I know I spend a lot of time on here waxing poetic about my current lifestyle vibes and the whole city vs. country ordeal and the horses and the pretty green grass, but you know, there’s one major part of the story that – without it – all of that would be for naught. Because while the rest of Nashville is freaking out over the Predators playing in the NHL Playoffs (Go Smashville!), I’m just over here thinking about CMA Fest – the annual 4 day gathering of crazy country music fans that I’m going to miss this year for another (smaller) festival up in Ohio still featuring many of my favorite country acts. The Fest was my first true exposure to Nashville, to the country genre, to the idea of actually being able to work in the music business without being onstage. And for that I can and always will be grateful.
When I say, “I love country music,” you have to know that it holds much more gravity for me than for the average fan. I’ll admit, the statement sounds kind of silly, given the dumbed-down restructuring that country music has endured over the last several years, but it’s what changed my life. But it’s one of the single most influential things I’ve ever experienced. And it’s something I hold dear to my heart and can’t quite ever let go of. I mean, we can all pinpoint the moments in our past that have led us down a certain road, and there’s no denying the fact that my very first trip to CMA Fest is what put me in Nashville. Not only that, it pushed me completely outside of my comfort zone. Country music made me turn the dial on my radio station and spend too much money on CDs and concert tickets. It made me look at colleges outside of Ohio, and helped me not end up in the chaos of LA or NYC when it came to my entertainment industry interests. It provided me opportunities many people and music fans never get to have – attending televised award shows, meeting artists in a professional capacity and guiding them through a busy day leading up to a big event in the city, witnessing performances from behind-the-scenes, collecting crazy stories to share with family and friends. Country music made me change the way I want to live my life. It made me want to stay in Nashville. It forced me to build a life here. Far of a stretch as it may sound, it’s the reason I’m where I am today, physically. mentally. emotionally.
My passion for country music forced me to defy the expectations that were set in front of me, making me stronger and more independent. I was the kind of student who should probably have pursued higher learning – medicine, law, education or something – but that’s not what I wanted. I was good at school, getting good grades, always being on time and never misbehaving, and I probably could have thrived in that setting for a long time. But to me, those careers were a backup plan. They would have made me miserable. Nashville helped me find a way out of that line of thinking and struggle for something out of the norm, in the hopes that I could actually be a part of what I was passionate about rather than choosing a career that would simply make me money and provide a comfortable life. While that plan is great for some people, it was never for me, but without any other options I probably would have chosen a safer route. One where I could continue to stay in school with my friends and know exactly what kind of job I’d get in the end.
Country music has provided me so many memories since it became a part of me – after-school stops at Target with my mom to buy the latest dropped album, long road trips to county fairs and amphitheaters around the state, chance encounters with Keith Urban every 4 years…
I can still recall so vividly that time it stormed so bad at a CMA nightly show that we were begged to come down for floor seats. And the time I just waltzed into a Blake Shelton autograph line because there wasn’t too long of a wait. Or the time I had to rent a car to drive myself to Keith’s first All for the Hall concert in Nashville as a freshman in college and got pulled over by a cop because I didn’t know how the headlights worked. I’m so thankful for the friends I’ve made who still come to shows with me and the fact that my dad will sit through Florida Georgia Line on a hot Sunday night just so we can spend some time together. Going through my photo albums to find pictures for this post left me with streams of happy tears running down my face. My life has been so full. And I’m not even sharing the half of it with y’all.
Because you see, I don’t just love country music because of the nostalgia a song can provide or the memories a melody can stir up inside of me. I don’t love it for the expensive beers at a concert or the loud guitars or the sexy men on stage. I love it for what it’s brought me – a new life, a new home, a new love. If mom had never asked our family to make that insanity of a trip down to Nashville for CMA Fest in 2005 to see Billy Gilman, I never would have bought my first Keith Urban CD. I never would have listened to it for 7 hours straight, loving every second but still needing more, forcing me to discover new artists and their albums, forcing me to dig deep into the cannons of the genre as I have for 10 years now. I never would have attended all those shows with my mom and forged our strong relationship that I cherish so much today. I never would have found Belmont, and I wouldn’t have pressed so hard to stay there even when the going got tough. I would have stayed in Ohio and led a perfectly fine and normal life….but I can truly say that that’s not what the cards had in store for me. I was meant to find Nashville – to stay here, to grow here, and to know that it’s going to be my home forever. I was meant to crave the southern life and the countryside and the simple things and to be able and willing to get my hands dirty with some occasional hard work. I was meant to find a certain guy and build a certain life with him. Here. Because I certainly wouldn’t have found him anywhere else. Despite the small struggles I’ve faced and the fact that many of my experiences are only seconds compared to the hours that my fellow students have encountered, I’ve been able to live an incredibly full and interesting life that is only just getting started – and it’s all because of country music. And CMA Fest. And Nashville.
So if you’re in the area and looking for something crazy to do, swing by the city sometime between this Thursday and Sunday. (If all goes well for Smashville, we’ll be having twice the downtown party on Sunday for Game 5 of the playoffs.) You don’t even have to buy a ticket! Most of it is FREE. And trust me, you won’t regret it. #shamelessplug