Some of the best things that I have ever seen, came from small towns and big dreams. — Paul Brandt
One afternoon a few years ago, I was working away on preparing my next blog post to be published, all excited about it. I was nearly finished when my mom knocked on the door and opened it a crack. She'd come to remind me that she was going to Woodville school shortly to hear James Barker of the James Barker Band give a talk.
“Oh yeah,” I remembered. “What’s he speaking about again?” I asked. I knew she had mentioned it to me the week before, but it had escaped me.
“He’s supposed to be telling his story, playing a few songs, and maybe answering some questions,” she replied. “You don’t have to go if you have no interest.”
My initial decision was to stay home and continue working, but then she mentioned that she thought it might be neat to hear how a kid from Woodville ended up in Nashville with hit songs played all over the radio, she had a point. I thought about it again, finally deciding that it probably was a pretty interesting story, and I didn’t want to miss out after all. I raced around getting ready at the last minute, throwing my coat on and running out the door.
When we arrived in front of the office at Woodville Elementary School, James’ mother was standing in the foyer, waiting for him to arrive. Mom asked her what it’s like when she hears his song come on the radio, and I watched her face light up instantly. She happily told us that it was still an amazing feeling every single time. “I never once doubted that he could do it. I just knew that if he set his heart on it, he’d make it happen. And once he decided to really go for this, that was it,” she said, glowing.
Mom and I made our way to the gym, where we took our seats along one of the walls and waited for the classes to file in for the assembly. I looked over at Mom, who could hardly contain her very evident excitement and smiled. She might even have been more wired than the kindergartens who were now making their way through the doors, jumping about with anticipation that something special was about to happen.
When James Barker came out, everyone was immediately star-struck (including me). He was really good with the kids, asking them questions to get their participation, and trying to relate to them as best he could. He also answered their 500 billion questions like a pro, telling each and every grade one student that yes, he knew their uncle, and their cousin, too, and acting really interested and excited when every kindergarten kid told him that they, too, played guitar.
He played phenomenally well on his own, acoustic—just him, his guitar, and his stomping foot. Kids, teachers, and parents of all ages were swaying to the music or mouthing the words, lost in the moment.
But despite how enjoyable it was to hear him play, that wasn’t the part I liked most.
As I sat there, looking around the room at all the little kids of this small town, all I could see was possibility.
Standing on the stage that day was a small-town farm boy who had played the violin for his first crowd right there in that very same gym almost 20 years ago. At that point, he was in the exact same position that all of these kids were in now.
So what did he do to end up where he is now?
He followed his passion. He loved music, and he was naturally musical. He learned to play instruments, eventually sticking with the guitar and dedicating hours and hours to improving it every day throughout his teen years.
He didn’t know that those skills he’d acquired and that love for writing songs would someday lead him to Nashville, but he worked hard at it and he dreamed.
And eventually, Music City is exactly where those dreams landed him.