The Listening Room: “Rocky Top”

I once drove from Knoxville Tennessee to Bloomington Indiana (well, OK, I actually made that drive like 95,000 times, when I was dating the girl who would become my wife and we lived in those two cities.) It was a Friday and it was the day before the University of Tennessee had its opening football game.

If you have ever lived in East Tennessee or known someone from the area it will be impossible to understand exactly what that means. Tennesseans are crazy about many things, but they are plain bonkers about college football.

To start the drive, I listened to a local Tennessee radio station. This particular station decided that the best way to celebrate the opening game was to play the team’s theme song “Rocky Top” about a million times in a row. Well, to be more precise they played every version of the song they could get their hands on. There were reggae versions, hard rock versions, marching band versions, and lot and lots of bluegrass versions.

The thing is, I listened to every single one. All the way through. And I might have been the happiest I’ve ever been doing it.

My father is from Maryville Tennessee which is right there in East Tennessee on the cusp of the Great Smokey Mountains. Though I grew up in Oklahoma we always spent some of the summers out there visiting grandma and grandpa and I came to cherish that little part of the country. I lived there for about a year sometime after college and it is still my very favorite place on this earth.

To live there is to love their football team, whether or not you actually care about the game. I could care less about football, but I love the Volunteers. This event also occurred during a time in my life when I wasn’t exactly the happiest chap in the world. Truth is I was pretty stinking depressed. You see I had not long ago dropped out of graduate school and learned that a BA in English doesn’t go very far in getting you anywhere.

This was also after having worked at a high-stress-funded-by-government job where upon we were also raided by the FBI and told to sit down, shut up, and don’t move one fine sunny day. Which was followed up by what I thought would be a stress-free mail room job that turned into the job from H-E-L-L.

All of this is to say I wasn’t exactly in the happiest of states during this time in my life. The one ray of light was my dear girlfriend. As she lived in Indiana, I gladly trekked the 350 miles to see her every few weeks.

And here we are back to that song. I don’t know what it is about “Rocky Top” that makes me so happy, but it does. It has the nostalgic appeal of reminding me of my childhood. It has the enthusiasm of an entire state (and one that I dearly love) behind it. And it is a silly, fun, entirely upbeat little bluegrass number.

What’s not to love?

So there I went listening to every conceivable version of it for a couple of hours. I actually made it to the end of their broadcast before the station died from me driving too far away. I don’t suspect I would ever do that again, as my circumstances are much different (Indiana doesn’t have nearly that same enthusiasm.) As I listened to the song moments ago, it was lovely but mostly forgettable.

But on that long ride, there was nothing better.

6 thoughts on “The Listening Room: “Rocky Top”

  1. My brother-in-law, a diehard Tennessee fan, has taught their beagle to sing “Rocky Top.” I should get it on video and post it one day; it’s rather funny.

  2. I went to school at UT back in the early 90’s. I hadn’t been exposed to Rocky Top before then. At first, I thought it was great. After the first few hundreds renditions of it, though, I started to tire of it and, ultimately, despise it. I live in Atlanta and love the Braves, but feel the same way about the Tomahawk Chop (after years of it).

    Some say that too much is never enough. I have to disagree.


    PS – I still loved Knoxville and UT, though.

  3. Beth you simply must youtube that dog. My father (still a diehard UT fan even though he has lived in Oklahoma now for thirty odd years) would love it.

    RightOn, I think that trip was the breaking point for me. I loved listening to all those versions, but since then I can’t say the song has brought the same sort of joy.

  4. I’m a UT grad (1992)from Indiana. Both of my parents are UT grads as well, so I had a choice – any school in Indiana, or Tennessee. (They were both wearing UT shirts, and we were in Knoxville when I was given that choice, no pressure.)
    I went to Tennessee and loved it, Rocky Top makes me feel great everytime I hear it – more so the older I get, I think. My orange clashes with the red in Indiana – love that to.
    But, I wanted to defend my native state on 1 thing – they have the same enthusiasm as we do for UT football, but for a different thing. You must not have spent a Friday night or Saturday afternoon in Indiana, because if you had, you’d see the same enthusiasm, but for basketball. (High School & College)
    Some of my family went to IU, and even with the mess they have there, right now, they sent me some phone shots of Assembly Hall – still packed. Just like this year, when my wife and friends go to UT games, no matter how much we struggled this year, did you see any empty seats? Hell no.
    Oh, and guys, if you want a revival of the feeling for Rocky Top, let me suggest you go to a game. When you are in Neyland, and the band strikes it up, and the team runs out – if that doesn’t get you up on your feet, excited and yelling out the lyrics, along with 40 or 50 thousand other Vols, nothing will.
    Love ya UT.

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