Why I Love Country Music SING ME BACK HOME
generations. He has tackled everything from the Civil War to baseball, and each series has been awesome. When we heard he was putting his lens on country music, we were beyond excited. Thankfully, the series exceeded even our high expectations. It covered so much of the genre, had great interviews, and, most of all, did justice to the spirit of country music. If you ask me, country music is a music of and for the people. During one episode, Marty Stuart sums up this humility beautifully. “The industry was truly built one handshake at a time, one autograph at a time,” he said. “Ernest Tubb was one of those legendary examples. He would sit on the edge of the stage in a folding chair and sign popcorn boxes until the very last soul was gone. The word was, ‘Those people put us up here.’” While much of country music has become commercialized beyond the point of recognition, you can still find pockets of the old-school, grassroots country. Lucky for us, one of those places just happens to be my hometown of Winfield, Kansas. Every summer, the town hosts the Walnut Valley Festival, which was started by a buddy of mine 48 years ago. Back then, it was a small bluegrass festival where folks would stay up until dawn picking and singing. Today, it’s a nationally recognized tradition where folks still stay up until dawn picking and singing. Though it’s grown considerably over the decades, it still feels like a small event. There may be thousands in attendance, but every single one of them is
It’s rare these days for a TV show to keep Susie and me up late at night and leave us fighting to keep our eyes open. For a couple weeks near the end of the summer, though, Ken Burns’ “Country Music” documentary series did just that. Saying we binge-watched it doesn’t even seem adequate. It’s more accurate to say we devoured it. Seeing the sweeping narrative of the music we both love captured so deftly and with such admiration was a total delight, one neither of us will soon forget. You don’t have to be a marketing expert to have predicted that we’d love the series. We’ve both been country music fans for as long as either of us can remember, and that’s a span of time that Hank Williams might’ve described as “mighty long.” I can remember seeing Johnny Cash in the early ‘70s when he was a mythical figure and not just a face on T-shirts and bumper stickers. Even in those days, when Johnny was far from obscure, he insisted on playing in venues that were small and intimate. As he sang, you really got the sense that he was trying to connect with each audience member individually, rather than playing to a faceless crowd of thousands. It’s certainly impossible to imagine the Man in Black zipping around on wires in the style of Garth Brooks. We’ve also loved Ken Burns documentaries for decades. Susie rightfully calls him a national treasure. The work he has done to document important moments and movements from our history in an engaging and informative way is something that will benefit our nation for
there for the music. Some folks even park their RVs on-site days before the event so they can hang out and jam with fellow festival-goers. Susie and I are proud to say we never miss it. Music is a powerful, mysterious force. It can bring people together, snap you back to the past, and fill you with deep emotion. I think that no matter what genre of music you like, sitting down and really listening is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. When we look back on our lives, it’s hard not to envision them with a soundtrack. For Susie and me, that soundtrack will include plenty of country.
–Dr. Jan L. Cobble
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