There are few road signs on the last stretch of country road to Craig Morgan’s house outside Dickson, Tennessee. But there are at least four houses of God with some enlightening roadside wisdom. A Presbyterian church sign reads, “When we focus on the rain, we never see the rainbow.”
A springtime rain had just doused the woods around Morgan’s 500-acre farm, turning the leaves on the trees into vibrant shades of green. Morgan is chatting with his publicist in the kitchen, while two patties of freshly cooked elk sausage rest on a paper towel by the stove. An 11-year-old retired bird dog named Sam takes a breather by the refrigerator covered in family photos, schedules and calendars.
“She’s hanging on like a hair on a biscuit,” he says. The poor pooch has a brain tumor and doggy chemo has aged her fast.
A black barn cat meows at the door to be let in, but it’s time to head outside to check the beehives in the backyard. Another five hives are on the property two miles away and 100 more are in Florida for his new honey business, Morgan Farm Honey.
There’s definitely truth in the title of Morgan’s latest album A Whole Lot More to Me, like the fact that the Army veteran and musician is a five-year beekeeper who lives in a homesteader’s paradise.
“I’m very much into this self-sustained lifestyle,” he says as he pumps a smoker, igniting the straw stuffed in the chamber to calm the bees. “Environmentally, there’s nothing better. It’s the most important thing we can do, to be quite honest.”
Most of the spaces on the farm are handmade by Morgan and his two sons, who will be high school graduates in two days. His beehives were built by hand. A small greenhouse made of reclaimed doors and barn wood houses a solar-powered hydroponic system with fish tanks of catfish and tilapia below a shelf of homegrown organic lettuces. An orchard of peach, pear, plum and apple trees grows by a garden of tomatoes, peppers, beans and asparagus.
Why would anyone want to leave?
“I think we all should take more pride in our towns,” Morgan says. “My two youngest, they can’t freaking wait to get out of this town. It’s like, shoot, man. I couldn’t wait to stay. I love being home.”
Morgan’s love of home in Dickson and beyond is all over A Whole Lot More to Me, which lands Friday (June 3). It’s his most inspirational and compelling work to date, starting with the powerful current single “I’ll Be Home Soon.”
He celebrates his hometown in the closing track, “I Can’t Wait to Stay.” Listeners can sop up the southern charm with a biscuit in the slow-rolling “I’m That Country.” Gospel piano and pedal steel back him on the love ballad “Nowhere Without You.”
Anchoring the new music are moving songs that honor life beyond this world such as “Hearts I Leave Behind” featuring Third Day lead singer Mac Powell, “Country Side of Heaven,” “Who Would It Be” and the lead single “When I’m Gone.”
Morgan hopes the new album motivates his followers to live a full life.
“We should enjoy every minute,” Morgan says. “I talk to too many people who wish they would have said I love you one more time before they got off the phone or wished they had said it at all. My wife and I argue as much as anybody else in the world. But I do not let her drive down that driveway or I don’t leave the house, even if I’m still mad at her, without letting her know that I love her. I think that’s part of what’s kept us together because we realize, even though we might be angry with one another, and I might be upset that she might not understand me or vice versa, we still know that love is there.”
Morgan’s bees certainly have a happy life on the farm. Suited up like a fencer in a bee suit, he grabs two honey boxes from the barn and heads to the hives. With a cold front and overcast clouds, it’s not the best time to check honeybees. The cool weather can chill a brood, but it’s the only time Morgan has available. Over the next few days, his schedule is stacked with business and family engagements leading up to the album’s release.
Morgan puffs smoke around the first of five hives in the yard. He waits and pries open the top of the box with a hive tool. Very carefully and wearing gloves, Morgan lifts up frames one by one, inspecting the colony.
“Dang,” he says holding up a frame heavy with brood and honey. “That’s a healthy hive.”
His inspection took less than 10 minutes. The bees had started to buzz defensively around his ears and when that happens, it’s time to get out of their business.
That’s actually why 2013’s “Wake Up Loving You” music video was shot from one angle. Before the shoot, Morgan was inspecting his bees when they didn’t want to be checked.
“They were swarming real bad around me,” he recalls. “I was like, ‘Man, screw you.’ I’m all protected. All of a sudden I hear buzzing inside my hood. I’m like, ‘Oh [crap].’ I got stung on my right eye.”
Since homesteading is a second full-time gig, Morgan doesn’t get much time to work on music when he’s on the farm. Off days at home are spent crossing off items on a never-ending to-do list.
“There’s so much stuff to do,” he says. “I’ve still got five hives on the other side that I gotta take everything over there and it’s not like it’s close. They’re two miles away. I’ve got to load everything on the buggy go over there and then on the way, I’ll see something, and think, ‘Oh, I need to put that in.’ It’s never-ending on the farm.”
This particular off-day was dedicated to media interviews on top of all his farm chores. But luckily, the wet weather forced Morgan to go easy on the farm work. “I love days like this,” he says. “I can’t do a whole lot. When everybody’s done today, I’m going to build a fire, I’m going to sit back there with a glass of wine and wait for my wife to get home.”
Morgan is on tour through summer. His next show is Thursday (June 2) at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, California.