Sometimes life writes a much better story than we could ever write on our own.
In 1998, country singer Collin Raye recorded the song “Someone You Used To Know” and then released it as a single on the radio... I’m sure for him it was probably just the next song and step in building an incredible music career. But for the writer of the song, it was much more than that. His recording of that song forever changed my life.
My older girls, Hopie and Heidi, were only ten and twelve at the time, and we were living in an apartment in Bellevue, a suburb of Nashville. Still only dreaming of a day when we might someday buy a house of our own. We’d been in Music City a few years with me writing songs during the day and playing songwriters nights in the evenings. Hoping, praying… that something might happen with one of my songs, and one day it did.
It was a song I’d written with a good friend of mine named Tim Johnson about running into an old girlfriend. Someone that you had meant a lot to, but in a chance encounter, suddenly realize that you mean much less to, and the change that happens when love is gone from a relationship. Like the hundreds of other songs I’d written by then, this one languished awhile on a shelf, but then one day I got word that it had been recorded by Collin Raye, who was a huge country music artist at the time. With more than a dozen chart-topping hit singles, including “I Think I’m On A Roll Here In Little Rock,” “Love Me,” and many others. Of course, it was a big moment for us. We had been barely getting by for years, and I was well aware that a hit song on the radio could generate a considerable amount of money for the songwriter and for me it meant, the possibility of us buying a home of our own—something that I’d never done, or even been part of. My mother had raised five children and though she worked hard to provide for us, we moved around a lot from town to town and state to state—going from trailer to rental house, apartment to trailer again—and she had never owned a home. And so of course, all these years later, as a father in my 30s, I too dreamed of buying a house of my own. Something that would be ours. A piece of ground where we could put down roots, and see what might become of them.
"Someone You Used To Know" was released in the fall of 1998 and by mid-December had risen all the way to #1 on the country charts all across the nation. It would hold that position for three weeks.
Knowing that the song had done well and royalties would be coming our way soon, I decided to start house-hunting that Spring… looking through the ads and newspaper at houses for sale, and talking to realtors. But in the end, I decided to try to find our dream home in a different way. One day I got into my car and just headed south out of Nashville on Hillsboro Road (where there are lots of big houses and mansions line the lane and where I had heard that many of the big country stars live). I just kept driving south until I came to an area that seemed like I could afford to buy a house.
Forty-two miles later, as I rounded a curve, on the edge of the Duck River in Maury County, I saw a homemade ‘For Sale’ sign at the driveway with an old ramshackle farmhouse that was sitting up on a hill. I pulled over and scribbled down the number. Soon after, I found myself sitting in the passenger seat of a farmer named Harold’s pickup truck, bouncing through the pasture as he drove me around, showed the property, and told me some of its history. He told me that he had lived there since 193 when he was ten years old. Although he didn’t personally want to move, his wife’s health was poor, and he said it was time for them to move into town.
He also told me about the Hardison Family who had owned a mill on the river through most of the 1800s. How Calvin and Sarah (who are buried in the family cemetery in the backfield) had built the farmhouse in the 1870s and how their old-maid daughters, Molly and Veva, had been his school teachers when he was young.
Although it’s probably hard to imagine from the picture, I immediately fell in love with the house and the potential of what it and the farm could be… although I had absolutely no idea how much time, money, and hard work it was going to take to make it happen, by late May, we had shaken hands and I began working on the house and we moved in soon after.
To think about all that has happened here since then is almost overwhelming for me. The amount of joy and pain, life and loss. But mostly the incredible story that began unfolding once we arrived here at the farm and that is still unfolding today, is something I’m in awe of. What God has done and continues to do is amazing.
I’m sharing this story and thinking about how we came to own this old farmhouse, because in just a couple weeks, at The Homestead Festival, this story is going to come full circle. On Saturday night, June 3rd, Collin Raye will close out the day by performing his many hit songs on the big stage for everyone who will be at the festival. And of course, that will include my song “Someone You Used To Know.” As you can imagine, it’s going to be a very special moment to have Collin here at our farm that night singing the song that actually made it possible for us to buy the farm almost 25 years ago.
Although I’m pretty sure he knows the story, I’m not sure Collin has any idea of the impact he’s made on my life. Or my family’s life. And the sequence of events that he put in motion by recording my song. But that evening as the sun sets and he takes the stage with a few thousand people in the field behind the farmhouse, I think he will. And I am so looking forward to it.
In time, I would be blessed to have many songs recorded by other big artists, but that song was my first and it’s, by far, the one that’s had the biggest impact on my life.
PS - if you'd like to come and join us for the special evening with Collin Raye on June 3rd, a few tickets to the Homestead Festival are still available at TheHomesteadFestival.com.