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Adrienne Young keeps plowing until the end

By Rick Teverbaugh, October 2004

For a pretty young girl to emerge from behind a desk at a big Nashville record company isn't exactly unusual stuff or a qualifier for the next book of modern nursery rhymes. But the way that Adrienne Young has made that transformation would be more likely to appear in a Ripley's tome than one from the Brothers Grimm.

Young's musical journey didn't actually even start very close to Music City Row. She was born in Tallahassee, Fla. and grew up in Clearwater as part of a seven-generation chain from that state. Her first musical love was jazz and was part of a pop band until around 2000 when she moved to Nashville to study the music business at Belmont University and work as a temp for record companies.

None of those companies were interested in her music, which had a very traditional sound. It's actually a good thing because in addition to an old-fashioned tint to the music, Young has a very modern idea about the value of her music.

"I need to keep creative control," says Young from her home in Nashville. "I believe all artists should retain ownership to the rights for their songs. That's what you can pass on to your offspring."

She never did sway from those values and never lost patience waiting for something to happen with her career. "I never wanted it to happen any sooner," she says. "I always knew this was what I was supposed to do. I've played hundreds of shows to empty houses. Talk about unglamorous. It's hard for me to admit there's been a change."

Yet, there has been a definite change. Despite her new album, "Plow to the End of the Row," being released on her own Addiebelle Music label, attention has slowly come to this singer/songwriter/banjoist.

She earned an Emerging Artist of the Year nomination from the Americana Music Association. She was also nominated for Bluegrass/Old-Timey Artist of the Year from Nashville Scene. Her new album earned a Grammy nomination for packaging.

Young's life as well as her music is organic. The telephone interview was interrupted at one point by her discovery of pumpkins in her garden. She has joined forces with FoodRoutes Network, a group that tries to get consumers in touch with local farmers to buy food.

She is living in a modern world, but she's not sure all the trappings that go with it are for the better. "There's such a corporate mindset," says Young. "Everything is for a profit. From the time a six-month-old is set down in front of a television, we all become consumers. Only in the past three generations has all of this come along. We see such a homogeneousness of cultures. It's done a good job of blanketing everyone with the same set of blinders. What would happen if everything changed tomorrow? Would we have the necessary survival skills."

Young is as outspoken in her lyrics as she is in interviews. Her "Blinded by Stars" might be seen by some as unpatriotic. She merely views it as unwilling to follow blindly. The song contains the line, "This is our flag, but this ain't our fight" concern the intervention in Iraq.

"We can continue to ignore what is painfully obvious," says Young. "But it's going to come down to this generation. How lucky we are as Americans. That's what you learn if you're fortunate enough to travel. With just the smallest effort individually, we can do a lot collectively. This is my vision. I will not be deterred."

Included in that vision is a steadfast determination to see this career choice through no matter how many disappointments, obstacles or blind alleys might be waiting. That resolve can be found in the title cut of the disc. That advice came from a benefactor who had helped her pay for college.

"I didn't have the money to make a record," says Young, who was actually thinking about a return to school instead of pursuing her dream of making music. "He said to me, 'You've got to plow to the end of the row, girl. If you want to do this with your life you've got to stay focused and see it through.' I realized I was going to continue on whether I made it or not. This is roots music. It's in my blood."

Young also realizes that she isn't a pioneer in this music, but is a benefactor in the recent work of people like Alison Krauss, Dolly Parton and Martina McBride who have used the spotlight their popularity has brought to shine a light on traditional country music. "Certainly those people and more like Gillian Welch are people to whom a feel a huge debt of gratitude," says Young. "People idolize them. We need people to tell us the truth, and those people have done that."

She also has a strong vision for what she wants out of her label and a pair of strong examples to follow. She wants to maintain her independence in the music world la Ani DiFranco and she has another label as a role model as well. "I really admire what Yep Roc Records has done," she say. "They have allowed their artists and affiliated labels to keep their independence."

This fall and winter Young and her band, Little Sadie, will take to the road in a tour bus to create some personal contact with fans and make new ones. Somewhere along the way she might again play to small crowds. But expect this determined 31-year-old to keep plowin' until the harvest. She seems to know no other way.