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Joni Harms' music played an important role in a curious little girl's childhood.

DESIREE BERGSTROM/MADRAS PIONEER - Joni Harms' album, 'Are we there yet?' was a big part of the author's childhood. A reporter's job is to ask questions and be curious about things happening in the community, which came naturally from the time I was little. The joke has been that my first word was why, and who knows if it was true, but one thing is for sure, it was my favorite word — and still is.

The thing is though, several specific children's songs encouraged those questions, which drove the whole family crazy, and simultaneously left them with playful and catchy children's songs stuck in their head for days on end about silly things like germs or how to tie your shoes. That album of songs? Joni Harms' "Are We There Yet?"

On Aug. 4, this Sunday at the Antelope Community Church, beginning at 1 p.m., Joni Harms will be performing at the "Raised Country" music festival, along with several other artists. I'll be there too and as the day nears, nostalgia continues to set in.

"Why do I have to go to bed when I want to play instead? Oh why?" is a line from the song of the same name as my favorite word, "Why?" and trust me, I pulled this line a lot with my grandma and parents growing up.

But, the thing about the songs on the album from the Oregon native wasn't the catchiness of the tune or the neat country-western style they were written in, which really hit home for this farm-raised reporter; it was the understanding and encouragement behind the music and in the lyrics. The words, looking back, gave agency to the little girl who wanted to know the answers to life's biggest questions — "Why can't I have another glass of chocolate milk?"

Seriously though, her songs, while pointing out to adults the funny and often annoying moments that were all to relatable about raising a child, said it was OK to be curious, it was important to be imaginative and if your friends liked different things than you did, that was OK too.

It was music that I could relate to because of my country roots and I remember thinking that this lady has a horse just like mine, which was really just the coolest stick horse that made neighing sounds when you squeezed his ear. "Ole' Red was a good ole' horse, more than just a stick, of course. I trained him good, but Ole' Red, he taught me — there's nothing you can't do if you believe," the song goes.

It seems cliched and probably is; these are things that every child should learn, and many usually do somewhere, but for me, the music sticks with me and so does the person singing.

Even as a 22-year-old newspaper reporter, perhaps partially for nostalgia's sake, the song lyrics come back when life starts to get a little overwhelming and I sometimes say to my sister or grandmother, "Remember that old Joni Harms song from when I was little?"

I even went as far as naming my pair of FFA steers Stan and Bert after the title and main characters of one of Harms' songs about two little boys, one who liked to play in the sand and one who liked to play in the dirt. "It just makes 'em different, but what does it hurt? If Stan likes sand and Bert likes dirt," the song said.

Those steers were about as different as steers could be, which matched the theme of the song perfectly.

In the song that ultimately followed me through life, and became a family joke about the overly hyper, annoying little girl they all had to put up with on long road trips or even short trips to the store, was the title track of the album, "Are We There Yet?"

The song described what I was like as a child down to the opening lines which go, "I'm buckled up here, in the back seat, with my blanket and my friend Pooh." I had a stuffed Winnie the Pooh that I took everywhere for a long time, but the ultimate descriptor was I was the kid constantly pestering my grandfather with "Are we there yet?"

"Are we there yet? When will we get to where you said we're gonna go?" the chorus begins.

While I am sure they don't remember this, I used to go see Harms at the Clackamas County Fair every year when I was little and it usually turned out to be one of the best memories of the summer.

One year stands out in my mind more than others, when I got the chance to climb up onto that stage, near the back of the fairgrounds, under the shade of several large trees, and sing that song with Harms and her daughter, Olivia, who is a couple years older than I and who will also be at the festival this weekend. She's now performing as a Nashville recording artist and not the young girl I remember sharing a microphone with while singing with her mom.

That experience isn't the most spectacular amazing thing I have ever seen or done, but looking back, it made the lyrics true for me. I thought Joni Harms was the coolest person ever, having not really met her until or since that day at the fair, but all I ever wanted at that time was to meet the person whose songs I listened to every day. And as the song said to little girl Desiree, "There is nothing you can't do if you believe."

I haven't seen Harms perform since I was little and didn't really stay up to date with much of her music until recently, but I still have that scratched and beat-up CD and a cassette tape in a box somewhere, as well, that I pull out from time to time.

The memories are what truly make it one of the significant things of my childhood, from my grandpa saying we couldn't listen to it for the fifth time, but then I ultimately would end up being more annoying than the CD on repeat and he would give in and press play. Or that day at the county fair when I met my childhood favorite.

Harms' music, even the songs on her regular albums, have a way of getting to her country roots and being relatable for those that share them. It's always great to hear her perform, and as the "Raised Country" festival approaches, and nostalgia heightens, there is only one question: "Are we there yet?"


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