio: “To shut up and sing is an oxymoron…moron.”
Or as Willie Nelson put it, who appeared on The View to speak about his upcoming appearance at a September 29th rally for Democratic Texas senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, “Everybody has an opinion. Everybody has a right to an opinion. I think I have one too.”
Meanwhile, Brothers Osborne will soon be releasing a new single, the powerful ballad “I Don’t Remember Me (Before You),” to country radio. “Shoot Me Straight,” the excellent lead track from their second album Port Saint Joe, failed to crack the Top 20.