Country Artists Use Music as Healing During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Nashville is known for being a giving community, a gift that’s often expressed through music. As the world grapples with the jarring reality of COVID-19, many artists continue to share music as a source of healing, including many of Nashville’s finest. Whether releasing original songs or delivering powerful covers that provide light during these dark times, here are some standout musical tributes from the country music community.

Ashley McBryde stuns with “Amazing Grace” at the Ryman Auditorium

The Ryman Auditorium has been a sacred place since its inception in 1892, but Ashley McBryde brought an especially harrowing energy to the venue with her performance of “Amazing Grace” in honor of those we’ve lost due to COVID-19. McBryde’s voice on its own is incredible, but pairing it with the spirit of the Ryman takes it to a whole other level. McBryde was so overcome with emotion that it took seven times to get the performance right – and that emotion pours through on screen. As she stands on the stage solo in the hallowed venue, her voice fills the room in a way that’s bound to bring a tear to one’s eye.

“Some things just can’t be healed. Some losses can’t be reconciled and some wounds will never heal. Sometimes we don’t get closure the way we want to. All we can do is honor our predecessors and hope that we touch the hem of heaven sometime in our lives. I wouldn’t normally sing this song but we all may need this right now and there isn’t a better place to sing it at than the Ryman,” she writes about the experience. “The mother church pulls things like that out of you and will tell you what to sing and when to sing it…even if you can’t.”

Brandi Carlile covers John Prine’s “Hello in There”

The music world lost a true pioneer when John Prine passed away due to complications from COVID-19 on April 7. Many artists paid tribute to the iconic folksmith in the wake of his passing, but Carlile’s cover of “Hello in There” on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert demonstrates a sense of empathy the world needs right now. Creating a simple stage on the staircase next to a fireplace, Carlile’s performance is touching, connecting Prine’s lyrics, penned in 1971, to modern day. Her voice soars over his poetic words that prompt us to truly see one another, especially in times of loneliness. But her introduction to the song is just as urgent, encouraging viewers to respect older generations and the impact they have on our lives. “This song refers to the people that we’re all staying home to protect and it reminds us that older people aren’t expendable, that they made us who we are and they’ve given us every single thing that we have,” she prefaced, offering a grounding perspective alongside the beautiful tribute.

Thomas Rhett is a “Light”

Thomas Rhett brings heartfelt meaning into his new song, “Be a Light.” Rhett originally wrote the song in 2019 as a response to the divisiveness he was witnessing in the world, but decided to release it now as a sign of encouragement during these trying times. Combining the soothing nature of a lullaby with the power of compassion, Rhett called on his friends and fellow superstars Reba McEntire, Keith Urban, Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum and Chris Tomlin to help deliver the timely message. With such lyrics as “In a time full of war be peace/In a place that needs change make a difference/In a time full of noise just listen/In a world full of hate be a light,” he presents us with sobering advice that’s important to keep at heart even after the pandemic passes.

“We are in the middle of a world-wide pandemic affecting every single human on earth, all while our town of Nashville is still healing from devastating tornadoes that destroyed so much of our city less than one month ago. But, among the wreckage, I see us come together in ways I never dreamed possible,” Rhett expressed about the uplifting track upon its release. “I hope this song serves as a reminder that we are all in this together.”

He also dedicated “Be a Light” to a new program called Gratitunes that sees artists and fans donating songs to a playlist streamed to the medical professionals at Vanderbilt University Medical Center as they work tirelessly to save lives.

Keith Urban’s live streams

Keith Urban is one of the many artists who has hosted virtual concerts during this era of social distancing, but it’s the heart of his shows that make them stand out. Urban has delivered two sets performing many of his biggest hits, and one of the best aspects about them is his wife Nicole Kidman. Between serving as his guitar tech and sole audience member who dances around the room thoroughly enjoying life, there’s a sense of joy that shines through with Kidman’s presence. Additionally, Urban always makes a point to recognize healthcare workers in his broadcasts. “All of you first responders out there, all of the families of all of you and your friends that are supporting you through this time, we are right here with you, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” he vows. “Our whole family thanks you for everything that you are sacrificing and doing right now.”

Brad Paisley keeps the laughter flowing on Instagram

Since the quarantine began, Brad Paisley’s Instagram has become a holy ground of humorous musings. Between recording virtual duets with Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw and Darius Rucker and posting cover videos, scrolling through Paisley’s Instagram is likely to put a smile on your face during these somber days. Paisley has also contributed to the Gratitunes program with an acoustic version of his hit “Southern Comfort Zone” that he used to thank all of the healthcare workers on the front lines during the pandemic. But perhaps his most noteworthy effort is that he and wife Kimberly Williams-Paisley have set up a special grocery delivery service for the elderly and those in need through their nonprofit, The Store – one of the many ways the Nashville community continues to give back.

Country music will also be represented in the upcoming global virtual event, “One World: Together at Home” in support of healthcare workers around the world. Urban, Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris and Lady Antebellum will perform during the online broadcast that benefits the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. It will air on major TV networks and stream online on April 18.

NEWS ROUNDUP: NYC Cabaret Law Repealed, CMA Gag Order & More

  • NYC Cabaret Law Officially Repealed

    Established in 1926 to prevent unlicensed dancing in NYC bars, New York’s “Cabaret Law” is finally on its last legs after City Council voted Tuesday to end it. Many have been quick to point out that the antiquated law is like something out of Footloose, inappropriate for such a progressive, cosmopolitan city. While the law has been less strictly enforced since Rudy Giuliani used it to crack down on “rowdy” nightclubs nearly two decades ago, it still a red-tape nightmare for venues, bars and clubs – especially, say its critics, those run by and for marginalized groups, such as LGBT, Black, and Latinx communities. Now that City Council has voted to repeal, Mayor Bill de Blasio needs to approve the measure to officially end the 91-year old restriction.

  • The Country Music Association Bans Questions On Gun Rights, Then Rescinds its Gag Rule

    Next week is the annual Country Music Association Awards, and the organization drew criticism this week when it warned reporters covering the event not to ask artists about so-called sensitive issues – specifically, “gun rights, political affiliations or topics of the like.” They threatened reporters who defied these guidelines with loss of credentials and removal from the event, but eventually rescinded the gag order when taken to task by artists and media via Twitter – including the show’s host, Brad Paisley. While the country music scene has often touted gun ownership rights, a deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas at a country music festival last month has caused some musicians to reverse their opinions and call for stricter gun control. To compound to issue, the head of the powerful country music PR firm that represents NRA Country (as well as artists like Dolly Parton and Kid Rock, who have since severed ties) is embroiled in a sexual assault scandal

  • Other Highlights

    Elsewhere opens and Market Hotel re-opens on opposite ends of Bushwick, Beyoncé will play Nala in Disney’s live-action Lion King, Blind Melon’s Bee Girl gets married, Brooklyn grunge-rock darlings Sunflower Bean release new song and sign to Mom + Pop records, Southwest Airlines wants to torture travelers with in-flight concerts, see the LES mural dedicated to Charles Bradley, the 50 most requested lyrics on Alexa, check out Bjork’s bold new publicity photo, Maroon 5’s unfortunate album title, “Oldies” are official public domain, Wilco shares twangy new “old” song “Myrna Lee”, Lana Del Rey weighs in on Harvey Weinstein, Shamir Bailey takes down his music video (his latest LP Revelations is out today), and forget guitar – this woman plays the scissors. Plus new videos from Benjamin Clementine, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Stef Chura.