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Published: November 8th 2013
The drive from Tupelo MS to the Nashville Country RV Park in Goodlettsville TN (a north Nashville suburb) on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 was just over 200 miles and gave me the opportunity to enjoy the final stretch of the Natchez Trace Parkway. This RV park is very nice for the Nashville visitor. The sites are spacious and level, all have a concrete pad with a picnic table and many offer partial shade. A shuttle is available for a reasonable price; however, the first trip into town isn’t until late morning. That works well for the “been to the honky-tonks last night” crowd but not quite as well for the “I want to see the state capitol” crowd. In all fairness, the owner/operator of the shuttle puts in W-A-Y long hours and deserves a good night sleep.
Thursday found me heading for Columbia TN and the James K. Polk Ancestral Home. James Knox Polk was ten years old when his family moved to the Tennessee frontier. His father, Samuel, was a prosperous farmer and surveyor. The Polk family moved into the new, larger house in 1816 while James was away at college. He lived in the home from the time
of his graduation in 1818 until his marriage to Sarah Childress in 1824. Because the home was passed along to family heirs before title was transferred to the State of Tennessee, many artifacts are original possessions of the family and/or our eleventh President and Mrs. Polk - furniture, paintings, clothing, and White House china.
I was delighted to learn that indoor photography is allowed. The tour guide was knowledgeable and receptive to questions. The tour is very nice, but for some reason the attraction didn’t have the “wow-effect” of other Presidential landmarks I have visited. Perhaps that’s because Polk’s residence in the home happened during his adult years vs. during his formative years, because his stay was for such a short period of time (six years), because he did not live in the house while his political career was blossoming and/or because he didn’t visit there much in his post-Presidential life - Polk’s 103 day retirement was the shortest of all U.S. Presidents. I would recommend the site to those interested in U.S. or Presidential history but really cannot make such a recommendation for the average tourist.
I had a “not to scale” map of downtown Nashville but
The Detached Kitchen Is Nicely Furnished
James K. Polk Ancestral Home – Columbia TN
wanted to gauge the proximity of some of the attractions. On the way back to the RV park, I took the “Downtown Nashville” exit from I-40/65. Broadway is Honky-Tonk Row. For a 6-8 block stretch, about fifty percent of the establishments are honky-tonks. Within a couple of blocks of Broadway, I passed the Ryman Auditorium (1/2 block north on 5th
Av.) and the Country Music Hall of Fame (2 blocks south on 5th
Av.). Four blocks north is the Tennessee State Capitol with the Tennessee State Museum and other state buildings situated nearby on Capitol Hill. With the exception of that slight incline leading to Capitol Hill (slight incline and steep mountain are relative terms), downtown looked like a piece of cake to navigate on foot.
I headed back to the RV park to participate in a hootenanny sponsored by the establishment. I had been told of the weekly event upon my arrival and had purchased a ticket for the BBQ buffet dinner. The country music was free, and the food was very good. The lead singer of the trio related he had moved to Nashville from North Carolina to give him a better opportunity to do what he
loved to do. I hope all young artists adopt that philosophy and do not venture to Nashville thinking they will be discovered only to find themselves filled with disappointment and (perhaps) regret after a few months or years.
Friday morning I took the first available shuttle to downtown Nashville. The driver was very interested in learning my goals and making suggestions which would help me achieve success. He allowed me to dig through a container of discount coupons and to take any I thought I might be able to use with the understanding I return the unused vouchers during my return trip to the RV park. Fair enough! At the end of the day, the net shuttle cost was reduced by $3.00. We arranged for a pick-up time of 10:30 PM – his final trip of the day. I had been toying with earlier times but he easily talked me into getting my money’s worth out of the shuttle fare. As soon as I get to a honky-tonk, “I’ll drink to that!”
As I was looking around at the landmarks to assure I would be on the correct corner (not just intersection, but the right corner of the
Cash’s Signature Opening
The Johnny Cash Museum - Nashville TN
intersection) for pick-up later in the evening, I spotted The Johnny Cash Museum. Unbeknownst to me, the attraction had been open for only a few months. What was really neat was that photography not only was allowed but was encouraged. Some “genius” in the publicity department got this one right – the photos are teasers for the visitor to entice his/her friends while the meat for the visitor is the music and the lobster for the museum is the gift shop. One could spend the better part of a day at this attraction and still not have “done it all.”
Walking in the door to the gift shop (Of course, one can enter the gift shop without paying the admission fee – how brilliant!), the visitor is met with a placard proclaiming, “Hello! I’m Johnny Cash.” After paying the reasonable entrance fee and entering the museum, one is reminded that Cash also was known as “The Man in Black” with an exhibit of a fancy, “not-made-for-ridin’-the-open-range,” full-length, black “slicker.”
Of course, there is comprehensive biographical information, and there are numerous artifacts and awards on display. One area of the facility has a kiosk for each decade of Cash’s
career complete with headphones and a variety of full-length musical selections for the visitor to enjoy. I listened to only one song from each of the six decades but could have listened to many more. Unfortunately, I have only one week this visit!
I have long known that Johnny Cash was a legend; however, I had never thought about just how legendary he really was. Cash is only one of a handful of artists to have sold hits on such an array of audio formats - vinyl records (78, 45 and 33-1/3), reel-to-reel tape, 4-track and 8-track tape, cassette tape, compact disc and Mp3 digital downloads. He is one of only a few entertainers to have sold more than 100 million records. His crossover appeal earned him the rare honor of induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
He placed 48 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 pop charts, over 130 records on the Billboard Country Singles chart and is the only artist to have songs on the Billboard Charts for six consecutive decades. Moving into the 21st
century, Cash’s Facebook page has
10 million followers – far more than most living entertainers - and the 10 billionth song downloaded on iTunes was Cash’s “I Guess Things Happen that Way.” The list goes on, but, certainly, Cash was an icon in American music.
One is reminded of just how common a man was Johnny Cash as the visitor watches self-deprecating clips from Saturday Night Live. Inclusion of the dress worn by Patricia Nixon during Cash’s 1971 White House performance reminds us of his celebrity. Perhaps Cash’s most famous non-musical endeavor was his advocacy for prison reform. He performed gratis at numerous concerts for incarcerated men and testified before Congress on the shortcomings of the penal system as well as offered his suggestions for positive change. The museum finale is the 2003 Grammy awarded to Cash for Best Short Form Video for "Hurt" - written by Trent Reznor and first released by Nine Inch Nails. “Hurt
” is one of the most gut-wrenching, compelling, sobering music videos I have ever seen and his performance definitely earned the award. The Johnny Cash Museum is highly, HIGHLY recommended!
Doin’ a little to ‘n fro on Broadway found me at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop. There
What A Grand History!
Ryman Auditorium - Nashville TN
is little here to attract the visitor except the shopping opportunity. My next stop was the Ryman Auditorium – the first durable home of the Grand Ole Opry. The Opry began in 1925 and shuffled among various venues until the first broadcast in a thirty-one year stint was aired from the Ryman on June 5, 1943. Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Minnie Pearl and Uncle Dave Macon brought “hillbilly” music into America’s living rooms. Membership in the Opry was one of the highest achievements a country artist could attain and all members were expected to be on hand for every Saturday night broadcast.
The 1960’s brought significant changes to country music and “superstardom” became achievable without Opry membership; however, the Opry continued to grow in popularity. By the late 1960’s, the Ryman was showing its age and the neighborhood was deteriorating. Plans for a new Grand Ole Opry House were announced in October 1969. After the final show on March 15, 1974, the fate of “The Mother Church of Country Music” would remain in limbo for two decades.
Costumes worn by the likes of Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Little Jimmy Dickens and Minnie Pearl are on display; however, if
the visitor is expecting a museum, a disappointment is in order. Just being in those hallowed halls is the attraction. I opted to add the backstage tour and was pleasantly surprised to learn my tour guide has been a Ryman regular for decades and knew the likes of Minnie Pearl, Tammy Wynette, String Bean, Roy Clark and many others. I knew just enough to plant a seed every 5-10 minutes – “Did they ever solve the murder of String Bean and his wife?” The resulting history lesson was fascinating! Walking through the first home of the Grand Old Opry is a requirement for every country music fan who visits Nashville.
After visiting two significant attractions, it was five o’clock somewhere. My first stop was the renowned Legends Corner
where the not-yet-so-famous Buck McCoy was performing. I know this because he was so kind as to have his name emblazoned on the face of his guitar. I made another stop at The Stage
where the female singer did not have her ID tattooed on her lips so I can’t tell you her name. Two stops, two beers, one buzz – while humming, “I Ain’t As Good As I Once Was!,” I offered
a statement to self, “I don’t care if you’re not driving, you still have to read your watch and walk to the pick-up corner.” At the Tequila Cowboy
, the old-timer ordered a water on the rocks but was back in form at the Whiskey Bent Saloon
This continued for the evening – beer, water, beer, water…. A few places I walked into offered music not to my liking. Wait, Larry, don’t order just yet. Wait for the next song. More of the same – EXIT CITY! Sometime after darkness had enveloped the city, I found myself near the Cumberland River and took a moment to savor the beauty of the nighttime riverscape. While I was waiting for the return of the shuttle, the Nashville Pedal Tavern happened past. I have never seen such a creative idea, and the folks sure were having a good time.
Unless one is strictly interested in visiting the state capital attractions, I can’t imagine coming to Nashville without visiting Honky-Tonk Row. Even for the teetotaler, the music is superb and the water tastes just fine. Almost every establishment (including the visitor center) has an offering of free country music presented by a bevy of “maybe I’ll
be discovered this week” hopefuls and “as long as I’m doing what I love, I’ll never work a day in my life” realists. Downtown Nashville is a “must see” attraction at some point in the life of every country music fan and carries a like requirement for every “fan-of-something-other-than-country-music” who has occasion to visit Nashville. Just in case you’re wondering, I’d go to a free opera in Rome if I ever get the opportunity!
Saturday, August 31, 2013 found me heading to Hermitage - Home of Andrew Jackson. I’m not sure if the city is called Hermitage or if Hermitage is an area in eastern Nashville but it’s not difficult to find. The Hermitage attraction is massive – leave plenty of time (3 hours or so) to do yourself justice. One starts in the museum with biographic snippets of some of the slaves – their purchase, their duties on the plantation, their relationships to other slaves on the plantation and their ultimate fate whether sale, death or emancipation.
Another series of placards addresses various aspects of life at The Hermitage plantation – “Cotton Production at The Hermitage,” “Rachel Jackson’s Hermitage, 1815-1828” and “The Lives of The Hermitage Slave
General Andrew And Rachel Jackson
Hermitage - Home of Andrew Jackson - Nashville TN
Community” are examples. The ineptitude of Jackson’s adopted son, Andrew, Jr., is presented as well as the sale of the plantation to the State of Tennessee, its use as a home for poor and disabled Confederate veterans and, ultimately, its acquisition by the Ladies’ Hermitage Association in 1889.
Photography of the interior of the mansion is not allowed, but I must say that The Hermitage is an impressive landmark. Numerous outbuildings speckle the grounds and informative placards dot the landscape. My final stop was The Jackson Family Cemetery. Following Rachel’s death on December 22, 1828, Jackson had an architect design and construct a tomb that he visited daily in his post-Presidential years. When Jackson died on June 8, 1845, his body was placed next to his beloved. The inscription on his tombstone reads simply, “General Andrew Jackson.” The Hermitage is an outstanding piece of history and, politics aside, should be seen by all who visit Nashville.
A certain segment of the Nashville tourist population is in the recovery mode on Sunday mornings, a certain percentage of the locals are seeking salvation and the parking meters take a holiday so I decided to visit the Country Music Hall of
Fame in downtown Nashville. The first exhibit was an extensive display covering the life and career of Reba McEntire. Wait a minute! Are those my cowboy boots on display? Not exactly, but the scuffs and rubs on the boots she wore as a young barrel racer make them look a lot like my work boots!
Unique, classic instruments are on display such as a banjo made in the late 1800s and a fiddle whose owner learned his first tunes from Civil War soldiers in East Tennessee. The next display discusses the arrival of sound to movies and how performers played up their downhome personas. The next logical topic is the dawn of country radio. Showcases contain displays of memorabilia linked to Hall of Fame members – a guitar, a costume, a pair of cowboy boots – along with a short biographical placard. The first artists so honored are some of the old school – Roy Acuff, Red Foley, Patsy Cline, Eddy Arnold and Hank Williams.
Elvis Presley’s “solid gold” Cadillac is on display as well as the mixing board used by Owen and Harold Bradley when they open the first Nashville recording studio in 1955. A corn field
Unique Musical Instruments
Country Music Hall of Fame - Nashville TN
scene from the television series “Hee Haw” brought back some memories. One extensive display chronicles Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and “The Bakersfield Sound” while another documents how the rise of Southern Rock by The Allman Brothers Band, The Marshall Tucker Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd paved the way for more contemporary Southern Rockers such as Alabama, Brooks & Dunn, Kentucky Headhunters and Montgomery Gentry. Finally, the modern era arrives with a display of 6-8 gowns worn by Carrie Underwood during her performances.
The final stop is the gallery where the plaques honoring the Hall of Fame inductees are on display. Each plaque has a likeness of the artist and a short bio. The Country Music Hall of Fame is a great stop and is highly recommended for all who are interested in music of any genre but particularly for country music fans.
My next stop for the day was Antique Archaeology also in Nashville. American Pickers is a series on The History Channel depicting two guys, Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, who scout America looking for “rusty gold” buried among peoples’ “junk.” A few years ago, they opened a second store in Nashville. The store occupies a very small
One Would Expect A Larger Store
Antique Archaeology - Nashville TN
percentage of a large former auto manufacturing plant whose exterior shots lead the television viewer to believe the store is much larger.
I had to make a visit because they had picked a guitar owned by a musician who lives near where I grew up. The artist wouldn’t sell them the guitar, but let them have it for display so he would have an “instrument to play when he came to Nashville.” Well, his guitar is there – front and center. It’s hard to miss the black and white checkerboard guitar on loan from Rick Nielson of Cheap Trick.
I have seen these men buy hundreds of very interesting artifacts over the last few years and expected to find a plethora of really unique items – not that there is room for any of them in the Pilgrim. There is, however, much less of an antique selection than I had anticipated. There are numerous items marked “From the Personal Collection of …” which, on one hand, made me feel more like I was in a museum than an antique store. On the other hand, the place was loaded with tee shirts, coffee mugs, key chains and
every other kind of memorabilia imaginable which made me feel like I was at Disneyland.
I cannot fault Mike and Frank for making a buck while the opportunity is like Rick Nielson’s guitar – front and center. My curiosity was satisfied, the store is close to downtown Nashville and the attraction is worth thirty minutes of extra time, but is not a required stop unless your are in need of a “soon-not-to-be-unique-if-all-of-them-are-sold” tee shirt.
My final stop of the day was the Willie Nelson and Friends General Store & Museum. It’s also in Nashville but is very close to the Grand Ole Opry and could be combined with a trip to that venue to save time and fuel. The store/museum is pretty much what one would expect – a nice display of Willie’s personal artifacts and lots, no LOTS, of memorabilia available for purchase.
The self-guided tour of the museum opens with a high school photo of Willie H. Nelson and Willie's early career. In 1961, when Willie was a struggling unknown songwriter, he penned "Hello Walls" and approached Faron Young about recording the song. Young agreed and gave Willie his first break in the industry. Later
Willie At His Grand Old Opry Debut On November 23, 1963
Willie Nelson & Friends General Store & Museum - Nashville TN
that year, Nelson’s song "Crazy" was recorded by Patsy Cline, and Willie was struggling no more! His Grand Old Opry guest debut (Willie still is not a member of the Grand Old Opry) happened on November 23, 1963, when he looked markedly different than the contemporary Willie. Artifacts from people who played significant roles in Willie’s life are on display - Tootsie (more about Tootsie is coming), Lefty Frizzell, Dottie West, Ronnie Milsap, Barbara Mandrell and Kenny Rogers – as well as artifacts from Nelson’s movie Barbarosa
and his Grammy Award for "On the Road Again" (my anthem as I depart an RV park) for Best Country Song of 1980.
The best part of the attraction, in my opinion, is the continuous playing of Tootsie's Orchid Lounge: Where the Music Began
- a 60 minute biographical documentary video which was first released in 1995 and which I had never before seen. Tootsie's was located only a few steps down the alley from the rear exit of the Ryman Theater and was a logical gathering spot for Grand Old Opry performers in the day. The video finds Willie and several other songwriters/poets sitting around in a very informal setting reminiscing
Willie’s Custom-Made Pool Table
Willie Nelson & Friends General Store & Museum - Nashville TN
about the old days at Tootsie’s and how Tootsie Bess (1916-1978) would slip a 5 or a 10 to a luckless writer or picker and would keep a cigar box behind the counter full of IOU's from drinks and food she had given to hungry and “thirsty” hopefuls and never-wills. Supposedly, at each year's end, a bunch of Opry Performers would take all the IOU's and pay Tootsie so she wouldn't lose the money. Tootsie was a mother figure to the struggling young artists - Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Bobby Bare, Faron Young, Webb Pearce, Charlie Pride, Mel Tillis, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Roger Miller – to name but a few.
The museum is nice but not exceptional. If you’ve had the opportunity to see the documentary elsewhere, you’ve already had the turkey, ‘taters and gravy – seeing the museum would just be adding the stuffin’ and pumpkin pie. If you’ve not seen the video, it’s worth the price of admission by itself.
Tuesday found me being civic-minded at the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville. I have always enjoyed these attractions although, admittedly, some are better than others. I found a nearby parking garage with a clearance
high enough to accommodate my truck. There was an abundance of signage hawking the museum but no real indicator of the actual entrance. My first attempt got me into a vestibule with ticket windows as if the performing arts center was in the same building. Makes sense to me. On my next two attempts, I encountered locked doors. Another open door led to an area that appeared to be the administrative offices.
After a few more locked doors and a trip and a half around the block, I went in the administrative office area and found a group of people who were having a grand time working on some sort of project. I was tempted to ask if I could join them! One gracious gentleman volunteered to show me the way, saying he needed to stretch his legs anyway. He led me to a set of elevators and gave me instructions from there.
The museum actually is on three levels of one “wing” of the building. Probably the largest single exhibit area depicts the prehistoric events discovered by archaeologists – dinosaur fossils, stone tools, clay pottery and figurines, a dugout canoe and numerous well-done paintings depicting a variety
of prehistoric activities. The area covering Frontier Milling contains huge replicas of pioneer milling equipment almost as if to say, “We have all this space and need to fill it with something.” Very well done displays contain artifacts from frontier cabinet-making and garment-making (along with a very informative placard “From Flax to Linen”).
One placard has three paragraphs about “Andrew Jackson and Expansion” while another has like coverage about “James K. Polk and Expansion.” Slightly more coverage is given to the role of Tennesseans Sam Houston (a former Governor of Tennessee) and Davy Crockett (a former U.S. Representative) in securing Texas’ independence from Mexico. A large portrait gallery provides snippets of biographical information about famous Tennesseans, and another gallery showcases “An Aspect of Refinement” – the works of Tennessee silversmiths.
Overall the Tennessee State Museum was a huge disappointment. There are so many unexamined topics – education, music, railroading, lumbering, agriculture, transportation, moonshining, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Tennessee Walking Horse…. Many readers could provide a more complete list than I because I didn’t know a lot about the history and heritage of Tennessee before my visit, and, unfortunately, I still don’t. This museum is worth a visit
if there is time because many of the artifacts are unique and interesting and those that are presented are well-documented, but keep your expectations in check.
Next, I was off for a short (uphill) walk to the Tennessee State Capitol. I keep my wallet (and driver’s license) in my truck so I don’t leave home without them (for those of you with gluttonous thoughts, I keep my cash and my credit cards in a money clip in my pocket). Well, I had to have photo ID to secure a visitor pass. Back to the truck with you, Larry!
The Tennessee State Capitol was designed by William Strickland and was constructed from 1845-1859. Strickland died in 1854, but his son supervised the remainder of the construction. The limestone (mined about a mile from the landmark) was quarried and transported by slaves and convicts. My tour guide was informative and entertaining and the attraction is nice, but it is one of the most non-descript capitols I have visited.
After dinner, I set out for east Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry. I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to get through the “will call” line before
the performance. I secured my ticket and sat outside to enjoy the pleasant evening and to do some people watching. Shortly after I sat down, two ladies appeared in costume. One was readily identifiable with the price tag dangling from her hat. Minnie Pearl was one of the funniest female comedic characters I can remember from my youth.
I had to get a photo with her so I approached a couple (who already had their photos taken) with my request. No problem. Subsequent conversation revealed he is a country singer/songwriter/entertainer from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Eventually, we worked our way to the other costumed entertainer – Patsy Cline (I had to ask). She was very cordial and hand picked a background for our photo – I guess Vince Gill as a backdrop is okay!
As time for the show neared, we went inside. I made a final restroom stop, etc., etc. and went to my seat. My seat was at the end of the row, and to my left were 6-8 young women from Canada
who had made the trip to Nashville to celebrate a birthday. I turned around to people watch and the couple <strong style="mso-bidi-font-weight:
I had met outside was sitting on the right side of the aisle and one row back. Go figure! It turned out later that all 10-12 of us had also opted in for the post-show backstage tour.
I had three choices for a Grand Old Opry event during my week in Nashville. The entertainment scheduled to perform is listed on the web site. I selected the Tuesday evening performance based on the scheduled performers - Terri Clark (who hails, you betchya, from Canada
), Bill Anderson, Patty Loveless, Riders In The Sky, Mel Tillis and two other acts (one solo and one group) unknown to me. These shows, obviously, are not full blown concerts but give the artist an opportunity to perform several songs from his/her/their repertoire and give the audience a chance to hear some really good music.
Minnie Pearl provided the warm up, and all of the artists were simulcast on B-I-G screen televisions so even the cheap seats could have an eye-full! There was a generous intermission and my newfound friend insisted on buying me a beer. After the show, we were split into four groups and tour guides conducted the backstage
tours. All of the tours started at a different location so we weren’t tripping over each other.
The first stop for my group was the Grand Old Opry Post Office. All the boxes are assigned alphabetically except for Little Jimmy Dickens whose 4’11” stature prevents him from reaching the boxes where “D” would be located. I didn’t think to ask if all the boxes are reassigned if John Anderson, for example, becomes a member! We then saw the wall of members’ plaques - Dierks Bentley, Alan Jackson, Ricky Skaggs, Joe Diffie, Rascal Flatts, Josh Turner, Keith Urban, Marty Stewart, Blake Shelton and Garth Brooks. That’s an impressive list, but there are many well-known artists who are not yet Opry members - Alabama, Faith Hill, Glen Campbell, Kenny Chesney, Tanya Tucker, Kenny Rogers, George Strait and Merle Haggard to name but a few.
We then got to view the dressing rooms. The tour guide had a story about the décor that generally accompanied a story about one of the members. We went onto the stage and got to see the circle that came from the Ryman Theater. Finally, we were introduced to George Hamilton IV who has been an
Opry member since 1960 and is probably best known for his 1963 rendition of “Abilene” penned by John D. Loudermilk and Bob Gibson. He gave a short presentation and then entertained questions. Not having seen Little Jimmy Dickens at any of the music awards shows for a few years now, I inquired about his health. He replied that Little Jimmy was 92 years old, was not in good health and asked we all keep him in our thoughts. Little Jimmy has been an Opry member since August 1, 1948 – 22 days longer than I have been alive!
The tour guide told us anybody might show up back stage and named several names including Vince Gill who was on hand the previous week. The Grand Old Opry is a great attraction, and the backstage tour is a great add-on at least once. The Opry is a “must see” for the country music fan visiting Nashville, but for those not interested in country music – probably not so much.
I had a great week in Nashville except it was W-A-Y too short. There are many historical sites that didn’t fit into a week-long stay. I could hang out on
Broadway a couple of days a week for a long time (well, okay, during the just right weather season) and could easily attend the Opry monthly for a like number of years. People-watching is great fun. I plan to return – next time for a month!
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