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Local Country Music, of the Commercial Variety

‘Home Made Jams’ spotlights regional talent

Mar. 30, 2010
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Milwaukee has long hosted concerts by major touring actson the commercial side of country music, but is the city toourban to nurture its own talent in what remains mostly a rural-based style?

Not if WMIL 106.1 FM's“Home Made Jams”is any indication.

Host Duncan MacManus has no troublefilling his weekly, commercial-freehalf-hour—Sundays at 10 p.m.—with music fromthe city and the rest ofWisconsin. From that experience, he certainly doesn’t think the station's home base is too metropolitan to breed country talent.

"I think it would have been 20years ago," MacManus says, before noting that the growth of the format since the late-’80s rise ofgenre-expanding stars such as Garth Brooks made a difference. "Certainly biopics such asWalk the Line help, too."

One might additionally make the case that Milwaukee's proximity to farmland just beyond the ’burbs helps to inspire country talent as well.

Some big-city sophistication does, however,find itself among MacManus’ mix. As for his own tastes in country,MacManus says,"Personally, my favorite is rockabilly and traditional. I like stuff that has alittle bit of an edge to it."

“Jams” accommodatesthat edge amid a wide array of country sounds.A given week may findMacManus playing anything from tween Hannah Montana sound-alike Brook Lynn tointernationally touring bluegrass punks The .357 String Band.That kind of variety is as much a reflection of the diversity of area talent as a generous submission policy.

MacManus will give an act's music a spin "if it's of broadcast quality, whetherI like it or not." And his commitmentruns deeper than merely DJing. "I get out (to shows) quite a bit,” he says. “That's how I find some of those bands."

The success of “Jams”—there's talk of expanding the show to an hour—coincides with fortuitous trends incountry music bothnationally and nearby. The breakout of young star Taylor Swift has givenhope to performers such asBrook Lynn and 13-year-old Charissa Mrowka.

"That's really inspired a lot of girls to get into country music,"MacManus says. "They want to be the next Taylor Swift."

Already on his way tocreating his own phenomenon is Cedarburg native Josh Thompson, whose blue-collar anthem"Beer on the Table" has recently been inching up Mediabase's country top 20 airplay chart.Thompson, who moved to Nashville and landed a recording contract, provides inspiration as well, MacManus says: "I think Josh certainly is an examplewhere artists can say, 'Look,he made it.'"

Thoughthere are no plansto expand the regular WMILplaylist tothe universal scope of “Jams,” MacManussays of his gig,"Ido want it to become a real staple of what we do. I'm always looking to expand awareness of the show."

That awareness extends to taking it to the stage. MacManus states promisingly,"I have had a few discussions with club owners as to a ‘HomeMade Jams’ showcase."


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