DJ Rodeo Starr is speaking to The Tennessean in the parking lot of a Marriott hotel in Spartanburg, South Carolina. She was 400 miles into a 600-mile trip to a headlining gig in Athens, Georgia, as the disc jockey for another sold-out night of Pittsburgh-based TSN Parties’ nationally touring “Dolly Disco” Dance Party when a tornado stopped her drive.
If you’re not paying attention, that’s probably been the only thing that’s stopped the unexpected two-year ascent of Starr — aka Grace Myers. During COVID-19’s quarantine, the Virginia resident with Kentucky roots stopped working as a public schoolteacher. Instead, she began using DJing country music-driven club sets from her bedroom and posting memes highlighting the genre’s 80s and 90s heyday as an outlet for feeling stir-crazy during the pandemic.
Now that the world has entirely re-opened, her ability to galvanize how country music has begun to embrace gender, race and sex-inclusive demographics under the age of 40 is paying dividends nationwide.
DJ Rodeo Starr returns to Nashville for the third time in four months as The “Dolly Disco” hits Nashville’s Brooklyn Bowl on Fri. Jan. 20.
Expect that 1,000 people — primarily women aged 18-34 — will engage in what the DJ calls a “female and LGBT-artist centered high-energy dance night” that will feature 90 percent of the music she’ll play being made by women.
In Parton’s just-released, 400-page compendium “Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics,” Robert Oermann describes the power of the “9 to 5” singer’s work as honest, often optimistic, soulful and transformational music that blends mountain roots with cosmopolitan idealism.
This night does not merely celebrate the power of Parton’s catalog. Instead, it achieves something more. It adequately highlights the reach of Parton’s superwoman-type aesthetic over six decades of popular music.
This isn’t the same crowd that occupies five blocks of bars and clubs seven days a week on Lower Broadway, though. Instead, these are fans easing into an “aggressively casual” comfort with country music again by celebrating its classic, pop-adored sounds and tropes (ballads included, “my people love Reba’s ‘Fancy,'” says Starr) while also still retaining enjoyment of generations of generally dance-ready pop music.
Myers recalls a night where, on a lark, she played Miley Cyrus’ 2009 “Hannah Montana: The Move” single “The Climb.”
“When I did that, a girl got kicked out for doing [breakdancing maneuver] The Worm on a bowling alley’s floor. People dress as crazy as possible and lose their minds at [my parties]. The energy is wild.”
More regularly, tastes of most of the Dolly Disco’s fanbase fall somewhere between Patsy Cline’s 1961 release of “Crazy” and Gretchen Wilson’s 2004 hit “Redneck Woman.” Outliers include Carrie Underwood’s 2007 hit “Before He Cheats” and Kacey Musgraves’ 2010s discography.
Notable as well are the honky-tonk disco swing of Sheryl Crow’s 1993 hit “All I Wanna Do,” the pop appeal of The Chicks’ 1999 favorite “Sin Wagon,” plus Starr’s favorite transition — switching between party namesake Parton’s 1974 “I Will Always Love You” and Whitney Houston’s cover, released two decades later. Following that up with Houston’s 1987 hit “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” sums up the night’s vibes perfectly.
People are leaving their homes post-quarantine for dance parties in large numbers. TSN Parties also tours a Taylor Swift-inspired event. Also, Brooklyn Bowl Nashville’s calendar often features the “Emo Night Brooklyn” event and ABBA-inspired parties.
Two divergent post-COVID movements have spurred this movement in the live event space.
Foremost, independent acts that typically played high-production sets with tickets in the $50+ range at intimate (meaning 1,000 people or less) are canceling gigs and tours at an alarming rate.
Veteran artists like Brooklyn-based Santigold have canceled their recent tours because thousands of musicians simultaneously returned to the road at a time when fanbases have limited disposable income. Those socio-economic concerns made life on the road “unsustainable for and uninterested in the welfare of the artists it is built upon,” as she stated via an Instagram post.
However, the same for independent and mainstream country music artists does not hold true.
In 2023, arenas and stadiums will be filled for acts including Kane Brown, Eric Church, Luke Combs, Thomas Rhett, George Strait, Taylor Swift, Shania Twain, Carrie Underwood and Morgan Wallen. But, of course, this doesn’t include artists like Jelly Roll and Zach Bryan, whose independent rises have led to them selling out the Bridgestone Arena and Red Rocks Amphitheater, respectively.
Thus, country music DJ nights requiring two turntables, a microphone, lights and speakers — instead of arena tour riders and elaborate staging — are ideal.
Myers cites country’s ability as a genre to continue super-serving a waterfall of releases and live sets without audiences present as vital to maintaining the genre’s strong social and economic connection to its fanbase.
Those releases and events having a more uniquely personal feel are easier to manage at a 1,000-person “Dolly Disco” event than Luke Combs’ giving 60,000 of his “Bootleggers” a night to remember at Nissan Stadium.
“People can go out, inexpensively, nationwide, for a cute kitschy theme night and get Dolly-themed drinks and a cute Instagram photo. Plus, they can dance to legacy artists — Dolly, The Judds, Loretta Lynn — that they love and may probably never get to see live in concert.”
“Right now, my career is all a crazy dream,” says Myers, who has seen putting smiles on the faces of similarly cooped up and very bored country music devotees evolve into a well-promoted independent brand excelling at entertaining a well-defined, cohesive national community.
“I represent a group of people making space in mainstream country music. We may be 10 percent of that population right now, but our time to shine is growing. We’re having fun.”
The Dolly Disco: The Dolly Parton-Inspired Country Diva Dance Party
Where: Brooklyn Bowl, 925 Third Ave. N., NashvilleWhen: Jan. 20, doors open at 6 p.m. and event starts at 9 p.m.Tickets: $18 via www.ticketweb.com/event/the-dolly-party-the-dolly-brooklyn-bowl-nashville-tickets/12398365?pl=bbowlnash
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