Friday, May 25, 2018, 5:30 p.m., $35–$144
Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek, Raleigh
Saturday, May 26, 7 p.m., $28–$75
PNC Arena, Raleigh

For as long as songs have been written and sung, musicians have sometimes served as informal philosophers, delivering advice on heartbreak and hardship and reflections on the world at large. This weekend, two back-to-back, big-name country shows offer divergent solutions to life’s ailments. One leans toward classic country, featuring Willie Nelson with Sturgill Simpson (as well as Alison Krauss and Union Station and Delta Rae), while the other bubbles with the colorful pop sensibility and razor-sharp writing of Sugarland and Brandy Clark. They offer two different paths to surviving one’s struggles, and indeed, different ways to look at the world.

One path, overgrown and unattended, boasts life as a cosmic wonder, something to be endured for all the right reasons. The other, immaculately manicured, promises a glittering affirmation of the cause of pain as inconsequential if you step back and look at the bigger picture. One promises self-discovery and a little pain, nothing that can’t help but remind you of how short life is. The other will be easy and full of celebration, though it might leave you asking whether or not you deserve to be that happy, in light of how easy it was to get to your destination.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the butterfly: a man opens the cocoon to help the butterfly transform sooner, only to find that his well-intentioned act doomed the creature before it even had a chance. There are two possible lessons to take away from this parable, depending on how you’re feeling. One is that the struggle in whatever form it takes is inherent to future success, as Sturgill Simpson sings in “High Top Mountain” or Willie Nelson does in “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”

Take that away, and you doom the other to failure, or, if you’re feeling dramatic, death. The other is that your desire to help others in the way you deem necessary can have the reverse effect in the end, as Nelson alludes to on “Last Man Standing.” The ego is a powerful drugyou don’t know as much as you think you do, so why assume otherwise?

Do you like to wallow? To sit and stew in your regrets, painfully wishing for some kind of release, desperately begging god to turn back time and allow you to do it all over again the right way? Then the overgrown path is for you, allowing plenty of time alone with your thoughts as you stumble your way through the wilderness before arriving at your destination. You are dirty and bleeding, but alive. It’s a lonely road, one that dooms you to a certain type of survival that only you can understand.

Or do you like to celebrate? Sugarland makes the perfect soundtrack for an upbeat recognition of overcoming strife. It glitters and glistens. We all want to feel accomplished, loved, and to celebrate that, as Sugarland and songwriter Shy Carter do on “Stuck Like Glue.” Would you rather turn your success into a chip on your shoulder, as Simpson and Nelson do, or a positive affirmation for the world, like Sugarland’s “Something More?” Sugarland welcomes you with open arms, loving hearts, with people ready to celebrate alongside you, having just run the same marathon as you. The truth according to Sugarland is that the path to happiness not all glitz and glamour; sometimes it’s a disguise, a turd painted gold and sprayed with Febreeze to help you get through.

Maybe the question is not where, specifically, is the struggle, but rather, what does the product of your specific struggle look like? Does the product bear the reminder that the subject has struggled, like Simpson’s “Turtles All the Way Down?” Or is it a polished celebration of surviving the struggle, like you’d find with Sugarland’s “Babe” (which features Taylor Swift)? Would you rather be constantly reminded of your pain and how you dealt with it or, for a brief moment, be allowed to leave it at the door? Either choice is the better one, and you’ll find escape in either venue.

Choose the dirty, unkempt path, the one you know will be hard, and you’ll find yourself at the altar of Willie Nelson and Sturgill Simpson, in all their long-haired, wooded, life-is-just-one-big-struggle-made-of-smaller-maybe-lesser-ones glory. The other will take you to the open arms of Sugarland and Brandy Clark, a celebration of life and what it can be. This is not to say their interpretation of your struggle is less refined or shallow, but that theirs is one where you can at least celebrate your victory with others. Choose wisely.