I won’t lie. For many months now, starting with the COVID-19 pandemic, leading into the racial and societal upheaval surrounding the death of George Floyd, which daisy chained into the contentious Presidential election, and later the fallout from the aftermath and the riots at the U.S. Capitol, it’s been really tough to wake up every morning and convince yourself that country music is an important enough topic to dedicate your time to with so much else unfolding in the world, or unraveling, as it may be.
Even when it comes to government lending assistance to struggling venues and performers, how do you square that when music is a pretty non-essential function, and meanwhile there’s so many other people out there struggling simply to survive, feed their families, keep a roof over their heads, and frontline workers out there at risk everyday.
Of course music has value, or you probably wouldn’t even be reading this at the moment, and I most certainly wouldn’t have dedicated my life to writing about it. But how to quantify that value and put it in perspective with so much else going on is a struggle, and a serious question.
This very topic came up in a recent radio interview with Chris Stapleton, where he recalled an exchange he had backstage at the 2019 Grammy Awards with pop star Katy Perry. The two were scheduled to pay tribute to Dolly Parton, when an off-handed remark by Stapleton had Katy Perry firing back at him.
“We were backstage at the Dolly Parton tribute at the Grammys and we were both performing on that, and I never met her before and we struck up a conversation waiting our turn for soundcheck backstage,” Stapleton explains.
“I said something that was self-deprecating, probably meant to be, ‘Oh, well, we’re just musicians’ or something to that effect, to which [Katy Perry] said, ‘Well, you know, that’s offensive to me and you. You do what you do. We’re healers. We have an important job.’”
Obviously, Stapleton was just making a silly, throwaway remark in his folksy demeanor, but it ended up being an epiphany for him.
“It was very enlightening in that moment, and I apologized. In no way was it meant to insult her or musicians in general. But yeah, it changed my thinking quite a bit.”
Even someone like Chris Stapleton who has made his living through music for nearly two decades needed a reminder of how a song is sometimes the only thing that can uplift the spirit of someone struggling, whether it’s financially, emotionally, or even health-wise. A song just might be the thing that allows a soul to persevere through the most difficult of times when nothing else is available, or everything else fails.
It’s still a fair conversation to have about music’s role when belts get tightened and resources are scarce. But country music grew out of the Great Depression, and was one of the few things readily available when so many other resources and opportunities were incredibly scarce. Monetarily, it’s value may be difficult to enumerate. But spiritually, music’s value is incalculable, and infinite.