Las Vegas. It's great. It's terrible. It's sooooo fun, and then it's not. Getting swept up in the glitz, glamour, and excess. It's shiny nights, it's gorgeous timeless desert. Its enough to bombard the senses. It's enough to get lost in. You can be on top of the world, or alone in a crowd. It's all happening there. Hope, despair, escape, elation. All of it. It's heightened. Everyone brought their A-Game. They're hoping for the best. They're out to MAKE a good time, circumstances be damned.
I can't visit a place anymore and not try to imagine what life there would look like for a local. Until living in a tourist destination like Nashville, I never considered what a city must be like when I'm not there. I just saw it through my lenses, and it served its purpose for me as I passed through.
In my experience, there's always a lot of one-way directional tension between locals and tourists. I had never noticed it before, because I was always a tourist. And tourists are just having a good time! They feel an energy to the city, they live in it, they let it wash over them, and then move on. Whatever the city was to them in those moments, it will always and forever be in their own minds. It doesn't make those things fundamentally true, mind you, it just makes them true to the beholder. But that's tourism! It's fun! It's carefree! That's the whole point!
But locals want their city to be seen through their lenses. As it is, as a whole, as they have found it to be over a long period of time. In all of its idiosyncrasies the local feels like an expert of their city, and when someone comes in and embraces the stereotypes, the expectations, the mainstream understanding of a city rather than the city itself, it feels like it's somehow been tainted, exploited, plundered, and then tossed aside. "Well that's not MY Nashville!" You hear them say. It's very US vs. THEM. Insider vs. vagabond. The locals: the townspeople. The visitors: the pirates. Only not the fun swashbuckle-y side of things, the other side. The kind where you're left to pick up the pieces wondering what just happened and who those people were, never really feeling known, never really feeling understood.
But I digress...
I was in Vegas. I think I've been there about a dozen times at this point. This time was different. We did some out-of-sorts things. I walked around in the desert by my lonesome (and 4 remarkable camera guys). A video will follow. Get stoked. It's sexy. There was a drone, and it was windy. I mean realllllly windy. I mean, it was so windy it became an advisory in Las Vegas and we had to stay inside because a wall of sand was knocking over everything. The airport shut down, billboards were getting tossed, trees were falling down. It was a sight to behold. An act of nature. It was scary, but I'm glad to have witnessed it. Was glad my parents made it in safely before it hit. Crazy times.
Played a show where the ever gracious Academy of Country Music has been giving me an opportunity for the last 6 years at the Party for a Cause. As an independent, there is no kinder thing. To have one of the great institutions of Country Music see you, pick you out of the thousands, and give you a platform. That speaks volumes to me. There are some years it was the only thing to keep me moving on. I'll always help support what they're doing with their charities, their festivals, and their efforts to advance country music. I hope I can someday serve them as well as they've served me.
Joshy and I mugged on the red carpet and watched the awards with glee. The Bros won best new duo, and Miranda won album of the year.
During the awards show, her long-time producer, Frank Liddell, said something pretty awesome from stage. "To all of the young artists out there, stop making things up. Tell the truth, it's way more interesting." Which hit me pretty hard, especially given the season I'm in. I've been one of the kids he's talking to, and I also resonate so deeply with the period that's just beyond it. The one where you do start telling the truth, the one where you value it more than any award or any thing. I've written over at Carnival for a few years now, and I remember him saying something similar to me in the office after a write one day. He said: "You have to do you. You have to pursue your thing. All of my major successes have some from doing whatever I wanted the best I could." I'm sure his voice was sittin' somewhere in the back of my head while I was in the studio making Deep Cuts. Truth pervades.
But that all brings me to a side trip. An unexpected little jaunt outside of the city.
I saw a dam. It was a big dam. We took a big dam tour. We made lots of big dam jokes. But beholding it also made me think about the human spirit, American ingenuity, and what we can accomplish when we're all desperate enough to drop our preconceived notions, biases, and protectionism, and make something work that was otherwise thought of as impossible. Compromise is usually born out of mutual benefit. But it must also, sometimes, come about because it needs to be done. There is an issue, there is a solution, it takes a lot of people to pull off, and then they all do it. You pool the resources, you identify problems, you consult experts, and then you fricking do the thing. You have to try it, right? Certainly. What happens if you don't?
I'd rather see something. Even if it's a massive failure.
This undertaking was decidedly not a failure. 80 years old, and it's still going, changing, evolving. Remarkable, really.
All of this got me thinking about my record. We're only a week out from its impending release.
It was a massive undertaking for me, and my wife, in our little home. We consulted experts, pooled resources, and bit off more than we could chew as we careened head-first into a thing we've never done before. But we had to. It had been long enough, and we were in a moment of desperation.
Something needed to take. Something had to give.
Up to this point, we'd poured our hearts and souls into this music thing with all that we could muster. We took jobs to support it. We uprooted our lives from our beautiful, warm, welcoming hometowns to come be here and feel like nobodies. This was our task. This was a war of attrition. If we only had a chance to do this once, we were going to do it right. Debt be damned. Resources be damned. Time, energy, sleep, futures, be damned. This was it. This was the thing. The thing to destroy all other things.
People have told me to hold this whole thing lightly. To see it as just the stepping stone to the next thing. That's like telling a new parent that this is just the one that will make all of the other kids possible. F*** that. This one is beautiful.
Besides marrying my wife, making this record is the best thing that's ever happened to me. It's gonna be real hard to see it any other way for a while. And as an artist, I feel like doing anything less would be a really shitty thing to do to the listener. Can't cheapen it. This is my Magnum Opus. To this point, it's the single greatest creative work I've ever made. Do I hope I can best it? Absolutely. Am I worried I won't? Not really. Do I want to rush through this record without serving it as best as I damn well can? Never.
"Look man, you're an independent. You don't have the resources of the majors. It's gonna be good, but just... Just keep going, okay?"
No worries. If I can do anything that feels this good again, you bet your ass it will be repeated.
You'll see the hashtag on our posts #IndependentNotAlone and we really do feel that. We've spent over a decade here and have certainly felt like loners. Outsiders on the inside. The Music Industry contributors from the margins, always present, always working, but never exactly heralded. Never validated. Never taken all that seriously. Is this gonna change that? You just never know.