So, I’m in Tennessee. The Eastern portion, perhaps best known by Geographers as the land of Oak Ridge Laboratories and the Great Smoky Mountains, equal parts remote sensing supercomputers and surreal Appalachian beauty. Of course, the process of moving has made it all but impossible for me to really experience either of those things in any measure, and the massive, predominantly wifi-less train journey I took (I do apologize for the lack of updates since I was in the Pacific Northwest) prevented me from preparing my brain for the onslaught of musical geography that this state contains.
In related news, not that I’ve formally mentioned this on the blog yet, I will be working toward my PhD in Geography here, at the University of Tennessee. I could not be more excited about it. The department is a great group of people, and Knoxville is a great (and growing ridiculously fast) medium-sized city. I will keep this updated with any news on my research here. I should probably finish registering with the department first…
Anyway, I was driving through Knoxville earlier today and a beautiful sentimental song about Tennessee came on the radio which my general desire to not crash my car into the Fourth & Gill underpass murals prevented me from grabbing a pen and writing down. In my online search for the song, I came across a pair of videos that will undoubtedly lead me down an infinite rabbit hole of Eastern Tennessee music. Considering how (relatively) little in-depth research I did on Knoxville prior to moving here (rewatching the classic Simpsons episode notwithstanding), I am still amazed how easy it is to forget that Tennessee may just possibly be the single most influential state in the development of modern popular music. NO BIG DEAL.
I don’t even have to begin explaining why I’ve come to the right place. Even without Memphis’ monolithic impact on RnB and Rock n’ Roll over the past eight-plus decades (which is easy to discount around these parts, since that city is about eight hours’ drive away), Tennessee remains the bellwether of both Country Music (Nashville) and Bluegrass Music (Knoxville). Hillbilly music in general owes as much to Tennessee as it does any state; the hills of Eastern Tennessee were where those auld [sic] English ballads wove their way through the nineteenth century and into the strings of countless fiddles and banjos. I’m going to spend the next few years of my life digging through all of it and attempting to provide insight, but for now, here’s (who else?) the inimitable Dolly Parton singing about it. Enjoy the rest of your week, everyone.