Rolling down the windows with Amos Lee

Photos by Simone Walraven

“In 500 meters, turn right onto Rosa Parks Boulevard,” the robotic voice of my GPS navigator informed me. These are simple words, yet a complicated history had to unfold first, so the statement could even be made.

Today I am one of millions of people, who flock to “Music City” every year. Nashville has music, charisma, a beautiful river and avenues filled with harmonic and dissonant memories.

Tennessee’s history is laden with crucial events from the American Civil War (1860 – 1865) and the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century. It is also a magnificent and fertile land, a cradle to thousands of songs, rhythms, grooves, musicians, poets, writers, adventures, hopes and dreams.

Amos Lee @

I am on my way to Grimeys New & Preloved Music Store, to attend a live acoustic set by singer/songwriter Amos Lee. He is scheduled to play a sold out Ryman Auditorium in the evening. Giving away a free gig at Nashville’s primo record store must be a fun way to warm up.

Amos Lee is an example of a “white” singer, whose vocal sound is distinctively “black”. If you never saw a picture of him, you’d swear he was African American.

Artists are like good weeds. They walk through cultural and social walls, eroding them slowly but surely over time. “You can’t judge a book by looking at its cover,” Bo Diddley sang in 1962. “Respect,” Aretha Franklin added five years later.

I am feeling very excited as I pull up in the parking lot at Grimeys. Apparently their music collection is vast, obscure and diverse.

Amos Lee @ Grimeys

About 100 people are squeezed in the narrow isles of the store, in between rows of vinyl records and CD’s. The atmosphere is very relaxed.

Amos shows up right on time at noon, accompanied by a guitar. We are treated to five songs, mostly from his new album, and he completes the session with one of my favorite tracks, “Windows are rolled down”.

After the gig I walk over to Amos and introduce myself. “Hi, I am Simone Walraven and I’m a DJ at KX Radio in Holland.”
“Hey!” he says enthusiastically, shaking my hand. “What’s going on! We just played the Paradiso – were you there?”

One of the things I want to ask him about is his involvement with “Musicians On Call”, a wonderful organization that brings musicians to the bedsides of people who are ill, either in hospital or in their homes. Yet the question will have to wait to another time, because a long cue of people is forming behind me, who also want to have a word.


Armed with a locally made bar of chocolate and two compilation CD’s with funky material from Louisiana, I hit the road again. My journey home becomes an introduction to the intensity of authentic Southern humid heat.

The shortcut that my GPS system has promised me, turns out to be a long, roundabout way. Traffic is moving slowly through a neighborhood that seems to be the “Black and Hispanic” part of town.


Many things have improved in the world since Rosa Parks took the bus in Alabama in 1955, yet it is going to take a lot more effort to establish truly equal opportunities for every person, and for both genders, everywhere.

Musicians and poets have a big job on their hands yet.

I roll down my windows, and wonder.


Amos Lee – Windows (Live @ Grimeys)
MP3: Windows are rolled down – Amos Lee, Live @ Grimeys New & Preloved Music Store, Nashville, 8 April 2011

With special thanks to:
Amos Lee, EMI Music
Doyle, Anna and all the crew @ Grimeys New & Preloved Music Store, Nashville

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