Tim McGraw And Jon Meacham Strike The Right Notes With ‘Songs Of America’ by Kurt Bardella for The Tennessean
Join the 137,527 people who've taken action on Countable this week
by BriteHeart | 7.3.19
For years, country music superstar and icon Tim McGraw has headlined sold-out shows and arenas in front of tens of thousands of fans, but never before have they seen him headline a show like “Songs of America.” Instead of struttin’ out on stage to flashing lights and the blaring guitar riffs of “Truck Yeah,” as he recently did at Nissan Stadium during CMA Fest, McGraw calmly walks out on stage to somber drum beats and melodies you’d hear on an old battlefield. Instead of playing three or four songs before uttering a single word to the audience, he spoke at length for 15 minutes before performing a single note. It’s a side of McGraw you’ve never seen before.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect from the opening run of the “Songs of America Tour” in New York City and Washington, D.C., Has there ever been more unlikely duo to share a marquee than McGraw and presidential biographer Jon Meacham? The two have teamed up to release a new book, “Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation.” However, what works in print may not translate on stage.
Yet within minutes, it became clear that this was going to be a very special night and that this odd couple was going to deliver a uniquely entertaining experience. If you have ever wondered what would happen if you took the best elements of a live country music concert and paired it with a historical lecture mixed in with a little comedy, the result would be the “Songs of America Tour.”
Kurt Bardella (Photo: Submitted)
The most important thing to realize about this show is that McGraw and Meacham are legitimately good friends who live in the same neighborhood. Their genuine friendship is what makes this show work. Throughout the entire night, they relentlessly rib one another, a reminder that even in the most of divisive of times while exploring some very tenuous moments in our history, it’s still OK to laugh and have a good time. Like any duo or group, it’s their chemistry and friendship that the audience connects with, enabling them to invest in the substance of the show.
Meacham skillfully sets the context for the story, painting a picture of a country divided, trapped in gridlock, confronting uncomfortable truths about power and freedom. It’s not lost on the audience that while he is talking about the run up to the Revolutionary War, the themes he speaks of are just as relevant today as they were in the 1700s. What’s so powerful about this comparison is that Meacham shows restraint, not making this preamble about the current occupant of the Oval Office, but letting the audience draw their own conclusions. This is not a night that is about partisanship. One of the most surprising things about the opening-night audience in New York City was the fact that they loudly booed when an audio clip of President Richard Nixon was playing but also cheered when Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were mentioned. After the show, Meacham conceded he was genuinely surprised by this seemingly contradictory audience reaction.
SUPPORT LOCAL JOURNALISM: Become a subscriber today
As Meacham explained the historical background of the songs that served as the soundtrack to our nation’s greatest conflicts, McGraw offered thoughtful and reflective insights on artists' and songwriters’ perspectives. As he spoke, McGraw would walk across the stage to a microphone and begin singing the songs of the Civil War and the Underground Railroad. It was a powerful illustration of fusing storytelling with music to create an incredibly rich experience. As eloquent as Meacham is in telling the story of our history, McGraw elevates the discussion to a different terrain through his performances. And that’s the point of this book. As they wrote, “History isn’t just something we read, it’s something we hear.”
One of the most poignant moments of the show unfolds as Meacham discusses World Wars I and II and reads a letter from a soldier addressed to his family that bridges into McGraw performing his 2007 hit “If You’re Reading This.” Here we saw how the past can be a bridge to the present.
What about Kim Jong Un?: Today's Toon
If there’s one consistent theme that colors “Songs of America” it’s that the history of this country, much like the songs that shape it, has many perspectives and interpretations. America is not easy. It isn’t pretty. It isn’t, as Meacham and McGraw noted, “a fairytale.” It is a never-ending struggle to pursue the promises of liberty and freedom that our Founding Fathers envisioned. It was refreshing to attend a conversation about history and politics that was rooted in authentic discourse. The focus was on patriotism, not nationalism, something we’ve become all too accustomed to seeing.
In “Songs of America,” Meacham and McGraw give us reason to be optimistic about our future, but also reason to pause and consider how the events of the past inform the next chapter of the American story. Here we had an ideologically diverse audience, booing Nixon and cheering Reagan, and yet every single person there sang along the moment McGraw echoed Buffalo Springfield’s lyrics, “There’s something happening here; What it is ain’t exactly clear. There’s a man with a gun over there; Telling me I got to beware. I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound. Everybody look what’s going down.”
Kurt Bardella is a member of USA Today’s Board of Contributors and the publisher of the country music newsletter “The Morning Hangover.” Follow him on Twitter: @kurtbardella.
The Brennan Center For Justice 2019 Voting Laws Roundup by the Brennan Center For JusticeAt this point in the year, 42 state legislatures have concluded their last regular legislative session in the leadup to a
by BriteHeart | 7.11.19
Political Leanings Can’t Be Reduced To Genetic Programming by Jonah Goldberg for The National ReviewIncreasingly, the intellectual consensus seems to be that our political leanings are hardwired in our genes. There is some
by BriteHeart | 7.10.19
Margaret Renkl Weaves Personal And Natural History In ‘Late Migrations’ by Beth Ann Fennelly for The Nashville SceneThere must have come a moment, somewhere during the writing of Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss, in which
by BriteHeart | 7.9.19