NASHVILLE Some rock and country artists would flinch at a comparison with Jimmy Buffett, a star whose concerts are as much about community as they are about music.
Not Texan Pat Green, whose followers though smaller in number than Buffett's Parrotheads are every bit as loyal and just as dedicated to the party life.
"I love Jimmy Buffett," Green said on his cell phone as he motored back to Texas from Nashville after a live appearance on "CMT Most Wanted Live." (MTVi's parent company, Viacom, also owns CMT.) The video for Green's "Carry On" finished first in the show's daily poll on October 10, the day after his new album, Three Days, came out on Republic Records.
"Jimmy Buffett is such a destination concert every summer for my family," Green said. "Everybody loads up, we rent out a van or a bus and take as many friends as we can to go see a Jimmy Buffett concert. It's a fun thing. It's a good experience and it brings people together."
It's easy to imagine a Pat Green fan making similar plans and saying similar things about a Green performance. At 29, the San Antonio-born, Waco-raised, Lubbock-educated and Austin-based son of the Lone Star State vowed, "I'm dedicated, every night when I go up to do a show, to entertaining the people, not so much to be a star or live that glam lifestyle. I'm just really about the people having a good time with their lives."
Which is exactly what his audience appears to be doing in the "Carry On" video. While Green performs barefoot on stage, the young fresh faces smile and sing. Their fists pump. They hold up signs proclaiming their allegiance to the man. Their heads bob in time to the beat of his anthem to good times. "Everybody gotta get away sometime," goes his chorus. "Forget about yourself for a while."
It's one of Green's favorite themes. "I said forget about tomorrow/ I don't care if it comes at all," he sings on "Take Me Out to a Dancehall," an older song. "And if we get a little crazy/ Blame it on the alcohol."
Green has entertained Texas audiences for a while now. He started playing guitar at 18, "to pick up chicks," while a student at Texas Tech in Lubbock. In short order, he became a regular on the Texas dance hall scene, and he quickly expanded his reach throughout the South and Southwest, playing to college audiences at first, then watching the age range grow out at both ends.
Since 1995, he has recorded six CDs, his latest being Three Days. Another, Songs We Wish We'd Written, is a collection of covers done with fellow Texan Cory Morrow. Guitarist Lloyd Maines, father of Dixie Chick Natalie Maines, has been Green's producer of choice. On the new disc he also enlists Greg Ladanyi, known for his work with Jackson Browne, Don Henley and Warren Zevon, to produce three tracks and mix the record. Four of Green's five independent releases appear on his own label, Greenhorse Records. Together, they've sold more than 200,000 copies impressive and profitable for an indie.
Nashville noticed. Green came close to signing with the Music City division of RCA but decided instead to go with New York-based Republic/ Universal. There, he's on a roster that includes Godsmack, 3 Doors Down and Chumbawamba, among others. He has creative freedom he fears he would have lost in Nashville.
"I figured it might hurt us in the beginning to try to go at country music out of New York City instead of Nashville," he conceded. "But I really believe in this music ... I think if I had gone through the normal channels of signing a record label deal in country music, I wouldn't have been able to sing what I wanted to sing. I would have lost that control."
Green sees the concentration of country's fortunes in Nashville as an unnatural thing. "It's time for a bit of a change," he said. "Rock and roll comes from Seattle, it comes from New Orleans, it comes from Chicago. Every area has its own sound. For so long, country music only came from one place, and if you didn't come from that place then you were kinda ostracized from the community. I don't think that's the way it should be done."
Willie Nelson one of Green's avowed role models and a guest vocalist on Three Days also found it useful to maintain some distance between himself and Nashville. Before Green issued his first CD, Nelson let him open a show in Lubbock.
"He was kind to me then, when I didn't have a record out and our band wasn't very organized," Green said. "Through the years, we've played the Fourth of July picnics, Farm Aid and a whole lot of shows. He's just a fun guy. If anybody wants to know how to live your life, just give him a call and find out. He knows how to treat fans as normal people. He handles it all so well."
Though his crowds are large and growing, Green has had to handle a situation or two of his own. In the land of accomplished singer/songwriters like Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Lyle Lovett, some regard his beer-and-good-times point of view as lightweight.
In June, singer/songwriter Charlie Robison took a shot at Green and his fans in an Austin Chronicle story. "You have to see Pat Green's crowd it's all ball caps, all a certain kind of folk," Robison said. "We're not going to open up a door so wide that educated people or real music fans start liking Pat Green."
And on Tuesday, the day his record came out, the Austin American-Statesman, citing the criticism leveled at him by others, said of Green, "He's the most reviled Texas artist since Vanilla Ice."
"Who's to Say," a track on the new album, seems to embody Green's response. "Who's to say/ And who are you to judge me anyway," he asks. "This is my road/ I take the corner as fast as I can go."
Radney Foster likes Green well enough to have invited him to sing on his latest album, Are You Ready for the Big Show. Their duet, a remake of Foster & Lloyd's "Texas in 1880," has attained some popularity with CMT viewers.
"I'm a fairly whimsical, positive person," Green said, sounding a little like the ol' pirate Buffett. "People can be so critical of work that is becoming popular. If it's not deep enough, or it's not ... whatever, who cares? This is not about you. I'm not writing these songs for those people. I'm writing these songs for the fans and for myself. To answer them, I say, 'Do your own thing, but don't judge it.' "