Summers in Northern Arizona are some kind of magical. I spent my childhood helping my dad load our battered red farm truck up with alfalfa bails, unloading them under building monsoon clouds, racing from the barn to the house as the rain fell, hay hooks in hand. As idyllic a scene as that is, that's not the magical part.
The magical part came with Garth Brooks' "Friends In Low Places" as we drove from Olsen's Grain to our property. Anyone from Sierra Vista to Chandler to Prescott can attest to the feeling of a big truck, a warm afternoon and the twang of country music. It's the stuff of pop country hits themselves -- Kenny Chesney's "Summertime," Jason Aldean's "Take A Little Ride" and the entire lyrical makeup of Cole Swindell's "Chillin' It." For those in the know, it's a bliss that's not to be trifled with, hardly understood by people raised in the city.
Thankfully, country music is a massive part of Arizona culture, a place that's a little more south than southwest. Country Thunder is our own Christmas in April, a secondary Spring Break that has a weekend-long soundtrack to go with it. Cardinals tailgates are set to Eric Church, NASCAR races go hand-in-hand with Luke Bryan, and the Fourth of July sounds like Miranda Lambert. Country music sounds like youth and it sounds like home -- reasons why I'm ever so slightly reluctant to move to a place that doesn't have the genre as ingrained in its identity.
When I move to Los Angeles this summer, I know I'll be going to a place that doesn't quite resonate with the image of the dog days of summer and a beat-up Silverado. My first taste of country music in Los Angeles came in the form of Chesney and Tim McGraw's Brothers Of The Sun Tour in Anaheim, Calif., in 2012. My girlfriend at the time, also an Arizona resident, and I rolled up to Angels Stadium absolutely bewildered. Tanned, bottle-blond, nipped-and-tucked fans of both sexes poured out of limos and Range Rovers in bedazzled boots and jeans, Stetsons riding too high on their heads. The show, of course, was wonderful, but missing something.
Major-scale country production or not, there's something intrinsic to the experience about breathing in corn dust, wearing a pair of worn Tony Lama or Ariat boots that have seen more manure than manicures, and being able to crack open a few Bud Lights in the parking lot without worry of brown bag laws. It seemed absolutely antithetical to do anything but that at a country show, but it's part of the experience in L.A.
Maybe there's just as much allure to bombing down the Pacific Coast Highway in the Benz with Jake Owen's "Days of Gold" blasting, but I doubt it. When I come back to town, I'll be up in Prescott in the Chevy running down back roads at golden hour with George Strait playing, at Moonshine two-stepping poorly, or raising a beer to you in the campgrounds at Country Thunder. California or not, it's good to know that we can all come back to Arizona to get a real country music experience. Besides, we all have "Friends In Low Places" in the meantime.