Tennessee, Where Weed Is Illegal, Makes Anthem About Pot Farming Its State Song… on 4/20
Marijuana remains illegal in the state of Tennessee, where presently only low-THC products skirt the state’s confusing and hyper-restrictive laws. But that nugget didn’t stop legislators from making a country song about a Vietnam veteran who takes up pot farming Tennessee’s newest state song. That this all happened on 4/20 — the national holiday of weed smoking — is the chef’s kiss.
Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road,” the title track of his 1988 album, now joins 10 other songs as anthems of the Volunteer State, including “When It’s Iris Time in Tennessee” by Willa Waid Newman, “Tennessee Waltz” by Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King, and, the most famous, “Rocky Top,” by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant.
Earle made the journey to the statehouse in downtown Nashville on Thursday to receive the honor and perform “Copperhead Road” for the 113th General Assembly. Backing himself up on mandolin, Earle — who did a short stint in prison in 1994 for drug and weapons offenses — delivered his lyrics about a vet who returns from the war with “a brand new plan.” “I take the seed from Colombia and Mexico/Just plant it up the holler down Copperhead Road,” he sang.
At the conclusion, Earle, who once wrote a chorus saying “Fuck the FCC…FBI…and CIA,” addressed the lawmakers to make a subtle comment about the gun-reform debate that has consumed Tennessee since the March 27 Covenant School shooting. Making a pistol gesture with his raised right hand, he said, “I want to remind you there’s another song on the Copperhead Road album you gotta check out: It’s called ‘The Devil’s Right Hand.’” That song, once recorded by Johnny Cash, details the dangers of guns.
Tennessee has been roiled in political controversy during this entire legislative session. After the Covenant School shooting, in which three 9-year-olds and three adults were killed by a shooter with an assault-type weapon, three Democratic lawmakers protested for gun reform on the House floor. The Republican-controlled House later voted to expel two of the protesters — young Black Democrats from Memphis and Nashville, while their white colleague was spared. Earlier this week, Sheryl Crow, Amy Grant, Will Hoge, and other artists marched to the capitol to deliver a letter demanding gun legislation.
The bill to recognize “Copperhead Road” as a state song was presented by two Democrats, Bo Mitchell and Heidi Campbell, the latter of whom is running for Nashville mayor.
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