One of the things I do in my spare time is volunteer for a local music school in their archives. It is a really chill place where I do some data entry, help teachers and students find materials, and organize parts of the collection. Sometimes, I just sip on a beer while reading or listening to one of the thousands of records available in the archives. Other than the people who come in and out for any reason, I usually am just chilling by myself. Though, once in a blue moon, I’ll be asked to train a new volunteer.
I received an email from the archives manager that a new volunteer was coming in and I was asked to train them. Yeah, I could definitely train them. I am the one who trains most of the new volunteers since I’ve been an active volunteer myself for several years. Sometimes, these volunteers end up becoming regulars during shifts at different days or different times, or they might do a shift or two before moving on. Usually, it is the latter. And this was especially true for this newest volunteer, but not for a more typical reason like boredom.
Other than a first name, I had no idea what to expect from the person who was coming in. Given that the classes tend to skew older most of the time, I was expecting someone my age or a retiree who was looking for something to do. I certainly wasn’t expecting an extremely talkative, 23-year-old waitress sporting a cropped sweater and leather skirt, with an aspiration straight out of Hollywood. Though, that is what I got.
Since I usually spend the three-hour-plus shift by myself, I am really unaccustomed to holding lengthy conversations in that place let alone lengthy conversations that involve me just silently listening to someone younger than me excitedly ramble endlessly about their dreams and aspirations. I know I’m coming off as cynical and a bit judgmental, but I was not. And the reason being is that this girl reminded me a bit of myself at that age.
It didn’t make sense to me why this girl was training with me when she told me she was leaving Chicago at the end of the month. Within the last few months, she had developed an admiration for old country, western, and bluegrass music, which were all genres she knew nothing about and had generally avoided. This all changed when she visited Nashville a few weeks ago and fell in love with the city. Now, she was getting all her affairs in order so she could buy a bus ticket, carrying only her guitar and a single suitcase, and looking to make it big in the Nashville music scene.
Now, all of that really struck me as super weird at first. Think about it. Young women hops on a bus to travel across country pursuing her dream to become a star. If that sounds like something you would see in a movie, it is because it is. It is one of the biggest tropes of the entertainment industry. However, she was so excited about all her plans and I couldn’t help but listen.
I am not naturally someone who is going to put someone else down or invalidate their feelings or aspirations. Quite the contrary. During the conversation, I gave her as much advice as I could as some of the things she was telling me I had considerable experience with. For one, I used to work in Nashville while I was attending a university in Kentucky, which were only an hour apart. And since Nashville was so close, friends and I would often go there to see shows and hang out in a city much larger than our college town. Plus, I was super familiar with the Greyhound bus route she was taking, so I had learned all the tips and tricks to surviving a smelly, uncomfortable bus ride for ten hours.
Beyond the advice I could give her about life in Nashville and how excruciating Greyhound can potentially be, her story spoke to me on a more personal level. She was telling me that other than that one visit, she had never been to Nashville before and she was trying to figure out everything as she went along. I completely empathize with that because I went through the same thing at her age. Like her, I was 23 when I made a major change in my life by moving to Chicago to work in the city’s film industry. I had never been to Chicago before (except for when I was about five), didn’t know a single person in the city, and had no job or school or any other institution like those waiting for me. It was as fresh of a start as you could get. It was exhilarating and frightening all at the same time. I remember I had quite a bit of anxiety when I was trying to get settled (the economy was awful at that time), but this girl was expressing absolutely zero worry about such a move.
When I made that move, a lot of my friends were telling me how scary they though that was. And the reason being is that people these days, especially millennials fresh out of college, just don’t do that anymore. However, uprooting your life and moving across country with no safety net was not uncommon in generations before mine. People still do it, but it is far less common. So, it can be fairly typical for someone to tell you all the reasons why such a change is risky, and it can be discouraging. While I had some concerns about this girl I was keeping to myself (like the fact she’s moving into a giant mansion owned by a couple that just happens to be in possession of a tour bus owned by the band Alabama), I told her she should go for it and watched her eagerly take notes of the advice I was giving her as someone who had went on a similar journey. Though, my journey involved a U-Haul and was less like a movie trope than a pretty, young woman hopping on a Greyhound with a suitcase and a guitar.
When the shift ended at 9:30, we were still talking about the trip. Since I live really close to the school, she came over to chat about it further over whiskey. Then, I pulled out my guitar and we played a couple of songs together. It was getting late and she had work in the morning, as did I. So, she called for an Uber and I wished her luck. Even though she may not find what she is looking for, she’ll be fine. When you get that itch, no matter how scary the journey may be or how much uncertainty you may have, you just have to chase that dream. Or else you’ll regret it.
During our conversation, she was telling me about some of the country music artists she recently discovered that were inspiring her to go on this journey. One of them, of course, was the country legend Hank Williams. You cannot say you like country music without knowing Hank Williams. And you for sure cannot walk around Nashville without his visage emblazoned somewhere. His biggest hit, “Hey, Good Lookin’”, recorded in 1951, is a country music staple and, frankly, one of the greatest American songs ever recorded.
We listened to some Hank that evening, though that song didn’t come up. She was very impressed by the size and variety of the archive that we ended up listening to a whole bunch of different country artists. I don’t remember much of what was playing because it was primarily in the background as we talked, but this Hank classic seems appropriate for this week’s blog entry primarily for its legendary status in the genre and a reminder of the time I spent in Music City. The Country Music Capital of the World. Nashville.