The Times West Virginian

Entertainment Today

June 8, 2009

Country artists try to build their base abroad

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Dierks Bentley and his band recently jetted to Australia to open six shows for Brooks & Dunn, playing to more than 10,000 people a night in the country's largest cities.

And yet Bentley, a headlining act in the U.S. with a half dozen No. 1 hits, didn't plan to make a dime.

"On this tour we don't expect to make any money, and we shouldn't," the 33-year-old singer explained in an interview. "This will be the first time we're playing there. We're trying to lay the foundation for future tours."

As the Country Music Association kicks off its annual festival in Nashville on Thursday to connect with its U.S. audience, artists are trying to bulk up their presence overseas. Few contemporary country hitmakers tour outside North America with regularity. The international market for country isn't anywhere near what it is in the U.S., and the cost of hauling a crew, band and equipment across continents is brutal.

"Most country acts are reluctant to go overseas because they can't make the same money," remarked Joe Galante, chairman of Sony Music Nashville. "But you have to go there and spend some time and build a marketplace."

A few are making a go of it. Besides Bentley, Keith Urban regularly tours abroad. Brooks & Dunn, Sugarland and Taylor Swift are also making inroads. Alan Jackson and Martina McBride are both preparing to play shows in Europe.

In a recent interview, top-seller Rascal Flatts said one of their main goals with their latest album was expanding their audience overseas. And Swift — who is queen of both pop and country these days — has been greeted by energetic fans in Europe.

"I've been very lucky that it's been so successful over there, because I certainly expected it to be harder, having there been an absence of country music over there," she said in a recent interview.

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