I've never been a fan of country music. Until now.
It's not that I have particularly disliked it or avoided it, but it's never really resonated with me. Yet music has always been an important part of my life.
My father was a high school and elementary school band director for 40 years, my mother sings and plays the piano. Music was always in our home. I started taking piano lessons at a young age and took up the clarinet in 4th grade. Later branching out to the saxophone, flute, even a little percussion, all the way through college, my educational experience revolved around my participation in concert band, marching band, solos and ensembles, jazz bands, jazz combos, and anything else related to instrumental music. Music is in my blood. I just never took particular interest in country music.
In recent years, however, I have discovered Bluegrass music. I had a co-worker a few years back who loved Bluegrass and even liked to get together with folks to play it. He tipped me off to a few Bluegrass bands and something about it spoke to me. I love the folk-heavy acoustic sound, tight vocal harmonies, and often Christian themes to the lyrics. There's even an improvisational aspect to it that appeals to me as a longtime fan of jazz music. But I still didn't feel drawn to more mainstream country music.
Then I saw a show at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, TN. I live in Utah and work full-remote for a company based in Nashville. My company brought me in for a week to visit the corporate office and meet and work with people in-person. My father, who in retirement has moved to Nashville and become a tour guide for the Grand Ole Opry House, took me to see the Tuesday night show on 9/20/2022.
It was phenomenal.
The lineup for the evening was:
- Jeannie Seely
- Hailey Whitters
- Dailey & Vincent
- We The Kingdom
- Charles Esten
- John Crist
- Jamey Johnson
I knew Daily & Vincent from their Bluegrass albums, and I knew Charles “Chip” Esten was one of the regulars on the Drew Carey version of the improv comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, but I had never heard of the others. Regardless, there was not a single bad performance. Every act was fantastic and enjoyable.
What struck me was the variety. Before my Opry experience, I had what you might call a stereotypical perception of what country music is and what it sounds like. But every act was different – different styles, instrumentation, sound – they had different vibes. Some used the house band. Others brought their own. One just brought his voice and a guitar.
Jeannie Seely – who just celebrated her 55th anniversary as a member of the Opry – opened the show with classic country flair.
Hailey Whitters – a new and budding artist – brought youth and spunk with her hit Everything She Ain't.
Daily & Vincent departed from their Bluegrass roots and played a few tunes from their new country album. They were fantastic, both as musicians and vocalists, and were one of the highlights of the evening for me. They also got to talk a bit about their new cover of I'll Leave My Heart in Tennessee being made a new state song for the state of Tennessee.
We The Kingdom brought a lot of energy with their Christian rock sound. They were all over the stage and I saw a lot of believers in the audience in full praise and worship mode. Definitely the most energetic act of the night.
Charles Esten sounded great – I had no idea he had this kind of talent. His duet with Julia Cole singing Worst Day was particularly memorable.
Jon Crist – a comedian – was hilarious and had the audience laughing pretty much his whole act.
But they saved the best for last with Jamey Johnson. I had never heard him before. He walked intentionally onto the stage with only his guitar and his voice – no band, no backup singers. A man of few words, his performance was just breathtaking. The audience particularly loved his rendition of In Color. And he ended with a stirring tribute to fallen military members called 21 Guns. He got a standing ovation as he quickly thanked the audience walked off the stage.
If there's one thing I learned about country music that night at the Opry, it's that it deserves a spot in my personal music library. From this single show it was obvious there are so many different styles, sounds, and themes in the world of country music. Like any other music genre, some flavors of country may not appeal to you, but others will.
Music from that night at the Opry has been playing in my mind ever since. I looked up the artists, listened to more of their music, and found a lot to appreciate and enjoy.
Later in the week I went on one of my dad's tours at the Opry. I learned more about its history and legacy, what makes it so special, and why artists like Garth Brooks consider their membership in the Grand Ole Opry to be the pinnacle of their career. There's something special about it. I know, because my first visit to the Grand Ole Opry was a special one. And it won't be my last.
#100DaysToOffload (No. 17)