I Believe In Nashville

Apparently I’m incapable of doing things halfway: I went from barely leaving the house to going on an almost three week trip to the US. The songwriting festival, Tin Pan South, was starting up again and I’ve been going every year since 2016, to write songs and network and just learn from the best songwriters in Nashville. I was utterly terrified – about the COVID risk, about how even a minor bout of COVID could affect the trip, about all of the uncertainty and anxiety that I was going to feel every day without having a true safe place to return to and recharge, etc – but I felt like I had to go. My Mum and I were as careful as we could be: we wore masks pretty much all of the time (being autistic makes that hard but I did the best I could) and we went through so much hand sanitiser. I was practically showering with it. I cried pretty much every day (whether from anxiety, stress, or exhaustion, I don’t know) and I was on my knees by the end of the trip but it was amazing and a lot of really cool things happened.


BOSTON

We flew from London to Boston, which was relatively simple – my anxiety aside. I’d already burst into tears at least twice before we actually left the runway. I was very anxious about COVID (and there were so many things that already made me anxious that now had an entirely new context because of COVID) and about flying (it’s not my favourite thing) and I think I was just really overwhelmed by everything ahead of me. The flight felt ridiculously long and while I was relieved to be back on the ground (and eventually into the hotel where we could take the masks off after wearing them for so long), I was immediately overwhelmed by being abroad, by all of the differences. Getting to the hotel room and being able to just collapse was a great relief.

Months earlier, I’d bought tickets to the Bleachers show where they’d be playing their album Strange Desire from start to finish in the hope that I’d be able to combine it with the Nashville trip – the date was, after all, pretty close to when Tin Pan South usually took place. So I chanced it and by some stroke of luck, it worked out and we made our connection in Boston with a day in between to go to the concert. I had no idea what the disabled accommodations were going to be like but, on the whole, the venue and staff were great, which made the concert possible for me and it was incredible.

I still don’t know if I can describe the concert, beyond saying how amazing it was. Charly Bliss were a really fun opener and I’m very excited for them to release the new songs they played; those were the ones that I really got into. And Bleachers were just fantastic. Jack Antonoff in particular was just like an endlessly ricocheting ball of adrenaline; I barely got any photos of him that were in focus because he was just in constant motion. It was so incredibly special to hear songs like ‘Wild Heart,’ ‘I Wanna Get Better,’ and ‘Like A River Runs,’ all of which I love so much. It still feels kind of unreal, like I can’t quite believe I was really there.

The next day, we struggled up – I felt completely wrecked by the concert – and caught our flight to Nashville.

NASHVILLE

When we got to Nashville, we took a couple of days just to rest and to allow me to collect myself. I was exhausted and a few days holed up in my Airbnb – where I didn’t have to worry about wearing a mask or the risk of COVID – was absolutely needed. And while there are always things to see and exploring to do in Nashville, we’d decided to keep our excursions to our highest priorities; we wanted to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID so that we could do all of the things that we really, really wanted to do.

So those first few days were spent chilling out, watching TV, catching up with my diary, and listening to Maren Morris’ new album, Humble Quest. I think I’ll forever connect it with Nashville now. Between listening to it as I flew into the city and watching her Amazon Prime show that first weekend, the album’s setting will always Nashville.

The show was great and I cannot wait until she comes back to the UK. I’m already in love with this album.

SONG SUFFRAGETTES 

My first show back was a big one: Song Suffragettes’ 8th Anniversary show. Usually a Song Suffragettes show consists of five girls and they go around three times, performing three songs each (in total), before closing the show with the cover song performed together. But for this song, there was the first round of five girls who each performed twice plus a cover, a break in which THE Nicolle Galyon interviewed THE Kelsea Ballerini, and then a second round with five more girls who each performed twice as well as a cover song. It was a long but very excellent show.

The first round consisted of Ava Paige, Autumn Nicholas, Kalie Shorr, Ava Suppelsa, Lanie Gardner, and Mia Morris on percussion (she also played a song in this round – a rewrite of Fountains of Wayne’s ‘Stacy’s Mom’ from the point of view of Stacy, which was hilarious). They were all great but, as I think is the case with every songwriters’ round, there were some that resonated with me more than others. I’ve known and loved Kalie for years so I always know she’s going to be my favourite (if you haven’t listened to her music, please check her out – she’s very special) but I didn’t know the others and found I particularly enjoyed Ava Paige’s songs too. I also loved the cover they did, ‘abcdefu’ by GAYLE, and I’ve had it on repeat ever since (along with ‘Humble Quest’ by Maren Morris).

After the cover, they cleared the stage and set it up for the Nicolle Galyon and Kelsea Ballerini interview. They are both just such cool people and have achieved some incredible things; it was very inspiring. Nicolle asked some really interesting questions and Kelsea shared a lot of fascinating, inspiring, and encouraging stories and advice. And then they played a couple of songs that they’ve written together – ‘i quit drinking’ and ‘half of my hometown’ – as well as telling the stories behind the writing of them. It was a really, really cool experience and I feel very lucky to have been there.

The second round was made up of Emily Brooke, Caroline Watkins, Lauren Hungate, Madeline Merlo, Peyton Porter and, again, Mia Morris on percussion. I particularly liked Emily Brooke; I’ve seen her before and I really like her music. And they all told great stories about what inspired the songs.

It was an amazing show and experience and it was a great reintroduction to Nashville. I also got to reconnect with the people I know at Song Suffragettes (and those who I’ve spoken to online but not met) and that was really, really nice. I was kind of scared that, after three years away, the previous years of building relationships might have ended up meaning nothing but that completely wasn’t the case and I’m really grateful for that.

TIN PAN SOUTH

As I said, Tin Pan South is the big reason for coming to Nashville and I had some amazing shows on my list. There were some very tough choices too, great rounds that I struggled to choose between. But I think I made the right choices, for me, for this trip.

I could write about every single show in a ridiculous amount of detail but then we’d be here forever. So here are my highlights of the week…

  • Caylee Hammack – I first saw Caylee years ago and she was so good that I became a fan on the spot. She’s fantastic, both as a singer and a songwriter; I loved her songs then, I loved her album, and I loved the songs that she played during the round. And she’s hilarious. She’s also absolutely lovely: we spoke before and after the show and she was just such a sweetheart.
  • Nicolle Galyon – One of the rounds I went to was the Songs and Daughters round, made up of writers from Nicolle Galyon’s female focussed label, Songs and Daughters. Nicolle was fantastic (although I wish she’d played ‘We Were Us’ but then she does have a huge list of amazing songs to choose from) and even though, I’m kind of in awe of her, I did have a short conversation with her after the round and she was really lovely.
  • Madison Kozak – Madison was on the same round as Nicolle Galyon. I first saw her years ago and fell in love with her and her song ‘First Last Name.’ She did play that one, which made me very happy, and I loved every other song she played on the round; I can’t wait for her to release them.
  • Emily Shackelton – I’ve been a fan of Emily Shackelton for years so I was very keen to see her live again. I love her songs and she’s got a gorgeous voice; I’m so excited for her to release new music soon. I got to speak to her briefly after the show, which was really nice. I hadn’t gotten into the groove of talking to new people again (remember, COVID aside, I’ve just come off three months plus of being home alone while I tried the ADHD meds) so I felt kind of awkward and like I’d forgotten how to do the whole social thing but she was kind and generous with her time and I really appreciated that.
  • Kalie Shorr – The whole round made me laugh harder than I ever have at a Tin Pan South show and Kalie was just hilarious. I loved every song that she played and I loved the stories she told about them so that even the songs I already knew felt different because of the new insight. She’s a brilliant writer: she’s funny, smart, and empathetic, which makes for some really unique and just beautiful songs. I first met her in 2016 and we’ve talked on and off over the years but it’s usually through social media since we’re on different continents so it was really nice to connect and have a real conversation face to face.
  • Natalie Hemby – Natalie is one of my favourite Nashville people. She’s one of my songwriting heroes, she’s a wonderful person, she’s hilarious, and she doesn’t take shit from anyone. She was on her last song, I think, after a stunning round when she gave me a shout out in front of the whole audience and all of the ridiculously amazing and deeply respected songwriters on stage. She introduced me and said some really lovely things, which was just so sweet of her. (She actually invited me to sing too but my Autism brain short circuited due to the sudden change of plans and I couldn’t do it. I don’t think I could’ve told you the lyrics to literally any song at the moment, including songs I have personally written, let alone the song she was playing at that moment. I’m trying not to kick myself for it – it’s just how my brain is.) We got to catch up afterwards, which was really lovely. She really is the sweetest.
  • Notable mentions to both Jeffrey Steele and Chris DeStefano – Both of these guys put in amazing performances that I couldn’t not mention them. It’s funny because they’re so different from each other but they are both such compelling performers, performing very different but incredible songs.

AUTISM AWARENESS WEEK / DAY

It was World Autism Awareness/Acceptance Week and World Autism Awareness Day while I was away and, knowing that I’d be busy in Nashville, I’d prepared a series of posts to put up on my blog. I also posted this on Instagram:

OTHER FUN THINGS

While I didn’t do a whole lot more than go to shows, I did do a few things that are specific and special to Nashville…

  • SEEING FRIENDS – Over the years, I’ve made a handful of friends in Nashville and I’m still nurturing new relationships. I didn’t get to see everyone that I would’ve liked to but I did get to see some of my songwriter friends, some of my friends at NSAI, and some of my friends at Song Suffragettes. With three years since my last visit, it was really, really lovely to reconnect with all of these people and hopefully I’ll get to see the others next time or via technology in the mean time.
  • PANCAKE PANTRY – Chocolate Sin from Pancake Pantry is one of my favourite things to eat so I was very excited to finally get back to Pancake Pantry after so long. It was even better than I remembered and I had to remind myself to eat slowly enough that I could breathe. It’s not often that I enjoy food that much so it’s nice to experience that, something which I assume other people experience more often.
  • THE CANDLE BAR – I love my candles from the Candle Bar and I’ve managed to stretch my last one over three years by being very stingy about using it so I was very excited to get a new one. But then we got there and that particular fragrance wasn’t on the shelf. I was in the middle of feeling overwhelmed by what I should choose instead – none of them were really grabbing me the way my favourite does – when my Mum asked about it and they said they’d be putting it back on the shelves the next week but could pull it out for us since they had it ready to go. That honestly made my day. The pink pepper grapefruit candle is the only candle that I’ve ever really loved and since Mum loves it too, we made two to take home with us. I’m very excited to be able to burn them a little more liberally again. The woman who ran the session was lovely and full of fun information about candles and the candle making process and I just had such a good afternoon.
  • COMMODORE GRILLE – It was on my first adventure in Nashville that I discovered the Commodore Grille’s excellent chocolate brownies and it was on one of the few trips out to eat that we went out and got one. Well, one each. It was so good and I’m so glad we were able to find the time to do it.

SONG SUFFRAGETTES

I did manage to get in a second Song Suffragettes show while I was in town, which I was very grateful for. This round was made up of Jillian Dawn, Sam Bowlds, Olivia Faye, Elana Jane, Paige King Johnson, and Mia Morris, Mia being the only one I knew previously. They were all great – they always are – but I think my favourites were Jillian Dawn and Paige King Johnson; their songs just spoke to me more deeply than the others did for some reason.

On the whole, the travel had been good. I had disabled assistance at all of the airports and until the trip home, that was great and had made the whole flying ordeal a lot easier. But on the return trip, everything kind of went to hell and it was a bit reminiscent of ‘a series of unfortunate events.’ I almost had a meltdown on the flight from Nashville to Dallas because of a mix up with the seats, which was horrible.

And while the Dallas to London flight was okay (I mean, it was long and cold and uncomfortable but nothing went wrong), everything went wrong from the moment we landed, from problems with gates to confusion with the disability assistance to the freaking coach home. And by that time, we were both so tired (and I was so overwhelmed and stressed out) that I was definitely moments from bursting into tears. But we did eventually – eventually – get home.


It’s been about a week since I got home now and I’ve been a bit of a mess. The jet lag hit me hard, on top of my exhaustion from the trip itself, and my mental health hasn’t been great. I guess I’m just feeling really overwhelmed, like all of my feelings have been turned up to eleven (I mean, even more so than usual).

My Nashville Playlist (2022)

From Brighton to Boston to Nashville and then back to Brighton, I was listening to a lot of music and like on previous trips, I enjoyed keeping notes of which songs I was listening to. These are all songs that were prominent during my trip, songs that I will probably always connect back to this trip. I didn’t necessarily have a song for every single day but given that I was away for just over two weeks, I figured that this was a perfectly decent number of songs for a playlist.


‘I Wanna Get Better’ by Bleachers

The reason we stopped in Boston on the way to Nashville was so that I could finally see Bleachers live and see them play the Strange Desire album from start to finish, an album that means so much to me. I could’ve chosen ‘Like a River Runs’ because that song is tied with this one as my favourite Bleachers song but the energy of the crowd during this song took my breath away. It was amazing.

Favourite Lyrics: “Woke up this morning early before my family / From this dream where she was trying to show me / How a life can move from the darkness / She said to get better // So I put a bullet where I shoulda put a helmet / And I crash my car cause I wanna get carried away / That’s why I’m standing on the overpass screaming at myself / ‘Hey, I wanna get better!’ // I didn’t know I was lonely ’til i saw your face / I wanna get better, better, better, better / I wanna get better / I didn’t know I was broken ’til i wanted to change / I wanna get better, better, better, better / I wanna get better”

WARNING: FLASHING LIGHTS!


‘Humble Quest’ by Maren Morris

Maren Morris’ new album came out the day I flew into Nashville and so I listened to it as I flew back into town. While I love a lot of the songs, ‘Humble Quest’ stood out to me straight away and it was stuck in my head for days afterwards. I really related to it although I’m not sure what part of me it’s speaking to. But the lyrics “And damn I do my best / Not gonna hold my breath / ‘Cause I still haven’t found it yet / No, I still haven’t found it yet” just resonate really strongly. And it’s catchy as hell.

Favourite Lyrics: “Haven’t looked up in a while / Been biting my tongue behind a smile / Falling on swords that I can’t see / Poison my well on the daily / Got easier not to ask / Just kept hitting my head on the glass / I was so nice till I woke up / I was polite till I spoke up // I’m on a humble quest / And damn I do my best / Not gonna hold my breath / ‘Cause I still haven’t found it yet / No, I still haven’t found it yet”


‘Circles Around This Town’ by Maren Morris

While I was in Nashville (and still recovering from the flights, the jet lag, and the Bleachers concert), Maren Morris’ Amazon Prime show was streamed from New York and I was able to watch it. I really, really enjoyed it and I could’ve chosen so many different songs but ‘Circles Around This Town’ just felt like the right choice. It’s the first single from the new album and the first song she played for this show. I wasn’t sure about it when she first released it but it’s grown on me so much since then, so much since the album came out. It’s so her and yet so easy to connect to.

Favourite Lyrics: “So many times I thought about leaving / Got my ass kicked trying to compete with / Everybody else’s ones that got away / Hung around long enough to catch a break // Couple hundred songs and the ones that finally worked / Was the one about a car and the one about a church / That I wrote // Driving circles around this town / Trying to write circles around this town / Trying to say something with meaning, something worth singing about / I’ve been kind and I’ve been ruthless / Yeah, I got here but the truth is / Thought when I hit it, it’d all look different / But I still got the pedal down / Driving circles around this town / Driving circles around this town”


‘Eighteen’ by Kalie Shorr

Kalie is one of my favourite artists and songwriters and this one is gut-wrenching. It’s beautifully written and while I literally can’t name my favourite songs of hers because I love so many of them, this is one of the ones that I love a lot. I’d never heard it live though – up to this point anyway – but she played it at the Song Suffragettes 8th Anniversary show, which was my first show back in Nashville. That was particularly sweet: because of the pandemic, I haven’t seen Kalie live since she released her debut album, Open Book, which is one of my favourite albums ever so it was very special to hear a song from the album now that I’m finally back in the US and able to see her perform.

Favourite Lyrics: “Which one did you fuck harder my best friend or my self esteem / Remember when you got drunk and said you were the only one dumb enough to love me / I don’t want to live just following your script / The actress is too young and the director is a narcissist” AND “I see you out with younger versions of me / While I’m trying to find who I used to be / I’m terrified that you and I will always be chasing eighteen // This isn’t normal, this isn’t okay / But I didn’t know any better, so I thought it’d be better to stay / Almost beautiful, the things that you taught me / I think I really loved you, I think you really loved that I was / Eighteen”


‘abcdefu’ by GAYLE (Performed by Song Suffragettes – Mia Morris, Ava Paige, Autumn Nicholas, Kalie Shorr, Ava Suppelsa, and Lanie Gardner)

This was one of the songs the Song Suffragettes covered during their anniversary show and it just got stuck in my head. It’s such a mood, both in the context of a break up and when you’re just pissed off: just fuck everybody and all of the stupid things about them that irritate you. The dog is spared though, which just cracks me up. It’s so catchy and my brain was just switching back and forth between this song and ‘Humble Quest’ by Maren Morris.

Favourite Lyrics: “Dated a girl that I hate for the attention / She only made it two days, what a connection / It’s like you’d do anything for my affection / You’re goin’ all about it in the worst ways // I was into you, but I’m over it now / And I was tryin’ to be nice / But nothing’s getting through, so let me spell it out // ABCDE FU / And your mom and your sister and your job / And your broke-ass car and that shit you call art / Fuck you and your friends that I’ll never see again / Everybody but your dog, you can all fuck off / Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah / ABCDE FU”


‘half of my hometown’ by  Kelsea Ballerini (Performed by Kelsea Ballerini and Nicolle Galyon)

Kelsea Ballerini was being honoured at the Song Suffragettes show (the same one Kalie was playing at) and after an interview with Nicolle Galyon (who is also very awesome), the two of them played a couple of the songs they’ve written together that Kelsea’s released. That was very cool and ‘half of my hometown’ is one of my favourite songs on Kelsea’s latest album so it was very cool to hear her sing it live. I love the detail in the lyrics that is so specific to her and yet it’s such a relatable feeling.

Favourite Lyrics: “Back roads raise us / Highways take us / Memories make us wanna go back // To our hometown, settle down / Talk about that one touchdown / Raise some kids in red and black / Go Bobcats, while the other half / Of my hometown was in the crowd / They knew the words, they sang them loud / And all I wanna do is make them proud / ‘Cause half of me will always be / From Knoxville, Tennessee / My hometown / ‘Cause I’m half of my hometown”


‘Small Town Hypocrite’ by Caylee Hammack

I first saw Caylee Hammack in 2017 – at a Tin Pan South show – and she actually played this song. Now, at my first Tin Pan South show of 2022 – my first in three years – she played it again and I was just so happy to be seeing her perform again (another thing that was taken away by the pandemic). In that time, she’s put out an album that I love and is working on her music, some of which she played during the show. She has an incredible voice, which only amplifies the emotion in the song. I also got to have a conversation with her and she’s such a sweetheart. It was, all in all, an excellent start to the festival.

Favourite Lyrics: “And that scholarship was a ship that sailed / When I chose you and daddy gave me hell / I made myself into someone else just to love you, damn, I loved you / Took all my plans and I put ’em in a box / Phantom pains for the wings I lost / Had me circling rings in the catalogs / For seven years and you never got the hint / Ain’t that some shit / I’m just a small-town hypocrite // Swore we’d be running, running, running this town / But you’re just running, running, running around / And I’m staring at a picket fence / Wondering where the hell time went / I should’ve been running, running, running by now / But I just hang around”


‘My First Last Name’ by Madison Kozak 

I could’ve chosen any of the songs Madison Kozak played during her Tin Pan South show because I loved all of them but this one has always been special to me. I’ll never get to have a relationship like this with my Dad but it’s nice to imagine. It makes me super emotional but not in a negative way – or at least, not in a wholly negative way. It does make me sad but I’m grateful for the song. It reminds me of my Dad and the good parts of our relationship. It’s a beautifully written song and I can’t wait to hear the other songs she played that she’s planning to release soon.

Favourite Lyrics: “Yeah, he set the bar real high / But I met a real good guy / Still not much of a crier / Till we’re halfway down the aisle // He’s the son of the salesman / Short glass, old fashioned / ‘How are things going lately?’ / ‘Stop on by, bring the baby’ / People they say, I’m more like him everyday / He can give me away, but no one can take / My first last name”


‘i quit drinking’ by Kelsea Ballerini and LANY (Written by Kelsea Ballerini, Paul Jason Klein, and Nicolle Galyon) (Performed by Nicolle Gaylon)

I love Nicolle Galyon’s songwriting and she has a gorgeous singing voice; she makes all of these iconic songs her own and I love that she’s created a label to specifically support women. She’s just awesome and, again, I could’ve chosen any of the songs that she played. This particular festival slot was a hard one because there were multiple great shows on at that time but I’m really happy I chose this one. I also got to talk to her briefly after the show and she was really lovely. I still feel like I’m getting my feet under me socially, after so long with little in person socialisation (and so I feel very awkward still), but talking about music and songwriting is my favourite thing so that does make it easier.

Favourite Lyrics: “We used to be / Dizzy all morning / Hungover, pouring / Cups of coffee black / Kiss and crawl right back / Under the covers / Down for another / Hour in that bed / Now, I’m here instead // Waking up sober, it feels kind of nice / Except that I can’t sleep at night // You’re the reason there’s no whiskey  anywhere inside this house / You’re the reason all my friends know I don’t go downtown / You’re the reason I hate champagne, never used to turn it down / You’re the only thing I want when one drop hits my mouth / Baby, you’re the reason / I quit drinking // I quit thinking (I quit thinking) / Staring at the ceiling (Oh) / And all my cabernet is down the kitchen sink, yeah (It’s down the kitchen sink, yeah) / I quit mixing (I quit mixing) / All my drinks and feelings / It’s not fixing that you’re gone”


‘Doin’ Fine’ by Lauren Alaina (Performed by Emily Shackelton)

I still remember the first time I heard Emily Shackelton play this song at a Tin Pan South round and how it just hit me; like, the autobiographical details are clearly not mine but the message of the song has been so applicable to me so many times throughout my life and here we are again and it’s still true. There was a new level of poignancy in the performance of this song though as it was written with busbee who is no longer with us – he died late 2019 – and this is the first Tin Pan South since then. Emily dedicated it to him and from what I’ve heard, he was an amazing person. I’m sorry that I never got to meet him.

Favourite Lyrics: “I’m doin’ fine enough to know that everyone’s a little broken / Fine enough to learn that hearts are best when they’re wide open / I still got fear inside of me / I’m not okay, but I’m gonna be alright / Oh, for the first time in a long, long time I’m doin’ fine / I’m doin’ fine”


‘Where Would You Rather Die?’ by Kalie Shorr

I could’ve easily chosen any and all of the songs she performed (and I have chosen two from the round because I love her songs so much) but this was the only one that was completely new to me and it just blew me away. She paints such vivid portraits with her lyrics and the fact that it was based on a real experience (although it obviously did not involve actually dying) makes it even more enjoyable. I would love a music video for this song because it’s just such a wild story.

Favourite Lyrics: THE WHOLE DAMN SONG.


‘The World Keeps Spinning’ by Kalie Shorr

This song gets me every time. Kalie has been open about the inspiring of the song, that it’s about her older sister’s death and while the details are specific to her life, I think it’s very easy to relate to if you’ve lost anyone, especially if they died suddenly. I relate it to my Dad. It makes me well up every time – or full on sob if I’m feeling particularly emotional – because it’s so beautifully written and gets right to the heart of grief. As sad as it is, it’s one of my favourite Kalie songs.

Favourite Lyrics: “The 5th of January is on the calendar every year / Like some kind of messed up holiday to remind me that you’re not here / I hear people laughing, I don’t get the joke / But I can’t hold it against them, cause it’s not like they know // It was just another day, until it wasn’t // The sky / Didn’t even have the decency to cry / And that damn sun still found a way to shine / When the heartache’s hitting / I think it’s kind of cruel that the world keeps spinning”


‘Crowded Table’ by The Highwomen (Performed by Natalie Hemby)

I love Natalie Hemby and she’s always the first person I look for in the Tin Pan South line-up. She’s a fantastic writer, as well as an utterly hilarious and genuinely lovely person. This song kind of reminds me of growing up: my house was always busy and there was always a lot of people around. We were a big, tight knit family (we’re still close but we’re all a bit more spread out now so getting together is harder) and we often congregated around the table at meal times. So, when I listen to it, it reminds me of that. Hearing it live was very cool and the fact that she gave me a shout out before playing this song (in front of the amazing songwriters on stage and the whole show’s audience) just makes me love this song even more; it symbolises a very special memory.

Favourite Lyrics: “The door is always open / Your picture’s on my wall / Everyone’s a little broken / And everyone belongs / Yeah, everyone belongs // I want a house with a crowded table / And a place by the fire for everyone / Let us take on the world while we’re young and able / And bring us back together when the day is done”


‘What Hurts The Most’ by Rascal Flatts (Performed by Jeffrey Steele)

Somewhat hilariously, the first version of this song that I heard – in my Dad’s car – was the more dance/club version. I have no idea why my Dad had it on a CD but hearing it still brings back fond memories. Hearing the country version for the first time was a bit of a surprise but given the memories of my Dad, I have a soft spot for it and hearing Jeffrey Steele perform it was incredible. He’s an amazing singer and an amazing guitarist; it was a bit like the musical equivalent of a religious experience.

Favourite Lyrics: “It’s hard to deal with the pain of losing you everywhere I go / But I’m doing it / It’s hard to force that smile when I see our old friends / And I’m alone // Still harder getting up, getting dressed, living with this regret / But I know if I could do it over / I would trade, give away all the words that I saved in my heart / That I left unspoken // What hurts the most / Is being so close / And having so much to say (much to say) / And watching you walk away / And never knowing / What could’ve been / And not seeing that love in you / Is what I was trying to do”


‘right where you left me’ by Taylor Swift

I was listening to evermore quite a bit, given that it was nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys. It might not have won but it’s still an amazing album and I love it so much. ‘right where you left me’ is such a fascinating song: so specific and yet so relatable; so beautifully written, with some really cool techniques. I wrote about it in my full evermore post. I love it and it’s been stuck in my head on and off during my trip.

Favourite Lyrics: “Help, I’m still at the restaurant / Still sitting in a corner I haunt / Cross-legged in the dim light / They say, ‘What a sad sight’ / I, I swear you could hear a hair pin drop / Right when I felt the moment stop / Glass shattered on the white cloth / Everybody moved on / I, I stayed there / Dust collected on my pinned-up hair / They expected me to find somewhere / Some perspective, but I sat and stared / Right where you left me / You left me no, oh, you left me no / You left me no choice but to stay here forever” AND “Help, I’m still at the restaurant / Still sitting in a corner I haunt / Cross-legged in the dim light / They say, ‘What a sad sight’ / I, I stayed there / Dust collected on my pinned-up hair / I’m sure that you got a wife out there / Kids and Christmas, but I’m unaware / ‘Cause I’m right where / I cause no harm, mind my business / If our love died young, I can’t bear witness / And it’s been so long / But if you ever think you got it wrong / I’m right where you left me / You left me no, oh, you left me no / You left me no choice but to stay here forever”


‘HEARTFIRST’ by Kelsea Ballerini

I’ve very used to the first singles of a new chapter not landing well with me – with basically all artists – so I was very pleasantly surprised when I loved this song straight away. It’s fun, it’s adorable, and it’s so feel good. It’s so uplifting and joyful. The imagery is gorgeous and while it’s obviously about a romantic relationship, the broader idea of jumping into every thing heart first is very relatable to me.

Favourite Lyrics: “I couldn’t wait till later, talking in the elevator / Then we’re kissing in the back of the car” AND “Could be forever or we might break / That’s just the kind of risk that we take / My head is yelling that I could get hurt / But I’m gonna jump right in / Baby, with my heartfirst” AND “And I can’t even stop myself anymore / Oh, we couldn’t end the perfect night outside my front door”


So here is my Nashville 2022 playlist. There were definitely more songs I could’ve included but I tried to keep some sort of constraint on myself, otherwise this probably could’ve gone on forever. There were just so many songs to choose from, practically every day. Anyway. A musical post for a very musical trip.

Snapshot #1: Country2Country Festival as an Autistic Person

So, while this isn’t specifically a post about mental health, it is about how my mental health affects my life and the things that I want to do so I think it’s still relevant and maybe useful to someone else. There still aren’t a huge amount of resources for people with Autism and music festivals aren’t a naturally autism friendly situation: they’re loud and busy and overwhelming. The obvious advice is to avoid the conditions that cause you distress but when you love music and live music, it’s not that simple. This thing that I love is also a great stress. So it has to be about balance. Am I having a good time? Is this taking more than it’s giving?

So, let’s begin. For those of you who don’t know, Country2Country is a country music festival in London, Glasgow, and Dublin. In London, it’s three days at the O2 Arena with little stages throughout the complex and a big arena show in the evenings. I love country music and I love the country music community in the UK so there are a lot of positive moments but a lot of stressful ones too. I thought I’d write out a little overview of the festival, the good points and the bad, and how the whole thing fitted into the picture of my mental health and experience of Autism.

The biggest consideration for events like these is my lack of energy, especially with my recently increased struggles with fatigue. Standing is a huge part of any festival and for me, standing for extended periods of time (and by that I mean more than a few minutes) results in shaking, dizziness, and overwhelming nausea. Not to mention the disproportional levels of fatigue that build and build until I physically can’t stand up anymore. Most of the shows are standing, especially the ones during the day. And like any concert, there’s the expectation that you stand, as if standing means you care more than someone who’s sitting. My fatigue has been so bad lately that I only went to shows where I knew I could sit down and even then, I really struggled. I had to really pick and choose what I could go to and that came down to an upsettingly short list. But I was determined to enjoy what I could manage.

My 2018 C2C experience began on the Thursday night with a Songwriters’ Circle where a group of songwriters take turns playing songs they’ve written (that have often been released by other artists) and sharing stories about writing them. I love these events: they’re usually pretty laid back and very inspiring. It is one of my favourite things to hear songs as they were originally written and to hear how they turned from nothing into something. I was almost at the back but I was just so happy to be there. The line up was Brett James, Luke Combs, Nicolle Galyon, Kip Moore, and Natalie Hemby who is one of my all time favourite songwriters so I was very excited and they did not disappoint. They played old favourites as well as new songs but I think everyone agreed that Natalie’s performance of her song, ‘Jealous,’ recorded by Labyrinth, completely stole the show. Although I must also give an honourable mention both to Nicolle’s performance of ‘Consequences,’ recorded by Camila Cabello, and Luke Combs’ new songs. And to round off the night in the most perfect fashion, I managed to hang out with Natalie for a few minutes after the show and she was even lovelier than I remembered. So with that as a first night, the standard was set pretty high!

My excitement was so high that I did crash afterwards. I was completely overwhelmed by nausea twice on my way home, to the point where I had to sit on the ground and just breathe until it faded. This is one of the side effects of my most recent medication (for depression) and it’s one of the worst I’ve experienced but once it passed, I was okay. The emotional energy I get from live music and from being inspired and from talking to these wonderful people is unlike anything else. I could live off that night for days, even weeks, and that’s without the rest of C2C. It’s like feeding a dying fire; I come back to life.

Having had to go back home to Brighton, Day 1 of C2C began with travelling into London. My first event of the day was a very exciting one: an exclusive listen to The Shires’ upcoming album. I’d applied for a ticket and not gotten one but one of my friends in the UK Country community offered me their plus one. I can’t put into words how much that meant to me. I’ve been listening to The Shires since their first single came out and I actually went to one of the events they held when releasing their first album. I’ve already said it but I absolutely adore the UK Country community: I’ve met so many wonderful people (and now great friends) while queuing for gigs or while waiting in meet and greet lines and it is just the kindest, most generous group of people. For this event in particular, I saw so many people offering their tickets to people they knew desperately wanted to go and I was so touched to witness that. Personally, I had three people offer me a ticket because they all knew how much I wanted to be there. How amazing is that?! You’ll get no spoilers from me but it was better than I’d hoped it would be and I felt honoured to be there. Ben and Crissie are such lovely people and it has been so special to watch their journey up to this point. I’m honestly so excited to listen to all of these new songs over and over when the album comes out.

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We weren’t allowed to use our phones in the session so, for the purposes of this blog post, I took a photo of The Shires appearing in the official highlights video.

I genuinely loved hanging out with everyone and catching up afterwards but it wasn’t long before I started to struggle. I powered through for a while but when my legs started to shake, I had to call it and headed back to where I was staying, although I did have to sit in North Greenwich station for a while because the shaking and dizziness got so bad. I would love to be able to wander around and spend the day listening to artist after artist but it’s just too much for me: my lack of energy, the constant high level of noise, and the overwhelming amount of people. With the latter two, it’s like my brain becomes overloaded and that can trigger a meltdown. I haven’t written about meltdowns very much so far on this blog (although I mentioned them here – a more in depth post is on the list, I promise!) but one way to explain it would be to imagine tapping on glass that has a crack in it. While one knock doesn’t do much damage, they build up and eventually it shatters. That’s how incoming sensory information feels to me. When I reach overload, I experience extreme anxiety and that can lead to crying, screaming, self harming, etc. Obviously that’s not something I ever want to experience in public, with people that I don’t know, where I don’t feel completely safe, so I have to be aware of how close to that point I am and retreat to a safe place when everything starts to feel too much. I went back to where I was staying and had a couple of hours of quiet time before heading back to the O2 for the arena show.

Kelsea Ballerini was my priority with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s headline set coming in second; I would have to assess my capabilities throughout the night. Getting into the O2 Arena always stresses me out: there could be a problem with the ticket, they might not let me take my bag in, the metal detector could go off and they’d want to pat me down… All of those things cause me a lot of anxiety before going into a concert but fortunately everything went smoothly this time (having said that, that anxiety still takes a lot out of me, even when the things I’m worried about don’t come to pass). It always surprises me that people can’t seem to tell how anxious I am because to me, it’s everything. It’s all I can think about. But as I said, it was simple, so that anxiety didn’t turn into anything else.

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“Can I be Kelsea Ballerini when I grow up? What a fab show. I loved every second of it. I may have cried a little bit because I want to write songs and sing them too and I want it so badly but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We are made to love things and I love music unapologetically.” (x)

Kelsea Ballerini was fantastic. I’ve now seen her three times in the last year and she’s such a great performer. I got completely lost in it and that was wonderful, even if I did cry a bit because I want that to be me so badly – that’s not something I can ever really separate myself from. But I had a really awesome time, and I actually managed to lose myself in the music and not feel so self-conscious about enjoying myself. Normally, I can barely move for feeling so exposed to everyone’s opinions. So that was really fun. Also, we all need someone to look at us the way Kelsea looks at her audiences…

By the end of her set, I was feeling very shaky and since I wanted to be well enough for Sugarland the next night (I’ve been waiting eight years to see them live!), I decided to go home. That was derailed a bit by some stuff going on with a friend that didn’t exactly help my anxiety and by the time I got home, I was completely exhausted. As is normal after days and evenings of high emotions, it took me a long time to get to sleep but then I slept so deeply that when I woke up, I was so disorientated that a week could’ve passed. Apparently the previous two days had tired me out more than I’d thought because I slept for most of the day and only really managed to get up in time for the arena shows. I was pretty shaky and anxious but having some of my family with me definitely helped.

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Sugarland were freaking awesome. One of my parents played me a few Sugarland songs about eight years ago and ever since, I’ve absolutely loved their voices, their songs, and their energy. If I’m jamming out in the car, it’s most likely to a Sugarland song. So we were both super excited when they announced that they were getting back together and even more so when they were on the line up for C2C. We sang and danced (while sitting down) through the whole thing and it was so, so fun. It couldn’t have been better. I mean, there were more songs I wanted to hear but I do understand that they couldn’t just keep playing until they’d performed their entire repertoire. Mostly… Anyway, I was and am a very happy bean for having finally seen them live. It was a dream come true.

“I didn’t think I could love Sugarland any more than I already did but after last night, I absolutely do. The show was incredible and after waiting eight years, it was a dream come true. Apologies to the people behind me for all the crazy dancing and dramatic singalong.” (x)

The headline act of the night was Kacey Musgraves who I have loved since her first album. When I bought my tickets, I decided that I wanted to see her more than anyone on the Sunday so I decided to push myself to stay for her and then not go the next day. I was okay with that trade off and it was worth it. I’d sort of forgotten how much I love her and her writing style and it was so great to hear both my old favourites and some new songs from the upcoming album. I struggled a bit with the graphics on the screens; they made me a bit dizzy and gave me a headache. But it was a great show and I can’t wait for her to come back to the UK in October. I was worried about being in the underground with masses of people so we left a little bit early and had a relatively easy journey home.

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“Kacey Musgraves is a princess. I’m loving the new songs.” (x)

It was a good weekend, if a tiring one. I spent the next day in bed, tired and achy and a bit overly emotional, but that’s not an unexpected consequence of an event like this. It takes a lot out of me, on lots of different levels. Because of all the thinking and restricting and careful planning, it wasn’t too bad but I wish it were easier. I wish I didn’t struggle so much and I wish my abilities and my needs weren’t so incompatible with the way the world typically works. Being out in the world is stressful and overwhelming and most places don’t come with a built in quiet room to hide out in while I recharge. It doesn’t help that I find it really difficult to ask for support. I feel like I’m failing for succumbing to these problems and that I should be strong enough to power through, which I think comes from being diagnosed so late: I’ve spent my life thinking this way and it’s not an easy habit to break.

I hope that this has been helpful, or at the very least gives an insight into what it can be like to go to a festival such as Country2Country when you have Autism, when you struggle with your mental health. The positive moments are unrivalled but the difficulties are freaking difficult.