by Sarah Bestor
I grew up on music. Something was always playing in our house and often it was classic country. We listened to Johnny Cash as we sat around the dinner table and Waylon Jennings while we played board games. And my dad regularly sang Hank Williams songs while we all sat in the living room. I think the thing that would surprise people most about me would be the number of old country songs I have memorized. I can sing every word of Merle Haggard’s “If We’re Not Back in Love by Monday” or Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” on demand, and I know the chords to “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” by heart on the guitar. So, when we were planning our spring break trip, I was in full support of our musical tour of the south.
My job for this trip was to create an appropriate playlist. I chose songs like “Jackson,” which we listened to while we drove through Jackson, Mississippi at 1am on the night we arrived in the south and “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” which I casually put on—much to my family’s dismay—every time it started pouring on our trip, which was often. And it warmed my mother’s heart when we were driving the Natchez Trace and I cued up “America” by Paul Simon. To me, experiencing the music of where we were was incredibly important, because music is a huge part of what shaped the south. It added a movie-like aspect to the trip, as we had our own soundtrack directly related to the places we were going and the people we were seeing.
Obviously we went to the south to experience many things, the endless farmland, the fried chicken, and the southern hospitality, to name a few, but for me the highlight was the music. We went to museum after museum, learning about what Bob Dylan wore to specific performances, standing in Studio A at Stax Records and even seeing the places where Elvis Presley recorded his first song and bought his first guitar. It was highly entertaining to hear original recordings of many songs that I’ve heard my whole life, and see footage of early television performances (the original music videos).
It’s true that I often roll my eyes when the speakers in our kitchen blast out “Ladies and gentleman, Mr. Waylon Jennings!” But I always have and always will have a special place in my heart for the music of the south.