I’m a city girl, that’s a given. I grew up in Manhattan in a 450-square-foot, 5th floor walk-up apartment and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Most life-long New York kids grow up petrified of the country, the silence, the lack of light at nighttime, the space between things…we need dirty concrete under our feet to feel grounded and midnight taxi-cabs honking us to sleep like a twisted lullaby. We love this, and we don’t apologize for it. We’re proud as hell. Despite that…I was permanently changed after my first trip to Nashville.
I fell madly, ridiculously, unrelentingly in love with country music. And the country. All of it.
I’m permanently emotionally split between these two worlds. So far, I’ve felt pretty comfortable with my new 50/50 loyalty. More of you should try it.
This past weekend Katie and I took a mini-trip to Hershey, PA for the Southern Ground Music & Food Festival. This fair is normally held in Nashville and/or South Carolina, and has thus far never ventured above the Mason-Dixon line. It actually has a second appearance planned for Charleston, SC in October, because cutting the entire south out at once would probably have been too much to stomach. Jimmy Buffet headlined on Saturday and Zac Brown Band headlined Sunday, and because I absolutely love Zac Brown Band, we bought tickets for just Sunday’s show. They won me over for the first time with the song “Free”, which was the anthem for our first cross-country road trip. I was so distraught when that trip was over that I couldn’t listen to the song for 3 months straight. It felt kind of like a breakup song.
We got there on Saturday afternoon to spend the day at Hershey Park (because you’re never too old for a chocolate-themed amusement park, ever) and shuttered at the appearance of our super-budget motel, which we selected only because the Travelodge had jacked up their prices for the festival weekend to match the average Marriott or Hilton. We shrugged it off and rode roller coasters until they were coming out of our ears, screaming like 7-year-olds (louder than the actual 7-year-olds) and waited on line for 15 minutes to get deep-fried Hershey bars…because, well…we had to. One bite into the chewy mound of sugar and all that waiting was forgiven.
I was honestly a little bit shocked that this intensely southern festival was making an appearance in PA, until I saw my first cornfield and barrel of hay on the drive into town. It’s definitely a “country” area, and it was easy to forget that I was only two states away from subways and studio apartments. It was oddly comforting.
By Sunday, I was giddy with excitement. Knowing that we might be the only New Yorkers present was not a deterrent (and it just so happened that our cab driver to the festival was from Brooklyn…win). It was a searing hot 90-degrees with no cloud coverage, but we waited outside the fair gates eagerly until they let us in. We descended upon the dozens of unique food trucks and giant beer tents with open arms. Apparently, Zac Brown is a huge foodie and organizes this awesome combination of delicious eats and great music every year. Seriously…sunshine, a beacon of culinary options, beer, music…what else is necessary?? It’s like summer in box.
My first selection was fried cheese curds with siracha mayo from The Cow and the Curd, which tasted like spicy bite-sized versions of the best mozzarella sticks you’ve ever had. The curds are denser than regular mozzarella, so they maintain a good “bite” when fried. A few beers (and water bottles) later, and we chomped into crispy pork wings and asian slaw. They were tender and slathered in sweet sauce, with a crunchy and refreshing slaw to compliment. Having them served in a paper cone officially meant that I could hold that in one hand and a beer in the other…life’s little accomplishments.
As the night went on and the brews kept flowing, we ate our way through a juicy pile of BBQ-pit beef and a mound of hand-cut fries (cut from potatoes right in front of us, to order). That stand provided us with a spray bottle full of vinegar with which to “dress” our steaming hot fries. Crunch. Heaven. Happy.
The rest of the night was a blur of dancing like fools through 4 opening acts before screaming our way through 2 hours solid of Zac Brown Band songs and a brief-but-happily-welcomed rainstorm. True musicians are the ones who play and play and play into the evening…it becomes a full sensory experience as it radiates through the air. I love country music because it’s unrelentingly comforting. You don’t need to fixate on how you look or how you dance. It’s feel-good and soulful, especially this particular band who place a strong emphasis on instruments. You can’t force yourself to love country music, you can’t even plan it. You just have to wait until it gets into your soul.
“Drive until the city lights dissolve into a country sky, just me and you”