I was raised in Frederick County, Maryland, in the eastern part of the county where sometimes it seems like cows outnumber people. My earliest days were spent on my grandparent’s farm. One of the things I remember most fondly about that time was riding in my mom’s black Chevy Lumina and listening to 99.9 WFRE, the local country music station. As a little girl, one of my favorite songs was “Man, I Feel like a Woman” by Shania Twain. I knew the words to many of these songs before I knew what some of the words meant. Thanks to my mom (and grandparents, and aunts and uncles, and cousins) I thought that Ray Stevens was the funniest man alive. However, once I started to get a little older, I noticed that my friends didn’t like country music. They frowned upon the “rednecks” that listed to “that crap”. I learned about other artists and left country music in the dark.
I didn’t routinely listen to country music again until my first week of college, where I found myself making friends with people who loved and embraced country music in Baltimore, of all places. We would drive around in a black pick-up with the windows down and listen to Luke Bryan. And it was wonderful.
When I hear country music, it makes me think of good things. It reminds me of my childhood. Walking through the back field and tasting my first honeysuckle. Driving my grandpa’s golf cart. Climbing in the stacks of hay and playing games with my cousins and sister. Playing in the dirt of the indoor ring. Eating sandwiches and Hubble’s potato chips in the house. Petting my favorite horse, Peanut. Watching my grandpa and my mom ride in the outdoor ring. Naming the cows – I was honored to name Bubbles, and I loved him so much that I wrote a little picture book about him that I read to my teacher. (I remember when I found out what eventually happened to Bubbles… farms serve one primary purpose, but I didn’t understand that at the time…)
Country music is descriptive. If you listen closely to the lyrics, you’ll hear a lot of the five senses incorporated. Lots of sights, smells, textures, and sounds are used to create a vivid image in the listener’s head. I know that some people can’t identify with the scratch of hay, the smell of feed, the feel of sweat trickling down through blue jeans in summer heat, the taste of a cold beer after a hard day’s work – that one I don’t even know, but it has to be mentioned – or the seat in the bed of a pick-up, arguably the most comfortable seat in the world.
This music is genuine, too. The descriptions of the people are on point, at least in my experience. For the most part, the people in this culture are kinder, more humble, and more hardworking than most city folk. Country boys are, in some cases, as irresistible as the songs say they are – and they know some manners. For every song about a cheating boy/girlfriend, there’s an even truer and far more touching song about true love and dedication. I’ve been lucky enough to see it in my own extended family. The unapologetic presence of Christian faith in many of the songs is refreshing.
One theme in country music that I absolutely love is the patriotism. I have a love affair with America, so any song that sings praises of it is okay in my book. Nobody understands this country like the folks that write this music. Mentions of the armed forces are always respectful and prideful. One of my favorite songs in the world is Toby Keith’s “American Soldier”. If you can listen to that and not feel some pride in this country, I don’t want to meet you.
Another song that has a special place in my heart is “Chicken Fried” by the Zac Brown Band, my favorite country band. It has all of the ingredients of a great song: it talks about food, it puts a sweet image in your head, and it just plain makes you feel good. It’s such a simple song, but it says so much.
One of the best moments of my life, one so sacred that I’m almost afraid to write about it, involves this song. The four of us were riding in the truck on the way back from ROTC at Johns Hopkins. We were all in ACUs, the basic camouflage uniform of the United States Army. It was well after dark. Our bellies were full of Buffalo Wild Wings (the restaurant, not the actual food). Though lab had been challenging, like always, we were happy, proud and close. This song came on over the radio, and we all muttered a line or two, but we all sang these lines in strong and perfect unison: “I thank God for my life, for the Stars and Stripes, let freedom forever fly, let it ring. Salute the ones who died, the one that give their lives so we don’t have to sacrifice all the things we love, like our chicken fried…” That was one of my last trips in that truck in uniform, and I’ll treasure that memory forever.
Country music gets a bad reputation that it doesn’t deserve. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I’m not big on all of the artists myself. And I’m not exclusive to any one genre of music; some of my favorite bands include State Radio, Rise Against, Billy Joel and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, all of which come from completely different ends of the musical spectrum. But country music – Zac Brown Band, Toby Keith, Jim Croce, Luke Bryan, Shania Twain, Montgomery Gentry, Rascal Flatts and many others – has a special significance to me.
As much as I like to think that I was, I wasn’t really a country girl. Once I got to be school age, I went to the farm less and less. But as I look back on it now, I don’t regret a second of my time there. In fact, I wish that I’d been more appreciative of it while I had it. Those days are past. All I can do is lie on the grass on a nice day like today and listen to Zac Brown Band remind me that “it’s the little things in life that mean the most.”
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