Leaving Nashville

Album: Can't Let You Go (2017)

Songfacts®:

  • Ashley Riley wrote this song about a 2010 visit she'd made to Nashville while traveling to Knoxville, Tennessee, to play a show. She wrote the song with her friend Jessica Spain, who was also with her on the trip.

    It was Riley's second time in Nashville, which has long been a sort of mythological place, the city where country musicians went to make it big and become stars. Nashville is to country music what Hollywood is to movie stars. It's the place you go to "be discovered" and to become a celebrity. By the time of her second visit, Riley had woken up to the reality that the vast majority of people who go to Nashville end up grinding for years, working very hard and hoping for a big payoff that never comes.
  • The song's title is a double entendre, meaning both physically driving out of Nashville and metaphorically leaving that false dream behind. The song isn't negative, though, as the insight taught Riley to embrace her own artistic journey and enjoy where she was in it, rather than pining for that overnight success story that is little more (maybe nothing more) than a pipe dream. It was an important learning experience in mindfulness for her.

    Riley told Songfacts that she tried selling the song to an unnamed Nashville television show but couldn't get it to the producers, so she held on to it for a while before deciding to include it on her 2017 Can't Let You Go album.
  • This song appears on Riley's 2017 EP Can't Let You Go, which was the last time she recorded with her original backing band. Riley built her career in the region around her hometown of Decatur, Illinois (she was born in the metro-area village of Long Creek). The area was once a thriving Midwest urban center until the 1990s, when economic and cultural shifts saw it experience a drastic decrease in population. It continued to lose people into the '10s.

    Riley's perspective on the reality of the Nashville scene may inform her decision to build her career in her hometown, which does not have the kind of upward momentum that most would consider ideal for building a platform in music or any other creative art. With the departure of her original band, Riley started writing solo songs. In 2020 she released "Close To Me," which was a hit on the regional scene and won the Midwest Music Expo listener's panel. That single got her exposure on a number of music sites and at least somewhat vindicated her decision to "make it" in her economically challenged hometown.

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