August 2nd 2017
As soon as I stepped into Nashville airport, Music City embraced me in a hug of country music and icons. The airport is like no other I’ve seen before, with the sounds of Johnny Cash serenading the air around me and a bunch of bars that hold some envy-worthy Gibson guitars. Recorded messages from country music stars greeted me as I walked through the terminal to collect my suitcase.
I think a lot of the music we listen to when we are kids is inspired by our parents. My Mum and Dad would spend Sunday mornings listening to Motown classics or, if my Dad made it downstairs first, we would awake to the sounds of classic rock albums by the likes of David Bowie and Rod Stewart. This always meant that there was a part of me that belonged to a generation long before ‘my time’. While my friends were listening to whatever happened to be in the charts, I was going home to listen to my parents’ records by The Four Tops and Thin Lizzy.
When I hit high school, rock was ‘in’. It became cool to listen to rock music and some school rock bands began to form. My Mum and Dad had an old Top of the Pops tape from the 80s and I watched it one day after school - Europe played ‘The Final Countdown’ and I think it was in that moment that I was like, ‘Woah, I like this music!’ This transpired into me having a love for the likes of REM, Aerosmith, Guns N’’ Roses and Bon Jovi, and I think I listened to those 4 bands on a loop for a solid 2 years while learning to play guitar because, of course, I was going to be the next big thing! My music taste has always been fairly eclectic and has never really been influenced by chart music but more from my Mum and Dad’s love of the 60s and 70s.
Fast forwarding a few years to when I was around 20, I started listening to the likes of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson - for some reason, rock music pointed me in that direction and country music slowly became part of my language.
Over the last few years, I’ve fallen further in love with country music and it gets played more than any other genre of music when I’m driving, working, relaxing, doing anything! In Scotland, country music is far from popular and my friends have made it super clear that they hate my playlists when they are in my car! Too bad. I think it’s growing on them deep down. Over the past year, mostly thanks to the the TV show ‘Nashville’, country music is slowly but surely becoming a serious genre in Scotland. I’m a fan of that show and it’s taken my love of country music in a new direction - you should definitely check out a soundtrack from that show, they aced it when they hired their songwriters.
And that brings us to now. Me in Nashville. It’s been a bucket list item of mine for a few years now and I decided to extend a working trip to America and stop in Nashville first. I guess Nashville has its cliches but hasn't everywhere nowadays? Tourist boards have a job to do just like the rest of us. I think if you look past the neon lights and novelties of a city, you find something that a lot of people miss. I mean this is Music City, some of the best songs in the world have been written in this place. It can’t be all bad.
When people say ‘Broadway’, we automatically think of New York, but Nashville has its own Broadway too and it’s alive morning, noon and night with the sounds of meaningful lyrics, acoustic guitars and amazing bass lines. I hung out in quite a few of the bars on Broadway and was in awe at how talented some of the musicians were. I mean they are super talented both lyrically and, boy, do they know how to play those instruments. It kind of makes me sad that there is so much raw talent in the world that slips under the radar but it’s also nice when you get to discover something that the world doesn’t know about - I’m glad I got to check some of it out. Maybe I had my rose-tinted glasses on - I live in a small village in Scotland and Nashville is a world apart from mine - but something magical was happening when I was sitting watching those musicians blend together stunning melodies with story-telling lyrics and feet-tapping riffs.
While I was sitting in one bar listening to a band with a beer in hand, the singer asked me if I had any requests - the band were singing cover songs so I obligingly asked for a bit of Chris Stapleton. The singer then announced to the bar that I was from Scotland and ‘this song was for me’. This gave everyone a reason to speak to me - apparently my accent is pretty unique around those parts. This led to a conversation with a guy who spoke to me about how Nashville has the largest songwriter community in the world; this is where songwriters come to chase their dreams and find their fame. But it doesn’t work out for everyone - maybe it’s about raw talent? Maybe it’s about being in the right place at the right time? Maybe it’s about who you know? Some people make it and some people don’t. But I can definitely see how this place inspires the creatives among us.
I’ve spent many hours watching live performances of the Grand Ole Opry on YouTube and spent my last night at that very venue in a seat 3 rows from the front watching: John Conlee, Craig Campbell, Ellie Holcomb, Diamond Rio, Bill Anderson, Dailey & Vincent, and headliner - Chris Young. I had watched this world-famous iconic venue on YouTube so many times and to finally be sitting there and watching the artists live just a few feet away was a surreal moment that I won’t forget. Goosebumps were on form.
If I didn’t know better, I would say that Tennesseans hypnotise those that visit Nashville and leave us feeling like our souls have been given a big country hug; we leave feeling a little happier.
“They're powerful, those songs. At times they've been my only way back, the only door out of the dark, bad places the black dog calls home.” - Johnny Cash
My 3 week American adventure is underway. Next stop: San Francisco.