I was born and raised in South Florida, and the music my family seemed to listen to the most was country on 99.9 Kiss Country Radio. But as I grew older, I found other genres of music that I liked a lot more…and eventually all country music became an incessant wash of the same chord progressions, the same audio production qualities, the same slant rhymes, and worst of all…twang. So much twang. Every type of twang. Everywhere. All the time. I saw this YouTube video that mashed up 6 nearly identical country songs, and my aversion was confirmed.

In short, country music really bothered me and I avoided it like the plague. And after four years of music school, my musical tastes were at their most pretentious.

But recently, I went on a short vacation to North Carolina with my parents, and every time it was my turn to drive, I plugged my phone in and played as much non-country music as I could. But after miles of driving by farms, mountains, rivers, and cows, my mother finally begged me to shut off the showtunes and play something more appropriate to the environment. So I unplugged my phone and turned on the radio to a country music station.

And after a few minutes, I had an epiphany. And it all made sense.

This environment…this beautiful environment…caused people to make this kind of music. The stories that take place here, the characters you meet…love ’em or hate ’em…they are in the music. And as soon as I put that together in my mind, I suddenly had a better understanding and appreciation for both the country music and the country environment that I was immersing myself in.

And that understanding and appreciation only grew as I participated in multiple jam sessions with the townsfolk of Brevard. Sure, half of these people didn’t even know how to tune their instruments; but sure as shit, they knew all the words to every single country song and folk tune we sang. They weren’t making music to try to impress anyone…they were making music to bring the community together.

I had never thought of it before, but certain places have a “sound,” and it’s important to listen to that sound when you’re there because it can tell you so much about the land, its people, its past, and even its future.

And to tackle the elephant in the room, yes…the South is still an awkward place to be for most people, myself included. I was in Brevard for a week, and I only saw one homosexual, two African-Americans, a few Asians, and no Latinos. The rest were all old white people. Oh, and one Confederate flag in someone’s yard.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that a good song is enough to forget about slavery and those guys from Deliverance. But if you listen to songs like “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver, “Long Time Gone” performed by the Dixie Chicks, or even “America the Beautiful,” you get a sense of the kind of lifestyle immersed in a place dominated by natural beauty. No iphones, no laptops, no Facebook…just rocky mountains, amber waves of grain, and family members taking care of each other. Granted, there are more songs, and similarly, more perspectives, where those came from…and they’re all enlightening in one way or another.

So the next time you’re in a place you don’t quite understand, or surrounded by people you’re having trouble relating to, maybe try listening to the sound of the place and the music these people listen to. It may not be your cup of tea; but I truly believe (especially in today’s world) that one of the best ways to understand someone is by listening to the music they make, and more importantly, why they make it.