I wasn’t always a country fan. I hated it when I was younger. I used to think that you had to live in the Midwest and own a ranch to like country music. Then I met a pretty girl that loved it. You can imagine how that went. I let her change the station in the car. I listened to the double sided tapes of full on country music she made for me. She wrote letters to me full of sappy lines from her favorite country love songs and I thought they were the coolest thing.

I remember still being a bit skeptical about country music when I went to Ireland a year into our relationship. I was seventeen at the time and every hour away from her felt like an eternity. Even worse, I was seeing incredible sights that I wished she was seeing with me. I wanted to experience this foreign country with her. As I rode on our bus from Shannon through the Ring of Kerry, past romantic castles and verdant hills, I did nothing but stare out the window and think of her. To get my mind off lonely thoughts, a friend lent me her CD player. The only music she had was country-Deana Carter’s “Did I Shave My Legs for This?” in particular.

A lonely boy. Country love songs. That was the end of any chance I had.

When I got back, I was hooked on country music. I remember singing to her in the car as we drove to the mall or to the movies. Those songs said exactly what I was feeling toward that girl. We went to concerts together and danced barefoot on the grass. I even bought a cowboy hat, which wasn’t nearly as comfortable as my baseball cap.

I think you have to be a romantic person to enjoy country music, to enjoy all those songs about finding love, losing love, loving simple things like dogs and trucks and rodeos.

Now, over ten years later, I can play one of those old CDs and it brings back all those old memories that got tucked into forgotten corners. And with the memories comes faint reminders of those feelings I felt so long ago.

For a few years now, I haven’t been listening to country music. Perhaps I haven’t been feeling romantic. But last week was the American Country Music Awards and I found myself watching them. I wasn’t surprised to see that country music is going strong.

It has rising stars like Kelly Pickler and Taylor Swift, girls that have the vibrancy and passion of youth and show it as they sing. It has old down to earth gentleman like George Strait who seem to have been around forever and are still making relevant number one hits that have a bit of the timeless classic feel and just enough modern flavor to appeal to multiple generations. It has stars like Carrie Underwood and Kenny Chesney and Rascal Flatts who have been born to make music and make it well.

From watching the show, and a few in the past, I noticed that you could probably walk into the grocery store and not recognize a country music star. They don’t wear big dangly gold necklaces, or shades inside buildings, or those old T-shirts that always seem to be five sizes too small and the funky pants that somebody’s grandpa wore and have been washed one too many times so that they barely fit. The only thing that might set them apart from an ordinary person is a huge belt buckle. But these ordinary looking people are the same people that can fill stadiums with people, who can pluck the guitar and start singing in a way that sets fires inside people.

During the ACM Awards, Garth Brooks was honored for his life achievements, especially being the best selling solo artist of all time with over 128 million units sold. I imagine ten years down the road we will still be talking about “The Dance” and “Unaswered Prayers” and “Friends in Low Places.” Yes, country music still has great appeal and that is a good thing.

Country music is a little bit like baseball for America. Baseball is America’s pastime. It may not always be the most popular sport, but it represents what America is. It can be a stage where players can play a game with passion, define their lives, and play their way right into our hearts. Well, that’s country music too. It’s more than a genre of music that a few people sing and a few people like. It is the heartbeat of America.

© Seth Crossman