As I write these words, I am 6,386 miles from the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
I am in Israel, where they are worried about the same things, in general, that we are worried about in the U.S. They are trying to finalize the vote count in a contentious election, and the sides cannot agree on the final tally. The coronavirus has reared its ugly head and is wreaking havoc on festivals and public functions and certain tourist sites, which means money is being lost.
When you are seven time zones away from home and focusing on the events of 2,000 years ago, you tend to lose track of what’s happening anywhere else. And then you find yourself in a place that has Wi-Fi service and your phone blows up and you learn that one of the cities you love the most in the whole wide world was hit by four F-4 tornadoes and that at least 25 lives have been lost and 400 homes have been destroyed, and your heart hurts.
Make no mistake about it. I do love Nashville. Music City, USA. I visit every chance I get. Now understand, I’m not into the drinking scene. I was a teetotaler most of my life and never spent much time in bars and night clubs, even in the days of my youth. But put me down on Broadway in Nashville, and I will do Hank Williams proud every time. I’ll go honky-tonkin’ with the best of them.
AJ’s. Honky Tonk Central. Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. Nudie’s. Tin Roof. Robert’s Western World. I enjoy them all — and they are happy to serve you a plain Coca-Cola if that’s what you want, as long as you don’t ignore the tip bucket when they pass it around.
I never do.
In fact, I’ve written “Hank, Jr.’s Dinosaur” on more $20 bills than I care to admit. It’s always been worth it.
Country music has been described as “three chords and the truth” and the country music artists I have known have been good, decent, down-to-earth folks, which is why I love their music and why I have been so drawn, I suppose, to the mecca of their industry.
And Nashville isn’t just about the Grand Ol’ Opry anymore. It is one of the hottest destinations we have. As owner of a tour company, I keep up with what’s in and what’s out across the country and around the globe, and Nashville is as in as it gets. Trade shows, conventions, athletic competitions, those annoying little bachelorette weekends — Nashville is always wide open. I think I went there four times last year. I only went to Porterdale twice.
Which is why it hurt me to find out that they were hurting so.
The first thing I did was take stock of the people I know personally in the area, and the list is pretty long. My nephew, former colleagues, friends’ children, and a few folks in the country music industry. It’s hard to check in on people from 6,000 miles away, but eventually, via the internet, I was able to ascertain that everyone I knew personally had survived the worst.
But a lot of folks did not fare so well. I couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing in the photographs and film footage I was able to pull up. I’ve seen a lot of tornados and been close to a few, but the images I’ve seen from Nashville are as devastating as any I remember.
But then I started catching glimpses of the people affected and the people who came through unscathed, and the overwhelming message was one of a people standing together, determined to persevere. I saw that dozens of big-name country music stars were already planning benefit concerts to help those affected by the storms. I saw footage of folks with chain saws and front-end loaders and Bobcats and all manner of machinery, already working to clear debris and clean up. I saw determined people who would not be downed or defeated by the devastation they have encountered.
I saw Nashville Strong, in every face in every conversation and in every interview. I pray for those who have lost loved ones and cannot imagine the heartache, but I know that Nashville, a community that has known war and famine and flood, will pull together and come through this hardship stronger than ever.
These are my kind of people. God bless them.