Country friends, especially those of you in Los Angeles… we are not alone. Now, I don’t mean that in an X-files “I believe…” kind of way. I’m just saying that, however often it seems to the contrary, there are tons of country fans, bowhunters, gun enthusiasts and fishermen in the middle of the city. But, not everyone has the luxury to be as blatantly country as they’d like to be. I’m fortunate in that I work in an office where I can wear my Wranglers, boots and hat if I so desire and where I can talk openly with my coworkers about hunting or my weekend trip to the range. Heck! They’ve even started to fondly refer to me as “Country Sam”… and there’s talk of setting up a vanity email address to that regard.
Now, for the rest of you, in a city where ranches and honky-tonks are few and far between, you won’t always get those obvious signs. But, don’t lose hope! It’s entirely possible that the cute girl working two cubes down from you is blaring Luke Bryan through those headphones, that your regular postman is a rifle marksmanship instructor and that Mr. Biz-Casual behind you in line at Starbucks is actually checking his phone to see if his latest purchase from Bass Pro Shop has arrived yet. Rest assured that, with some determination and a bit of searching, you’ll be able to find your local “country family”.
For me, it really started just over a year ago in January of 2015. I had just returned home from visiting my parents for a Christmas spent 4-wheelin’ and shooting guns. However, I was in fantastically low spirits as country night at the bar up the street from my office had just gotten canceled. Now, in hindsight, it wasn’t all that much of a loss… There was one cheap beer and Fireball was on special. Mostly it was a place where the Beverly Hills twenty-somethings could wear their brand new pink cowgirl boots for an hour or two without having to actually mingle with someone who may have actually shoveled cow s@*! at one point in their life. But, at least I got to hear some country music in an LA bar instead of being stuck with Drake and Kanye. To lift my spirits, I decided to head up the road to my local karaoke joint, The Happy Ending Bar & Grill. If I couldn’t sit and listen to country music in a bar, I might as well go sing some. That night, for some reason, I took special notice of the bar’s marquee that I’d passed by countless times. What really caught my eye was the big letters spelling out “COUNTRY NIGHT” for the following Wednesday evening. So, two days later, I was back at The Happy Ending in my hat, ready to enjoy a bit of Eric, Jason and Luke as I sat back with an ice cold beer. Call it over-dramatization, but little did I know that night was going to be a huge turning point in my life.
Now, prior to 2015, my exposure to line dancing had been pretty minimal. I’d learned the Electric Slide in elementary school and after a couple trips to Cowboy Country, I decided to teach myself the Power Jam from a YouTube video. I was a huge fan of dancing and I’d done a significant amount of ballroom and partner dancing in college. I even had recently taken a few random lessons with the Pasadena Ballroom Dance Association. So, suffice to say I was really excited when I found out that “country night” also consisted of line dancing lessons. I remember how excited I was when I finally nailed the Canadian Stomp for the first time. Yes… I understand that it’s far from a complex dance. But, for me at that time, it was huge! I came back the following week, and much to my surprise, the instructor, Tina Michelle, remembered be and started introducing me to a lot of the regulars. That was all it took to get me completely hooked. I was back every single week from that point on, meeting folk of all shapes, sizes, genders, ethnicities, hometowns and backgrounds… all with a shared core: their love of country music and dancing.
From there, with someone always asking if I’d been to this place or the other, it was easy to start branching out. Whether it was tagging along with a group driving up to Borderline in Thousand Oaks or showing up to Joe’s Great American in Burbank and getting a chance to sing a few songs with Tina Michelle’s country band, every new event or bar I would discover would put me in contact with more of these like-minded people… and every new person I met was another conduit to a new little corner of country in Los Angeles. My concept of country in Los Angeles had expanded exponentially.
Looking back over this past year, I’ve realized that many of these people have come to mean more to me than I would’ve ever expected on that first Wednesday night walking into The Happy Ending. They’ve become friends who I value and look forward to seeing even beyond our nights out dancing and drinking. On top of that, I can honestly say there’s quite a few I’ve come to love like family and who hold a very special place in my heart. When I think how big my “country family” has grown in a relatively short period of time, I can’t help but smile because I know I’m all the better for knowing each and every member of it.