Kick the Jukebox On: Americana Music

I’m a big fan of country music. The twang, heart, and stories. The way something can be both raw and melodious. Tender and gritty. The lyrics sweep you away to somewhere else, maybe somewhere familiar, someplace you long for, dragging your heart through the gravel and mud to get there.

The problem is that when I say “I love country music” people tend to get a very specific sound in mind, when it’s not the sort I mean. I say, “Johnny Cash” and everyone nods, because of course. I tell them, “Dolly Parton” and obviously, I’m a person with ears. I say, “Shovels & Rope” and I get a confused shake of the head.

So, maybe it’s something else now. Something not necessarily on country radio. Maybe if I say Americana. A nice definition according to the amazing PBS Arts documentary NASHVILLE 2.0:

“Americana is roots-inspired music that draws inspiration from country, folk, bluegrass, R&B, blues, roots rock, bluegrass, gospel, rockabilly, honky-tonk, alternative rock, folk rock, and punk.” 
 

Now that’s what I’m talking about. As a Latina who grew up in the south I’m a big fan of drawing upon homegrown cultural inspiration and mixing it up with the dirt and roots of the place you’re standing. I’m born from this sunburnt swamp as well as the Caribbean breeze that brought my father. I stomp to banjos and cry along to lonely trumpets. This music, like this place, is rowdy and folky. Heartbreaking and sweet as a lullaby.

Americana music. It’s a stage that invites you to take traditional boundaries and bend them to tell your story. It can be incredibly and maybe even surprisingly diverse and inclusive. It’s everyone’s roots all tangled up.

Here are some of my favorites:

One of the best, surest examples of what I mean (and have wailed to everyone about) is Shovels & Rope. A husband and wife duo from the low-country of South Carolina they’re soulful with their rowdy songs spiked with a shot of punk rock and twangy lo-fi ballads that’ll sing you all the way home. Just watch Cary Ann and Michael sing together. It’s electric.

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Valerie June was a revelation for me. She’s folk and blues. Mountain music with the loveliest of Tennessee accents. Her sound is threaded with blues and gospel and country and will slip from the acoustic guitar to the banjo to the lap steel guitar. She’ll break your heart, steal your breath and leave you with a hell of a story she carved right on your ribs.

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Just give a listen to David Ramirez. “The Bad Days” is the kind of love song that tells my favorite kind of love story. Unfiltered, honest and tender even in its heartache. His voice goes somewhere unexpected making his songs the kind that make you stop and listen to every line, rise and fall.

If you’ve got any favorites, please share! Y’all know I’m always adding to the playlists and searching out my next favorite song.

Mountains, Beaches, and June.

June brings more birthdays and humid days where the weather map screams at us in reds and oranges and rolling thunder shakes us every afternoon. The kids beg to go outside and we drag out the plastic pool and spray ‘em with the hose while battling thirsty mosquitoes and new sunburns.

Summer is a battle we rusty southerners know well.

But for us this one started with a road trip back to where I once had some roots. Good ol’ Georgia.

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My first best friend, the one thing I kept from my time in Georgia–aside from the accent–was getting married and that meant hauling the kids into the car and hitting the highway headed for the mountains or bust.

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When I Wasn’t Picked (But Went Anyway)

I’m not what anyone would call particularly gutsy. I’m a bit of an indoor girl unless we’re talking sand, salt water and margaritas, and whenever I do have to go out and do something I look forward to going home, shucking my pants and clearing the calendar like it’s a chorus of angels celebrating me home.

When I was a teenager this homebody soul of mine made me feel a little like a bum. Friends wanted to go out. My sister clucked at me as she passed on her way out the door.

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I was boring. Terribly whatever with just being sixteen and not saying the right things or wanting the same ones. I had books and my headphones and let my imagination go. I was soaring away there and didn’t need to be here.

Until the day I wanted one particular adventure with every beat, every breath. I sat on a couch watching a movie where a girl went somewhere else and I suddenly, inexplicably knew that I needed to go, too.

There’s not many places for a girl who is living with her parents and going to community college to go, but still. There was a whisper drumming in my head and I couldn’t quiet it.

My college had an honors society that I was part of in name, and every year they went on a trip for spring break. And the sign up was that very week. Stars were aligning before I even found out where they were going.

Italy.

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He’s Telling You His Story (Pictures by Phoenix)

There was a time not that long ago when all I wanted was to have a conversation with my son. It was a selfish, desperate thing, but I wanted to pull him into my world and have him meet my gaze and love me back in a way I understood.

I jumped toward anything he showed interest in to find a door or maybe even a window I could kick open to get closer to him.

I’ve said it before and I’ll hum it like a lullaby to him forever, but he taught me how this love thing works. How amazing and necessary it is to embrace a neurodiverse world.

He’s older and inviting me in these days, and I’ve noticed when he’s playing with my old phone that instead of the noise of his games and apps, I’m hearing camera clicks.

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I checked his gallery and it’s filled with pictures I never knew he was taking.

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This is me sharing #picturesbyPhoenix.

If you’re on instagram you can find me and follow along at ninamoreno. Instagram

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Inspiration, Florida

Florida is a mad place. The tacky picture of it can grate like the ringing noise of a cheap carnival. People may live here, but they never seem to be actually from here when you ask them. Everyone is racing around on highways built over swamps and a new sinkhole is just another Wednesday.

Hometown pride feels harder to come by than theme park tickets.

A story comes out about a guy trying to barter for beer using his pet gator and people shake their heads cause they know it was us.

When others think of the south and all its gracious charm we’re that crazy cousin they all joke about kicking out of the family.

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No, but seriously.

And yet, I love this place and can’t imagine writing about anywhere else.

My manuscript HURRICANE DAUGHTER takes place in a town I put together with the sunburnt pieces of the towns I’ve known. My make-believe Nova Creek hums from the interstate traffic that drives right past as tourists escape to the beaches or theme parks. It’s a place whose  life blood runs with citrus and spring water. Everyone might not necessarily know everyone, but they’re only one person removed from remembering you. It’s rusty and humid and the train tracks were abandoned years ago, the mosquitoes are blood thirsty, and the sand cranes sometimes block in your car.

I was born in Miami and lived in Homestead, but we moved away after Hurricane Andrew blew a tree into our house and my dad needed a transplant that would be performed at Emory in Atlanta. Late in my junior year of high school my family packed up their stuff and moved back to Florida bound for Kissimmee and Abuelo after we lost Abuela to cancer. I was a pissed off teenager who was mourning and found no love for this stupid hot place and sandy, noisy high school.

And then I met a boy with blue eyes and sweet smile.

And we went to college.

And I fell into a deep love with a place called Gainesville.

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morning coffee and stories.

When it comes to telling stories I’m the middle child waving her hands in a room of people talking over the other. I’m not always the loudest, but I am usually the one smacking the table, losing her breath from laughing so hard. When my family gets together it’s a celebration of bad jokes, impossible gossip and dusty stories from growing up as everyone moves around each other, the tide rushing from the kitchen to the porch and it’s that rhythm I chase while writing. The noise of people and their mad, sweet, impossible stories.

Stitching all of that together into the richly drawn mess we steal from our sisters then pass on to our daughters.

I wanted to sit down here on my blog and open the door to that noise.

So, I give you this week’s (three) stories I’d have told you over coffee while we sat on my front porch and spied on my neighbors.

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The Boy Who Raised Me.

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Here we are at the start of another April with cannons going off as the crowd glances our way as a light shines on our life in the name of awareness.
Not a blue light, mind you.
Autism Speaks and their campaigns don’t speak for my son, because instead of supporting his neurodiversity, they would instead spend your donations to scare you. You can and should look up any organization you plan to donate to, and AS is unfortunately one of the most visible, but there are plenty of reasons why they shouldn’t be.
Personally, if you’re looking to donate then A.skate is a fantastic nonprofit we have personal experience with and who are on the ground as they share acceptance through skating. They encourage everyone to just let go and have fun. To just be.
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We’re a family navigating a world that isn’t one size fits all, and our journey is not for a cure.
Because my son doesn’t have a disease.
What he has, like any one else, is a story. One that is his and not mine. Autism isn’t my story to tell. Mine is just of the mother who is trying. The 22 year-old girl who rocked a tiny, impossible being to her chest. The girl who waited for words and cried out of fear. Held her son’s face and searched his eyes looking for him.
Autism meant one thing when he was two and not talking. When it was screams and grunts and the both of us confusing the other. When I asked one doctor and then the next.
And then the next.
It became something else when we sat in evaluations where strangers tried talking to him using their blocks and crayons and he strained away from their noise and cried. When he paced, because we were going somewhere new and I didn’t know how to explain to him the change and new expectations. When we needed to leave so I picked up the screaming child, holding my tears back and ignoring the sharp looks as I left. When I changed a four year-old’s diaper in a stall. When I didn’t know what he liked or how to play with him and parenting felt like I was on a battered, hopeless ship in an unforgiving sea.
And I’d always been a lousy swimmer.