Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tennessee, Tennessee, there ain't no place I'd rather be...

If you look on the map of the US, you're faced with a series of oblongs that pass for states.  One of these not on the far right nor in the middle but sort of to the right of what looks like a blue ribbon down the middle of the country there's a long strip that heads out to the east.  That's Tennessee.

So geography lesson over, lets move on to the good stuff.

Nashville is the capital of the state (and according to our tour guide is the 57th largest US city -- which on balance I'm not sure is a compliment or otherwise) and pretty big but it went through the typical US disaster of the 1960's -- i.e. urban renewal which wiped out all residential living from the city centre to the suburbs leaving downtown a desert after working hours.  Its taken a while but the town planners have realized the way to revitalize downtown is reintroduce residential living.  And people are starting to pay attention and move back in.  South of the area we stayed in is an area called The Gulch.  Not an attractive name I grant but it is the urban renewal project of the city that is reinvigorating it with a series of new builds designed to reintroduce human beings to downtown.  The area is jumping.

But not in the same way as the old downtown area is.  That's the drag along Union Street to the Cumberland River which encompasses honky tonk heaven in the space of 3 or 4 city blocks.  Dozens of bars playing live country or other music (mainly other music actually) to thousands of tourists every day.  The night we arrived was enhanced by Kiss and Def Leppard playing at the downtown arena so 20,000 metal fans were in town too!  Quite lively it was too.

Honky Tonk heaven with world famous Tootsies in purple

We were in town for country though so the search encompassed a honky tonk and then the Grand Old Opry which as a tradition has to be one of the best.

The new Opry (top) and the old Opry, actually the Ryman Auditorium (below)

Started in 1925 rather by chance more than anything else, the radio show that is the basis for the Opry has been in place ever since with an ever changing repertoire of performers playing 3 tunes in 15 minute slots over just over 2 hours in duration.  The line up we saw was typical with a couple of old timers (John Conlee and Bobby Osborne & the Rocky Top X-Press) combined with some newer acts and a headliner -- apologies here, I don't know these people at all even though they were pretty good.

John Conlee in action

New country really isn't country any more though.  Sacrilege I know but with rock music fading in relevance country has usurped its space.  The new guys no longer twang and swing with stories of lost love, dogs gone bad and the misfortunes of a misfiring carburetor, but crack on just as the rockers used to down to the big amplification and rocking guitar solos.

Fortunately I like all that stuff so had a ball!

So were the honky tonks.

And the Country Music Hall of Fame -- really there is one, and it is pretty good too. We spent over 3 hours there with Elvis, Willie, Hank (actually many Hanks) and the various others.

The King at the hall of fame -- imagine you are 19 and want to record a schmalzy song for your granny's birthday costing $4 and you walk into a place called Sun Records and ask Sam Phillips if he minds.  You go into a studio and say hi to 2 other musicians who are your band and you cut ... That's All Right... and change the world.  If you can imagine this then you are Elvis! 
And the barbecue.

And the cocktails at the hotel, mainly Tennessee whisky based which were rather nice too...

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