A Post-Countryfest Open Letter To GNA Nation
Dear GNA Nation:
At my very first Countryfest back in 2017, I walked the area of the Schaghticoke Fairgrounds during show-time almost hoping that nobody would recognize who I was; Brian, one-half of the morning show at WGNA. I had a lot of reasons for feeling this way. For starters, we were the new GNA morning show and even though Chrissy and I had years of pretty solid success on a competing station we hadn't had a chance to prove ourselves to the many die-hard GNA and country music fans of the Capital Region; aka GNA Nation. Facebook vitriol that ensued for months after we took over the position certainly didn't help make me or Chrissy feel confident about stepping out at GNA events, especially something the magnitude of Countryfest. Combo that with my own neurosis and personal anxiety, I was pretty much a mess. In the weeks leading up to that July 8th show at the Schaghticoke Fairgrounds, Chrissy and I studied the artists so that we wouldn't sound like dopes during the interviews and even made sure we knew what the artists looked like if a Justin Moore or a Rodney Atkins crashed our live broadcast. Full disclosure, we were that green...and Countryfest was that big of a deal.
That day back in 2017 was a whirlwind and while I personally loved the energy and the party that made Countryfest's so legendary, I don't think I had a chance to even enjoy the show. I was thrilled to be a part of it but even more thrilled it was over. We could breathe. Fans had a good time, the country artists were professional to us 'on' and 'off' the air, and they all crushed it on-stage. And GNA Nation, while not over-the-top friendly to me or Chrissy, didn't tell us they 'hated us'... to our faces anyways. But we both knew we had a long way to go.
I can speak for both Chrissy and myself when I say that until we came to GNA, we hadn't been really exposed to much country music. People used to say we hated the format. How can that be? We hadn't even really listened to much of it outside of the classics and some crossover hits.
That needed to change once we started working at GNA. I know that people can smell bullshit a mile away, and if we were going to be the morning anchors of the #1 country radio station in the Capital Region (and one of the most widely regarded in the entire country) we had to be authentic. It didn't mean we had to love each and every song (because who does) but it did mean we had to respect the format and the respect the fans who live for, love, eat and breathe country music.
So much has changed over the course of the past two-and-a-half years since we started at GNA back in March of 2017. In that time we've been to a million shows, immersed ourselves in the culture of country music, been to and explored Nashville and Memphis, hung out at the ACM's in Vegas, interviewed literally hundreds of stars from Luke Combs to Luke Bryan, Maren to Carrie, Kane Brown to Kenny and literally everyone in between.
We've gone from from not really knowing much about country music or the lifestyle to being competent enough to hold our own and we're still learning every day. Literally every day. We have a ways to go, believe me, but it feels so much different now.
The thing that stands out to me the most, and why things feel 'different' now didn't come from talking to the artists or watching these star-studded shows. I mean don't get me wrong, it didn't hurt to interview the likes of Jason Aldean or Old Dominion or Garth. And we certainly have gained a tremendous amount of appreciation for where this passion (from you) comes from after witnessing the likes of Keith Urban, Brothers Osborne or Dierks Bentley. Their performance ability and connection with the audience is the stuff that gives you chills.
The thing that stand out for me in terms of why things are 'different' now happened well before the artists took the stage at Countryfest this past Saturday. Heck, it happened well before the gates even opened. It was when Chrissy, Jess and I walked through the parking lot (hours before showtime) and just kicked it with you guys. Chatting about our morning show, the artists set to perform, talking about family, snacks, beverages and life. In the parking lot of SPAC, an overwhelming peace came over me and I think Chrissy as well. We went from walking around with our heads down just two summer's ago, to perking up as we made our way around the lot anticipating what interesting, exciting, fun-loving GNA listener we would be meeting next. It didn't always work out that way, some of you guys couldn't care less, I mean we're on the radio. It's not that big of deal if I can be completely honest. But to many of you, it was a big deal to meet us. (I attribute that more because of your love for GNA and less about us, but I digress). The good, the bad and the ugly; you are vocal about this station and we appreciate that about you.
You see, many of you could have easily just dismissed us as the phony fake pop-show team that came here from Fly and hated country. Some people decided that after what they saw or read on social media or heard from other people before we even started at GNA. Many of you passed judgement (or know someone who did) and that's OK. We totally get it! I'm pretty judgmental myself and would have done the same thing if some newbies from the pop station came to my favorite channel and replaced a show that was iconic for the two decades prior.
So here's what I'm getting at. A lot of you stuck it out and stayed with GNA long enough to like our show, or we grew on you over time. Many of our longtime listeners on the other station followed us over here and gave country music a shot and now they're hooked! If you're still reading this right now, you're probably one of the above. For that, we say 'thank you'. Very, very much.
Fast forward to just a couple of days ago: Countryfest 2019 this past Saturday.
Hours before the gates were open, the parking lot was filling up and Chrissy, Jess and I thought it would be cool to meet and talk to some of you guys before the show. Still slightly unsure about what the reaction would be (maybe my anxiety again) we were blown away by how awesome, friendly, down-to-earth and inviting you guys were to us.
From the group of 50 "Cohoes Proud" fans that got out of that big old school bus and chatted us up, to Tara and her friends under that tent who graciously allowed us to crash their beer pong game, to Barbara (in the sweeeet No Skinny Dipping Alone t-shirt) and her crew that told us about some kind of treat they make called 'gorp' and offered watermelon, to the tailgaters who called their area the 'Devil's Den' to the young men and women from Schenectady that know our buddy Golden Years Doug and had the biggest smiles on their faces when we walked over...Holy Sh*t...THANK YOU!
Thank you for welcoming us to your party. Countryfest is yours, it's not ours. It was here long before we got here, it will be here long after we're gone.
When it comes to Countryfest, it's fun because as they say, the people make the party. And you all are pretty incredible. You show up early, you stay as late as you can, you party hard and responsibly and you sing until you don't have a voice left. I love that passion. We know how much GNA means to you and how much of your life is dedicated to the music and the lifestyle that country music brings.
During the show, Chrissy and I had a chance to revel in the crowd, enjoy the concert, sing along with our favorite songs, and marvel at the energy. We actually pinched ourselves a few times and smiled as we shared some cool GNA Nation stories with each other agreeing that for the most part 'these people really like us!!' Not all of you....but enough of you.
Two years ago at Countryfest 2017, we had our heads down and were feeling pretty insecure. We didn't even allow ourselves a chance to enjoy the party we were throwing.
Saturday was a whole different animal. It was awesome. Countryfest didn't feel like a party we were throwing for you, it felt like your party that we were lucky enough to get an invite to.
Thank you for that. See you next year at Countryfest 2020!