The best vacations are the ones that take you by surprise; places you visit that stay with you long after you return, like the one Tom and I took to Nashville 18 months ago.
That’s when we found ourselves immersed in country music, from the Ernest Tubb Record Shop on Broadway to the historic Ryman Auditorium; from the storefront Johnny Cash Museum to the massive Country Music Hall of Fame.
We watched the Opry Country Classics Show live from the Ryman, then took a backstage tour of the historic venue. We wandered in and out of multi-level bars and wondered why the musicians weren’t yet famous. We dodged bachelorette parties on pedal taverns and marveled at the multi-generational crowds in cowboy hats and boots.
The trip was perfect for two country music fans who had grown up with the genre in different ways. Tom from all those years working camp staff in rural Missouri; me from listening to my dad’s Johnny Cash records that I pretended not to like, and the fact that WIL, a radio station I pretended not to like, always seemed to be on in the car.
You might say I pretended not to like country music right up until the time I met Tom, who had WIL on his car radio, too, in addition to KTJJ from Farmington. It’s been a shared interest all these years, which is why it’s a mystery it took us 26 years to get to Nashville.
But we did, and it’s why we’ll be glued to the TV Sunday night, and for the better part of the next two weeks, for the eight-part, 16-hour Ken Burns series “Country Music.” The documentary, in the style for which the filmmaker is now famous, explores the history of a uniquely American art form famously called, “three chords and the truth.”
The documentary, Burns said, gets to the heart of what country music means to Americans.
“Country music deals with two four-letter words most of us would rather ignore,” he said in a recent media interview, “love and loss.”
The film took more than eight years to make and features more than 100 artists, producers, songwriters, historians and experts, including 40 members of the Country Music Hall of Fame talking about their craft – and naming their favorite songs.
I have a few, too. Johnny Cash’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” can stop me in my tracks. Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” has me reaching for a box of Kleenex, as does the Dolly Parton version of “I Will Always Love You.”
And this: In 1991, the year Tom and I started dating, Trisha Yearwood had a mega-hit called “She’s In Love With The Boy.”
I knew exactly what she was singing about back then. Still do.