Friday, October 25, 2013

Music City

We packed up in Gatlinburg, David and Jamie turned in their "fun" Jeep and we all piled into the motorhome to drive to Nashville for the last part of the week. David and Jamie had booked a room at Gaylord's Grand Ole Opry Hotel while we were staying a few blocks down at the Two Rivers RV campground, which was not cheap but was way cheaper than staying at Gaylord's Grand Ole Opry Hotel. That night, we had dinner at the hotel. It was an excellent dinner but we did pay what, on normal rations, would have been enough to keep us comfortably fed for 4-5 days. Part of that cost is attributable to the consumption of "Tennessee Tea", an alcoholic beverage built around Johnny Walker whiskey that raised our spirits significantly but also left us incapable of tracking how much money we were lavashing on dinner.

Broadway at night.  We never saw this.
Now I have to admit to a somewhat distressing truth. We finished dinner shortly after nine o'clock at which time Jamie and David, as they did every night while we were in Nashville, headed downtown to Broadway to party the night away listening to music. At the same time Vicki and I, as we did every night while we were in Nashville, went back to our motorhome and sat in our chairs like slugs. It is disturbing to realize what old fuddy-duddies we have become, but no matter how good the music is we are no longer capable of barhopping and drinking and listening until the wee small hours of the morning. (To be totally honest, I would've been willing to bar hop for an hour or two. Vicki is a bigger fuddy-duddy than I am.)

Vickie and Jamie on Broadway
After closing the bars down, Jamie and David did not crawl, bleary-eyed, out of bed until about lunchtime, at which point their dearest desire for the day was to go back to Broadway and bar hop some more. With the sun directly overhead, Vicki was willing to go along and so we went off to Broadway for lunch. Broadway in Nashville is an amazing place.  The relevant section is about three blocks long and has, I don't know, maybe a dozen honky-tonk type bars, most of which also serve some form of solid calories. And they have live music. Some of them are three stories high and have a different band or performer on each floor. The music starts at 10 o'clock the morning and doesn't stop until 3 AM. There is no cover charge, all you have to do is sit there and enjoy the music and order an occasional drink or a sandwich or something. And these musicians are good.

Think about it. Nashville is the Mecca of country music. If you live in Huntsville, Kentucky, or Athens, Tennessee or Martinez, Georgia and you are the best damn musician in
Rippey's on the corner
town, you probably think you have a future in the country music business and the way you pursue that is to go to Nashville. So the place is absolutely packed full of the best damn musician in town from every town between the Rocky Mountains and the southeastern coast, all of them looking for someplace to perform and be discovered.  The publicans along Broadway have their pick of
Live entertainment
these lost souls who range from being merely really good to positively brilliant musicians and are willing to work for audience tips and no benefits, keeping down the establishment's expenditures on personnel and providing the customers with an experience difficult to replicate anywhere else on the planet. The downside, of course, is that after six months or a year the vast majority of these performers probably end up going back to Tyler, Texas or wherever to find paying jobs.

We had lunch at Rippey's and listened to about an hour or 90 min. of pretty good music. One of the performers rattled off a list of things that you must do while in Nashville and one of them was to tour the Ryman Auditorium, which we could actually see out the front window of the bar from where we were sitting. So after a while, we all got up, threw a few bucks in the tip jar and headed up the block to do the Ryman tour.
The Ryman Auditorium, photo by Aubry Haynes
Now I am a California boy and in my formative years my musical tastes ran towards folk rock and singer songwriters like James Taylor and Jackson Browne. I have never been a big fan of country western music or any of its cousins. So the term "Ryman Auditorium" meant absolutely nothing to
Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff greet visitors
me. If you are a country fan, this is probably old news to you and you should skip down and read about Andrew Jackson's house. For those who are ignorant, like me, this is the story. The Ryman Auditorium was built by steamboat captain Thomas Ryman and originally christened as the Union Gospel Tabernacle. He built it in 1892 specifically as a venue for revival meetings presented by a preacher named Samuel Porter Jones, who was the Billy Graham of his era. After Capt. Ryman died, the building was renamed the Ryman Auditorium in his honor.

The Grand Ole Opry was and is a weekly radio show on NBC affiliate WSM in Nashville, that began in 1925 and is widely credited with putting country music on the national map. It was initially broadcast from the radio station with a small live audience but as its popularity grew they had to find a larger space for the growing local fan base. As the show continued to climb in popularity they went through a half a dozen different locations, each larger than the last, before finally landing at the Ryman in June of 1943. There the show was broadcast until 1974 when they built the current Grand Ole Opry House along with a hotel and theme park on what was then the outskirts of town. During that 30 years the show hosted all of the biggest names in country music and in turn was hosted by the likes of Roy Acuff, Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Faron Young, Martha Carson, Minnie Pearl, and many others. The theater witnessed the birth of bluegrass music when Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs became regulars. Elvis Presley performed there one time in 1954. The manager of the theater advised him to go back to truck driving.

The next big country duo
Those 31 years as home to the classic broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry have transformed the Ryman Auditorium into hallowed ground for country music performers and their fans. The auditorium itself holds about 3000, the seating being in the form of church pews as one might expect from the building's original purpose. We got there too late for a guided tour so we guided ourselves through the building and read about the country music artifacts on display. Vicki and I paid 10 bucks to go up and have our picture taken on the stage. Then we walked the block back down to Broadway and spent another hour drinking beer and listening to music in a
Bar and performer I don't recall the names of
little bar whose name I don't even remember. The female singer and her band of three were again really good and I would have happily stayed longer but the parking tab on my car was about to run out and I did not want to have it towed away. So Jamie and David stayed behind and closed up the town again while Vicki and I walked the three blocks back to the car and drove back to our fuddy-duddy motorhome lifestyle for the rest of the evening.

The following morning (well, afternoon actually) David wanted to go visit the battlefield at Murfreesboro but, guess what, it's run by the National Park Service and was all locked up. Instead of doing that, Vicki wanted to go see the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson's antebellum plantation and we dragged David and Jamie along. Andrew Jackson's political career was built upon his status as a military hero during the war of 1812
The Hermitage
after winning the Battle of New Orleans. He was a populist and unrepentant slave owner with a large plantation on the outskirts of Nashville. He is the reason Henry Clay gave his electoral college votes to John Quincy Adams in 1824 to prevent Jackson from reaching the White House. By 1828 however Jackson had the votes cold and served as our seventh president for eight years. His home has been
Back yard and former killing field
preserved as a museum since the late 1800s and has been kept in remarkably good shape (although it was narrowly missed by a tornado in 1998). The surrounding area is all ornamental trees and grassy lanes but we were told that during Jackson's lifetime this was a working farm and this whole area would have been dedicated to crops. There is also a lovely, large fenced backyard to the house which looks like a great place for kids to play but, in fact, was where they slaughtered the hogs and was apparently a bloody mess much of the time. It was a nice house with many preserved furnishings but this is the fifth antebellum estate we have toured since we entered Kentucky and the experience is frankly losing its luster. I think we will give it a rest for the remainder of the year at least.

Current Grand Ole Opry House
That night we attended the Grand Ole Opry, another item on the lists of things you have to do when you go to Nashville. It is a two-hour show, kept rigidly on schedule by the requirements of the radio broadcast. Each performer does exactly two songs before they move on. It seems a shame to have a performer travel from Austin or Atlanta just to do two numbers, but the status of the show apparently makes it worthwhile. The new Opry House continued the tradition of pew seating. Unfortunately, our pew had a couple of occupants only slightly smaller than I am resulting in their not really being enough room for all of us, so I eventually relocated to another seat and we enjoyed the show separately. Oh well.
The old custom house in Nashville, circa 1877
We said goodbye to David and Jamie in the parking lot after the show. They weren't scheduled to fly out until the following afternoon but after the Opry they were headed downtown again. We needed to be out of our motorhome Park by 11 AM and they did not expect to be up and around any earlier than that so we left them to enjoy their last half-day in Nashville on their own and headed on towards Memphis.

1 comment:

  1. It certainly sounds like you are enjoying your travels! As usual, you have some great photos to go along with the travelogue. I enjoyed learning about all the music that makes up Nashville -- lots of toe-tapping must go on! And, how fun to meet up with friends and family (Hello to Jamie and David! You both look great!) as you roam the country. Linda