the road that leads us here: Me & Keith (& Kacey & Luke & Dierks)

It’s that time again! The CMT Awards are tonight and CMA Fest is just around the corner.

So let’s just say it’s got me all nostalgic for the days when I was walking Broadway in my aunt’s old shitkickers and buying artist merch like there was no tomorrow. Things just aren’t that easy anymore, but I’ve got some standbys to pull me through. –>

Current Playlist including Country Classics of the 2000s:

Lady A – Love Don’t Live Here

Carrie Underwood – Some Hearts

Dierks Bentley – What Was I Thinkin

Jason Aldean – Hicktown

Miranda Lambert – Kerosene, Platinum, White Liar

The Band Perry – You Lie

Sara Evans – Suds in the Bucket

Luke Bryan – Country Girl (and my new fave song EVER “Land of a Million Songs”)

Sugarland – Settlin’

Rascal Flatts – Fast Cars & Freedom

Little Big Town – Day Drinkin’

And of course….anything by Keith Urban on the Be Here album.

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You see, we all have songs and artists that provide the soundtrack to our lives. And while in a way, we get to carefully choose and craft these playlists, there’s no denying the fact that they exist, whether we like it or not. While we can’t always determine what comes on the radio, we can decide whether or not we like it, whether we’ll turn the dial, or what we’ll choose to play in place of it. Most of us have a favorite song, a favorite artist or a favorite genre – something that always makes us feel better, or more at home. And it’s interesting to look back and see how it all connects. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

Especially as I prepare to embark on yet another new professional journey, I have to reflect on the things that got me here. Because YES, everything is related. And there’s one artist I can pinpoint who’s been a major part of my journey for the last 14 years or so. (That’s half my life, y’all.)

If you know me at all, I don’t even have to say his name. And if you don’t know me at all, well, it’s Keith Urban.

In 2005, my mom and I walked into a Target the night before our first trip to Nashville. She picked up Rascal Flatts’ Feels Like Today and some version of Totally Country 2004, or something like that. I picked up Keith’s Be Here – I liked his hair.

That album soon became the soundtrack of my life. My favorite thing. My call home. My call towards the future.

To this day, songs like “Days Go By” and even melodramatic ballads like “Nobody Drinks Alone” instill visions of the Nashville skyline, 10 years younger, fading into the night as we drove to find our hotel located off the confusing interstate system at 2:00 AM. I remember my dad driving in circles on and off Briley Parkway as I sank into my headphones and stared out the window.

That album was like the first hit of a drug addiction for me. Like, you know how they say smoking leads to marijuana leads to mushrooms leads to crack or whatever? Well, Keith led me to country led me to Americana led me to bluegrass led me to 650 AM at 8 on a Wendesday morning.

“Country Comfort” (admittedly an Elton John original) made me crave a simpler, more Southern way of life. And I thought that moving to Nashville would provide that. But it turns out it would take a little more work to find what I was looking for.

Defying Gravity came out as I ended my senior year in high school and planned my future in Music City. At the time, I planned to be a songwriter. That album was full of optimism and joy, and so was I. Things were on the cusp of change – and it was all going to be allllright. Until the fear started creeping in.

Right before I moved to Nashville for my freshmen year, I went to see Keith with my mom in Ohio. That show ended with a riveting encore performance of “Better Life,” with confetti blasting out from the ceiling and the word ‘Believe’ repeated and fading on the backdrop video screens. Excited and scared as I was to take that next step in my journey, I took that feeling with me on the 7 hour journey and clung to it as a message intended just for me. I still do. ‘Believe’ still follows me wherever I go.

That first year ended up being a hard one for me. I almost gave up. But a couple months in, Keith put on his first All for the Hall concert in town. Desperate to go, I bought my ticket, rented a car, drove myself into the downtown area all alone, and ate that show up from the 15th row. It was one of the best experiences of my life.

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I also may have accidentally found myself running across campus one day to catch him and Nicole at Bongo Java. The picture above is the only documentation that we ever spoke (even though I word-vomited half of this story to him in a Starbucks 3 years later).

Get Closer came out my junior year, and I have fond memories of taking my Happy Keith Day album release tradition to Target with a good friend of mine, sipping from red Starbucks cups and discussing the songs as we drove around town, the now-familiar Nashville skyline a straight shot down West End. I was getting more involved with the industry, taking on internships and working events brushing shoulders with some of my favorite country stars all over town. I was really settling in. I was going to stay and everything was going to work out.

But by the summer of 2013, I was a college graduate, temporarily living back at home in Ohio without a job prospect in sight (aside from part-time retail work). But I was saving up and had my plans to move back to Nashville and figure it out. In the meantime, I think I saw Keith three times that summer as he went out on tour to promote his next album, Fuse. This was the last album my mom and I were able to go out and buy together, and every concert experience we had was more memorable than the last. Rain storms, travel delays resulting in two Cleveland shows, getting stuck in traffic and hearing that album on repeat for hours….they’re some of my best memories. And while it still took a few years to secure my first big girl job on Music Row, that record is the soundtrack to that in-flux period when I didn’t really know if things would work out.

Fast forward to May 2016; I was three months into my first long-term relationship. Ripcord provided the tracks that suddenly made so much more sense to a girl who was really falling in love. And for a short while, the sad tracks made sense too when things almost abruptly ended a few weeks later. But we came back from that, I found my strength, and I slowly transitioned more and more into a country lifestyle that I’d been drawn to in country music for so long. I also began to become more critical of what “was” and “wasn’t” true to the country culture. I started drifting in and out from country radio, further into the disillusionment of Music Row and deeper into the twangy vibes of the 80s and 90s. While Keith and his passion for traditional country had inspired me to discover it, I was also having to face the harsh reality that maybe Keith wasn’t as country as he’d once been. While I was getting more intensely drawn into it – he was drifting further away.

But for a fan, that doesn’t seem to matter. We eat up what we’re given, learn to take it with a grain of salt, and then wait for something new to come again.

Every two years I get a gift from Keith. And whether it’s just me or the basic evolution of human adults, every two years marks a new change in my life and my perspectives. So in a way, even though I’ve probably created this pattern out of my own imagination, it feels like Keith’s been on this crazy journey with me all along. He’s been the soundtrack to my time in Nashville – whether I was vacationing, going to school, finding a job, or moving to the outskirts, where the blacktop ends. (yes, this pun was intended)

About a month ago, Graffiti U came out. A day later, I had a meeting that I now know will drastically change the course of my life forever. There’s no way to know for sure, but the way things have been going, this might be putting me on my path. This time, this album could be the harbinger of something that really brings the pieces of me (the writer, the ‘country’ girl, the fan, the business woman) together.

So, fingers crossed.

So thanks for everything, Nashville. I love you. I will always love you – no matter how much you change or how many people (myself included) fight about what is or isn’t country, how skyscrapers are ruining our city, and how no one else should ever move here.

Thanks Carrie & Miranda & Rascal Flatts & Dierks. And thanks, Keith. If it hadn’t been for that first memorable year at CMA Fest….I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t even be close. It may not be looking like I thought it would, but it’s certainly working out for the best.