When I took a job with a country artist, I knew nothing about country music besides the odd tracks on my iPod by Lucinda Williams and Johnny Cash. The band I'm tour managing would talk about musicians and I'd smile blandly. The few times I tried to comment on songs, I got confused. Are we talking about Dirt Road Anthem or Dirt Road Prayer or Red Dirt Girl or Car Wheels on a Gravel Road? All the dirt and the roads, they got me turned around. At a gas station on the drive from California to Ohio, I bought a People Magazine, Country Edition and read it cover to cover, often out loud. Matthew looked at me sideways and I said, "It's RESEARCH."
At the American Country Awards in Vegas in December, I sat in the green room and watched the monitor of what was happening on stage, the badonkadonk jokes and the Red Solo Cup singalong. Some of the only people I recognized were the cast of Pawn Stars and the comedian Bill Engvall, who I've seen on Comedy Central. I lot of the women looked familiar but I couldn't name them. I saw my former boss from Idol and he said, "I remember when I started and I didn't know who anyone was." "When you were me, you mean?"
When I found out that we were going on tour as an opener for Jason Aldean, I thought, "Great, who's that?" Now that we've finished the first leg of the tour and am preparing for the next, I fully respect where we are. We play the first set of the night, to thousands of country fans in arenas who came to the My Kinda Party tour. Our schedule is close to what I did when I first toured on a crew: wake up on the bus every morning, stumble to the front lounge to make coffee, ask our driver where we are if we're still moving, go inside the loading dock to find the towels for a shower in a locker room if we've already arrived. Stay busy all day until I crawl into my bunk at night. I'm not making most of the rules, I'm asking other people what they are, I'm learning new things.
Now that I'm on the country circuit, I also get to vote in the awards shows. I get daily email updates from several country news outlets and when it's awards show time, labels send me CDs and promo materials to sway my vote. Hilarious! And informative. And just a lot of stuff. Many, many people have told me that Nashville and the country music world is small and that everyone knows everyone. So many that it started to feel vaguely like a warning more than a friendly reminder and maybe it was but I can attest to the fact that after six weeks of paying attention, the pieces of the country puzzle are starting to come together.
Last week I was talking to a producer who said he'd love us to a play a festival he's doing later this year. I asked him who else is on the bill and he rattled off a string of names. "Wow," I said without a trace of irony or bullshit, "That's a great lineup."