Author Archives: Timothy Harakal

About Timothy Harakal

I don't know quite what to put here, but I love Jesus and enjoy many things, including, but not limited to, medium-rare, well-seasoned steaks, backcountry backpacking excursions, good hip-hop, spontaneous adventures to uncouth destinations, and bacon.

So It Turns Out I Actually Love Country Music

I vividly remembering walking into the classroom for this course on a chilly January day. I remember sitting down in one of the rolling chairs and discussing the millionaire dollar question – what is country music and what about it makes it so, well, country? I had no idea what I was getting myself into then, but I’ve learned a heck of a lot along the way.

1. Lessons from Willie

IMG_4768To be honest, I didn’t really know a single thing about Willie Nelson before coming into this class. I read the Texas Monthly write-up on the statue, and I love that the statue was put there to help keep Austin weird, especially since Outlaw country singer Willie Nelson certainly has helped our city do just that. I also love the fact that our city changed the street name to “Willie Nelson” in his honor, seeing as how he’s part of what has made our great city the Live Music Capital of the world (and that’s far weirder than “2nd street”).

The funny thing though is that all I had heard about him was that he was a pot-smoking hippy still recording country music. But after studying him in class, especially seeing the clear cut picture of him as a young boy, it’s amazing to see just how much he changed his image over the years. That made me realize and gain a new respect for country artists who don’t just change to fit an ‘image’, but rather, those who are born a country boy or cowboy and just make music as one (like, you got it, good ole Chris LeDoux).

2. Reading the Texas Music Magazine
For Blog 5While reading the Texas Music Magazine the other day, I stumbled across this particularly intriguing article about Kacey Musgraves, a young singer-songwriter from a small, East-Texas town who is, as they said, “taking Nashville by storm.” The article discussed a hit single (“Merry Go ‘Round”) she wrote off of an album she released a few years ago. The chorus includes a little something like this “Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay / Brother’s hooked on Mary Jane / and Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down.”

These subversive lyrics, and especially hearing how Musgraves and some fellow cowriters came up with them, shocked me a bit – these are very real struggles in a small town. When I came into this class, I truly thought the stereotype about country was true: that songs had to talk about romance (or cheating), drinking, or trucks or something to be “country.” However, this song helped me realize just how clever and realistic country can be too!

3. Two-Stepping at a Dance Hall
FullSizeRender (2)Now, I’m not the most coordinated guy out there, and I had actually been out country dancing once or twice last semester, but I didn’t particularly enjoy myself – the dance floor was too packed and I was too focused on the proper movements. I’ve had lots of practice since then though, and going to Dance Across Texas on Saturday night with my fiancé and a bunch of other couples was a blast! I genuinely enjoyed not only dancing, but especially listening to the nice country tunes that were playing.

My perception of country music has completely changed over the past few months. I came in judging the genre according to incorrect stereotypes that I’ve already explained a little, as well as being naive about artists within the genre, and I’m finishing this course recognizing that I truly, legitimately love country music now. I can’t wait for another chance to go to a Country Western dance hall, enjoying the dancing and the music.


Filed under Austin, Blog Post 5, Dancing, Reflection, Song Analysis

Discovering Classic Country: William Michael Morgan

I was sitting at home the other night, scrolling through the recent releases on iTunes as I tend to do sometimes. I’m not sure whether it’s the fact that I’m in this class or just the fact that country music has been growing on me lately, but I decided to check out what was popular in Country instead of Rap/Hip-Hop like I usually do. Then I stumbled upon William Michael Morgan‘s self-titled “William Michael Morgan – EP”.

William-Michael-Morgan-EPEven just from the album cover, I could tell this was going to be a good old traditional country album. Clean-shaven, cowboy hat on, grainy block letters and a coffee-colored button down. It seems like the only stereotypes missing were a guitar and maybe some sort of alcoholic beverage peeking out somewhere. Either way, this image had me primed for some true country listening.  And that’s exactly what I got.

I was surprised to discover just how nice his voice and music was! His lyrics are thoughtful and his tunes are definitely catchy. If you haven’t heard any of his music yet, I’d recommend what I thought was his catchiest song – “Beer Drinker”.

I love this song! He says, “Let’s give it up for the guys on the clock / who work all week and twist one off / thank a beer drinker.” It’s a catchy song encouraging us to thank all the behind the scenes people in life who make sure we can “flip a switch without a hitch” and who fix things, like keeping “our hot tubs hot and our AC’s cool.” This song sounds about as country as it gets with the acoustic guitar, occasional guitar riffs, piano in the back, steel guitar, and the twang in his voice.

While that song’s great, another one of my favorites off of his EP would definitely have to be his hit “I Met a Girl.” This song is really nice: more uptempo guitar really gets your head bobbin’ to the music. Steel guitar is a little more prominent and helps set the romantic mood in this song. The chorus is as catchy as it gets, but it’s the bridge that comes in about 2 minutes into the song that really caught my ear.

He sings “when you turned around / my whole world got turned upside down / and the only thing that I could say was – hey.” I admit, that first part of the line would be tough without  being in some sort of alternate universe, but the simplicity of him being so enamored with her that all he could say was “hey” was both touching and truly relatable. This song made me think about the first time I met my now fiancé, and so those lyrics really resonated with me. And he’s got some real clever lyrics in this song too – “she don’t need umbrellas in the summer rain / she could catch the eye of a hurricane/ in blue jeans and pearls.”

You can’t just take my word for it though – check out his music and let me know what you think. Maybe I’m just behind and everybody already knows about this guy, but if you haven’t heard of him yet, do yourself a favor and take a listen to the other 4 songs on his EP as well. He talks about romance and cheating, about working hard and drinking beer, about blue jeans and vinyl – it’s got all the elements of a classic country album put together with pleasant vocals and a great, catchy sound. And who knows, if you like him enough, you can catch him live performing in nearby Salado, Texas on April 23rd!


Filed under Blog Post 4, Reviews

Flashback to My First Favorite Country Song

The American Country Music awards ceremony for 2016 will take place tomorrow night, Sunday, April 3rd. Or if you’re reading this after that date, well then, you can bet they’ve already happened! I’m just waiting to see if Rascal Flatts will win Vocal Group of the Year again – because if they win, this will be their eighth ‘Vocal Group’ trophy. And they’re already the current record holders for most wins in that category!

Rascal Flatts first ACM Awards win

In this picture of them holding up their trophies at last year’s ceremony, the lead singer (Gary LeVox) is on the left. He’s definitely aged since I started listening to Rascal Flatts back when “Life Is a Highway” was their biggest hit nearly a decade ago. My sister had shared this song and another one by Rascal Flatts with me back then, even though I had told her repeatedly that my then pre-teen self wasn’t into country music.

Well, after I listened to that song a couple of times (and found myself humming the catchy tune without even thinking about it), I thought that maybe I should give country music more of a try.  The other song she shared with me though is the one that, for whatever reason, really made me love the genre, and that song is… “Mayberry”, which was released in 2002.

The funny thing is that until I had heard this song (and “Life Is a Highway” for that matter), I believed my friends who said that country music was only about girls, trucks, and beer  – three things I wasn’t too interested in at the young age of 11. But after hearing “Mayberry”  when my sister shared it with me, it became one of my favorites. And it still is to this day.

I loved the lead singer’s smooth voice and the catchy background vocals of the song, but more than that, the lyrics are what made this song my gateway into country music. Just like I did back then, I’ll occasionally listen to “Mayberry” when I get stressed out, wishing my Sundays were “a day of rest / not one more day – for progress.” I’ll listen to it when I’m driving through the countryside, passing by small towns and wondering if those were places where “people pass by / and you call them by their first names.” As someone who’s only ever lived in the heart of traffic-filled Austin, I wonder what it would be like to live in a small Mayberry-like town – the type of place with a slow enough  pace for “sitting on the front porch / drinkin’ ice cold cherry coke / watchin’ the clouds go by,” instead of the cars.

People interacting downtown in the fictional city of Mayberry, which was just a set for The Andy Griffith Show

Even though Mayberry is a fictional small town, the song just seemed so real to me back then. And it’s been giving me at least a mental escape from the hustle and bustle of big city life every time I’ve listened to it since then. It’s truly the song that got me listening to more country music, namely artists like Lonestar and Toby Keith that my sister also showed me a little while later. Ever since “Mayberry”, I realized that country music had a way of allowing me to be introspective and just get lost in a song. That’s one of the things about country music that keeps me coming back to listen to more.


Filed under Awards, Blog Post 3, Rascal Flatts, Reflection

All I Heard Was Country

We had left at 4 pm two Tuesdays ago. My fiancé  Madeleine and I were driving to Tyler, Texas from the northwest corner of Arkansas. As the sun began to set, our GPS directed us to exit off Highway 59 and onto Mountain Gateway Scenic Byway through the Ouchita Mountains of Eastern Oklahoma. Although it wasn’t a Friday, the wind in our hair felt too good not to be blasting a song like Eric Paslay’s “Friday Night” on “the wide open road” with one another, especially taking in a view like this one:By the time we got closer to the Texas border, we had to stop in a tiny mountain-valley town in Southeastern Oklahoma for dinner at one of two local restaurants. We chose the Subway. And as we walked in, we were greeted by thick southern accents and country music playing in the background – sounded like Luke Bryan. We had begun to see a theme in the music we heard walking into restaurants and coffee shops. Even before we left the Fayetteville area of Arkansas, we went to Fayettechill outdoor store/bar/coffee, and we had heard, ironically, “Drunk on Your Love” by Brett Eldredge.

We finally made it safely (after two flat tires) to Tyler, Texas and linked up with my parents and my sister for a bit of family vacation. Although Madeleine had to leave for Houston, the country music definitely decided to hang around. It didn’t matter if my family and I went to a diner or a museum, we just kept hearing country music everywhere. I can’t say I was surprised to walk by the Skyline Café of Tyler’s Historic Aviation Memorial Museum and hear, you guessed it – country. To be fair, the Dolly Parton song playing at the time did seem fitting to a museum café with linoleum flooring that seemed stuck back in time (maybe the 70s).

IMG_4526What did come as a surprise was in the quiet of a barn at our Bed & Breakfast spot in Tyler, the Rosevine Inn. I sat on the comfortable leather sofa facing the warm blaze within the stone fireplace ahead of me, looking at this scene on the wall to the left. There it was. An American flag and a mounted deer head. Enjoying the silence and the crackling fire’s subtle attempts to break it, I walked over to take a closer look at this deer, whose placard said, “BE NICE OR GO AWAY.”

I hadn’t gotten up and taken two steps towards the deer before my heart skipped a beat. It turns out that this was no taxidermy – it was an animatronic deer! He introduced himself to me as his plastic, mechanically-controlled head jerked around. Then, this deer launched into song, lip-syncing a classic – “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks.

On this Spring Break road trip through Arkansas, Oklahoma, and the top of East Texas, I realized just how deep country music runs in the soul of the South. Whether it was a fast-food restaurant, coffee shop, museum café, or yes, even a talking deer head – country music was what I heard.

And so I have a challenge for you – next time you’re driving  North through these States in our part of the South (especially once you hit Oklahoma), whether you pull in to a Sonic or stop to check out a a local store, pay close attention to what’s on the radio. I knew country music was popular, but I had no idea that it was practically all I’d hear on my road trip. But hey, with music as good as I heard, I’m certainly not complaining.


Filed under Blog Post 2, Reflection, Uncategorized, USA

Those ‘Dirt Roads’ Aren’t Really That Remote

There we were – all six of us high school dudes putting our feet up in The Middle of Nowhere, East Texas, soaking in the starry night sky. Six years of outdoor adventures had forged an unbreakable bond between us fellow Eagle Scouts. We were talking about country music that night, although not favorably. Something about the country songs we heard on the radio just didn’t sit well with us. We didn’t mind the lyrics about trucks, girls, or freedom, of course, but there was still something we just couldn’t stand…and still can’t. The way we heard country stars sing about the natural world, about getting outside and being ‘outdoorsy’ and ‘remote’ is what really irked us (and still does).

Now in order to understand country music’s role in our unique group, you must realize more of what being an Eagle Scout means. When we talk about experiencing nature, we don’t mean fishing for sunfish at the local park’s pond. Experiencing nature conjures up memories of backpacking with 60-lb. packs through the mountains, stargazing from high-elevation valleys mostly untouched by the imprints of a human boot, and portaging our canoes at a rocky outcrop so we could scramble on top to enjoy the last glint of the slowly sinking sun over the pastel-painted horizon.

Me taking in the view from a remote overlook in the backcountry of the Guadalupe Mountains (the backpacking trip I just mentioned).

Me taking in the view from a remote overlook in the backcountry of the Guadalupe Mountains (the backpacking trip I just mentioned).

Here’s how these vivid details bias us against Country music. Well, for instance, let’s reflect on the song “Mud On The Tires” by Brad Paisley. When he talks about muddying up his tires driving to a place “where the dirt road runs out,” the fact that he’s even driving there already disinterests my community a bit, let alone that it’s his impression that that is the “only way to get there,” even though a good moonlit hike is far harder to beat than barreling through the night in a big old, exhaust-emitting representation of nothing but industrial America.

So now you can see how his idea that “his perfect place in mind” seems the farthest thing away from the “middle of nowhere” to a group who has hiked for three days straight and seen no more than 3 other human beings. Or even how about an old hit like Dolly Parton’s “Sweet Summer Lovin’”, with lines like, “by a stream in the country, running barefoot and feeling free.” Sounds to us like she’s a ten-minute walk from the farm-house (at the most). Even Jason Alden’s “Dirt Road Anthem” makes us feel like even though they “hit the dirt road” and “jumped the barb wire” – they still couldn’t be more than a 10-minute drive from some semblance of civilization, you know?

You’re probably thinking, “Really!? You’re basing the whole genre on a few songs!” Well, these act as a microcosm for our perception of the rest of country music (however accurate or innacurate it is). Our outdoorsy community talks about country music as pedantic tunes pandering to listeners who wish they could get a glimpse of some semblance of remote outdoors without actually taking the necessary risks and efforts to do so. I guess it’s just that we’ve heard enough country songs with buzzwords about being alone on dirt roads that just don’t seem genuine to a bunch of bros used to hiking hard-to-find footpaths, leaving even the dirt roads behind. However, songs like “Far From Any Road” from Handsome Family give us hope that others out there have experienced the thrill of the remote wilderness as we have.

It’s safe to say our community avoids country music, for, I’ll admit, an obscure and fairly arrogant reason.

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Filed under Blog Post 1