One morning at Marcy Jo’s Mealhouse, the meat-and-three restaurant owned by Rory Feek’s wife Joey Martin and Rory’s sister Marcy Gary in unincorporated Pottsville, Tenn., Joey was running late because she was trying to rescue a neighbor’s calf who had wandered onto their farm.
“I saw Joey go out this morning, and I came outside about 15 minutes later and I couldn’t see her anywhere. Then way over the ridge, I see her head pop up every few seconds and she was stripping,” Rory said, with a laugh. “When I went out to see what was going on, she was there with her jacket wrapped around a 6-hour-old baby calf that was freezing, trying to warm it up. So I tweeted about it this morning. I wrote, ‘My wife: the artist and cow whisperer. Another reason I love her.’”
Rory is, of course, known for his trademark blue bib overalls and blond pompadour. He owns a ’52 Oldsmobile and loves Country Music. When Joey is not on the road with him, she helps Marcy cook and serve fried chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, green beans and chocolate Coca-Cola cakes at the Mealhouse, a onetime 19th-century general store that had been used as a seasonal fruit stand until it was abandoned. After the trio purchased it, Joey and Rory did most of the renovations to it as well as to the home that sits on their 8-acre farm, where they raise Rory’s bull, Shooter. Every June, the Feeks host more than a thousand of their closest friends and fans at their annual ”Bib and Buckle Fest,” with barbecue and music in their own backyard. Seriously, can you get any more Country than that?
Embracing who they are was central to establishing them as one of Country Music’s top new vocal duos during Season One of CMT’s “Can You Duet.” “The PR and label people that we work with are fine with it, but Nashville, in particular the music business, has worked very hard over the past couple of decades to distance itself from the ‘Hee Haw’ stereotype,” Feek said. “Some people are actually a little embarrassed by our heritage, and overalls reinforce that image they are trying to shed. They want to shed the Country image from Country Music, and apparently I cause some problems with that. But I wore these for years before I started performing, so it wasn’t like I was just trying to create something that wasn’t me.”
“Rory has a very unique look — and I don’t just say that because I cut his hair,” Martin said, smiling. “I think it’s a timeless look. It’s just his persona and his profile. Even when you take him out of the overalls, he still has an image. We were in California one time and somebody came over to the table where we were sitting. This guy had a surfboard in his hand and he said, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m a huge fan of your songwriting. I love what you guys do.”
“After ‘Can You Duet’ was over, it wasn’t long before we would be walking down the street, and somebody would pass us and then turn around and drive all the way back to talk to us because they recognized us from a block away,” he added. “That’s when we realized that, wow, maybe they’re right. This thing might be a pretty strong branding thing visually, even though it wasn’t something we consciously planned. And Joey is usually dressed like a cowgirl, so those two elements have worked well together. We have made all of our music videos at our home too, or at the restaurant and around our lives, using nothing but the people in our lives — no actors and no sets. That has helped us to keep it authentic.”
“A lot of very talented artists who come to town don’t have a very definable image, whether it’s through their music or the way they look or the way they dress,” said Joey + Rory’s publicist, Craig Campbell, President, Campbell Entertainment Group. “So you try to dig into who they are, their background or hobbies — something that can give you a little direction to go. It’s got to be something that is already there that you build on. It can’t be just fabricated out of nothing or fans will be able to tell.”
“Country Music is a great big world,” Feek concluded. “Instead of having to market to the fringe all the time to make it extremely hip and cool, we can also spend a lot of our efforts marketing to people right here in Middle America. Those people matter too. They don’t live on the coasts, but it’s a huge segment of our audience, and those people are not embarrassed by our heritage. I know the industry people are just trying to appeal to a broader audience, but we can’t please everybody. If we are not careful, we can end up losing our core audience by trying to be all things to all people.”