Southern Road Trip Part One: Nashville

Katie and I celebrated our anniversary this year by taking a road trip through four states (well, three states plus about a one-hour drive through Alabama), in search of great food, great music and a little literary geekiness.  Our journey began with a (crack of dawn) Saturday morning flight to Tennessee.

Taking our taxi into downtown Nashville, one of my first thoughts was that the people of Nashville must live in a perpetual cycle of sin-confession-redemption-repeat, as there seems to be a strip club for every church (and there is a ton of both of them!).  I also noticed that their churches are much prettier than the ones I see regularly, older and made of brick, rather than the warehouse/dentist office style that the Sacramento area has to offer.  The strip clubs looked about the same.

A Very Classy Establishment

When we reached downtown, we were met by hordes of zombies (there was a zombie walkathon going on).  While the zombie thing is 100% tired in my book, it was still impressive to see block after block of undead fundraisers staggering through the city.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t unpacked my camera yet, so I couldn’t get a picture.  You’ll have to imagine it for yourself.

Once we checked into our hotel, we were off to find some food and some nightlife (by this time, it was already six in the evening, and that’s nightlife for us).  As you must do when going to Nashville, we started our vacation with barbecue, Katie getting a brisket sandwich and me having the pulled pork.  It was delicious.  Then we trolled Broadway Street.  Nashville has a fun and lively night scene, but I have to admit, we were a little disappointed in what we found.  Being the live-music lovers we are, we had high hopes for finding a smoky honky-tonk where we could grab a few drinks and enjoy the sounds of some local band performing their awesome and original songs.  Maybe we could even find a few new bands to follow.  After all, it is Music City USA, right?  (Excuse me for one second while I climb up on this soap box here)  Instead, what we found (just like back home), was bar after bar filled with cover bands playing the same Hank Williams and Allman Brothers songs.  This is because the art of live music might not be completely dead, but it is definitely in hospice, barely being kept alive by the few adventurous souls who would rather take a chance and spend their money checking out someone who actually creates something instead of supporting Tainted Love or some other shitty cover band who will play them the twenty or thirty safe and familiar songs from the billboards of yesteryear.  And now I’ll shut my mouth before I alienate myself from everyone I know.  To make a short story long, we heard a lot of good sounding music in Nashville, but it wasn’t anything that we couldn’t have heard tuning into a 60s rock radio station.

The Ryman Auditorium

On Sunday morning, we headed over to check out the Ryman Auditorium, home of the original Grand Ole Opry.  It is a beautiful building and you can really feel the history there.  Unfortunately, due to their concert schedule, we were unable to do the backstage tour.  That was okay for me.  As much as I love old country music, I’m much more of an Elvis fan, and we had a tour scheduled at RCA Studio B.  Studio B is where a good many of Elvis Presley’s songs were recorded (over 200 of his recordings).  Due to the success that these songs had, many other musicians (including Don Gibson, The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton and Charlie Pride) flocked there to record their own songs.  The tour of the studio is very hands-on: they have it still set up as it was originally and they let you touch all the instruments and equipment.  Katie had the opportunity to play us a tune on the piano used on many of over 1,000 American hits recorded there.

RCA Studio B

Manning the sound board

This piano has a lot of history soaked into it

Next, it was on to the Country Music Hall of Fame.  The museum is pretty cool, but it was extra cool that, while we were there, they had a special exhibit about the Bakersfield Sound, celebrating the great California Country style.  I love me some Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, so I really enjoyed this.  While making our way through the museum, it was funny to notice how my interest started out strong with the early artists of the 20s and 30s and lessened with each decade.  By the end of the 1980s, I was basically only still moving forward to get to the exit.

I liked this sign

After the museum, we walked up to see the Union Station hotel and take a couple of pictures, and then it was time for a very late lunch.  Our friend Tracy recommended Jack’s Barbecue on Broadway and, boy were we glad that she did.  We both got the sampler platter that was a mixture of ribs, pork, brisket, sausage, chicken, turkey and mac and cheese.  It was, by far, the best barbecue we’ve ever had.

She’s a lady!

Halleluja it’s raining meat!

That night we again ventured out into the bars and the music.  We had a great time, but it was definitely a much younger scene than what we were used to; Nashville had a college Spring Break vibe to it (emphasized by the hundreds of kids in the Florida shirts, in town for the game against Vanderbilt).  I definitely felt like there were Girls Gone Wild episodes being filmed in any number of the bars while we were there.  We partied late (is midnight still late?) and went to bed, ready to head south the next morning.


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