As I was watching The Head & The Heart be amazing at Ryman Auditorium a few nights ago, I realized why I’m deeply in love with Nashville, TN.
Middle school was an interesting time for me, in many ways, including when it came to my taste in music and how that intersected with my racial identity. I’d been introduced to country music during summer camp and around that same time my mom invested in cable television which meant my brother and I had full access to MTV, CMT, and VH1. Not to mention all of the shows about music including those that aired on FX when it was a cool and new network. I can thank FX for introducing me to Sheryl Crow. I remember the moment when “All I Wanna Do” lit up my TV screen. I was a goner. However, where I’m from, country music and Sheryl Crow were not on regular rotation in the African American community.
Up until then I’d only really been exposed to R&B, Hip Hop, and Gospel music. We shopped for our music at DJ’s Records and Tapes for years until my exploration led us to the mall or Wal-Mart for those things that weren’t really ever going to grace the shelves of an urban music store. There was no way that Faith Hill was going to be on those often browsed shelves and I was sure to get a look of shock and perhaps horror if I requested sweet Faith from one of the store clerks.
Country music was changing and women like Shania, Faith, Jessica, and Leann were running the show. I was obsessed with SheDaisy, Rascal Flatts, Martina McBride, Deanna Carter, Chely Wright, The Dixie Chicks, Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks, and Gary Allan, etc. I could watch CMT ALL DAY LONG! When Faith Hill told her story about being discovered at the Bluebird Cafe (a place I thought I’d never see) and that she was adopted from MS who grew up wishing that she was black, you could have literally poked me with a hot fork and I wouldn’t have moved.
On top of that, MTV had No Doubt, Alanis Morrissette, Tracey Bonham, Bush, Lit, The Cranberrries, Smashing Pumpkins, The Goo Goo Dolls, Barenaked Ladies, Smashmouth, Sublime, 311, Jason Mraz, and all of these other artists that were completely new to me. Gosh, Aerosmith had this resurgence with Alicia Silverstone as their mascot, and Nirvana confirmed the inner turmoil that I never shared with a soul.
I consumed music and tried to balance all of my tastes and make sure that I knew what was important for me to know as a teenage African American and still cling to loving all of the other ear candy that was pouring out of my TV. I remember the nervousness I had when I asked my mom if I could buy the new Fiona Apple CD. When we had to go to a mall 2 cities over to get the one copy of Nikka Costa they had on the shelf and the appreciation on the clerk’s face when I walked in the store after only speaking to him on the phone to request he hold it for me. I had to be careful about how into a song I appeared to be if it wasn’t deemed “black enough” by my friends. However, Britney, NSYNC, BSB, Jessica Simpson, 98 Degrees, BBMak, SClub7, and the Spice Girls were the friends I actually wanted.
Most of my friends didn’t like what I liked and they didn’t care to try. I bopped about in my room and felt all the feels while collecting a CD collection that was eventually stolen in college. I learned what the word eclectic meant and I was thrilled to understand my newfound condition. I just wanted to hear things that sounded good and I wanted to care about the lyrics more than ever before. Music finally connected with my feelings and I needed a steady stream of it to get me through the day.
While all of this exploration was going on, I still loved my roots and when my family wanted to reward us by taking us to a concert, it was always of the R&B and Hip Hop variety. I’ve seen every iteration of Destiny’s Child, Boyz II Men, New Edition, Bell Biv Devoe, Janet Jackson, Blackstreet, M.C. Hammer, and probably lots of folks that I’ve forgotten BUT I always knew that no one was ever going to take me to Trisha Yearwood, K’s Choice, Green Day, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Matchbox Twenty, or Natalie Imbruglia. I accepted that and created my own little music world that I’d escape to as often as possible.
But now, at 31, I can be one of those people that “goes to shows” and I can see any band I want when they come to town. I can be 1 of maybe 5 black people in Ryman Auditorium for The Head & The Heart, Mumford & Sons, and The Civil Wars. I can buy spur of the moment tickets to The Black Keys, I can finally see Fiona Apple in concert, and I can go to a 90’s cover band concert and sing all of my faves at the top of my lungs. I can buy tickets to CMAFEST and cover myself in four nights of country music. I can finally live my music life out loud.
I’m no longer worried about my race and risking ostracism if my peers think that I’m “acting white” because of what’s I have on my Spotify. Who gives a poop? I can freely say that 99% of rap music is crap. I ACTUALLY met Martina McBride! Nashville has allowed me to engage with music in ways I never thought I’d be able to during my life. Bonnaroo is 1.5 hours away from the city. There is music literally coming out of the streets and I could go to a concert every night if my bank account allowed me to.
Nothing makes my heart beat like good music. My overall sense of wellness and productivity rides on what’s floating out of my car and computer. I’m fulfilling all of my 13 year old musical dreams by residing in this city and the feeling of my dreams coming true has bound me to this place in a way that I’ll never forget and probably will never be able to replicate.
Music City fulfilled its moniker in my life. It released me in a way that I still didn’t even know I was holding on to. I guess there are many ways, including musically, to grow comfortable in your skin. I salute you Nashville.
Now, back to the Punch Brothers.
Thanks for reading, y’all.