Back in March, the Strawberry Festival in Plant City, Florida celebrated its opening day with a night-time Alabama concert. Normally, we would have made a day of it. We would have
arrived before the concert to indulge in strawberry shortcake, carnival rides, selfies with the livestock, and the ever- necessary Frisk’s fries with vinegar. Then, we would call our mother to reminisce on childhood memories. This year was different; we had just suffered a great loss. Nothing was normal, and nothing made us feel better.
Regardless, my sister and I mustered all the energy we had just to make it to the festival. We look forward to eating at the fair all year (it’s really the only reason we go), but this time it left us unsatisfied. We decided to soldier on, convinced that being among the band that shaped our childhood would help us feel closer to normal.
We grabbed our seat cushions and made our way to our bleacher seats. Making it to show time wasn’t easy. We had to brave the cold (yes, it gets cold in Florida sometimes) and the wind – goodness that wind – but finally our ears detected the rhythms and melodies that snapped us right back to younger years.
As children, we got to see different sides to our parents. From the beginning, I remember my father being the one to take us to the theater and expose us to things outside the Southern-country influences of my mother. He taught me about Pink Floyd, saxophones, and a whole host of other things he probably doesn’t realize. This, however, is not a story to support his influence; instead, it is a story of a mother’s influence.
Although each of us took different things from our parents, the one my sisters and I agree on is a love for country music. My mother was a lover of all things Southern, which she carried with her throughout her life. Try as I might, there was never a chance I wouldn’t have a deep attachment to those roots. She was a lover of music, most music at least, mainly country. She exposed us to different artists, but made sure her babies knew all about that twang.
She fed us a strict diet of Alabama, Reba (let’s face it, she doesn’t need a last name anymore), and Tanya Tucker, just to name a few. All of these artists exert a gravitational pull on my soul, but one – Alabama – taught me everything I need to know about life.
For those of you who already know about the band, bravo. Your work here is done! You can skip to Alabama’s Lessons for Life or read on – you might learn something new.
The band formed in the late 60s, in their hometown of Fort Payne, Alabama. Founder Randy Owens wanted to keep it a family affair, recruiting his cousins Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook. They soon left Fort Payne for Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where they played the bar scene. They were not officially known by the name “Alabama” until 1977 when they changed their name.
The band got their big break in the 80s with the #1 hit Tennessee River, which set off their meteoric rise to the top of the country world. I was among one of the many people who would fill up stadiums in the 80s and 90s to hear Southern rock and bluegrass tunes. As most bands do, after 30 years in the spotlight, they called it quits in 2006. Lucky for their adoring fans, the band reunited in 2011.
It wasn’t until that February night in 2015 that I was able to get to see them since they reunited. So regardless of my mood, I wasn’t going to miss the show. I needed a reminder of days gone by. What I got was a realization of the impact the band had on my outlook on life.
Alabama Lessons for Life
Alabama has well over 40 #1 singles to show after 30 years together, all worth a listen, many worth regular listening, but a few light the path of idealism.
Lesson #1 Happiness is Sitting in the Arms of the One You Love.
Each time Dixieland Delight starts, I relax a bit and breathe easier. I know things are right with the world when I hear the first line, “Rollin’ down a backwoods, Tennessee by-way,” dance out of the stereo speakers.
Dixieland Delight’s lyrics transport you to that backwoods by-way. You can imagine yourself with “One arm on the wheel,” driving with the wind in your hair, and your other arm around your lover. We can all identify with that feeling. As the song says, “Worked hard all week; got a little jingle…couldn’t feel better, I’m together, with my Dixieland Delight.”
Read the lyrics and you will see. It’s a simple concept – life is not about the rat race, rather it’s about relaxing with the people you love, enjoying those “sweet, soft, southern thrills” Alabama so often reminds us to appreciate.
Lesson #2 Pass on a Better Tomorrow for Those who Follow.
Pass it on Down…We are only visiting for a short time and we have to remember to put things back better than we found them. This is true anywhere in the world, across all cultures. When you look in the eyes of your kids, you will see the truth. As Alabama says, “‘cause brothers it’s a fact, if we take and don’t put back, they’ll have to pay for all we did.” We all must remember that this earth is where we live for a temporary time, and if we don’t do the right things, we run the risk of having nothing of value to pass on. If you don’t believe climate change is a reality, I’m here to tell you – wake up! The earth is giving us all the clues we need, but still some of us think it doesn’t matter because we won’t be around to see the end.
What if I told you that you could live to be 250 years old? Would you care then?
Just as we pass on traditions, we should teach our children to appreciate the world around them. We should teach them to respect the blue above them and the green below. As Pass it on Down says, “It is only ours to borrow.”
That night, as I sat in the bleachers, freezing my butt off, I couldn’t help but see these lessons spelled out right in front of my face. I hadn’t missed them my whole life; I was just now becoming aware of how the words had shaped my life perspective.
My sister and I stayed until we couldn’t bear the cold any longer, then said a silent goodbye to the band before heading home. The night started on a sad note, and ended with a sweet reminder of the mother and band that shaped so much of who we’ve become.
Do you love Alabama? Which song is your favorite? When was the last time you listened to them, or saw them live?