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Published: September 21st 2013
Nashville Sept 19
... On the Road Again...
At 4 foot 10 in. height, Little Jimmy Dickens shuffled into the spotlights of the Grand Ole Opry stage in his blue rhinestone-bejeweled outfit, towering cowboy hat stuck high on his head stretching his stature well above 5 feet tall.
In the heady days of years earlier he would stride out with a big electric smile and a guitar strapped around his neck to stand small at the microphone in the famed oak-wood circle at centre stage.
For decades, Little Jimmy has sang and played with the legends of country music, Waylon, Merle, Porter, Hank, Tammy, and Loretta. Looking down at him from high above, I can't help but feel this may be his last walk across the expansive Opry stage.
At 92 years old and recovering from a recent illness, his smile was muted, his voice weak, but high voltage was the feeling amid the crowd that turned out this Tuesday evening for a visit within the church of country music, The Grand Ole Opry.
He thanked the crowd for their well-wishes and looked upwards to the Lord in gratitude. I double-checked my watch to make sure it wasn't Sunday ... NOPE! And friends...it WAS a religious feeling this night in Nashville.
The seats we settle into at the Opry are honey-toned wooden pews with cushioned seats. The country faithful file in with boxes of popcorn and plastic mugs of cold beer and warm, doughy pretzels.
Five country acts highlight the 2 1/2 hour live Opry radio broadcast, each performing a set of 3 or 4 songs, before announcer Eddie Stubbs launches into his dulcet-toned recitation of the night's sponsors in a manner that was common 50 years ago on live radio broadcasts.
A few of the swelling crowd enter with cowboy boots and 10 gallon hats but tonight's gathering is more a sweet-smelling mix of young honeys in short frilly dresses and cellphone cameras, come out to see the young country heartthrob Hunter Hayes.
The sound systems and huge TV monitors on either side of the auditorium are all modern day hi-tech in contrast to the old-time feeling that saturates this hall of 4,000 onlookers.
Halfway through the
evening's show, Hayes runs out, swivels his hips and flashes his seductive grin at the audience. Excited, breathy girls swarm at the front stage apron to snap photos on their iPhones.
I want to hate the young man, but just can't once I see that he can play his guitar like a young Keith Urban, and then massage the keys of the piano with aplomb. Forget the sex appeal, this kid is a musician! The teenage girls with their Mom in the seats across from us giggle and squirm as they record the performance on their phones. The Nashville Dream
Today, as always, hundreds, maybe thousands of folks, some young, some jaded and wrinkled, walk and strum the streets of Nashville seeking their Taylor Swiftian exultation of fame and adoration on the stage of the Opry. It's a glorious dream, and not unlike wannabe stars of Hollywood, the great majority are destined to be waiters, and taxi drivers and tour guides with sweet dreams of Patsy Cline, that are just that, dreams.
They've hitchhiked and bussed in from little farm towns like those we passed through a day earlier in the beautiful rolling hills of Kentucky,
hills smothered in a glorious, green mix of oak and bald-cypress hardwood trees. The miles-long, rural back roads are swathed on both sides with tall, endless corn fields and lower growing lush soybeans.
The humid breeze blowing down Nashville's central Broadway Street rustles the long stringy hair of one of the old cowboy buskers. He looks like Willie Nelson with no braids, sweating as the robust sunshine beats into his grizzled whiskers and leathery unsmiling face. There's no joy showing in his face or in his eyes, just a resigned acceptance that this is his way to earn a few dollars each day to keep his belly from rumbling.
The nighttime neon-filled streets are filled with guitar and mandolin-playing buskers crammed between the countless narrow bars that have bursts of electric country music busting out onto the street. You can stand in the doorways and absorb the amplified sounds of old time twang, or more modern country- rock. Every 10 meters along the main Broadway drag brings a new song set.
Inside the open-windowed Margaritaville bar on the busy street corner, a young belt-buckled Adonis named Eric strums his acoustic guitar with swagger and confidence and charm.
He's drawing in the 30- and 40-something ladies who swoon in harmony to his suggestive sway and musical patter. The partly liquored-up women shake their breasts at him from afar and occasionally rub their booties up close to the cool picker.
He's a talented musician and full of good-natured energy. He could probably have his choice of any of 10 ladies to accompany home at the end of the night.
The night ends along the strip as a long flotilla of red-coloured Taylor Swift tractor-trailers wheels onto the main street for tomorrow night's concert at the huge Bridgestone Center.
Nashville is a city filled with dreams and dreamers.
Actors go to Los Angeles, dancers to New York, and country music singers to Nashville.
It's a modern, glitzy city with a jeweled past and a bright country-twanged future. To find the big dream like Little Jimmy Dickens did 70 years ago is the hope of every star-struck Alan Jackson wannabe with a guitar, fiddle or mandolin in Nashville.
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