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PHOTO: Aledo native hits the stage in Moline

Aledo native Margo Price hits the stage at the TaxSlayer Center singing "Tennessee Song" for her first country tune last year.

Lately, life has been full of pinch-me moments for Margo Price.

There was the barrage of phone calls and texts in early December, informing Price she had been nominated for her first Grammy. In January, Price, who is now six months pregnant, tweeted that the legendary Loretta Lynn said she could use Lynn as a middle name for the baby because it “works for a boy or a girl.” More recently, on Tuesday, Price played a raucous version of her song, “Cocaine Cowboys” on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” Her band found out about the gig two days prior.

Ahead of the Grammy awards, which air at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Price fit in a phone interview with the Quad-City Times while she was en route to another big moment: Meeting Dolly Parton for the first time.

“I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a magical experience,” Price said. “Obviously, I love Dolly Parton, like the rest of the world.”

The old-school country singer, who is originally from Aledo, Illinois, was one of several musicians, from Katy Perry to Kacey Musgraves to Garth Brooks, who performed tributes to Parton during a gala on Friday honoring her as MusiCares Person of the Year. Price teamed with Cam and Jennifer Nettles to sing a rendition of “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind,” a tune made famous by Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris.

2019 has already been a whirlwind for the singer, who moved to Nashville 16 years ago “with a dream and a cheap guitar," Price tweeted last month, after seeing a photo of herself on a billboard in Nashville. "I worked every dead end job and played every dive bar in town.”

Price’s nomination in the Best New Artist category comes more than a year after the released of her second album "All American Made.” Her debut album, "Midwest Farmer's Daughter," came out in 2016.

Shortly after learning she had received a Grammy nod, Price tweeted, "Somebody pinch me.”

'I've dreamed of success like this'

The shock hasn’t gone away.

“It’s really surreal,” Price said. “I’ve dreamed of success like this, but honestly never expected it. I think after struggling in the music business for 15 years, I kind of put the thought out of my mind. It’s taking some getting used to. But, it feels well-earned.”

Price has been outspoken about being rejected by the Nashville country establishment.

“The CMAs (Country Music Association Awards) have not recognized my music and mainstream radio has not given me any support,” she said.

At this point, Price said it doesn’t bother her.

“If anything, I think that fuels the fire,” she said. “I like a struggle. I don’t agree with a lot of their politics anyway. I think I’m enjoying being an outsider.”

She has gotten here — an outsider, yes, but one who is finding a seat at the table — by telling it like she sees it. She has written songs about her experiences with manipulative people in the music business. She has written about losing a child and spending a weekend in jail. She has written about smashing the patriarchy and observing the brokenness of America. She wrote a song called “Pay Gap.”

Humble beginnings

The first song on Price’s debut album was no less honest. On “Hands of Time,” Price sings about what she now calls her humble beginnings, marked in part by her father losing the family’s farm. 

“I was only really writing that song for myself, as a form of therapy really,” Price said. “That album in particular was kind of a way to introduce myself, the good things about me and bad things about me and the struggles I went through. That song kind of put it all out there, you know, take it or leave it.”

She also sings about tearfully leaving her Aledo with $57 to her name. Price said she was ready to “see what else was out there.” In the song, she also seems to wrestle with wanting to make things better for her family.

She sings: "I want to buy back the farm/And bring my mama home some wine/And turn back the clock on the cruel hands of time."

With time, the 35-year-old Price has come to appreciate aspects of her hometown she once found boring. 

“You have to remember where you came from,” she said. “There’s something really beautiful about the simplicity of the Midwest.”

She said she enjoys coming back to visit her family members and parents, who still live in the same house Price was born in.

“There’s no cell service out there. And in my older age,” she said with a laugh, “I enjoy that, because I get a lot of reading done and writing done.”

A more even playing field

Price’s first Grammy nod was made even sweeter, she said, because she is one of six women up for Best New Artist. Others nominated in the category include Luke Combs, Dua Lipa, Bebe Rexha Jorja Smith, Greta Van Fleet, Chloe x Halle and H.E.R.

“This year’s Grammy nominations in general, it feels like a more even playing field,” she told Billboard magazine.

Even so, Price said there is plenty more progress to be made.

Take, for example, the negative comments she has received about playing shows while pregnant.

“I’ve been really shocked by the things people are saying about it and that they think I shouldn't be doing what I'm doing,” she said. “I think even though the year is 2019, there’s a lot of gender equality that’s going on. Like I’ve said, I’m not terminally ill. I’m just having a baby.”

“I think we need to normalize those things and say that women obviously can have a career and a family,” Price added. “Men do it all of the time, so why should women be robbed of that?”

During her appearance on “Kimmel,” she seemed to beat that point home; Price spent the last four minutes of the seven-minute song playing the drums. And, as she pointed out, she did so while wearing high heels.

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Amanda Hancock is a reporter covering food, arts and entertainment in the Quad-Cities (and beyond).