May 31, 2008
Editor’s Note: This is the first guest commentary in the history of Country Universe. Please join me in welcoming Paul Edward, who e-mailed me this passage and graciously allowed me to share it here. – K.
Why I Love Country Music
Guest Commentary by Paul Edward
Wednesday night my friend Stuart and I attended a concert by country music superstar Kenny Chesney at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Stuart bought my ticket as a surprise birthday gift for me.
Actually, the night turned out to be full of pleasant surprises.
For starters, LeAnn Rimes opened for Kenny and sang her most popular songs. It’s been 15 years since LeAnn burst onto the country music scene with her strong vocals reminiscent of Patsy Cline, but, if anything, time has just made her a better performer. She belted out the tunes, hitting every note flawlessly.
Then Kenny came on. Wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and old blue T-shirt, he seemed dressed more for a backyard barbeque than for a concert in a sold-out Staples Center. But that’s the thing about country music: The songs are so often about real-life situations that the music can make a cold, concrete concert venue feel like a summer’s day at a good friend’s home.
For those of you not familiar with Kenny’s music, he is a gifted storyteller in the tradition of Jimmy Buffett or Johnny Cash. His songs combine memorable lyrics with catchy tunes that carry you away into whatever world he sings about. In “Big Star,” you watch a young girl go from singing in local bars to performing in big-city concert halls. In “Better As a Memory than As Your Man,” you become the proverbial fly on the wall as a deeply saddened man tells his former lover why she is better off without him. Kenny’s music doesn’t just move you emotionally, it transports you into this vivid, multidimensional life experience that he creates.
He sang for two hours and it felt like 30 minutes. Actually, we sang for two hours, because that’s another thing about Kenny’s concerts: Everyone in the audience knows all the words to all his songs and everyone sings along.
To round out the night, there were wonderful surprise appearances by Uncle Kracker and Kid Rock, who played a few rock and roll numbers with Kenny and topped it off with the old David Alan Coe hit, “You Never Even Called Me by My Name,” which brought down the house.
But the night’s biggest surprise for me was a quiet one. It came during the break between LeAnn’s and Kenny’s performances, as the crews changed out and set up the equipment.
Let me preface this story with another. Those of you who have attended my employment law classes know that throughout my life I have experienced subtle and not-so-subtle forms of racism in America. I have been called the “N” word, I have been pulled over by the police for DWB (driving while black), and I have watched ladies clutch their purses tightly to their sides when I walk by.
But at Kenny’s concert, I experienced something altogether different. During the break, the young lady on my left asked me to watch her purse while she and her date went to the restroom. We had never met before, and the only words we had exchanged were “Hi” and “Hello” when the couple had arrived an hour earlier. So it was extraordinary for me that – rather than clutch her purse in fear – she left her purse in my care, not just a stranger, but a stranger of a different race. That, for me, was the night’s most pleasant surprise.
And it reminded me just why I love country music: People who listen to country music tend to be the nicest people I have ever met. Country music fans treat other country music fans as if they are members of the same family. A simple act, yet a powerful lesson that we could all learn and practice.
Paul Edward is the President of Life-Changing Coaching and author of “Moving Forward: Turning Good Intentions Into Great Results by Discovering Yourself, Your Place, & Your Path.” He is a former US Marine, actor, and corporate executive. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org