Music City Muses: The Leading Ladies Behind Three Nashville Musicians
He’s not singing to you. In fact, he has a ring on his finger—proof that he’s singing about a woman he married years ago. Sure, he’s belting out a love song and looking in your general direction, but the woman he loves? She’s leading a relatively normal life, waiting for him to come home.
Music City shines its bright lights upon the men onstage, leaving the wives that inspire their hit music in a comparative shadow. Her tracked down three of these muses —successful career women who find time to maintain loving marriages with their music mogul men — and asked them to share their stories.
First, meet Annie Kearney, wife of Nashville pop musician Mat Kearney and the inspiration behind “Hey Mama,” his latest hit single. “Literally, people will stop me at a restaurant and ask, ‘are you Mama?’” Annie laughs.
Annie met Mat in 2008, and for months, wouldn’t even listen to his work. “I was afraid I wouldn’t like his music,” she admits, “which would be a bummer because I liked him so much.” When she finally listened to “All I Need,” Mat’s ballad inspired by the events of Hurricane Katrina, Annie became a lifelong fan. Two years after that first listen, Annie became Mrs. Kearney in an elegant farm wedding in Franklin.
Then there’s Allison DeMarcus, wife of Rascal Flatts’ country-singing tycoon Jay DeMarcus. She wasn’t anxious about disliking his songs, since one of them paved the way for the two to meet in July 2002. A reigning Miss Tennessee USA, Allison landed the female lead role in a music video for the band’s song “These Days.” Exuding charm and natural beauty, Allison played the part opposite Gary LeVox. Later, she kept seeing Jay around town.
“I said yes to a lunch date,” Allison says with her subtle Southern accent. She was worried they wouldn’t have anything in common, since they had met so many months before. As it turned out, their lunch at Valentino’s was much better than she’d expected. “We sat there and talked for four hours until they kicked us out!” she says. Allison admits she didn’t know much about the music industry at that point, but knew there was something special about Jay. “He was intelligent, compassionate and made me laugh,” she says with a big smile. “He still makes me laugh.” They’ve been married for eight years now and have a 16-month old daughter named Madeline and a baby boy due in August.
Her also spoke with new country royalty, Cassie Kelley, wife of Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley. Unlike Allison, who met Jay by taking a job, Cassie met Charles by leaving one. In 2007, she quit her high profile PR job in New York City. “I was burning the candle from both ends,” Cassie says. Unbeknownst to Cassie, after she’d come home to Nashville, a plan was underway to introduce her to Charles. Cassie’s sister invited her for a night out at South Street restaurant when they met. “We locked eyes,” she says, owning every bit of the cliché. “And honestly, it was one of those moments where I just knew.” The next night Charles wined and dined his future bride at Franklin’s Red Pony Restaurant. They married in 2009.
Annie Kearney, Allison DeMarcus, and Cassie Kelley lead lives that seem glamorous to the rest of us. And it’s true there are perks. Annie recently traveled to Napa to see Mat play. Cassie’s planning to join Charles this summer in Copenhagen, London, and Stockholm. All three have perfect hair.
But with those occasional perks come big sacrifices.
In many ways, these women maintain long-distance marriages. Annie’s husband Mat spends more time away from Nashville than living here. On average, his band tours about nine months out of the year, and Annie can join him only half of the time. And there’s not much room for intimacy on the road. “We sleep in the same bunk on the bus even though it’s only made for one,” Annie says. “The band jokes about it, but we don’t care.”
Fortunately, unlike rock or pop artists, country musicians typically schedule their shows in a way that allows for time back in Nashville nearly every week. The Flatts are usually home Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, Allison explains, which allows for at least a few normal nights “cooking dinner, hanging out with Madeline and doing dishes like everyone else!”
But as you might expect, many of Charles’ “off” days morph into writing sessions, television appearances or photo shoots, explains Cassie. When they do have time together, the Kelleys are self-proclaimed homebodies. “I love to cook,” Cassie says, “and Charles loves to eat. So, when we’re at home, we really like to be at home.”
But a musician’s schedule can be hard to explain to relatives, Cassie says. Over the past two-and-a-half years, Cassie’s family has been walking a difficult road, supporting her father through a battle with stage four cancer and its attendant surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation. And while her father’s health deteriorated, her husband’s career skyrocketed. “There are definitely times that you feel so alone, and you don’t have your best friend with you because he’s somewhere out there on stage,” Cassie admits. Allison agrees. “People don’t realize how lonely it can be,” she says. “Not every day is a red-carpet event.”
The difficulty of this lifestyle sent Annie and Mat looking for examples of lasting marriage — and they didn’t have to look far. Annie’s in-laws, Mike and Shannon Kearney, have been married for nearly fifty years. They encouraged the younger Kearneys to seek counseling, which Annie describes as “just good maintenance.”
“When you stop talking,” Annie says seriously, “that’s when things can get scary. When you don’t want to be on the phone, when you’re tired, that’s when you make it a priority.”
Cassie and Charles look to her grandparents, Scotty and Betty Lou Robertson, who were married for 61 years despite her late grandfathers’ hectic schedule as a high school, college, and NBA basketball coach. “My grandmother had to balance the same situation as I am in now,” Cassie says. “Their love affair was amazing, but she also had a life outside of their marriage that was and still is incredibly full.”
Allison, Cassie, and Annie have each cultivated their own successful careers. Allison took a job for CMT Insider in 2007 as a correspondent who interviews country artists. “I enjoy working for CMT because it gives me a creative outlet outside of being a mom and a wife,” she says, breaking into a smile. “But I get nervous when I interview Rascal Flatts.” The DeMarcuses also host the Miss Tennessee Pageant annually in Allison’s hometown of Jackson, Tennessee. Together they banter and joke onstage, and, sometimes — if the audience is lucky — Jay sings.
While Allison is in the right city for her work in country music television, Annie, who is pursing a career in acting, hopes she and Mat will eventually move to Los Angeles. In the meantime, Annie has put her acting skills to good use in music videos. She plays the leading role in the video for “Ships In the Night,” her husband’s latest single. “I was honored,” Annie says solemnly. “Some women could go into this kind of career and get lost, but Mat and I have established that he is a hundred percent supportive of me, and that my dreams are just as important as his.”
That statement rings true for Cassie, as well, who has put her public relations career on hold to cultivate her passion for writing. She recently launched the website Womanista, which enables her to produce creative work about food, fashion, travel and beauty. Now, she maintains a flexible schedule so she can travel more often with Lady Antebellum.
In the end, these women face the same struggles that all of us do in maintaining a healthy, loving marriage. Allison’s advice for a young couple is the same, whether or not your husband lives in the limelight.
“Be prepared to be flexible and patient,” she says. “In the end, the good always outweighs the bad.”
“I dreamt my whole life about being a mother,” says Heidi Jellison. “I never dreamt about a big wedding, honestly never even dreamt about the husband part.” Jellison, a 35-year-old concert harpist and harp teacher, laughs at this last bit, but then her face settles into a quiet solemnity.
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