I know how this is supposed to go: I’m supposed to tell you the Google search that led me to Country Universe, and – subsequently – the country music blogosphere in general. Well, I kid you not, it was “Florida Georgia Line sucks,” which I typed out of boredom one day and found far more than what I expected. I didn’t find Country Universe right away, but I was glad when I did.
The beauty of Country Universe, however, is that it’s far more nuanced than the kinds of discussions my aforementioned Google search typically offers from other websites. Indeed, I owe it to the writers here for strengthening my own writing. I’ve written about country music for around five years now. My initial interest was to keep things low-key and casual, which, while fun, did result in my earlier posts to scan as amateurish. The Country Universe crew has a way of inspiring others to do more with their writing without forcing it. To quote George Strait, “it just comes natural.”
So I can safely say that every writer here has inspired me in their own way: Kevin taught me to get to the point; Leeann taught me that it’s OK to approach critical discussions with humanity and empathy – be a fan, in other words; Tara taught me to leave my biases at the door and focus on the music at hand; Ben taught me how to be critical without being condescending; Sam taught me how to better present my thoughts and ideas; Jonathan taught me to ask the tougher questions of the music I heard.
Every writer, then, taught me to look beyond mere technical measures of good and bad and question what country music truly means to me: Why do I like this? Why do I not like this? What does this say about the country music industry in general, if anything at all? What could this say about other fans who do or don’t like this?
Sure, it’s easy to say this about your fellow writers, but in truth, I’ve only been with CU for five months now. I still feel intimidated, to be honest; how does one join this crew and not immediately feel an inferiority complex?
That anxiety, of course, melts away when I remember this isn’t a competition. We’re a family of writers, thinkers and music lovers contributing to this wide open universe – and that extends to our readers and commenters, many of whom are familiar faces (screen names?) that offer just as much to the conversations as the writers who start them. It also applies to our extended family of writers, too. Blogging may, admittedly, not be as popular as it once was, but there’s still a plethora of good, independent blogs and writing out there – fueled by passion and love.
And I think that passion is what’s kept CU going for as long as it has. Many other blogs have come and went, and while it’s not a competition, it’s still hard not to ask – and to quote the other George in country music – “who’s gonna fill their shoes?”
I’ve found that blogging is a marathon. Longevity is the key to a healthy website, and on that note, CU is like the Willie Nelson of country music blogs – still going strong, boasting a healthy catalog of “greatest hits” (in this website’s case, “greatest posts,” of course), and reminiscent most of an old friend that’s always there for a good conversation. What I mean by that is that, CU has boasted an incredible roster of writers over the years, and even as real life takes over and other commitments take us away from this website, it’s always a place we can come back to share an idea or contribute to an ongoing discussion. We’ve still got the best staff here, and I’ll gladly stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots I’ve yet to purchase and say that … er, or something along those lines. I’ll stop with the quotes.
Kevin asked us to share our favorite piece we’ve written and our favorite post written by someone else here. For the first part, I’d point to a recent feature – “Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists: Alan Jackson.” If CU has taught me anything as a writer, it’s to value the writing process and learn how to turn whatever stress is involved with it into something fun, instead. Posts shouldn’t be written to meet a daily quota. I took my time with that piece and had a blast revisiting old favorites and learning how not to lose the “fan” aspect of my critical observations.
As for my favorite post written by someone else … well, I don’t know how to say without listing off several honorable mentions, many of which are quite recent. Kevin’s interview with Pam Tillis from April prompted me to write a lengthy email to him, in which I told him how much I appreciated Country Universe, inadvertently causing me to join the crew here. I’m always going to hold that post dear, of course. There’s also, of course, the start of the Sirius feature, which has morphed into something oddly wonderful for this website.
To pick one favorite from each writer, though: for Kevin, last year’s defense of the CD format reminded me of how I got into country music as a kid and all those times I hunted down CDs to discover new artists. Streaming made our options endless, but it took away the mystery and pure fun of the hunt.
For Jonathan, I think his review for Kacey Musgraves’ “Dime Store Cowgirl” is one of the best pieces of music criticism out there.
For Ben, I’ll forever be jealous of him for summarizing why I love Gretchen Peters’ “Idlewild” better than I ever could.
For Tara, a piece called “getting to know you,” which was her way of offering a fun personality test for the staff writers here, that, as a reader, made too much sense when I saw everyone’s test results!
For Sam, I’ve always appreciated his wide coverage of country acts outside the mainstream realm, and his review of Corb Lund’s Cabin Fever – which, to me, remains his best and weirdest album – is a testament to that.
As the “new guy” on the staff roster, I can only hope to help keep CU going for many more years with even just half as much honesty, compassion and empathy as my peers and those before me.