For anyone in the Southeast working to address environmental challenges and heal the land, it can feel like a never-ending battle. Searching for answers, navigating bureaucracies, trying to craft and share important messages, to reach people—this kind of good work can take a toll.
Sometimes, though, music can be a remedy. It can help give us energy, clarity, and a sense of community. This is a playlist of music from and about the South. It shows the diversity of artistry in our region, as well as the myriad of ways we relate to our land and communities. Most of all, it’s intended to help foster a sense of place that helps us connect with our environment, and hopefully with something a bit deeper inside ourselves.
Use this playlist to stay inspired while you sit down and get to work. It’s an eclectic mix, much like the South itself. Hopefully it will leave you with some new artists to love, and some new ways to think. Start here: https://bit.ly/SouthernEnergy.
01 Stomp Dance
The first song about the South should come from the first peoples of the South, right? This Stomp Dance is practiced by several Native American tribes, such as the Seneca, Cherokee, and Muskogee. Besides being a good track to get into a rhythm, I’m inspired by so many voices rising in unison, bodies moving as one. It’s also a reminder that the things that matter most can survive, if we work together to make it so.
02 Send Me That Love
This trio from Columbia, South Carolina shares a rendition of Bob Marley’s Send Me That Love . Here, it serves as a simple reminder of why we even bother to keep working on the big issues on the hard days: there’s something or someone out there we love.
Moses Sumney’s “Virile” makes the list for a couple of reasons. First, it starts out by placing us in the Blue Ridge Mountains (not alone on the playlist in that regard), which are such a defining part of where I live, and which so many of us southerners see up close or in the distance, or pass through on the way to other places we love. But that’s just the setting, and the lyrics and imagery go on to address fraught relationships with the body, with a culture that doesn’t seem to fit, and with the natural world. It is, in a word, intense.
04 Filthy Dirty South
Rising Appalachia is one of those groups that leans hard into their Southern identity. Their album Filthy Dirty South claimed it right on the cover. In this tune, you can just hear the laid back, late afternoon porch chat, everyone digesting something fresh, rich and tasty, sipping on something cool. But they’re talking about deep stuff.
05 Blue Ridge
Alexa Woodward’s “Blue Ridge” swings and sways like a hammock strung between two trees on the Blue Ridge mountainside she describes in the lyrics. It’s a song about going away, maybe for a long time, maybe just a little while, to a big city and then coming back home to appreciate the land where you’re from. In Woodward’s case, that’s South Carolina, in the foothills and mountains that define the place for everyone who lives there.
Outmyface(Love Suite no. 2) is one of those songs that feels way too short. While the lyrics tell a more interior story, the video shows its external manifestations. The video starts with Contour belly-down, dragging himself across the earth toward the sea. As he is from Charleston, South Carolina, it’s safe to assume that the shoreline is one he knows very well. Lyrically, the song spends a great deal of time on introspection and questioning one’s own complicity in the problems around them. It’s a point we all inevitably get to when working toward change.
The vignette at the beginning of this video is a reminder of one of the greatest things about Southern culture: laid-back porch living. The song is an ode to a certain way of life in Georgia, the foodways, cruising shiny classic cars, banging clubs, summertime house parties. And it’s for everybody. Take a close look at the crowded dancefloors and you’ll see many styles, many shades of skin. And it’s a reminder to hold those things dear, they’re worth preserving. Make sure to listen to the chorus on this one.
08 Coming Home
Finally, what’s a southern playlist without a throwback? The style and production on this Leon Bridges groove sounds like it could have been created in the late 1950s, but it’s actually from the 2010s. It doesn’t matter though, because the theme of “Coming Home” is timeless: love. Bridges sings about getting back home, getting back to the people and places you love. Where I live, a lot of the people who are most active and excited about changing things for the better are those who grew up here, left, and came back. These folks are often candid about their frustrations, but also quick to show their love for their hometown, and their home-people.
Hopefully this playlist has powered you up a bit, and inspired you to consider all of the different people, places, sights and sounds that make the South so great, and worth the work to improve and preserve.
Now you can build your own playlist!
To get started, think about the work you’re doing in your part of the world, and the changes you’re working to make. What kind of motivation helps you most? Do you need an upbeat energy boost, or a calming balm?
Finalized your playlist? Share it with us!