Emerging from the shadow of the Grand Ole Opry, there's a new, more eclectic sound coming from Nashville today and with it a youthful new broom sweeping away the centuries of conservative Tennessee values. Opening with a sample of Gil Scott Herons's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised and with a chorus that reminds the disenfranchised that they are not alone, Jon Worthy's Don't Let It Go is a product of a fresh and inclusive new Nashville.
Jon Worthy didn't pick up a guitar for the first time because he wanted to be like Hank Williams or Johnny Cash, but because he saw the Guns N' Roses: Behind The Music documentary on VH1. And he cites influences ranging from classic rock (The Who, The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zeppelin) to punk (The Clash) to grunge rock and metal (Pearl Jam, AC/DC).
Don't Let It Go is an indie-rock-inflected peace anthem and while the lyrics are fairly non-specific, Jon Worthy is not shy about the inspiration for this track from his second full-length album. On its Soundcloud page he's written one sentence: "Fuck Trump and anyone that stands in the way of unity".
"Trump is isolating so many groups of people rather than bringing us together which is not what anyone needs, especially America," he tells me. "We have so many different, original people in this country and Trump continually paints them in a light that is not factual or beneficial to anyone except hate mongers."
Cities need fresh blood if they're going to move forward and as a migrant, Worthy - who grew up in Pennsylvania and went to Penn State before moving to Nashville - credits the city as "a great place to be a liberal musician".
"Moving to the south was a big change," he admits. "Southerners can be very passive aggressive. They shy away from speaking their mind and avoid saying what they really want to say. Recently however, Nashville and in particular the people I hang out with are young, liberal, and worldly. There's a lot of different cultures and ethnicities in Nashville and I think that creates an open minded culture. Moreover, there are hundreds of people moving to Nashville every day and most of them are young and bring a more liberal minded approach to life with them so Nashville is beginning to be a really unique place."
Jon Worthy's optimism is reflected in his work and in comments about music and society. And that's good, because progress only happens when people believe change is possible. But right now, America seems very divided by race and ideology so I asked him what he thinks the future will bring.
"I think it will be tough for America to create positive change during Trump’s tenure due to the fact that he allows so much negativity to spread through his actions and comments," says Worthy. "Trump is so divisive that it seems unlikely the opposing sides can come to a compromise on anything. I do however think his outspoken and divisive nature will give voices to groups that have otherwise lurked in the shadows and give them incentive to tell their story and hopefully sway people away from Trump’s negativity. On the other hand, Trump’s comments and actions have given rise to hate groups as well so that is a double edged sword."
But even in a week when 17 people were killed by a lone gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, there is still some cause for positivity because America's youth has shown itself in an astonishingly admirable light.
"Watching the kids of America stand up for gun control in wake of the Florida shooting has been amazing to watch," says Worthy. "I think if us young folks can mount a serious and stabilized campaign for issues we believe in then our chances for change are much greater. The power of social media is great in that it allows people from all over to connect on one common issue and start something amazing like these sit ins happening around the country."
Don't Let It Go comes from the album Only a Dream, the artwork for which features the internationally recognised symbol for peace. The title track is a bitter-sweet, folk rock protest song inspired by John Lennon’s Imagine that wishes for peace and unity but admits that it's folly to expect it ever to come true.
"For the most part we all want the same thing; to be happy and find love," says Jon, explaining the thought process behind Only a Dream. "However, we insist on pushing our different beliefs on people to the point where it turns violent and we end up in this terrible endless circle of violence and corruption... At the end of the day we can only be good to the people we encounter and try to make the world better, but to ask the entire world to treat each other fairly and equally is only a dream and never going to happen."
Jon Worthy's Playlist of Songs to challenge the establishment and change the world:
You can learn more about Jon Worthy here
About the curator: Jon Ewing
After graduating from the University of Keele in England with a degree in Politics and American Studies, Jon worked as editor of a music and entertainment magazine before spending several years as a freelance writer and, with the advent of the internet, a website designer, developer and consultant. He lives in Reading, home to one of the world's most famous and long-running music festivals, which he has attended every year since 1992.