“You can really make this life look grand
If you filter it on Instagram
Hashtag the Americana Dream
But the truth is we’re just hanging on
By a prayer and by a song
And a heavy drug addiction to caffeine”
— Emily Scott Robinson, “White Hot Country Mess”
So it’s 2019.
I don’t know exactly what I expected from this year, but so far, nothing has gone quite the way I planned. That theme continued on a micro level as I scrambled to get ready for our January show, re-adjusting to our generously sponsored space at Studio688 and trying to manage a YouTube Live stream for the first time … on a brand-new camera (which worked great!) … with a whole different audio recording set-up (which … did not).
Somewhere in the midst of all that, Emily Scott Robinson floated in on a breeze from Greensboro (by way of Nashville) and instantly made the room feel at peace. As the space began filling up with people and technology threatened to fail me at every turn, I felt a calm take hold, because I knew that no matter what happened, the small community around that stage was about to share something special.
Sound is a strange thing. The things that smell bad or taste rotten or feel painful or look scary all make our senses respond to avoid danger and seek safety. But why do some things sound unpleasant and others so incredibly beautiful? I was contemplating all this as the show began because the voice that comes out of Emily is so naturally appealing it defies explanation. So appealing it would be enough all on its own, and the words it wrapped around might not even matter. But hers do. Her words matter a lot.
There’s a clarity in Emily’s voice that comes from her heart rather than her vocal chords. She takes in the stories of people around her with a sensitivity and empathy that can make anyone seem worthy of a second chance, including a murderous preacher’s wife or even a Junior League beauty queen.
One of the most moving moments of the show occurred two thirds into the second set. We could hear the rain on the roof as Emily began, “The Dress,” an autobiographical account of sexual assault’s aftermath. “Was there even time to run from that storm?” she sang, and the sky rumbled above us. It felt like the universe reaching down to put a hand on her cheek, and the many tear-soaked cheeks in the room, to say, No, no, the storm wasn’t ever yours to control.
It’s a testament to Emily’s grace that she could pivot from her own deeply personal story to the true tale of a WW2 veteran and mail carrier buried in his overalls with a pack of Marlboro Reds, and then end the show with a benediction to us all. We sang the last words of the night together as both a blessing to Emily as she continues on her journey and a reminder to all of us that the best path is the one truest to our hearts.
“Traveling mercies, out on that road
Traveling mercies, may love bring you home”
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