This year's Rock on the Range has a killer lineup of bands, including Tool, A Perfect Circle, Avenged Sevenfold, Alice in Chains, Stone Sour and Godsmack, to name a few. But there's also a comedy tent with a hilarious list of names including JB Smoove (who plays Leon on HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm), Big Jay Oakerson, Yannis Pappis and "The Liberal Redneck," Trae Crowder.

Crowder is a standup comic who toured the south for years in relative obscurity. Once he started to post videos to YouTube, his fortunes changed. Today, he has over ten million views on YouTube and he's frequently booked as a guest or pundit on news and opinion programs. This Friday night (May 18), he's headlining Rock on the Range's comedy tent (after which, he'll probably bolt over to the main stage for A Perfect Circle and Alice In Chains). We talked to him about performing to rock audiences, why he hates commercial country music and whether or not comedy can change hearts and minds.

At most of your shows, people are showing up to see "The Liberal Redneck." A lot of people at Rock on the Range may not have heard of you; some of them may not be aware that there's a comedy tent. 

That’s occurred to me too, and I’m assuming that that will be the case. I’ve been to Bonnaroo five times. For a lot of people, the comedy tent is a place for people to go cool off for a minute because there’s air conditioning in there, or to come down from drugs or some shit. I’ve never been to Rock on the Range, but yeah, I’m assuming that there will be a lot of people there who, like you said, just kind wandered in to check something out. I’m not particularly worried about it. Famous last words! Before my videos [took off], I was doing standup in the south at bars and shit like that and nobody ever had a clue who I was, But also, the crowd had varying levels of hostility -- potentially – towards what I had to say. This is not my first rodeo when it comes to that type of thing, is what I’m saying.

You remind me a bit of the Drive-By Truckers, a great band of proud southerners, who happen to be pretty progressive. 

That’s a huge compliment. Me and Corey [Ryan Forrester] and Drew [Morgan], the guys I tour with, we talked a lot over the years about how we are trying to do what the Drive-By Truckers do, but in comedy.

What are your conversations like these days, when you talk with conservatives from red states?

Well, most of the time, at this point, if I’m having a conversation with one of those people, they know who I am. That’s different from when I was growing up; back then they didn’t know that I was a "godless liberal" or whatever. That changes things; now they go into a conversation with me already knowing that.

I’m honest with people about my opinion, but I try not be aggressive. I don’t back down, but I try to play it cool. I don’t want to come off as a total asshole, that just makes them shut down. But 99% of the time, neither person is changing the other person’s mind.

Pop culture and comedy can be pretty powerful at introducing new ideas. 

[Sometimes] someone will tell me that their mother-in-law changed her opinion on something because of something that I said in one of the videos. I hear tales of that, but I’m not gonna sit here and lie to you and tell you that I run into people like that all the time. What’s way more common for me when it comes to changing people’s minds, is talking to people from the north or out west or something, and they’ll say that I’ve changed the way that they look at people from the south. People that literally didn’t know that people like me existed or whatever. Which is insane to me, but that’s a real thing. I hear that all the time. But as far as hardcore conservatives in the south "coming around," I hear whispers of that, but I’m not talking to those people every day.

I think one thing that changes people is the personal experience of knowing someone different from themselves. Like, if your child is gay, you may not be homophobic anymore. 

That’s the one thing that actually does change people. Having some kind of personal experience, having a gay kid.

I was recently in Tennessee, they’re trying to pass medical marijuana there, and there’s a lot of people who have seen somebody in their family get prescribed Percocet or oxycontin and end up totally strung out on it. Suddenly, all those people don’t think marijuana is all that bad anymore. Personal experiences are the one thing that will absolutely change people’s minds.

So, are you a rock fan? Are you excited to see anyone at Rock on the Range? 

I hope that I’m able to see Tool, because I’ve never seen them and I’m told they’re amazing [live]. I’ve listened to Alice In Chains. I’m a fan of those two in particular. There’s a lot of bands on there that appeal to me.

I listen to a lot of what people call "Americana," but what I refer to as "good country music," not the Nashville radio pop country. I like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton. When most people talk about country music, they’re talking about Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line and those types of people. They’re not even country music to me. If you want to call it "country music," fine, but it’s fucking terrible. But very, very good country music still absolutely exists. Like, go to Merlefest in North Carolina. Good country music is still getting made, but it’s just not what’s popular. It annoys me sometimes for sure. I just went to Nashville with some friends who had never been to Nashville before, and they wanted to go and do the whole honky tonk thing on Broadway, and I went with them. Ugh, I had to leave, I was just getting filled with rage. I was almost homicidal by the end of the night!

As for Rock on the Range, I looked up the festival [lineup] and said, "Yeah, that looks like a good time. I’ll do that." I fully intend on hanging out. I’m gonna do my set, I’m gonna check it out. I’m sure it will be very different from Bonnaroo, that’s the only music festival I’ve ever been to. I’m pumped about it.

Trae Crowder will take the stage in the Rock on the Range comedy tent at 7:20PM Friday night (May 18). You can also see where else Trae will be performing via his website.

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