I was a closet country fan as a kid. In the early 1990’s it wasn’t cool to be into Johnny Cash or Dolly Parton. They were coming out of the dark ages of the ‘80’s and if it hadn’t been for Dolly’s business savvy to act in films, she might not have kept herself in the public eye the way she did.
The ‘90s were my teenage years. I wore grunge clothes. A mini skirt with tights, army boots, a rock t-shirt and an over-sized plaid shirt with rolled up sleeves. I was a bit of a nerd too. I read constantly and knew things about the world that were very uncool to know. I was embarrassed to come from a place that did the boot scootin’ boogie and had a hard time trying to explain or distinguish the vast difference between Kris Kristofferson and Billy Rae Cyrus.
It was never my dream to go to Nashville. I knew I loved to sing and write. I think maybe my messiah complex was already quite well developed and I imagined that I was going to be the female version of Bono when I grew up.
These days it seems kids know they want to go to Nashville before they hit puberty. When I hit puberty, I was twelve and wanted to be a stowaway on a tall ship, or see wild animals in Africa, or go Narwhal hunting in the North. But I was composing already, and not because it was in the forefront of culture, but because I couldn’t help myself. Despite the fact that my three favourite records were Wilf Carter-There’s a Bridle Hangin’ on the Wall, John Denver- Poem and Prayers and Promises and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young- Déjà Vu, Nashville seemed like the cheesy place old people visited as tourists, like Arizona or Florida.
I didn’t make it to Music Row, Jack’s BBQ, The Bluebird, or The Ryman until I was in my early twenties. But after that, I kept coming back. And I kept going deeper.
My first time in Nashville was spent mostly at a big hotel downtown because I was showcasing at a music conference. I was a bit of a mess at the time, truth be told. I had just finished recording my first album and was waiting on a big record label to decide if I was a part of the family or not. Some of you may not know this but a lot of great records never see the light of day because the artist chooses to wait on the label’s timing. And a lot is a stake with this for the artist. It can actually postpone when you start making money, but certainly doesn’t postpone when you start spending it.
So there I was. Meeting a lot of heroes. Playing showcases. Taking it in. Not knowing a whole lot about anything!
I remember on that trip, leaving a pair of Frye boots by accident in my hotel room because I was hungover when I packed. In fact the truth of the story was that the last night of the conference, I was done all my shows (and never drank before or during a show) and I stayed up all night, bouncing from room to room with a friend from Manitoba. We played hard and drank hard and I even remember a world musician from Africa asking us to smoke some sort of ceremonial pipe with her. So I did. Looking back on it, I think I must have been able to tell the difference between that and all the rest of the drugs around, because I never did drugs. I can probably count on my two hands how many times I smoked pot which is saying something when you count the sheer amount of days I was on the road with other musicians!
We all have addictions though. I would love to be able to sit down with a circle of people and say “Hello. My name is Alana and I’m addicted to pride.” And have people who struggle with pride say back “Hello Alana.”
Earlier that weekend I met a shoe shiner at Union Station who wore a vest with a bunch of pins and buttons on it. Many of the buttons were about God and love. I sat down beside him and asked him where he went to church. He told me it was in East Nashville. I asked him if he would be willing to invite me to his church. He eyed me up and down and said, “Girl, I think you might wanna try one of them uptown churches. “
But I was persistent, so we made arrangements to meet out front of his church at 10am that Sunday.
It was the night before I had been up terribly late. Everyone else was sleeping in at the hotel and when I walked down the hallways, looking out the windows, I could feel how some folks had just nearly been there, after watching the sun rise together.
The church in East Nashville welcomed me with warm, wide, loving arms. I stood there like the little Canadian girl that I was and I sang my heart out and I let the tears flow. Looking back, I think I was crying more because its in these holy places where I can let out the love, loyalty and hope that I carry and there, mysteriously, it becomes a reciprocal, unending union, even with perfect strangers.
The reverend who spoke was a guest speaker from New York State, and he sang his entire sermon, sometimes with the congregation joining in a stanza or two that was recognizable. It was there that I heard the truest, most beautiful music of the whole weekend.
This is an excerpt from my book yet to be given a title. Please share this with your friends.