Many people (including me) spend a fair amount of time bitching about country radio thinking too much about charts, music and market research, pleasing the Nashville purse strings, chasing away adult listeners with their commitment to the millennials, etc. We spend an equal amount of time bashing the Nashville machine for trite, flavor of the month millennial music, throwing truckloads of money down the black hole called country radio. etc. I could go on….but every year around this time I’m struck by something more important than all of this….it’s St. Jude time.
Every January around this time, Nashville and country radio programmers descend on Memphis for the annual St. Jude Seminar. The programmers attend seminars (closed to the record people) to refine their fundraising skills that they can take home and utilize during their annual St. Jude radiothons. Nashville brings their acts (mostly new and developing) to tour the hospital and spend time with some of the kids, which energizes them for the St. Jude benefit shows they will do in the new year. Granted, Nashville has an ulterior motive (always) in that they want their developing acts to get quality hang time with the radio programmers…but there is no question that the primary reason for being there is to get in touch with the spirit of St. Jude. It is a powerfully moving experience.
The combined radio/Nashville effort is called COUNTRY CARES and it has raised over $550 million for the fight against childhood cancer. This hospital is one of the most special places in the world. No child is turned away. All financial worries are lifted from parents so they can focus on their child. St. Jude also shares all of their research with any other medical facility that wants it. This is uncommonly generous in the world of medical research….as if we needed another reason to love the place.
Every time I’ve toured that hospital I’ve started with a lump in my throat and tears ready to fall as I met the children and saw the awful effects of this horrible disease….but each and every time, the children have forced me to smile…to laugh. They raise the spirits of everyone around them. It’s an experience that I often reflect back on when I think I’m having a rough time in my life.
There would be no COUNTRY CARES as we know it today without the efforts of one man…RANDY OWEN of Alabama fame. He took up the cause in 1989 and to this day is the face and the driving spirit of the effort. He is there every year to introduce and tell the stories of some of the families, meet and greet the programmers and artists, host a guitar pull at the closing banquet, and generally inspire everyone to keep pushing to raise funds to find a cure.
A friend of mine recently went to work at St. Jude and is charged with trying to bring pop music and radio into the family in hopes of duplicating the amazing contributions of COUNTRY CARES. He was telling me how difficult it has been to get them involved. I told him that he needs to find his RANDY OWEN to front the effort….get a Justin Timberlake or a Beyonce to become the face and spirit of the cause. I’m sure Randy would be happy to give them guidance.
We’ll all return to bitching about each other soon enough, but right now I say to those that I occasionally criticize in my blog and podcast….well damn done! I am immensely proud to be a member of the Country Music community that has done so much good work. COUNTRY CARES…IT REALLY DOES.