Last fall, I was driving through my hometown with my mom when Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde’s song “Never Wanted To Be That Girl” started playing on Country 92.3, my local country radio station.
The song depicts two women who were unknowingly dating the same man, exploring feelings of self-hatred from either being the girl that was cheated on or cheated with. A key part of the song goes: “Oh, and I feel stupid/I feel cheap/I feel used/I feel weak/I never wanted to be that girl/I never wanted to hate myself/I thought this kind of lonely only happens to somebody else.”
Turning up the radio, my mom said that if more people listened to country music, there would be more goodness in the world. According to her, country music would help more people “Get Along”—as Kenny Chesney sings—and live in harmony without hurting each other.
This moment’s stuck with me for some time, and I’ve turned it over in my head thinking of ways country music has shaped those that grew up on it.
Though there’s a country music culture at Queen’s thanks to Tumble Tuesday, this isn’t what I’m referring to. The country music played at Queen’s could be put into an entirely separate genre from the real country music I and many others grew up with. The possibilities of there being a correlation between the two genres is reduced.
As a girl from rural Ontario, I don’t like Tumble Tuesday. I don’t want to dance around to trashy pop music disguised with a country accent, surrounded by people wearing cowboy boots and hats from Amazon. I don’t want to hear Morgan Wallen every second song.
Though I’ve never disliked Morgan Wallen as a celebrity—and I don’t even mind his voice—I don’t like the group of people Wallen draws to country music who claim to be country fans despite having only streamed his music.
Those dancing to “Last Night” aren’t the same country fans I see within my family while they cry to “Remember When” by Alan Jackson after a family member passes. They don’t have the same connection to country music—or at least not true country music.
A lot of the music we hear on today’s mainstream country radio isn’t true country. It’s not the soundtrack that holds weight for multiple generations, nor is it the country that molds your entire world view.
My grandma Shirley—Gamma to me—grew up as one of 11 children in a small house along the railroad tracks in Joyceville, just outside of Kingston. One of my Gamma’s sisters, my aunt Noreen, plays us the song “Po’ Folks” by Bill Anderson to better understand what their life was like in that house by the tracks.
The final verse of the song goes: “We had something in our house money can’t buy/Kept us warm in the winter, cool when the sun was high/For whenever we didn’t have food enough and the howlin’ winds would get pretty rough/We patched up the cracks and set the table with love.”
The lyrics perfectly encapsulates growing up differently than the rich folks and that all you really need is love. This is why I think our family is so close. Songs and stories like these have been passed down through generations, reminding us that family always comes first.
My extended family is very close, and my two younger brothers, Ben and Grady, are my best friends. With both Ben and I away at school, we try to come home as much as possible. My hometown is between Ottawa—where Ben is—and Kingston, which makes it easy for the both of us to come home when we want to.
When my brothers and I are together, we often go for long drives around town and down backroads, listening to our country playlist on Spotify. Once again, I see country music uniting us.
My family loves to visit Dollywood, a theme-park owned by Dolly Parton, who is another one of my family’s favourite artists. Parton’s music is about kindness and respect for others, and one of my favourite songs by her is “Coat of Many Colours.”
So many Queen’s students care so much about their image—what they look like and what they post on social media. This is the exact opposite of the message from Parton’s “Coat of Many Colours,” which details Parton’s story as someone who grew up in a lower socioeconomic class.
An important part of the song goes like this: “In my coat of many colors/I hurried off to school/Just to find the others laughing/And making fun of me/In my coat of many colors/My momma made for me.”
The song continues by saying “but they didn’t understand it/And I tried to make them see/That one is only poor/Only if they choose to be.” The song shows being rich is about more than the amount money in your bank account. To be truly rich in life, you must be happy and have loving relationships.
This resonates with me and my family a lot because we do everything together. Though we don’t live in a gated community, my grandparents live just down the road and spending so much time at their house growing up provided me with way more happiness than any material item could.
Returning back to my childhood, my favourite artists were Johnny Cash and Taylor Swift. Though I was fuming when my dad told me Taylor Swift was adopting a more pop-sound when Red was released in 2012, I was thankful I still had Cash, whom my dad would play for me in the garage.
Cash’s music continues to play a role in my life. My childhood favourite Johnny Cash song was “Get Rhythm,” a song about finding the positive in negative situations by allowing yourself to dance and enjoy life.
This is something that I have carried for years. As someone who no longer consumes alcohol, I still go out to bars and have the time of my life by dancing—even if it’s not to music I like.
Despite everything I’ve said thus far, recent country music is slowly making its way back to the same sound heard in old country songs. The genre is also starting to return to core country values which include family first, God above all, standing up for your beliefs, and standing up for your country.
Not everybody agrees with the views country music promotes. When I was at Boots and Hearts this past summer, people complained about Bailey Zimmerman’s ode to Christianity, but that’s a lot of what country music is. Don’t go to a country music festival and expect no one to talk about religion.
The small-town Canadian and American values are portrayed in true country music. In small towns we say “hi” to strangers, have each other’s back, and fight when it’s needed.
People hunt, fish, and drink beer around bonfires, and a lot of us pray to God. I wouldn’t expect anyone with an urban background to enjoy true country music that focuses on all these things, because it’s not a part of their experience growing up.
Kingston isn’t a small-town, but there’s a unique experience about coming to Queen’s from a big city and having your lives overlap with the country kids who live just outside the city.
While you can scream at the guys driving lifted trucks with loud exhausts all you want while you’re in line for Tumble, it’s not going to stop because it’s small-town culture. Usually, if you see multiple people in lifted trucks, they’re friends or at least know each other. They’re doing it to laugh amongst themselves, not to hear what you think of them.
I can almost guarantee they have some ’90s country song queued up while they do it. Maybe it’s time to add the same songs to your pre-game playlist if you want to know what it’s like to be a real country music fan.
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