Why do we have cover songs at concerts?

Jamey Johnson – Photo by Jessica Blankenship
I cannot count the number of times I have been fortunate to see Jamey Johnson in concert in almost 10 years.  Several thousand photos, guitar picks handed to me, photo books, memories, laughter, sadness, friendships, and much more gained in those years.  Something struck me though as I reflected back on those concerts.


There is a difference of doing a cover song just for the heck of and to get people to sing along and doing a cover song to preserve the quality and introduce that song to perhaps someone that has never heard of it.

There are quite a few songs that I love, but after hearing so many horrible cover versions, I cringe when an artist inserts them into their show.  Think about the last few concerts that you have been to.  Did you hear any of the following: Folsom Prison Blues, Wagon Wheel, Dixieland Delight, Friends in Low Places, Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way, etc? In one week, I heard Folsom Prison Blues 5 times – 3 of them being all 3 acts at the concert.

Dig deep in that catalog of musical selections.  Bring out a song that ties into what you are singing, your life, your message.  Preserve that song and re-introduce it to your audience.

Jamey Johnson has sung many of a cover song of George Jones, Merle Haggard, Mel Tillis, David Allan Coe, and many more.  He even pulled out Nirvana’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” into a very haunting rendition.  

What is it? Is it the southern country drawl in the vocals?  Is it the wailing sound of the steel guitars?  Why is it that we love these cover songs?  Perhaps it is because they are necessarily preserving history of music one note at a time.

Take listen the next time you are at a show and your favorite artist sings a cover song.  And for the record – could we just retire the annoying covers of Wagon Wheel?