Girl Talk: Desperately Seeking Country Stars

When I decided to move to Nashville, celebrity sightings were pretty high on my list of “new city perks,” ranking somewhere between “high concentration of cute banjo players” and “existence of sweet tea.” Based on the blogs and gossip columns I read, it was impossible to go to the grocery store in Nashville without rubbing shoulders with Brad Paisley or exchanging muffin recipes with Taylor Swift. I loved how effortless it all seemed. How simultaneously casual and glamorous. I started pre-bragging about my anticipated celebrity encounters before I even left Portland.

“You’ll text me as soon as you see Carrie Underwood, right?” my friends would ask as they helped me pack up my kitchen supplies.

“Of course,” I would breezily reply, not mentioning that I had already looked up her preferred bakery and planned to go there every Monday afternoon to increase my chances of “accidentally” running into her and becoming her best friend.

A couple weeks after I arrived in Nashville, I’d fallen in love with the city but was troubled by the fact that I still hadn’t seen any famous country singers. I went to get my nails done to make myself feel better. I told my manicurist I was new in town and couldn’t help asking her if she’d had any juicy celeb encounters. Her list was impressive: Jack White, “the guy who plays Deacon on ‘Nashville’,” Johnny Cash. (She’d also seen a water moccasin in the river once, but that’s neither here nor there.)

I left with bright blue fingernails and a new favorite pastime. I got in the habit of asking everyone I met what celebrities they’d seen recently, hoping to create a mental map of celeb whereabouts. [I suggest making an actual map, like the Ryan Gosling stalker map I keep on my computer. — Amelia]

“Keith Urban was in here yesterday,” giggled the waitress at a local diner. “He even said grace before he ate his chicken!”

“Brantley Gilbert dropped by this morning and loved the ‘fresh cut grass’ scent,” dished the girl at Yankee Candle.

“Garth Brooks came in last week and bought this exact bed,” whispered the sweaty salesman at Mattress World.

As days and weeks passed, I had accumulated a huge amount of ridiculous celebrity anecdotes but still no actual celebrity sightings. I was starting to feel like a shadow or a character in a terrible rom-com about a girl whose bad timing ruins her chances for love. According to all of my sources, I was missing out on run-ins with my country idols by mere hours. Like a celebrity ship and its creepy fangirl passing in the night.

“Seen any country stars yet?” my Portland friends constantly texted me.

I evaded the question with vague tidbits from my ever-growing cache of country star trivia: “Martina McBride loves blueberry pancakes!!!”

Perhaps my curiosity would never have blossomed into an obsession if Nashville had just thrown me a damn bone. A Scotty McCreery sighting at Starbucks might have satisfied my celebrity sighting appetite. But six months in, I was still celebrity free and starting to feel cursed. A Facebook acquaintance posted about sitting next to Tim McGraw and Faith Hill at a restaurant on the first day of her trip to Nashville. “What are the chances?!?!” she said. Apparently better than mine. I upped the ante.

When my favorite Nashville gossip blog reported that singer Easton Corbin had been spotted at a chain Mexican restaurant near Vanderbilt, I ate there six times in three weeks. They had really good chips. The waiter started greeting me by name. I gained two pounds. I never saw Easton.

In an effort to lose my Easton Corbin weight, I spent hours perusing the organic cherry tomatoes at the Whole Foods salad bar, hoping to catch a glimpse of Nicole Kidman. No luck.

I read in Rolling Stone that Taylor Swift owns a penthouse in midtown with a human-sized birdcage hung from the ceiling. I started rerouting my daily walks past the building so I could stare up at the floor-to-ceiling windows, hoping to catch a glimpse of Tay-Tay and pondering which boy band member might be locked in the cage today.

“What would you do if you did see a country star?” a friend asked me recently.

“Nothing,” I replied. “I just really, really want to see one.”

This weekend, my boyfriend and I went to a restaurant in a neighboring town where the walls are plastered with photos of Wynonna Judd. She comes in so often she has autographed every menu and all the waitresses consider themselves unofficial godmothers of her children. On this particular day, of course, Wynonna was lunching elsewhere.

“Where are you, Wynonna?” I asked the grease-stained photo tacked up next to my booth. Sometimes I feel that having the same name creates a bond between us, a bond which, if there were justice in this world, would cause us to eat at the same restaurants at the same time. I guess I was wrong. Our server came over to refill our coffee and caught me staring wistfully at the picture. “Wynonna’s such a sweetie,” she said. “You would just love her.”

“She came in yesterday, didn’t she?” I asked sarcastically, but the waitress didn’t hear me. She had set down the coffee pot and taken off across the restaurant toward the backdoor, where a small crowd of cooks and servers had gathered. They were whispering and gesturing excitedly. This had to be it. My big chance. Maybe Luke Bryan was out in the parking lot washing his car shirtless. Maybe Jason Aldean was signing autographs. Maybe Wynonna was popping in for lunch! I pushed my way through the crowd to see what all the commotion was about, and there it was: a giant rat nosing around a bush next to the road.

“It’s a groundhog,” one the cooks told me triumphantly.

My waitress lit a cigarette. “We call her Mama,” she said. “She’s the biggest one we’ve ever seen.”

We all stared at the larger-than-average groundhog in awe. A few minutes later I went back inside to text all my friends. It wasn’t Carrie Underwood, but for now, at least, Mama would have to do.