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Keepers of the Flame: The Legacy of the Groah Dynasty in Virginia: Part III

Click to read parts I and II

Where Things Are Now…

Feeling the stability in that aspect of his life, Danny was free to once again follow his heart as he met, courted, and married his sweetheart, Lisa. And nature took its course, in the form of two kids, daughter Andi and son Evan. The family lived in Nashville while Alan’s–and therefore Danny’s–career blazed on. But he made time for trips to Virginia with his wife and kids. He wanted their kids to know their grandparents, their roots. Lynwood’s and Lu’s trips to Nashville became less about business and more about strengthening family ties.

The wheel of life turned–Lynwood and Lu retired, Alan was touring less, and Danny moved his family home to Staunton. Andi’s early childhood was spent  living outside of Nashville, with a dad involved in the country music business at a level reserved for the brightest stars. With the move, she would end her childhood in the same small town in which her father had begun his.

When the family arrived in Staunton, Lynwood’s health was failing but Andi was old enough to bond with her grandfather in a special relationship in the time he had left. After Lynwood passed, Danny and Lisa invited Lu to live with them and their children. Having landed a front row seat to the reminiscences that passed between her father and grandmother, Andi learned first-hand about her family’s history and the essential part music played in their lives.

Andi was a child in the world of tour busses and stadiums filled with adoring fans, among other experiences available to the likes of Alan Jackson and his musicians. She didn’t think of things like famous, she just knew when her dad went off to work, a big tour bus pulled up, he got on and left– sometimes for a couple of weeks. She also knew she loved it and wanted to be part of it. She got the bug early. Just like her dad. 

Andi recounts, “When I was a kid, I’d show up to school, like on career day, in costume–I wanted to be Shania Twain. So, when I was a kid I reallyreallyreally wanted to do it, but I’m a shy person. As I got older I always sang, but didn’t start writing songs until later, and I didn’t start playing guitar til later. So, I was always singing, and when I was 14 or 15 I knew I didn’t want to have to sing to tracks; I wanted to be able to play my own songs. Everybody would always think, oh your dad taught you how to play guitar but my grandma taught me how to play guitar. She taught me my first 3 chords and I kinda just took it from there. I grew up in an age where I could go on YouTube. I had always had an interest in songwriting, because she wrote songs. Once I was in high school I started writing. It was wasn’t easy, but I just keep pushing it.

During that time I would sing and do shows here and there, but my parents were always like, college–you have to go to college–it’s the most important thing in these times. So, that’s what I did; I went to college. I got into a school here in Nashville and decided to stay in Staunton. I didn’t come to Nashville, I don’t think I was ready. In school I was shy and reserved, sat in the back of the class, always did my homework but wasn’t the first to raise her hand.

Now I’m glad it worked out this way. As I’m older I’m more ready to be here. I’m here now just trying to figure out what to do with my music. It’s such a big town and it’s a town where everyone is after the same thing. I’m working at The Country Music Hall of Fame Museum and everyone’s trying to do music. It’s overwhelming, but I definitely want to make music and see what happens.

My friends tell me ‘you need to go play, go out and do something with your music.’ I grew up in the music business and know it’s a hard business to crack; Dad knows it’s a hard business to crack, Grandma and Paw Paw knew it was a hard business to crack–we all knew. It kinda freaked my mom out, too, especially when you’re young and a woman trying to do music. So, they were always like, first get your college degree; have a fall back plan.

They didn’t push me to do my music, but they also weren’t discouraging me. They were supportive, they would always come to every show I had. I took guitar lessons for a year or two from Buddy Thomas (he was Dad’s teacher) and they took me to the lessons, so they were very supportive, but they weren’t pushing it. They let me do my thing.” In much the same way as Danny’s parents had supported him.

I came to Andi’s music via my sister, singer/songwriter Holly Renee Allen. A couple of years ago she came up with the idea to host a music soiree, The Neon Angels,  and invite other women singer/songwriters. There were some established artists alongside some new artists. Holly has an ear for talent and a good track record for picking winners long before they hit it big. She noticed Andi on Facebook and invited her to perform. Andi accepted. When she took the stage, I was amazed. Here was a young woman who has synthesized all the influences in her country music life into her very own, distinctive style–both as a writer and vocalist.

Holly says, “The first time I laid eyes on Andi Groah was in a 5×7 oak frame on her grandparent’s book shelf, in the Essex Drive house in Staunton. Her claim to fame at that time was an abundant mass of dark hair framing her baby face. Lynwood and Lu could not have been prouder or more in love with that kid. I don’t think anyone thought much past the wonder of the first grandchild, and then the second, and life kept happening.

Fast forward about 16 years… at some point I contacted Danny to see if he would play a gig with me. He responded, saying he was playing with Alan on the road and with his daughter and it kept him busy. I had friended Andi on social media after seeing pics of her with a guitar. She started posting videos of songs she was writing and cover tunes she liked. Her music has all the ingenuity and is as relatable as her grandmother’s–the likes of classic country and yet with a twist. She also captures some of the Spacey Kacey voicing, with the pure essence of Lee Ann Womack thrown in for good measure, walking a line that blurs classic and contemporary country.”

As a young, third-generation-in-her-family artist, Andi goes back and forth on the question of what sounds should or shouldn’t be considered  Country Music. She grew up listening to and loving hard core traditional music, the music of her parents’ and grandparents’ generations. From that group, she loves Merle Haggard as the “the poet of the common man” and Loretta Lynn, the trailblazer for women. Well-schooled in the traditional sound, Andi also listens to what she calls “underground” Country,  artists Margo Price, Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe, Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell. She says, “They have a more traditional sound, with modern lyrics; they have a way of just blending them together. I think it’s the future of country music–it should be the future of country music, it’s fantastic.”

I definitely don’t feel like I have an ace in the hole when it comes to making my way in this business. Because everybody down here knows somebody. Back home, in Staunton, my connections were a big deal, but when you come to Nashville, everybody knows somebody who plays for somebody, or writes for somebody or is a record exec. It’s not a super big town–it feels like it sometimes–and there’s a lot of people here trying to do it, but everyone is kinda connected.”

I think Andi’s ace-in-the-hole is her legacy–connections that reach back through her family deep into Country Music’s rich history. Her grandmother was writing and selling songs, breaking paths into a male-dominated market. Her father began his career playing with Cal Smith, who came out of Ernest Tubb’s band. With one foot solidly in tradition, later Danny’s other foot landed on the stage with Alan Jackson, whose style was dubbed neotraditional country, as his road guitarist.

When you listen to Andi’s music you hear the passion in her voice for her music. You also hear echos of her grandmother’s writing,  and the chords played on her father’s first acoustic guitar–a Guild. What you hear is a blending of all that’s come before her with her unique voice expressing her unique view of the world. She loves country music, she loves her family, she loves writing songs–songs about her life, and also writing about her friends’ experiences. 

Andi is poised on the brink of the newest wave of artists whose work is expanding the genre called Country Music, yet again. Perhaps there will be those who will judge her work against some calcified standard of what that is and find it coming up short, but hear me; this young woman is opening up to her creative muse and what flows from that is authentic. And isn’t that the standard that allows one to stay true both to tradition and one’s own artistic expression?

To me, the Groahs exemplify all that is good about country music. I feel blessed to have a life long relationship with them and to have had a close up view of their history as it has unfolded. They’ve each found their own way to walk the same path, and most importantly, they’ve always walked it with integrity and heart. Keepers of the flame, indeed.

A note from Danny Groah: As I read this story, now over sixty, it all seems like yesterday as time has gone by so quickly. I feel very blessed to have been able to do what I dreamed of as a kid and I am blessed to have such dear friends to share the memories with. My career is winding down now but my wife and I have our children’s dreams to follow. They are both so talented in their own fields and we are so proud of them.

Andi Groah: Take Me Back