If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone describe their music taste as “everything but ___ and country,” I would not be slangin’ designer denim for my paycheck. No, sir – I would be lying on the Mexico beach next to Kenny Chesney sipping on margaritas. Because I fucking love country music. Give me your Dollys, your Shanias, your tired Randy Travises yearning to yodel free … the country roads are my home.
These are the radio presets in my car: 98.1 Country, BOB 106.1, K102, BUZN 102.9. I have a whole different set of country presets for when I drive home to North Dakota. Have you ever shed tears while listening to “Strawberry Wine” at dusk in the privacy of your Buick? It’s an experience everyone should have.
Don’t get it twisted: when I say country, I don’t mean “God Bless the U.S.A, let’s put a boot in your ass, conservative values for life!” (I read somewhere that Toby Keith is a registered Democrat. How bout that?) I also don’t mean that I’m some sorority girl who loooooooves Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift and Jake Owen … though I do love Taylor Swift’s first album. (She totally peaked at 15.) I appreciate contemporary country and I do listen to it, but most of it is pop-fueled dreck made to appeal to suburban kids and folks who’ve maybe seen a tractor once.
When I say country, I mean I love the masters: Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams. I turn to Patsy Cline when my heart is aching. I love the greats of the past 20 years; George Strait gets my heart racing. I have occasionally burst into tears at an old Tim McGraw song. Shania’s “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” is my go-to karaoke jam. I can line dance to Alan Jackson. Kenny Chesney, with his love for the islands and his fondness for the glory days of high school, is a kindred spirit.
But here’s the catch: I grew up (on a farm, mind you) merely tolerating country as a genre. My parents raised me on a strict diet of the Beatles and John Prine. Sure, we always played Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Fishin’ in the Dark” (most romantic song of all time? I think so) at our school dances and my farmboy friends were always pumping George Strait and Dierks Bentley out the windows of their pickups at our bonfires, but it wasn’t until I moved to Minneapolis that I fell under the spell. My new friends were cool kids who liked Animal Collective and Joanna Newsom. I tried, but I didn’t get it. That music just sounded like SOUNDS. And so I took the plunge and downloaded all the George Strait and Garth Brooks the U of M file-sharing Hub had to offer. I missed my small-town life, driving around sitting shotgun drinking Bud Light and hucking the empties at stop signs. I missed staying up all night at my friend’s rundown farmhouse shop where the décor was snowmobiles, peeing outside, setting off fireworks at 5 AM and hitting up Burger King for breakfast while watching the sun rise. And country music was the best way to feel that way again. At the end of my workday, or when I’m zooming across 94 West to get back to my little farm, country music is what I turn to. It makes me feel free.
It’s demeaning and clueless to limit the scope of your music taste to specific genres. No girl who’s ever had her heart broken, and I mean really stamped on, can hate Patsy Cline. (Or her tough-but-sensitive modern counterpart, Miranda Lambert.) There is nothing wrong with wanting to drink a few beers and forget your humdrum work-week. It’s OK to think you should’ve been a cowboy. And when the city feels like it’s pressing on your chest, it’s OK to belt out “Don’t Fence Me In” and pretend you’re Gene Autry.
Country music represents a lifestyle I grew up with. I’ve seen those farmers busting their asses in the fields, working round-the-clock to keep you in sugar and grain. My dad did it. I’ve driven around for hours in a pickup across gravel roads with a boy I loved. I’ve wandered for miles across those wide open spaces, just me and the land. These things and their soundtrack shaped me. My head may be urban, but my radio dial will always be rural.