When posed with the question, “what is your guilty pleasure music?” a few years ago, the usual answer seemed to be “country music”. But why? Why do people feel the need to be ashamed of a love for all things country? Moreover, why does it bother me?
Well, my sister and I went to a country music festival over the weekend. It’s the first of hopefully many, and was the brainchild of BBC Radio 2 presenter, Bob Harris. The two days saw a total of 8 acts: Kristian Bush, Little Big Town, Vince Gill, Tim McGraw on the first day and Brantley Gilbert, LeAnn Rimes, Darius Rucker, Carrie Underwood on the second. Every act was fantastic, and so different, yet all wonderfully country in their own way. Being in a room full of country fans, I couldn’t help but wonder if the stetson wearing, cowboy boot loving crowd wore their rednecks on their sleeve in their everyday lives.
I’m not saying that to be a country fan, you should step out everyday in your finest snakeskin boots with a lasso strapped to your hip. Not at all! But would they say that country music is their guilty pleasure?
I grew up listening to John Denver on the trips to school, and I discovered Shania Twain at a very early age… and not just her country-pop crossover hits. I’m talking country Shania at her country and roots finest. See below, my favourite Shania Twain song, ‘Honey, I’m Home!’. I was ridiculed by my peers for listening to and loving her. Even my sister scoffed at me (though she took it all back a few years later!). But I stuck to my guns, and my sister joined me on my discovery of Dolly Parton. A family favourite was ‘These Old Bones’.
The real revelation in country music, for me, even though I looked up to Shania Twain as an absolute hero (read a bit about her, she was a great role model!), was my discovery of Johnny Cash. That man’s voice can communicate a hundred emotions in one word. I remember the first time I really listened to him. My dad had picked me up from some after school activity and he told me to listen to this song. He put on ‘A Boy Named Sue’. I’d never heard anything like it. I borrowed his CD and the rest…. well, it was history.
Since then, I’ve fallen in love with more country-pop princesses, such as Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood, I enjoy Lady Antebellum, The Band Perry, Billy Ray Cyrus, Sheryl Crow and Tim McGraw, and I’m not ashamed to say that. During this ‘Country 2 Country’ festival, the acts said a few words on stage that resonated with me, and shout to me what it is about country music that I love so much. Kristian Bush said simply “No matter what you’re doing, pour your soul into it.” A beautiful sentiment, that I can’t help but feel country music embraces. You never hear a country song without someone’s soul in it. Every country song I have ever heard has such raw emotion in it. Pain, love, strength… They all have a piece of the writer in them. Something I find lacking in other genres of music. LeAnn Rimes explained that she has nothing to hide behind when she writes and sings. She actually cried at the crowd’s reception to some of her new material, and she explained why. It’s because she was so overwhelmed that the audience accepted something that was so close to her heart. This music isn’t just music… it’s peoples stories.
In those stories, you can always find something to relate to. Some of the songs don’t fit you right now, but I know I’ve found meaning and advice in country music. I’ve learnt lessons, I’ve felt comforted and not alone. Country music, as a sweeping generalisation, has been a friend to me when my friends haven’t been. It’s no secret that music is such a huge part of my life, it always has been and always will be. It’s impossible not to have music mean so much to you when you have parents like mine. But country music in particular has a special place in my heart, and this ‘Country 2 Country’ festival has simply strengthened that. See a couple of videos below as my personal highlights!
It might be incredibly embarrassing to admit that part of you really wants to find out what’s at Dollywood, but country music really speaks honestly about intimate issues. Country songs move me to tears more than any other genre, and they also put a smile on my face more than any other genre. So I can honestly say I have never classified country music as a guilty pleasure. Heck, I’ll wear my heart on my sleeve and say it loud and proud…. country music has changed my life, altered my world and adjusted my reality. It speaks my mind and whispers to my heart. It’s a part of me that will never be changed, and I will never be ashamed of that.