Erfan "Elf" Rezayatbakhsh, founder, singer and songwriter of the band, "Dream Rovers"

“What does your average Iranian know about country music?” asked the web site in a recent article. “Probably not very much, especially due to the repressive regime that rules the country, and rarely lets Western music be heard, let alone performed.”

That hasn’t stopped one Iranian from boldly adopting an American art form and importing it into his home country, as the web site hastened to add.

The singer-songwriter’s name is Erfan Rezayatbakhsh – ‘Elf’ for short. He’s from Tehran originally, and together with guitarist Ahmad Motevassel, they have formed a band called The Dream Rovers.

Unbeknownst to many, Iran is actually listed as one of nine foreign countries with a healthy country scene, according to Wide Open Country, the online country-music platform, in 2015. Musicians are blending American country music with traditional Iranian sounds to create their own unique genre.

Dream Rovers is one of Iran’s first country music bands. It was founded as Persian Rovers in January 2007 in Tehran by Erfan Rezayatbakhsh, who started out as a Persian pop singer-songwriter in “Checkmate,” a band he formed with his sister and friends. He got hooked on country music after receiving a CD for his 16th birthday that contained 101 country classic hits. He quit the Checkmate project to pursue his dream of becoming a country music artist.

After completing his Iranian military service, Elf formed Dream Rovers with Motevassel, who, thanks to his extensive knowledge and mastery of the electric guitar and his enthusiasm for country music became the band’s other main member. Their first release was a cover album of old country classics such as Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons” and Merle Haggard’s “Hungry Eyes.” The band went on to record Off the Road, an original album, in English in 2011; that album was only released earlier this year.

The Dream Rovers have performed their music at the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran on multiple occasions, and for audiences of more than 500 people. Their success has inspired Erfan Rezayatbakhsh to bring his country music to the U.S. While searching for country music festivals, he came across East Tennessee State University’s (ETSU) bluegrass, old time and country music program.

“When there is music, nobody thinks of fighting,” said Rezayatbakhsh in an interview with earlier this year. “That’s why I came to the United States – not only to study country music in its homeland, but also to travel to the country which had been introduced to me by the media in Iran as the ‘enemy’ and ‘the great Satan’ and see the people, talk to them, and learn about their culture through them.”

In 2012, Erfan became the first-ever Iranian student to attend the ETSU’s program and was awarded two scholarships. The Girl I Know is a single he recorded while studying there. After graduating Summa Cum laude two years later, he moved to Canada, and in 2015, made a new start for Dream Rovers together with Motevassel.

The band released a single in Persian named I’ve Been Everywhere in February 2016 and are working on their new album, which will contain songs in both English and Persian.