I prefer The Black Keys to The Band Perry, Geographer to Garth Brooks and Disclosure to Dierks Bentley any day. I can't tell the difference between Eric Church and Brantley Gilbert, and I could never understand why anyone wanted to go to Country Thunder in Arizona, to which I would respond, "Seriously, though, why would you want to listen to essentially the same song for four days?"
And then I attended the CMA Music Festival in Nashville.
I'll be the first to admit that while touring the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, I got a little teary eyed while watching a video of Blake Shelton and Carrie Underwood surprised onstage with an invitation to become part of the Opry. Shocked and overwhelmed with emotions, they had made it — as part of the institution that made country music was it is today.
And then I realized that's the difference between country music artists and, well, everyone else: Country musicians seemingly strive toward attaining one goal. It isn't making millions or becoming a recognizable household name with a string of No. 1 hits under his or her belt (though I'm sure these are great perks). It's to join a community of well-respected, esteemed musicians — from Johnny Cash to Minnie Pearl.
I can't tell you how many times the country artists on stage vocalized their love and appreciation for their fans. "We remember a day when there were more people onstage than out in the crowd," Kimberly Perry recalled, as she continued with her thanks to all their fans.
But one statement in particular really stood out (paraphrased): "Look around. CMA Music Festival is the largest family reunion in the nation. Don't you agree?" Blake Shelton nailed it right on the head. With nearly 80,000 people in attendance, matching 2013's attendance, the festival had this undeniable electricity in the air — and it didn't need a Ferris wheel, strobes and light shows to pull it off. This was created and sustained all day and all night by the people, the fans. And it was great to be a part of it, even if I did feel like the redheaded stepchild.
Before walking into LP Field on Thursday night, I stopped at the gate and asked myself if I was getting myself into three hours of mind-numbingly repetitive songs about drinking and heartbreak.
Of course, I was wrong — and on more than one occasion. Standouts include:
It's true: I flew into Nashville a country music skeptic and boarded my flight back home with a newfound appreciation for country artists, country fans and country music culture. Hey, I may even sprinkle a country song or two into my EDM- and indie-heavy playlists (OK, I already have). And this is all thanks to the pure energy and simplicity of the live performances over the past weekend.
Country music is the soundtrack to a very specific way of living. It's the mindset that life is good, so why not enjoy it and treat each other well? It's simple, really, but rare to experience. Here's to next year, CMA Music Festival.
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