10 years ago today, I left the only life I had ever known and drove six hours east to Nashville, Tennessee. At the time, I’m not sure I was fully aware of the heaviness of the decision I was making. I don’t recall envisioning a life any further beyond the record deal that was surely going to fall in my lap. I don’t remember thinking about where I would be in 10 years and sadly, I didn’t give much thought to the many loved ones- friends and family alike- that I was subsequently leaving behind.
It was moving day. My best friends Heather, Jim and Daniel would make the trip with me. Auto-pilot kicked in, as it often does for me, and my usual ever-present emotions, forethoughts and best judgments became blurry fragments scattered in my peripheral. Two cars and one truck were loaded up and the trek began. Six months earlier I would picture this scenario in my mind: My little Honda rolling down Interstate 85, filled with my sparse and unimportant belongings. I would always picture this moment somewhere right around where South Carolina meets Georgia- right after I cross the bridge over Lake Hartwell. And I would think of this moment so in depth that my stomach would churn with fear and doubt. My gut would twist and wrench in a way that would certainly ever keep me from doing such a thing. I can’t do this. I won’t be able to do this.
But 10 years ago today- I made that drive down 85. And at that moment, crossing over the South Carolina state line, the only feeling I had was a sort of….unsettled contentment. It was scary and exhilarating and it was nothing like I had felt when I pictured that scenario so many times before. It felt right. I can do this. I AM doing this. I will never forget that moment as long as I live.
Seven hours, five ‘ Heather- induced’ potty breaks and one highly regrettable truck stop dinner adventure later, the lights of Music City finally appeared. I had secured a pretty neat little apartment right in the heart of it all- West End Avenue. Our little caravan pulled into the gates and reality punched me square in the face. Pretty soon, the comfort of my South Carolina entourage would leave- and then it would be just me. Looking back, the most memorable moment of that night was one that never actually happened. It was only years later that my dear friend Jim would share with me… that I neglected to give a proper goodbye to him; a man that-up until that point- had been the closest of confidants, the most dependable and attentive and genuine soul I had ever been so blessed to come in contact with. I was so preoccupied with my new life that I forgot to show how much I appreciated and loved the individual who had helped to shape and mold so much of the old one. I don’t have many regrets- but that is one of them. He drove away hurt and angry. It should not have been that way.
The next several months were a blur. When I wasn’t working, I sat in my apartment alone. Sometimes I would cry. Sometimes I would write songs. Sometimes I would cry and write songs at the same time. I had no TV, no friends, and the courage that got me to this point seemed to have hitched a ride back to South Carolina with Jim. I went home every weekend and the drive back on Sunday nights was beyond difficult. Still, the thought of moving back never seemed to be an option.
I made a few meager attempts to “get into the business”. I quickly realized that the business was a temperamental, unforgiving dictator that both gave life to and sucked life out of this vibrant city. And the harshest reality was that I was not special- I was no more talented than the guy pouring my beer at the bar down the street. I was the classic example of a big fish, from the small pond; naively confident that I could swim with the sharks that loomed in every corner. Even karaoke took on a whole new meaning. In South Carolina, getting drunk and singing “I Will Survive” was just a way to accept a dare or to get someone to buy you another shot. In Nashville, singing anywhere- on a karaoke stage, a pub bathroom or even a street corner on lower Broadway- was a possible audition for a major record label. Mike Curb could be sitting in the audience or walking by for all you knew. I sang karaoke once- in a little bar called Lonnie’s. A pair of skinny, long-limbed gorgeous blondes introduced me and the song I would sing- “Strawberry Wine”. Back home, this was my signature tune and was always welcomed with wild yelps and thunderous applause. I could sing the hell out of that song- never missing a beat, a note or an adlib. But on that night in Lonnie’s, as I got up to undoubtedly knock the crowd’s socks off- the girls handed me the microphone and made several snide and sarcastic comments about the song I was about to sing. I was confused- (don’t they know who I am?) and jolted and so of course, I sang horribly. What I realized in that moment is that here- in the town they call ‘Music City’- I was no exception. I did not stand out. My version of Strawberry Wine was no better than anyone else there. The very thing that had set me apart from the crowd was a just a common occurrence here. Everybody sings. Everybody plays. My now mediocre talent meant nothing. My confidence took a real beating that night and only now is any semblance of recovery beginning to find its way to me.
From that moment on, I did enough just to appease my friends, and my ever-encouraging mother. I tried to network and make impressions and just see what might come to me by way of sheer destiny. I didn’t work that hard and somewhere between falling down many times and falling in love (only once); I realized that perhaps I didn’t want it that bad. And that maybe that was ok. I began to see that perhaps there were other reasons I felt so drawn to Nashville. And perhaps that reason was a handsome, green-eyed, mild-mannered man named Kyle Brown.
We fell in love quickly. Or maybe I fell in love quickly and just invited him along for the ride. But nonetheless, he was a willing participant and we began a very passionate, sometimes tumultuous courtship. It was through our constantly evolving relationship that I began to question things- who I was, what was important to me, what I did and did not believe. Often, there weren’t immediate answers to these questions but what I did know- is that I wanted to discover these things about myself, but I didn’t want to do it without him by my side. In the 3 years that it was just us, I became a better human being just by knowing and loving him. In 2004, we discovered we were going to have a baby and I gave birth to Tyson Warner Brown on September 22. Life as I knew it- changed forever.
So fast forward to today- April 1, 2011: I am dumbfounded that I am now reflecting on 10 years of my Nashville life. I have my Kyle, two amazing, kind, healthy and beautiful kids and a little piece of South Carolina (my brother Kevin who lives with us) by my side. For most of these 10 years, one or more combinations of the previous mentioned people have been my music, my audience and my voice. And that’s has been just fine with me.
But now… something is on the horizon. Music. Performing. That passion. That fever. It’s back. My stomach churns once again. My gut harbors that familiar fear and doubt. I can’t do this. I won’t be able to do this. I’m not 24 anymore. I’m 34. I have kids, and laundry, and carpools. My voice isn’t what it used to be. My confidence is not what it used to be…. Somewhere between this narcissistic rambling and Saturday April 9th- I have no choice but to find it again. I’ve got to get up and sing- in front of a crowd of people that know good talent and good music when they hear it and certainly know when they don’t. I’ve got to convince a group of incredibly talented musicians that I am able to bring something to their already established musical unit and that they should keep me around for a while. Not because I have a voice. Everyone has a voice. Not just because one time in my life, I had balls enough to make such a drastic move to foreign soil. So many others have done the same. But maybe- just maybe, it’s because I have this story and only now does it continue down the original intended path. And perhaps the best place to tell it- is in front of a microphone, in a crowded bar in Franklin Tennessee on Saturday April 9th, 2011. 10 years and 8 days after I declared to the world that I knew I could do it- I’ll be on stage, recollecting on forgotten dreams, reacquainting with a faded persona, and remembering a force of unfiltered passion. There I’ll be y’all- still a fragile 24 year old South Carolina transplant- finally finding again my voice and happily sharing it with the world.