Aah, 2020. How I miss the days when ‘corona’ was just something for Maren Morris and Ryan Hurd to find Love in a Bar over, or for Brad Paisley to drink instead of the water.
Now, it is the thing which has sent us into limbo, as we wait for our invisible enemy to strike or be slain. While half the land seems to have hit pause, the other half have hit hyper mode in an effort to save lives and save society. My own work has been temporarily busier than ever. No, it’s nothing worthy of doorstep applause on a Thursday night. My job to come up with new ideas for TV programmes.
Most work meetings over the last two months have gone along the lines of; “Don’t panic but we can’t finish making any of our telly shows under current restrictions, so we urgently need new shows to replace them which we can make under current restrictions (i.e. with no cast or crew leaving their homes or going near each other) but it’s very important they don’t look like they’ve been made under current restrictions…”
It’s been…. challenging. But necessity is the mother of invention and this bizarre apocalypse has given birth to a newly announced Channel 4 show called Snoop Dogs, which will use dogs instead of cameramen. No, this was not one of my team’s brainwaves.
As of today though, I am furloughed. I could finally join the ranks of the banana bread makers and Joe Wicks worshippers. Instead, I’m on a mission to get the maximum country fix during this time. It’s my attempt to compensate for all our gigs disappearing off cliffs like lemmings, and for my planned Nashville trip slowly riding off into the sunset without me.
Here’s how I’m hoping to get my country high in lockdown, or semi-lockdown, or whatever gig-less state we’re in.
HAVE A HOME FESTIVAL
We were braced for all the inevitable cancellations but every announcement of a festival being postponed still stings. Fortunately, a few are taking their planned events online. A big one is Greater Manchester’s Buckle and Boots live-streaming this weekend with artists like William Michael Morgan, Sarah Darling and Britain’s own Jade Helliwell via their Facebook page and Youtube channel.
Watching the streamed gigs will fill part of the festival void but I’m doing my best to recreate a bit more of the festival experience. I have a picnic blanket, a stack of ciders ready to decant into last year’s reusable festival cup, a microwaveable burger (don’t judge me) and my rowdy friends ready for a Facebook watch party. If you have a garden you could go full festival and project the whole thing onto a cinema screen (or white duvet!) Plus the forecast is showers, so it’ll be just like we’re back in their usual Stockport venue.
POP TO THE GRAND OLE OPRY
Flights are grounded but Nashville seems more accessible than ever. The Opry is putting on its iconic big-name shows every Saturday night. They’re hosted by radio DJ Bobby Bones and there’s no live audience, but for once we Brits can get in the act. Circle Access is sharing the shows through Facebook live so there’s no dreaded ‘This video is not available in your region’ message. The only catch is you’ll need to stay up to 01:00 but check out the line-up for May 30th – it’s might be worth swapping your whole Lockdown Life to USA time.
GO TO BED WITH DOLLY PARTON
Remember when Dolly read a bedtime story on CBBC (only just outshone by Tom Hardy doing the same)? Now you can get a bedtime story from Dolly every night on her Imagination Library’s YouTube channel. I love that she introduces herself as “Dolly the book lady” rather than the musical megastar. It’s supposed to be for kids but it’s Dolly, so let’s say we’re all young at heart and all that…
TAKE A TENNESSEE TOUR
The Nashville and Memphis tourist boards have created virtual tours for some of their biggest attractions. You can snoop around the new Glen Campbell museum, taken an open top bus tour around Nashville or explore the Country Music Hall of Fame collections. One of my most memorable Tennessee experiences was visiting the Jack Daniel’s Distillery, in the surreal small town of Lynchburg where ironically selling alcohol is outlawed. Jack Daniel’s has put a virtual tour online but they also have an Augmented Reality app available for IOS or Android which brings a Jack Daniel’s bottle label to life in your living room. And since I’ll have more luck buying booze as part of my essential shop than I did in Lynchburg, I’ll be making it a fully interactive tasting tour, trying the new Apple JD.
MASTER SOUTHERN SOUL FOOD
Some of our biggest country stars are avidly into their cooking. Some have recipe books out and a few, like Trisha Yearwood, even have their own cooking shows. So, while they’re in lockdown, many have been using this time to share personal southern soul food recipes on their social media accounts. I’m loving @ohgussie (Kimberly from Little Big Town) whose IGTV is filled with the kind of recipes I’ve only heard about in southern-set movies; shrimp and grits, chicken and dumplings… and something called Pineapple Casserole. Stars aren’t the only ones opening their kitchens. Several Nashville restaurants have also popped their recipes into this free downloadable cookbook. Or, if your’e a subscriber to masterclass.com they’ve just added Texas BBQ to their range of courses.
According to my Instagram feed it is mandatory to take up a craft at this time. I took up a craft about two years ago, tried it a couple of times and put it down to finish ‘later’. Now, at last, my short lived chainstitch embroidery habit can make a comeback. I figure this is a great time to do some full-on Nudie Suit style customisations on my denim jacket so I can hit the 2021 festival circuit looking like the fourth member of Midland. If stitching’s not your thing, you could set about turning your bandanas into (non medical) face masks – no sewing required – or get musical like with this free 30 day harmonica course.
GO TO GIGS IN YOUR PJS
There are no queues for the toilet, you can help yourself to the bar, and if the floor’s sticky it’s your own fault. So many artists have been sharing live sets from their homes – I’ve loved Luke Combs and Ashley McBryde, while Brad Paisley wins in terms of surprise cameos. Apart from great intimate music these online gigs have some extra perks. We’re able to see stars who haven’t been hurrying over to the UK, like Garth Brooks. Perhaps this is my chance to cross go to a George George Strait concert off of my bucket list. We get to peek inside our favourite stars’ homes – and see their dogs. But we also get to support artists financially while their tour income has dried up by donating when we join these gigs. Follow your favourite artists on their socials to found out when, but also check out Music City Bandwith who keep a list of Nashville stars’ home gigs (Lee Brice and Trace Adkins are coming up soon). There are also organisations arranging official ‘concerts’ like Destination Country and Stageit.com.
WATCH WHAT YOU WATCH
This is possibly a one-off chance to stay at home watching telly all day, guilt free. It’s the only time I can remember when you can answer the dreaded ‘what did you do at the weekend?’ question with “watched telly” and not feel any shame. Bizarrely films and series’ about pandemics have been trending, but to combat that gloom, I’ll be compiling a watch list of countrified recommendations very soon. In the meantime if you haven’t seen feel good movie Dumplin’ (with its epic Dolly soundtrack) or Texas-set Friday Night Lights, they’re a good place to start. There’s also The Ranch an old-fashioned Ashton Kutcher sitcom with countless country music in-jokes, Reese Witherspoon’s talk show Shine On With Reese which has a Kacey Musgraves episode and a Dolly Parton one, or stand-up show Brad Paisley’s Comedy Rodeo, all on Netflix.
DRESS UP FOR STAYING IN
Since we’re all only dressing our top halves now (right?) we might as well make it count. I’m really missing getting dolled up for events like Nashville Nights so I’ve decided to go OTT for all video calls from now on… expect fringe rhinestones and depending on the success of my new hobby, some elaborately embroidered tops. (These two tops are from ASOS).
When 2020 festival season got ‘cancelled’ it wasn’t just about the music. It was saying we might not see our ‘country family’ this year. But there are still chances to get plugged in with our friends spread across the UK and beyond. We’re grateful for people like UK Country Radio DJ Karl Shoemark, who have rallied folks for a few country events like quizzes. An upcoming chance to get social is joining the Destination Country Pub Quiz on May 28th to flex your country music muscles (tickets on sale May 24th).
I’d love to hear your ideas for keeping quarantine country. Please share your own tips in the comments below or on our socials (@britsinboots).