I’ve never been much of one to listen to country music, preferring the styles of Roots or Americana much more. For me, country music always reminded me of guys in tight jeans with boots and faded ball caps drinking lukewarm Coors and casting out their unanimous yeehaws while a guy in “traditional” attire that cost more than my car croons about his heartache. So to say that Nashville wasn’t the top stop on my list is a bit of an understatement. Mostly I went to see an old friend and catch up on where their life has taken them. What came out of it was the epitome of expectations vs. reality.
Nashville is a complex city, not necessarily divided by racial tensions or socioeconomic issues (although there is that as well), but more so divided by the young and old souls of country music. Walk down Broadway and you’ll be set upon by a litany of bars, each with their own band(s) playing various eras of the music that defines the city. From stadium country to the earliest years of twang, you’ll be sure to find something to suit your wants as long as you can brave the traffic and throngs of tourists that seemingly flood downtown nonstop.
My friends and I settled on a little place called Robert’s Western World. A cute, kitschy little bar snuggled in between a couple of multilevel honky tonks, but the vibe there was just what we were looking for. A three piece band occupied the stage playing any and all classic country songs that they could muster. Between the seemingly ancient memorabilia on the wall and the century old music it really was like stepping back in time. I recalled a statement I heard about bars that said, “You can’t buy charm. It’s something that’s earned through stories and time.” Robert’s was the embodiment of that sentiment. As we sat there drinking High Life, watching old couples dance to the music, and eating our fried bologna sandwich, the weight of that statement really set in and was what made our visit so memorable. If you find yourself in Nashville make sure to stop by Robert’s Western World for a beer and a song, you’ll thank me later.
(Speaking of fried bologna sandwiches, they’re everywhere in Nashville and it has become my personal goal to find the best one in the city. Any suggestions are welcome.)
The true heart of Nashville doesn’t lie in it’s music however. To fully attain a sense of what makes the country music capitol tick, you have to meet the people. Southern charm and hospitality does not begin to scratch the surface. I don’t expect the little things that I’m used to from my childhood in rural towns like smiles and nods when you make eye contact while I’m traveling in a large city. Having lived in several sizable cities myself, I understand the hustle that comes with it and how difficult it can be to constantly slow down to nod hello to a stranger. So to experience that in a city of that size, and with so much happening all the time was quite refreshing. Everyone I came across met me with warm hearts like we were family; a quality I found in my bar community that I have missed dearly.
After two nights of seemingly nonstop movement, it was finally time to take a break however. As many layers as there were still left to explore, it was time to take stock of my experiences so far and marvel and the beauty of where I am in life. Small reunions of friends that met hundreds of miles away, growing my already large family with more wonderful people, and truly soaking in every new experience (and there have been many) that I have bore witness to. I was told the other night to not let this experience go to waste; to make sure that I am truly present for every moment no matter how insignificant it may seem. These are the moments that will shape my life for decades to come. As I sit here, in a new coffee shop, in a new city, that concept has really began to take root. Two weeks later and I’m still terrified every day. Constantly worrying about every detail of my life and how fragile this construct I’ve built for myself is. I miss my home and my family constantly, and I am always contemplating going back, calling it a small victory, and returning to my normal life but, as the sun sets every night and my mind finds it’s quiet moments, I remember everyone who has commented on my strength to take on this monumental task and realize that I have to push on; not for them, but for myself.
“My story is far from complete”