I am a latecomer to the country music scene. I grew up on progressive radio and worked my way through all the alternative and pop scenes—always keeping an edge and never going straight into the mainstream. I was milk-fed on Jackson Browne (and he will always feel like home to me). But I bought the very first U2 album and Madonna’s first as well, staunchly defending her from ridiculers (although I think I’m on Guy Ritchie’s side now); I was an early Coldplay adopter. And I have seen all of these performers in concert at least once. I was always looking for something interesting and new, but somehow I got the message that country music was something to be looked down on and avoided at all costs.
Then sometime around 2004 I got an XM satellite radio, and I kept finding my way to the country stations. I remember the first time I heard Kenny Chesney sing “There Goes My Life.” I could barely drive with all the tears falling down. I had my first baby at 20, and I felt like I could have written that song. Kenny Chesney has been the top-selling concert tour for a few years in a row now, but I first saw him on the upswing at the Allentown Fair, and let me tell you, it was totally awesome. My husband the skeptic (his all-time favorite is Elvis Costello) was surprised by the audience. It was young, it was hot, it was old, it was parents and little kids, it was mostly white (but so was every Elvis Costello concert I’ve been to).
It wasn’t just the sad country songs that got me, but the funny ones as well. One of my favorites is Chris Cagle’s “What Kinda Gone.” “There’s gone for good and there’s good and gone/There’s gone with a long before it/I wish she’d been just a little more clear/There’s gone for the day and gone for the night and gone for the rest of your doggone life…I mean what kind of gone are we talking about here?”
Then there is Keith Urban. Sigh. I saw him in person once in the lobby at the Mandarin Oriental in Manhattan, and it was the closest I have ever come to screaming hysterically when I saw a celebrity. And for God’s sakes, I’m over 40 years old. Of all the concerts I have ever seen in my long life, his recent show at Madison Square Garden easily makes it to the top end of my top five all-time best.
The more I listen, the more I like. I like old and new Dixie Chicks and Toby Keith. I guess I was surprised to realize that there was NEW music out there for people who are kind of grown up. It’s music for people who have kids and marriages that are sometimes great and sometimes not as great—people who have long lost memories and some regrets. Although my kids really like country music, too. Most of all, it’s for people who really love life and aren’t cynical about it. Country music and its performers are outsiders like me. But the outside is a very, very large place, and it’s where the sunshine and fresh air is.
I think I’ll stay out here. You are welcome to join us! (No shoes required.)