My 2021 Chet Flippo Award For Excellence In Country Music Journalism Acceptance Speech

Printed, unedited, in its entirety

Marcus K. Dowling
5 min readJun 4, 2021


Foremost, I would like to thank the International Country Music Conference for this mind-blowing honor. When Dr. Akenson told me I could make a few comments, I was awestruck, but then, in a series of fond yet bittersweet recollections, the words came to me.

“Take me home, country roads, to the place I belong.”

During my 43 years of life, John Denver’s 50-year-old country-crossover hit single has unlocked many mystical, magical meanings for my life.

As a bleary-eyed child — spending two-week summer vacations sleeping inside one of two double-wide mobile homes my aunt won on the Price is Right in 1975 — I would be awake five hours past my bedtime staring blissfully into the starry-eyed night at the Falling Waters Campsite in Falling Waters, West Virginia. The song’s hook played on the infomercial aired before the National Anthem as a daily network affiliate sign-off for some off-brand K-Tel or Time-Life style compilation box-set of 70s country records. Somewhere between Tanya Tucker’s “Delta Dawn” and Anne Murray’s “Snowbird,” I’d warble Denver’s words because I knew the song snippets played on the commercial, by heart.

The song rang strangely to me at the time. My home was not near any country roads. Actually, my home was in far-Northeast Washington, DC’s Deanwood neighborhood. I grew up living a literal hop, skip, and a jump away from one of many crack-cocaine selling hotbeds amid Section 8 housing that emerged as DC’s legendary mayor, Marion Barry, Jr., himself succumbed to the very scourge of addiction he was trying to eradicate in the Nation’s Capital’s urban jungle.

But, I was a straight-A student in DC Public Schools’ Academically-Talented Program, plus a lector at various Roman Catholic Churches in the area. To extend the John Denver corollary, the arc my life was taking made me feel as if I didn’t belong in the place where the roads between Falling Waters and the three-story red brick apartment on 1210 Eastern Avenue, Northeast took me back to after vacation, either.

As an 80s baby, avenues country roads — be they on TV, the radio, the department store, anywhere —…