A Desperate Plea for Harmony: The Meaning Behind “The Great Divide” by Luke Combs and Billy Strings

Luke Combs and Billy Strings collaborated on “The Great Divide” in 2021 to address a country at war with itself. Though Combs hinted at a larger bluegrass project, he chose to confront tribalism as the more immediate mission.  

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However, the goal of “The Great Divide” isn’t to offer solutions to deeply complex issues. Instead, it aims to caution and hopefully bring people together.

The sentiment may be too earnest for some, but there’s a fix for that. If the gushiness makes you queasy, you can sit back and enjoy the maestro Billy Strings playing his guitar. It may be one of America’s last inarguable things.

A Country at War with Itself

“The Great Divide” concerns America’s gaping political and cultural divisions. The song opens with TV’s devastating news cycle. Combs then moves on to people turning their phones into rage tools.

We’re striking matches on the TV
Setting fires on our phones
Bearing crosses, we believe in dying on
Tempers flare, the flame flies higher
As we soar closer towards the sun
But I like to think too much damage ain’t been done

Combs and Strings wrote “The Great Divide” with frequent Zach Brown Band collaborator Wyatt Durrette. They see people ruining their lives and destroying relationships, but will enough people break from their rage to listen?

Still, in post-truth America, things sometimes feel like a sci-fi film. A few people desperately warn the others, but the warnings are ignored, and by the end of the film, people devour each other (metaphorically, of course).

We’re all so far, so far apart now
It’s as deep as it is wide
We’re about to fall apart now
If we can’t reach the other side
We gotta find a way across the great divide

Rome Eventually Fell

Collapsing countries require division, and competing tribes are crucial to failing democracies—divide et impera.

America’s founders understood this history, generally distrusted the masses, and tried to create organizational protections to save the country from the passions of its people.

But “The Great Divide” is a populist plea for civility. On his Instagram account, Combs said, “I thought now was a good time to put this song out with everything that has been going on in the world. It isn’t meant to be political or try and tell you what to think or believe.”

The Band Is Hopeful

The duo recorded “The Great Divide” in Nashville with Charlie Worsham on acoustic guitar, banjo, and mandolin; Eric Darken on percussion; and Billy Strings’ bassist Royal Masat.

Strings told Rolling Stone, “This song is our interpretation of the conflicts and tension we had been witnessing/experiencing around the time we wrote it. We wanted to shine a little light on the situation and offer a bit of hope during what has been a tough time for many.”

In a press release, Combs mentioned he was working on a bluegrass album. He said, “This is a song that was supposed to be a part of that project. It’s not a lead single or a lead-in to that project yet, because that is not done. But it felt like the right time to put this song out.”

He added, “When we wrote it, there were a lot of crazy things going on in the world. There’s still a lot of crazy things going on in the world. And I just felt like I had some stuff to say.”

Controversy and an Apology

“The Great Divide” is a call for harmony, but Combs and Strings’ goodwill song wasn’t without controversy.

Following the song’s release, Combs, one of country music’s biggest stars, apologized unequivocally for his past use of the Confederate flag. He had appeared in a 2015 music video for Ryan Upchurch’s “Can I Get an Outlaw” performing in front of a Confederate flag, and he also had a Confederate flag sticker on his guitar.

Combs addressed the controversy during a Country Radio Seminar discussion with singer Maren Morris and moderator Ann Powers. CNN reported that Combs said, “I would never want to be associated with something that brings so much hurt to someone else.”

He added, “I know that I’m a very highly visible member of the country music community right now. And I want to use that position for good and to say that people can change and people do want to change, and I’m one of those people trying.”

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Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images for CBS Radio

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