As the days get hotter and longer, a strange thing happens with the radio in my car on the commute to work.
While it still plays a good amount of National Public Radio, especially in the mornings, sometimes I hear something that isn’t Doug Fabrizio and Diane Rehm. It’s got a little bit of twang and there’s a mention or two of pickup trucks.
I feel music plays an important role as the soundtrack of our lives. I know I’m not the only person who has heard a song that seemed to blend perfectly with our activity or surroundings.
As someone who grew up in rural America, there’s nothing that quite captures the experience during those lazy summer days like country music. When you grow up driving past dairy farms and corn fields on the way to school every day, songs about dusty country roads and swimming in a creek resonate with you.
While I’m predominantly a seasonal country music listener now, I was a big fan early on. When I was really young, I had a homemade wooden toy guitar and would serenade my family with a toddler’s rendition of Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart.”
I love small towns at any time but they really come into their own during those hazy summer months. The rest of the world slows down in the heat, matching the more leisurely pace that rural communities chug along at throughout the year.
Summers in New York were filled with stifling humidity, where you’d sweat just by existing and hiding in the shade provided little relief. You’d have to wear old jeans in the woods on even the hottest days, to keep the deer ticks and pricker bushes off your legs.
Evenings gave a little respite from the heat, with the long days allowing for stargazing and watching fireflies in the field in front of the house. In addition to the county and state fairs, you could entertain yourself at the local dirt modified stock car races or the drive-in movie theater a few towns over.
Summer also brought out the seasonal ice cream shops, which would open on Memorial Day and close around the start of school. These were a great place to run into friends and acquaintances while enjoying a chicken spiedie sandwich, waffle fries and a large chocolate/vanilla twist.
The long days and hot weather meant family barbecues and playing catch with my dad while the charcoal briquettes heated up to a molten red. It also meant lemonade, homemade potato salad and baked beans covered in bacon.
Another big difference with summers in New York were the violent summer thunderstorms, where you could sit under cover and watch the lightning hit the hilltops all around you in the torrential rain.
I reconnected with country music in the summers before my junior and senior years of high school when I worked at the town pool as a lifeguard. Our shift managers ruled the sound system and I grew to appreciate a new generation of country music and classic southern rock, like Lynyrd Skynyrd, while I sat in the sun, slowly baking to golden brown.
In my first job out of college, I worked at a small paper in upstate New York and lived in a tiny apartment with no air conditioning over a bar called Malarkey’s. It was another rural town and I started listening to country music in the summer in the car because it just fit with where I lived, and where I was in my life.
Now I still turn on the country as I make the commute into Tooele County. The landscape out here couldn’t be more different, with tall mountain peaks and wide, flat valleys, but I still feel that summertime connection.
There is something to all this talk of dry heat, which I’m thankful for. My wife loves Utah summers, which are longer, hotter and brighter than we had in New York.
If asked, I’ll always say that summer is my least favorite season. Fall and spring have more comfortable temperatures and I love winter snow and staying warm in the frigid temperatures.
When I’m going for a drive with the windows down and some country music on the radio, though, it reminds me that summer isn’t so bad.