According to Me: Why am I here?

“Why am I here,” I asked myself frequently over the course of Friday evening. I was as uncomfortable as I have been in my adult life. I don’t drink and I was surrounded by alcohol. I’m not a boots and cowboy hat and belt buckle type. Obviously. Yet, I was surrounded by boots and cowboy hats and belt buckles.

I don’t…I loathe the vast majority of modern country music. To be clear on that point, I believe Florida Georgia Line sounds a lot like the Biblical references to weeping and gnashing of teeth.

It wasn’t always that way. I actually grew up on country music. My childhood was full of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Keith Whitley, Sawyer Brown, George Jones, and Garth Brooks. Still, my current musical wheelhouse includes artists like Mumford and Sons, Dawes, Lord Huron, The Head and the Heart and The Decemberists. And, if my wife would let me get away with it, I’d name our hypothetical third child “Avett” in honor of my favorite artists. While the Americana genre takes some of its roots in the old country that provided the soundtrack to my childhood, I hadn’t listened to much of that old country in years. Least of all, Garth Brooks.

So, why again was I standing in the BJCC Friday night surrounded by thousands of people at a Garth Brooks concert? I really couldn’t remember why I had once thought this a good idea.

I don’t like to be around drinking. And I knew “Friends in Low Places” and “Two Pina Coladas” would turn the arena into a veritable honkytonk. So why was I there? It had to be more than just a bucket list item. And I certainly didn’t care about telling other people I had gone to a Garth Brooks concert. By and large, I would’ve been happy if no one knew I were there.

So there I was with some of the worst seats in the house watching 53-year-old, overweight Garth Brooks run around the stage as sweat careened off of him while he skipped every third word of “Ain’t Goin’ Down ‘Til the Sun Comes Up” just so he would have enough breath to survive until the next song. And all I could think was, “Yeah. He’s good for what he does, but how in the world did I ever listen to this? At what point in my life was I in a place where owning 11 Garth Brooks CDs made sense?”

Trying to resolve the dissonance between the man I am now and the child who loved the music of dough boy in the black hat bouncing all over the stage seemed impossible. After all, it seems almost like somebody else’s life when I think back on the days when I sat in my room and listened to the music of Garth Brooks. So, perhaps it was nostalgia that drew me to this awful seat behind the stage in 32U, Row K of the BJCC.

Then he played “The River” and I remembered listening to that song as a child and thinking about the concept of a dream and how it moves and changes. Then there was the story of a widow in the “Beaches of Cheyenne” and the peaceful closure of a failed relationship in “Unanswered Prayers.” There was the quiet resignation of “The Dance.” And by the time “Standing Outside the Fire” ended, I remembered something I had long since forgotten: I started writing while listening to the music of Garth Brooks. As odd as that may sound, when you skip all the songs about partying and drinking – most people may not like what’s left – you get lyrics that tell stories and are introspective. To me, that’s what music has always been about; making people think.

So there I was, surrounded by thousands of people whose company I probably would not have chosen under virtually any other circumstance. And, suddenly, part of me was back in my room at my mom’s house with no one else around, scribbling something indiscernible on notebook crammed into a purple folder as stories and musings of Garth Brooks played in the background. “That’s it,” I thought. “That’s why I came.”

Jeremy D. Smith is managing partner of The West Alabama Watchman. He has covered news and sports in Demopolis since 2008. His column, According to Me, appears weekly on