Note: I wrote this personal essay this summer.
“When I was a kid, (and still now) my favorite Christmas song was Alabama’s “Christmas in Dixie.” It was one of the songs on the The Time-Life Treasury for Christmas 2-CD collection that my parents owned. The collection played on repeat every Christmas season.
I can’t explain why I liked the song so much. I didn’t know who Alabama was, nor the scope of their popularity, and I certainly had never spent a Christmas, let alone any season, in “Dixie.” Nope. My Christmases were in good ol’ New Jersey.
Regardless, I can remember belting out the words every December. “By now in New York City, there’s snow on the ground. And out in California, the sunshine’s falling down. And, maybe down in Memphis, Graceland’s all in lights. And in Atlanta, Georgia, there’s peace on earth tonight. Christmas in Dixie, it’s snowin’ in the pines. Merry Christmas from Dixie, to everyone tonight.”
Fast forward about 20 years. We’re in the middle of our 1,600 mile road trip to move from Pennsylvania to Houston. We passed a highway sign for Fort Payne, Alabama. I didn’t give the town name a second thought, (the road was all looking the same at that point) until my dad radioed through the walkie talkies we were using to communicate on the road. He was driving the UHaul with us following behind. “What is the name of the town that Alabama is from that they sing in Christmas in Dixie?” It only took me about two seconds remember the words and sing back “And from Fort Payne, Alabama, God bless y’all. Happy New Year. Goodnight. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas tonight.”
Well, I looked a little closer at those exit signs and got a thrill to pass by the town where the band was founded.
Later on that night, still in Alabama, and then crossing through northern Mississippi, I noted that there were tons of the same kinds of trees all along the roads. My dad said, “Those are all pine trees. When they sing in the song, ‘It’s snowin’ in the pines,’ this is what they are talking about.” It was neat to experience some of these places in the song and feel like I could claim a connection now.
After a few weeks of settling in to Houston, I started heavily listening to the oldies station, Country Legends 97.1. My dad and I always had country music in common. But then he splurged on himself and bought a Sirius Satellite Radio. He started listening to Willie’s Roadhouse, which is an oldies country station. We didn’t listen to the same country songs anymore, so we had less to talk about in that aspect.
Country Legends was changing that. I was discovering so many new (to me) songs that I loved, and I noticed a lot of them all had something in common. They were all sung by Alabama. Their songs about the good old days reminded me of the home I had just left in Pennsylvania, and helped to integrate me with my new way of living in the south.
For instance, I discovered that I love sweet potato pie, and I read Gone with the Wind for the first time. It is now my new favorite book. “Song, song of the south. Sweet potato pie and I shut my mouth. Gone, gone with the wind. Aint nobody looking back again.”
I video chat with my parents every Sunday night. And it seems like I was always asking him, “Have you heard of this song?” Of course he had heard it, and he would often suggest another song to check out.
At my dad’s suggestion, I looked up their song “Roll On” and added it my growing playlist. “Roll on highway, roll on along. Roll on daddy till you get back home. Roll on family, roll on crew. Roll on momma like I asked you to do. And roll on eighteen-wheeler roll on.” Did I mention my dad is a truck driver?
I feel like I have been missing out on Alabama my whole life. They are the quintessential country band I have always been looking for. But I am happy to have discovered them now, and enjoying playing catch up. I am thankful that, even though my dad is on the east coast, and I’m here, we have this great genre of music in common again.
And it all started with a road trip and a Christmas song.”
Okay, so I wrote the following essay this past summer after becoming a new fan of Alabama. Little did I know that, just a few weeks later, I found out that Alabama was coming to perform at Sugar Land Financial Centre as a part of their Southern Drawl tour. Needless to say, I freaked out. Country Legends was running a pre-sale, and you betcha that I bought a ticket the exact minute they went on sale.
The concert was last week, and I am still amazed that I got to see them live. I was worried that I had become a fan too little too late. I suppose that cannot be helped though, after all, when Alabama was in the middle of their 21 consecutive number 1 country billboard hits in the 1980s, I was, to borrow the phrase, just a twinkle in my parents eyes.
Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry have great stage presence, after all, they’ve been doing it for over 40 years. They sounded just as good as if I were listening to them on the radio. It is a shame that Jeff Cook was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and he isn’t touring as much with the band anymore, but I was still happy to see the other two.
Some little moments from the concert:
Randy said that he was rooting for the Astros in the World Series! Go Astros!
Randy also said that it had been a while since they had played in Houston, and maybe they might play at Rodeo? Please? Pretty please!?!?
Multiple people gave Randy dollar bills during the song Angels Among Us, for him to give to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in TN. That was emotional to watch!
Speaking of emotions, I cried four times during the concert, in a good way of course.
I am looking forward to becoming more and more of a fan of them in the future! This is only the start!