Trip Reports IICarene Lydia -- Thursday, July 27, 2017 -- 07:24:32 PM
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My reason for going to Nashville was to see two of my favorite artists (Lucero and Steve Earle) at a venue that I’ve always wanted to experience, the Ryman Auditorium. You can read my review of the venue and the show here.
I had stayed up all night the day before and when I was packing at 4am, I got a call, which I knew couldn’t be good. Turned out that JetBlue cancelled the first leg of my flight. I called and they were able to change my flight. But instead of arriving at 3:30, I’d be arriving at 5:30, so I was hoping that there wouldn’t be any delays. I was flying through Logan and I’d never been there before. I stopped to eat Johnny Rockets because my choices near the departure gate were limited and had the worst burger and onion rings in my life. Walking to my gate, I passed a Legal Seafoods. I was pissed that I hadn’t seen that before. I stopped off at their bar and had a delicious oaky Chardonnay with six Wellfleet oysters. It more than made up for the terrible lunch.
The Clarion Hotel was on the other side of the Cumberland River near the stadium. They had a shuttle that ran every half-hour to Broadway and 1st Avenue South and back to the hotel. My first view was of the river and the waterfront park.
Turning towards Broadway I was surprised to see the party bikes, party buses, and party barges. Walking up towards 5th Avenue South, it was early enough so that I didn’t have to walk through drunk crowds of young people and more bachelorette parties than I could count – that would come later. I don’t understand why groups of girls need to wear a veil and custom t-shirts to celebrate. I’m so glad this wasn’t a thing when I was in my twenties. The feeling was Bourbon Street on cowboy boot steroids.
There was bar after bar after bar with live music (and air-conditioning) blasting into the street. There were also a lot of stores selling cowboy boots. And there were musicians on every corner. And homeless people begging.
After the show, I looked down Ryman Alley and then walked back to Broadway and stopped into Robert’s Western World. I was happy to see a grill so that I could get some food – a very clean grill and the cook kept cleaning after making every sandwich. They sold burgers and hot dogs but I decided to have a fried baloney sandwich with onion rings. The onion rings were so much better than those I’d had earlier and a fried baloney sandwich tastes like a flat hot dog sandwich. The bar was full of 20-somethings, each one drunker than the one next to him/her. I also saw some people with merch from the show and listened in on some conversations about the show.
After a couple of drinks, I headed back to the hotel to sleep.
The next morning it was 92 degrees at 10am and very humid. I could have walked over the bridge to downtown but it was too fucking hot so I took the shuttle again and, once again, admired the Cumberland and the park. And at 10am there were party bikes and buses full of 20-somethings already drunk and yelling.
While walking down 1st Avenue South along the river, I tripped across a kind of large diorama of Fort Nashborough.
I turned up Church Street to Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant.
The place was packed with people drinking either with their breakfast or just drinking. I sat at the counter/bar and ordered the Southern Stack (sweet potato pancakes, fried apples, pulled pork, and a sunny side egg) and sweet tea. The breakfast was both hearty and delicious. I was surrounded by a bunch of guys who were continuing their drinking from the night before.
I turned down Fifth Avenue South and saw a record store inside a parking lot and passed by Municipal Auditorium, where you can see that there’s more than country music in Nashville.
I finally made it to my second stop for the day – the Musicians Hall of Fame. Here I have to make a confession. I thought I was at the Country Music Hall of Fame and I was confused by the exhibits. There was no Hank Williams or Bill Monroe. But there was plenty about the recording of music, exhibits for several famous US studios (Sun, Muscle Shoals, Stax, Capitol, Motown), exhibits for famous studio musicians (Wrecking Crew, the Funk Brothers, the A Team, the Tennessee Two, etc.), and many of the instruments and recording equipment used in the studios. As a recovering sound engineer, I was in heaven. It wasn’t until I saw the signs for the Country Music Hall of Fame after I left that I wasn’t confused anymore.
In the lobby was a display of Women Behind the Music. Inside we saw a short film and it was a self-guided tour. When I sent photos of some of the tape machines and consoles to my friend Kenny (former sound engineer for the Bowery Ballroom), his response was “Holy shit! A Scully 280!! Legendary. Sam and Dave! An Otari MTR-90…another legend. That’s a Mark 1 model I believe…damn! Any mics??”
Owen Bradley’s desk from the Quonset Hut. Bradley created what is known as the Nashville sound.
I could post photo after photo of consoles and tape decks but I’ll spare you. Here are some of the instruments used by the A Team.
Duane Eddy’s and Les Paul’s guitars.
This is the bass you heard on countless Motown hits. As a friend once said – those guys were lucky if they got carfare home.
Although the Wrecking Crew exhibit listed Carol Kaye, her bass wasn’t in the exhibit. I asked one of the employees why she was missing and he said they buy everything at auction and none of her basses must have come up for auction.
I took tons of photos of the instruments used by famous and not so famous musicians. I’ll spare you having to see all of those also. But here’s the guitar that Pete Townshend played at Monterey Pop. It was actually repaired and he continued to use it.
And there were the exhibits for the studios.
The second exhibit was about the Grammys and how to use instruments, record, mix, and produce. There was a room where you could mix a song and one to produce a song. It’s not like the real thing but for laymen it’s fun to play with the faders and effects. You can try out different digital instruments and check out their effects. There was a recording booth that I wanted to try out but you needed two people – one person to be the engineer. You could also rap in one room and play DJ for electronic music. My favorite part was when you could be a Raelette singing background for Ray Charles on “Hit the Road Jack.” A crowd gathered and I received applause from the tourists. Later I tried the Ray Charles part and realized that the song really belongs to the Raelettes – Ray Charles does very little in that song (although what he does do is choice).
The Grammys have changed through the years and here is a deconstructed Grammy.
One more instrument because this is so beautiful.
The last room before you go back into the lobby is the history of how we listen to sound. Radios, record players, cassette decks, TVs, jukeboxes, and personal sound boards.
Anyone remember these personal radios that you wore on wrist?
Next I walked up 3rd Avenue South to the Johnny Cash Museum. And I discovered something that Nashville has which NYC needs – diagonal crossing. You can cross at the corners at the crosswalks but the lights stay red for the cars long enough for you walk kitty corner.
It was a Saturday and the place was packed but there was still enough room for me wander about once I got out of the front room. There was room with a film devoted to Cash’s film and TV appearances. In his first film, he played an over-the-top villain and we saw scenes from the beginning, middle, and end. It was brilliant and hysterical. Another room showed concert footage. I could have spent hours there watching concert after concert. There was clothing worn by Cash and June Carter for various performances and events, a place setting of their china, a cabinet, and record covers and singles. His CMA awards were interesting – the awards are crystal now but they used to be wood. The first room is a timeline.
National Medal of the Arts.
One of Cash’s outfits.
Cash was also an artist.
There were displays about the Carter Family and Walk the Line.
Another exhibit was devoted to the Million Dollar Quartet. And you could listen to covers of Cash’s songs. “Ring of Fire” and “I Walk the Line” were the most covered. If you think that the disco-inspired version of “Ring of Fire” is by Grace Jones, you’d be wrong. Hers is reggae-inspired.
Hint: She’s the one in the box because I was listening to Carlene Carter’s version at that moment.
Outtakes from the Carryin’ On with Johnny Cash & June Carter album cover.
What great boots.
I normally wouldn’t take a photo of a toilet but this one cracked me up. In order to make it fit into the stall, the front is pointing to a corner of the stall. Go home, toilet. You’re drunk.
Upstairs is the newly opened Patsy Cline Museum.
Clothing that her mother made for her that Patsy designed at the beginning of her career.
There was a short film about Patsy’s life and a small exhibit for Sweet Dreams. A wall of album covers and single covers. Patsy bought a small ranch house that she was very proud of. There was furniture from the living room, bar room, and dining room. And a wall of items from her home.
She collected salt and pepper shakers.
Patsy was the first country artist to perform in Las Vegas.
I loved these shoes.
Patsy sent drawings to Nudie for a dress and cape. He wrote a letter to her the day after her plane crashed. The outfits were made 54 years later.
It was back to Broadway to walk down to 2nd Avenue South. My phone battery was out so I couldn’t look up the George Jones Museum but I’d seen the sign on 1st Avenue South. That side is the old factory facades and the entrances are around the corner. I walked inside and saw a restaurant and bar. I asked and they said they had a few photos up and that was all. When I checked online the next day I read reviews that raved about the restaurant but complained about the exhibits because the audio didn’t work on most of them. It seemed that these exhibits were upstairs but I wasn’t told to go up there so maybe that section is closed now.
In case you’d like to be saved before or after you sin by getting shitfaced on Broadway.
George’s tractor. But is it the tractor?
I walked over to Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. On the way, I heard two bands playing “Copperhead Road.” I know Steve Earle started in Nashville and his albums cover different genres but I think of his songs under the umbrella of rock and roll. The front door was packed – there was a line and the front room was packed. But I knew there was an entrance in the Ryman Alley. I easily entered through the back. Just like Robert’s I smiled and walked in, while the bouncers checked everyone else’s IDs. There was a band in the back and a shelf around them. I could see a few open seats. And a group of guys walking through the bar with one holding his iPhone up so their buddy on Facetime could be part of the group.
I went to the bar first got a drink. Most of the Broadway bars have levels – some several and other back rooms and front rooms and rooftop bars. I felt okay being in the back room. The band was good. They played a few songs and passed the bucket for tips (which is how they get paid). Then another band came on and they were another human jukebox. Both bands played Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey.” Between the bands the sound system played Steve Earle’s Guitar Town. I chose a seat between a man and woman. When I asked the man if the seat was free, he was non-committal and looked like he was about to fall over. The woman in front of me kept looking at me and the man behind me. Finally, she did the two fingers to the eyes and then pointed at him for the “I see you.” She asked if we could switch seats, so we did. I wanted to tell her that there were a lot of reasons why I didn’t want her man but the number one reason would be that he smelled like vomit. That couple and the entire group around me were from Texas and were not 20-somethings. They were more like 40-somethings and they were loud and rowdy.
The bassist for the second band was a comedian and did Willie Nelson’s “holler and swallow,” a tradition started in Tootsie’s by Willie 49 years ago when he was 68 years old [laughter]. After two drinks and “Pink Houses,” “American Girl,” some other rock songs, and a bunch of country songs, and more bachelorette parties, I decided it was time to eat. I went to Jack’s Bar-B-Que, which had a line going to the door. While on line, it started to stretch out down Broadway. I had the pork shoulder plate with baked beans and potato salad with coconut custard pie for dessert. My table was next to the line and I could hear a woman asking if they had any white meat. The Tennessee sauce and Music City sauce were not as good as the pork shoulder dry.
I caught the shuttle back to the hotel. My original plan was to go to the Bluebird Café but it was sold out and waiting room was first come and I didn’t want to take the chance since it was a cab ride away. Second choice was Mercy Lounge but I was tired. I watched a paddle boat turn in the river while waiting for the shuttle.
Sunday was another hot and humid day so I took the shuttle again. I had the morning and early afternoon before I had to leave for the airport to catch at 4pm flight out. This time I made it to the Country Music Hall of Fame. I got there a little after 10am and I signed up for the 11:30am tour of RCA Studio B, which meant a shuttle to Music Row and would take about an hour, so it didn’t leave me much time in the museum. Their core exhibit is “Sing Me Back Home: A Journey Through Country Music,” which I was interested in. Other exhibits about Shania Twain, Jason Aldean, and Charlie Daniels, I was not interested in and knew I’d be skipping those.
Sunday morning and Broadway had few people and no music yet.
“Sing Me Back Home: A Journey Through Country Music” is exactly that. It begins with the English and Celtic tunes brought to the US and then music from the slaves and freed blacks was added to the mix to create American roots music. There were films and displays of instruments and clothing. Hillbilly music became country and country and western. The Grand Ole Opry was born. Country was an influence on early rock and roll and then there was a movement back to traditional country.
Guitar from 1850 and fretless banjo from the late 1800s.
Mandolin from 1916 and 19th century copy of a Stradivarius.
This is a shot from the film of a man playing a 19th century ballad. Children are dancing and a visitor came into the shot.
Note the gun details on Webb Pierce’s Silver Dollar Cadillac.
Elvis’ Solid Gold Cadillac. He drove it from Memphis to RCA Studio B and then over the Country Music Hall of Fame, when he donated it. There are many layers of paint on it.
There were displays of instruments of famous country musicians.
A temporary related exhibit was “Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City.”
Owen Bradley’s office from his Barn recording studio.
There were small exhibits for a lot of musicians – both headliners and studio musicians.
There was a wall about all the artists who came to Nashville to record.
I wish I had had more time to explore both those exhibits but it was time for the shuttle to RCA Studio B. Our guide Ron was non-stop with information about the studio itself and all the musicians that recorded there. RCA leased the studio, so they never owned the building. It is still a working studio but they allow tours during the day. Elvis recorded almost all his hits there. But non-RCA artists recorded there also.
Roy Orbison – the engineer placed all the coats behind him to create an isolation booth so that sound could be reflected.
These music charts are universal now. But I had no idea it was a Jordanaire who created this system.
There was old equipment.
The sweet spot in the room.
This was Elvis’ favorite piano.
The control room.
These lights were requested by Elvis. The different colors set different moods. For “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” all the lights were off and he sang in the dark. If you listen carefully, at the end of the record, you’ll hear when Elvis bumped his head against the mic because he couldn’t see it.
While everyone else loaded back onto the shuttle to head back to the Country Music Hall of Fame a mile away, I walked down Music Row and went off to find Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, which was a few blocks away. I wanted to try Nashville’s hot chicken and Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack (the father of hot chicken) is closed on Sundays. It was Sunday. And that meant there was a very very long line out the door. After 20 minutes, I realized I was not going to get anywhere near inside in time to order, eat, and get to the airport on time.
Turned out that I had time. The first leg was delayed and there was a possibility that I wouldn’t make it in time for the second leg. But when the clerk checked, it turned out that all flights to NYC were delayed because of weather (I don’t understand why people use that word to mean bad weather. There’s always weather – good and bad.) and even with the delay I would make it. She put me in the first row, which meant my carry-on was in a bin several rows back and away from the bin that held my suitcase. So, when the plane landed at 8:40pm I was pushing through to get to all my stuff and out of the plane to make a flight that was originally scheduled to leave at 8:30pm. It was delayed until 9:50, so I was okay.
While I waited for hours at the Nashville airport, I went in search of food. I skipped the fast food places in my terminal and went to another terminal that had restaurants. Turns out O’Charley’s had a version of the hot chicken sandwich. I don’t know how genuine their version was but it was spicy.
Someday I’d like to visit both Memphis and Nashville again with someone who has a car so that I can see some of the nicer sections of both cities and see the Tennessee countryside.
If you haven’t seen enough, there’s a Flickr album with a zillion photos.
Unbelievable, Carene ! I dont' know how you do it! I'm overwhelmed.
I went to Nashville-sort of--few years back on a conference trip for work. I say "sort of" because we were at the Gaylord Resort which is a hermetically sealed giant bubble that includes little villages and walking paths and shopping areas and everything-- oh and also a tropical rain forest. it's actually kind of pretty and I liked staying there but it doesn't feel like a normal world. Because it isnt! Some of us escaped to a local supermarket at one point and on one evening we went to the Country Music Hall of Fame for a party and that was fun. I went through that but I don't really remember much of what I saw.
Thanks for sharing your trip!,
Very nice Carene. We went just after 4th of July with my 81 year old mother who was born there. We heard The Soggy Bottom Boys at the Ryman and went to the country Music Hall of fame as well. Sorry you didn't get to the Parthenon.
One of the most underrated cities in the U.S.
One doesn't necessarily have to like country music (I hate it) to still very easily find a 1-2 weeks of fun and interesting things to do in Nashville and its metropolitan area.
I am probably taking my life in my hands interrupting the Carene Show, but it's Day 8 of my ten-day trip to Iceland, and a few of you expressed the sentiment that you might want to visit. So, a few impressions:
Bring money. Lots of money. The prices for food here are about 100% higher than comparable NYC prices. And they are the same across the board, from better restaurants to little family joints. I haven't seen a hamburger for less than $25. Bowls of soup (seafood or beef with veggies or or even chili where available) start at $20 and go up from there. Fish, which is abundant and fresh (especially cod, trout, Arctic char and wolffish) start around $31. Lamb (grilled rib chops) start at $60 and go up from there. A Coke from a highway rest stop is $4.50. Everything is a la carte. Appetizers run $16-24. Desserts are over $20. Lunch and dinner menus are the same, so no savings there. A routine meal for two with a glass of wine each, tax (11%) and tip will easily be over $100. Having said all of that, the food is remarkably good, very fresh and well-prepared. If you're used to ethnic cooking with a lot of spices, bring your own, because the thing here is to showcase the intrinsic flavors of the foods themselves.
English is very widely spoken, and well. No problem there.
Iceland is 99.9% pastoral and rural. The distances to attractions can be daunting unless you like long car trips. The scenery is beautiful in a way that reminds me of the high plains of Southern Colorado -- wide open spaces surrounded by mid-size mountains, dotted with family farms every so often. Of course, at this time of year the sun sets at about 11 pm but it never really gets dark, and lightens up about 4 am. If your idea of Paradise is a Caribbean island, don't come here. The daily high temp is about 55F. We had two days of heat wave when the sky was brilliant blue and it hit about 70F. Intermittent light showers that last for five minutes are common, but mostly it's bright overcast.
The Icelandic people are unfailingly lovely and polite. Crime is almost unheard of. People leave their homes unlocked without a thought. Think middle America in the mid-twentieth century, before the Clutter murders.
The attractions are mostly mini-versions of what you would see in a decent tour of the US. A famous geyser (called Geysir, which is where the name comes from). Black sand beaches (but you're on the North Atlantic a few hours south of the Arctic Circle, so don't even think about swimming) with some really neat rock formations (columnar basalt). A one-hour walk into a series of tunnels and ice caves dug out forty feet under the top of a glacier. Some gorgeous waterfalls that arise from glacial melting. An opportunity to go whale watching on a trawler from a small port on the North Coast: one hour out, twenty minutes of humpbacks, one hour back in a 60 km long fjord. Slight chop to the water, no one seasick. The give you waterproof coveralls, which you really need unless you enjoy being not only cold but wet.
Thinking it over, the best part of the trip for me is a sense of relaxation and peacefulness that I have fallen into over the past few days, which I really needed because before I left I was under a lot of stress at home, which was beginning to take a toll. Even in Ireland (two summers ago) and Scotland (last summer) there was so much more to do that activities took precedence over just chilling out, being contemplative, and letting the endless green fields here have their hypnotic effect. If you are stressed, Iceland is a good place to recover. If you are retired and looking to amp up your adrenaline, choose another destination.
There's really more to say, but that's about all for now. By the way, there are essentially no trees in Iceland. What they call trees we call "bushes." Icelandic humor: What do you do if you're lost in an Icelandic forest?Stand up.
I wound up going to Aruba, and it was expensive as well, but not as much as that. My experience is islands are almost always high because of the need to import basically everything.
Sounds beautiful. I've wanted to visit Iceland for a long time.
I had friends who honeymooned in Iceland about 40 years ago. It wasn't a destination then and we all thought they were crazy. Being part-hippie, they thought they'd camp around the island. It was August but still much too cold to camp. They spent a lot of money on sweaters. I remember a description of a boy sitting on the curb peeling a slightly rotten orange with great care because fruit was so expensive. At the time, they said most of the fruit they were able to buy was past their prime.
Fresh fruit and vegetables, while available, are still something of a novelty here, especially to the older generation. Two days ago we visited an operation that consists of 50,000 sq. ft. of greenhouses, all growing tomatoes, all computerized as far as temperature, water, etc. They supply almost the entire country's stores and restaurants. What they don't use they turn into tomato soup, which they serve for lunch with the best homemade bread I've ever eaten. You eat right in the greenhouse. It's the only thing on the menu -- all you can eat for a fixed price. The vines grow 8-9 feet tall on wires to the ceiling. They harvest a ton of tomatoes a week. Oh yeah, they also set down a basil plant and a pair of scissors in front of you in case you want some in your soup. And don't get me started on Icelandic butter. Go ahead, try it at your own risk, and then tell me with a straight face that you'll switch back to your old butter with nary a thought. Ain't gonna happen.
I liked your stand up comedy Cliff!
About two minutes before I saw your post about Iceland, I saw an ad online for a trip to Iceland I said to my housemate "we have to do this!!! $500 for a trip to Iceland for four days to see the northern lights and other stuff! We have to do it-- let's just GO!
I'm glad you brought me back down to earth with your report because I could never afford to eat anything there.
It's great that you're getting just the kind of vacation you needed.
Cliff, I missed this. What a great story! Pictures, though. I can just envision that tomato soup.
I'm on a road trip and decided to reactivate that thread. Would love comments.
Cal, mea culpa, I would post pictures but, but, (sniff) I don't know how. There, I said it. I am probably the least computer literate person at TPW, and I would hate to think that there is anyone more incompetent than I here.
BTW, I read the entire "Moving Violations" post and have nothing but the greatest admiration for both your courtroom adversarial skills and your reportage. A great read!
A few more random thoughts about Iceland, now that I'm home. Both Ireland and Scotland have grand castles and lots of cool 18th and 19th century history to explore. Iceland has nothing. The people were living in bleak, dank sod houses well into the 20th century, lucky to have a few cows or sheep to their name. Their "real" history starts in WWII when the Americans set up a base there. When the Yanks left, the natives took over the quonset huts and turned them into housing, schools and various general use properties. They are still very much in use. The entire economy depended on commercial fishing. There is still a significant amount of fishing, but it has been curtailed by sustainability issues. There were several "Cod Wars" not long ago involving cutting of nets, etc. So the bottom line is that tourism is now the most important industry on the island.
Also note: If your thing is blond(e)s, this is where you want to be. I have never seen more gorgeous white-blond hair in profusion in my life, mostly on gorgeous people, both men and women. I think it's a requirement for citizenship. Or not.
Cliff, that's interesting.
To post photos on TPW, you need to upload the photos onto a photo hosting site. Some of them are Flickr, Google Photos, Imgur, TinyPic. There are a lot more - and they're mostly free (some will charge over a certain amount of storage). I use Flickr and I'm happy with them. I find it very easy to use.
Once the photos are uploaded, you get the url of each photo and use the Image Formatting Option in the dropdown box below to post the photo to TPW.
Cliff, for a brief period the Icelandic economy was not based on fishing but rather finance. And we see how well that went.
Was the town with the greenhouses Hveragerdi? That's where they used to be when I was in Iceland.
I'm getting homesick and want to go back.
Carene, thank you for the amazing Nashville writeup.
"Cliff, for a brief period the Icelandic economy was not based on fishing but rather finance. And we see how well that went."
I intentionally left out any mention of the financial events of 2008-09, since they were such a "one-off" from the rest of Icelandic economic history. Basically, Icelandic banks were avid purchasers of the same toxic mortgage products that were the heart and soul of the worldwide meltdown. When it all went south, the three largest banks were nationalized, the Icelandic depositors were made whole (did not lose their savings) but the foreign stockholders lost essentially everything. For a while, Iceland was unable to borrow internationally, but the last of the strictures was lifted in March, 2017. Reykjavik has dozens of construction cranes now. Iceland's first 5-star hotel (Marriott) is undergoing construction right at the harbor. Very large cruise ships are frequent visitors (when I visited, the Queen Elizabeth was in port). There is a sense among the people of hard lessons having been learned.
An anecdote from that financial period -- when the volcano erupted and shut down airports in Europe, the Icelanders joked, "Oh, we thought you said "Send ash, not cash!"