The Mile High Country Music Club

I tend to do my best movie watching when I’m on an airplane. There’s nothing else going on and I usually can’t sleep anyway so why not put on a movie? Not only do airplanes have great movies, including some the newer releases, but they also tend to have pretty decent music too. I was quite impressed with the music selection that I found on Emirates airline on my recent trip to Kenya, especially their country stuff. (Major shoutout to Emirates for having Eric Church’s The Outsiders!) I decided to use the idle time I had on the plane to listen some of the stuff they had on there. Though I tend to stick with the stuff I already know, I decided to try out some new (new to me at least) stuff this time. Below are a few of the songs I found on my flight that are now forever a part of my playlist.

Dolly Parton- “Joshua.” I always prided myself on being a Dolly Parton fan but how did I not know about Joshua? Thankfully, Emirates had a whole Dolly playlist and whoever created it made sure that Joshua was included. While Joshua isn’t the type of man I’d go for, I can see his appeal. And if he makes Dolly happy, well then that makes me happy!

“Joshua Joshua
What you are doing living here all alone
Joshua Joshua
Have you got nobody to call your own
No no no no”

Willie Nelson- “Wives and Girlfriends.” I think we can all agree with Willie that wives and girlfriends (and husbands and boyfriends) should never meet. This song about what appears to possibly be a polygamous man (or just a player?) also makes a reference to being Mormon- proving that Willie Nelson really can get away with singing about anything, even the Mormons.

“Well, I love my wives and I love my girlfriends
May they never meet
May they never know each other when they pass on the street
Well, I might be a Mormon or I might be a heathen or a gambler
I just don’t know
But I love my wives and I love my girlfriends
Turn ’em all out and let ’em all go

Finding this song led me to explore some more songs from his 2014 Band of Brothers album and that’s how I found Hard to Be an Outlaw” and “The Songwriters.” The former song reminds me a great deal of the song that Willie sang with Steve Earle on his latest album, “So You Wannabe An Outlaw.” No matter how many times these guys try to warn people about the outlaw way of life, people just won’t listen! And if you think that outlaws are bad just wait until you meet the songwriters! As Willie sings, they’re heroes but also schemers, they’re drunks and they’re also dreamers. They might be lovers but sometimes they’re also fighters. Note to self: stay away from outlaws and songwriters!

“Our mama’s don’t know what we’re doing
Why we stay out all night long
I told mine I was a drug dealer
She said thank god you ain’t writin songs”

Johnny Cash- “Baby Ride Easy.” Who doesn’t love a good Johnny and June duet? I know I sure do! These two sing about needing the simple things out of a partner: June wants someone who’s loving is good and Johnny wants someone who’s cooking ain’t greasy. What more could you ask for? The long and loving relationship that these two shared makes me think that they each got what they wanted.

“(Johnny) If I drove a truck
(June) And I were a waitress
(Johnny) And I ordered coffee
(June) And I poured you some
(Johnny & June) Then you’d stop by on your way sometimes later

(June) And if we arm-wrestled, I’d see that you won”

I’m not sure who would’ve won in an arm-wrestling competition between these two but I sure wish I could’ve seen it happen!

This song comes from Johnny’s posthumous album Out Among the Stars, which was released in 2014. The songs on this album are from the lost 1980s sessions of Johnny Cash with producer Billy Sherrill. The songs were discovered in 2012 by Johnny’s son, John Carter Cash, after being shelved by Columbia Records.

Currently listening to: John Denver- “Leaving On A Jet Plane

Getting Out of My Southern Comfort Zone

When I’m not writing about country music, I’m either traveling or planning my next trip. I recently returned from a trip to Kenya (hence the major delay in posts) and am already thinking about where I want to travel next (Uzbekistan? Georgia (the country not the state)? Armenia?) It should come as no surprise that there aren’t too many country songs (or any really) about the places I travel to or about traveling in general. However, there is one song that stands out to me and resonates well with us wanderlusting, country music fans (I can’t be the only one, right?) That song is Brad Paisley’s “Southern Comfort Zone,” in which he sings, “I can’t see this world unless I go outside my Southern Comfort Zone.” The music video, which I’ve included below, even includes scenes that were shot in Kenya!

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Dallas Pub, Maasai Mara, Kenya (July 2017)

What I love about this song (besides the obvious play on words of “southern comfort” and “comfort zone”) is that it discusses getting out of your comfort zone when you travel. I’ve always said that traveling (I’m talking cheap hostels, taking public transportation in foreign countries, trying new (and sometimes questionable) foods) makes you grow because you’re forced to get out of your comfort zone. Brad touches on this in his song with lines like “I know what it’s like to talk and have nobody understand” and “I know what it’s like to be the only one like me, to take a good hard look around and be in the minority.” Although Brad mentions traveling to Rome and Paris in his song, where they most likely will also speak English (though maybe not with a southern accent), it’s likely that he has found himself in situations where people did not understand him when he spoke. Finding yourself in situations like this serve as a good reminder that the whole world is not like you. As Brad points out in the beginning of the song, not everybody drives trucks, drinks sweet tea, owns guns (I’ll hold my tongue on this one), and wears a ball cap, boots, and jeans. When you’re around people who are just like you (people who talk like you, think like you, live like you), it’s good to be reminded that your way of life is not the only way of life. This is probably the most important lesson that one learns when they get out of their “southern comfort zone.”

“I have walked the streets of Rome, I have been to foreign lands
I know what it’s like to talk and have nobody understand
I have seen the Eiffel Tower lit up on a Paris night
I have kissed a West Coast girl underneath the Northern Lights”

When traveling, you also begin to miss some of the comforts of home and in return you develop a newfound appreciation for these things. For Brad, it was “biscuits and gravy, fireflies dancing in the night.” For me, especially during the year that I lived in London, it was sweet tea and Chick-fil-A (a number one with a sweet tea, thank you and please!) As Brad travels he realizes how much he misses his Tennessee home, for me it’s my Virginia home.

I’ve been lucky enough to have traveled to 20 countries so far (if we’re including that one time I had to stay in Dubai for a night due to a missed flight, which I am.) While traveling, one thing that never fails to surprise me is when I hear country music in the most unexpected places. In Chiang Mai, Thailand I not only heard someone playing Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” but the live band performing in a local town square performed Old Crow Medicine Show’s (not Darius Rucker’s!) “Wagon Wheel” and John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” These were Thai men in cowboy hats singing American country music and I loved everything about it. Just this month in Kenya, I heard Randy Travis’ “Three Wooden Crosses” playing in a boat rental office (on what was probably a Christian gospel radio station) at Lake Naivasha. And at the airport in Nairobi while waiting to head back home, I heard what must’ve been a collection of country love song duets as Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood’s “In Another’s Eyes,” Clint Black and Lisa Hartman Black’s “When I Said I Do,” and Vince Gill and Reba McEntire’s “The Heart Won’t Lie” played over the speakers. Brantley Gilbert sings that “Country Must Be Country Wide,” but perhaps it’s also worldwide.

While many people are often scared to travel for fear of getting out of their comfort zone, I’ve learned that once you step out and meet new people, you realize that humans are not all that different from one another. If the songs of John Denver and Merle Haggard can resonate with people from Chiang Mai, Thailand then we really can’t be all that different now can we?

The music video for “Southern Comfort Zone” (below) contains scenes from different 8 different countries (which he covered in 8 days!) including Ireland, France, Norway, and KENYA! Major kudos to Brad for not only including the animals of Kenya in this video (giraffes, elephants, zebras, etc.) but also the people. Scenes of the Masai people, who I spent some time with on my trip, can be found this video. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see any country music videos being filmed while I was in Kenya.

I’d like to end this post with the same message that Brad ends this music video with: “See This World.”

 

Currently listening to: Thomas Rhett- “Die A Happy Man.” Here Thomas also makes a reference to seeing the Eiffel Tower at night, which seems to be quite a big deal in the country community.

“If I never get to see the Northern lights
Or if I never get to see the Eiffel Tower at night
Oh, if all I got is your hand in my hand
Baby, I could die a happy man”

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The Eiffel Tower lit up on a Paris night” (March 2016)

 

Celebrating America’s Diversity in Country Music

Happy Fourth of July, y’all!

For Independence Day, I wanted to do something other than just listing out all of the best flag-waving, red white and blue, freedom loving country songs. Mainly because that’s already been done and also because that list would be far too long. Instead, I’m choosing to write about the country songs that focus on my favorite things about America like its diversity and acceptance of those differences. 

First up is Dierks Bentley- “Home

Though this song was released in 2011, I think it’s more relevant now in 2017. No, America isn’t perfect, as Dierks sings, “shes’s got her scars.” But trying to make America better and healing those scars should be something that we are constantly working towards. We shouldn’t try to bring America back to the past by making it “great” again but rather we should try to make it greater than it’s ever been. That means moving forwards, not backwards. Because for a lot of people, America wasn’t great to them in the past. Perhaps these are the scars that Dierks references in the beginning of the song. As Dierks repeats in the chorus, “it’s been a long hard ride, got a ways to go, but this is still the place that we all call home.”

“Free, nothing feels like free
Though it sometimes means we don’t get along
Cause same, no we’re not the same
But that’s what makes us strong”

This verse is my favorite because it serves as a reminder of the rich diversity we have in this country. No, we are not all the same, we are many different races, religions, cultures, etc. “But that’s what makes us strong,” as Dierks correctly points out. I think that now, more than ever, we need to stop seeing these differences as barriers that prevent us from coming together and instead to look at them as an expression of what makes America great.

Waylon Jennings- “America

Next on the list is my man Waylon Jennings. Though he may have been an outlaw, this man was still a patriot. “America” is truly a song of acceptance. Though Waylon wasn’t the first to record it, that was the song’s writer Sammy Johns, his version is the one I’m familiar with. In “America,” Waylon sings about his acceptance of all types of Americans. Although he may be from Tennessee (at least for the sake of this song) he sings that the people in California are nice to him. Proving that no matter where you roam in this country, Americans are good people. He also mentions the men who went off to war and “lived through hardship and pain” while also recognizing those who chose not to fight in a war that they did not support- showing his acceptance of people in each of these camps.

“The men who could not fight, In a war that didn’t seem right, You let them come home, America”

This song includes a message of racial acceptance as Waylon refers to those from other races as his brothers. He also acknowledges that America must make good on its promises to the Native Americans. We could use more country songs like this!

“And my brothers are all black and white, yellow too
And the red man is right, to expect a little from you
Promise and then follow through, America”

I also love the way Waylon adds an extra syllable to the word “America,” just like Sammy Johns did. It’s not A-mer-i-ca, it’s A-mer-rer-i-ca.

Aaron Tippin- “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly” 


It’s not so much the song as it is the music video that earns this 2002 hit from Aaron Tippin a spot on this list. Although this song was used by Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucuses in 2016, Tippin came out and said, “I’m not endorsing anyone, but I hope that my song will help get folks out there and do their patriotic duty…vote!” Regardless of what Aaron Tippin’s politics may be, this video left such a lasting impression on me that I would regret not including it.

This video was filmed in New York in September 2001 right after 9/11 and includes scenes of the rubble, members of the NYPD and FDNY, and images of cards with messages like “God Bless America” written on them. It also includes close-up shots of American citizens from a wide range of diverse backgrounds, including Hasidic Jews, a Buddhist monk, a Sikh, among others. I remember watching this video as a kid and having my curiosity peaked as these images of diversity flashed across the TV screen. At the time, I lived in a town that had very little diversity- I can say with certainty that I had never seen a Hasidic Jew, a Buddhist monk, or a Sikh before. I’m sure this was the case for a lot of people in rural America at the time. I’d like to think that the message that Aaron had in mind when filming this video was one of inclusion and of putting aside our differences to come together as a nation, especially after September 11th. This was the message that I received at least. This video resonated with my eleven-year-old self so much that I can still remember watching it to this day. I’m also pretty sure that this video is what led me to become interested in world religions- something that would go on to shape the rest of my life.

 

As Aaron Tippin sings in this song, “there’s a lady that stands in a harbor for what we believe.” As you celebrate today, please remember the words of Emma Lazarus from her poem “The New Colossus” that are written on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Currently listening to: Shooter Jennings- “4th of July.” To be honest, this is my all-time favorite 4th of July jam! He’s also Waylon Jennings’ son which is pretty dang cool! I’ll be listening to this all day today…and other days that aren’t July 4th as well!

“You were pretty as can be, sitting in the front seat
Looking at me, telling me you love me
And your happy to be with me on the 4th of July
We sang ‘Stranglehold’ to the stereo
Couldn’t take no more of that rock ‘n’ roll
So we put on a little George Jones and just sang along”

Happy Independence Day, A-mer-rer-i-ca!

Just letting y’all know- I’ll be heading out to Kenya in a couple of days and will be gone for about two weeks. I’ll be sure to post once I’m back stateside.

Stepdads: The Dads Who Didn’t Have To Be


Country music is full of songs about dads. Whether you had a good one or a bad one, or one that named you Sue, you can bet that there’s a country song out there that hits home about your old man. For this Father’s Day weekend post, instead of focusing on country songs about dads, I wanted to look at songs about stepdads as Father’s Day is their day too.

First on my list is Brad Paisley’s “He Didn’t Have to Be.” The song starts off from the perspective of a five-year-old boy whose single mom, after what I can assume were many failed dates, finally finds a man who didn’t “turn around and run” after finding out that she had a son. This man goes on to marry the boy’s mom and becomes his stepdad, filling in that missing piece that finally made them a family. As is evident in the song and the video, this man eventually becomes less like a stepdad and more like a “real” dad to this boy. Later on that boy grows up and becomes a father himself with his stepdad by his side during this major life event. In the video, you see the two of them looking through the glass of the nursery window together after his child is born. As he thinks about the kind of dad that he wants to be to his newborn child, his stepfather serves as a perfect model to emulate. As Brad sings in the chorus: “I hope I’m at least half the dad that he didn’t have to be.” 

The video for this song always makes me tear up. If you plan on watching it, please make sure you have tissues handy and are in a place where crying is acceptable.

 

Another great song about stepdads is Fishin’ With My Dadby Bobby Bones & The Raging Idiots. If you listen to country music on your morning commute like me, then you’re probably familiar with The Bobby Bones Show. And if your commute involves driving the capital beltway like mine does, then you get to spend A LOT of time with Bobby and the gang. Last year, Bobby and Eddie (another member of the show) released an album for their band, “The Raging Idiots” titled, The Critics Give It 5 Stars. They’re primarily a parody band known for remaking today’s hit country songs, for example, they parodied Thomas Rhett’s “Die A Happy Man” with “Drive A Mini Van.” With that being said, most of the songs on this album are silly- like there’s a song about Starbucks and a Netflix love song on there. There was, however, one sentimental song that managed to make the album’s cut- that song is “Fishin’ With My Dad,” an autobiographical song written by Bobby. He even got Garth Brooks (the G.O.A.T.) to sing backup on this song! The first time I heard Bobby play this song on the radio I was driving to work and of course I started crying (are you noticing a trend here?) I even tweeted at Bobby that morning to let him know that he made me cry and he retweeted me (photographic evidence provided below if you don’t believe me)!

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I was already familiar with the backstory of Bobby’s relationship with his stepdad, Keith. He’d talked about Keith on the show before (even calling him one morning and having him on the air) and I had just recently finished reading his autobiography, Bare Bones: I’m Not Lonely If You’re Reading This Book, in which he wrote about Keith. The song is about Bobby being ten years old and wishing he had a dad to take him fishing. The line that pulls on my heartstrings the most is when he talks about this at the beginning of the song saying, “it’s hard doing anything with someone you don’t have, so how could I go fishing with my dad?” Bobby eventually gains a stepdad when his mom marries a “good man in the summer of ’93.” Bobby wasn’t too sure how his new stepdad felt about him at first. That is until he woke Bobby up one morning to take him fishing and Bobby’s dream of finally getting to go fishing with his dad came true. As Bobby wrote in Bare Bones, “I had fantasized about fishing with my dad, but when the time came to do the real thing I found it pretty darn boring. It didn’t matter, though. Anytime Keith asked if I wanted to go fishing, I said yes, because I just wanted that father-son experience” (page 23).

An important takeaway from this song is found in the line: “We didn’t share a last name but we shared a lot of laughs.” The message here is that biology and sharing a last name doesn’t make you a dad (or even a mom). What makes someone a dad is taking the time to be present in your child’s life and letting them know that you care. It’s looking through the nursery window with your child when they too become a parent and it’s waking them up early to take them fishing. That’s what it means to be a dad. I’m so glad that Bobby finally got to go fishing with his!

Below is the acoustic video of Bobby and Eddie singing this song. The version of this song that appears on his album and features Garth Brooks can be found here (it’s just a lyric video though and I prefer actually getting to see Bobby sing.)

 

Okay, so these are the only two country songs I could think of about stepdads, but there should be more! I dedicate this post to all you dads, stepdads, and moms playing both roles- Happy Father’s Day! And a very happy Father’s Day to my own stepdad!

Currently listening to: Johnny Cash- “Boy Named Sue