Sorry to leave you all standing in the queue outside The Station Inn for so long back in October. This blog entry was delayed by a version on “Writer’s Cramp” that afflicted us since our return to Australia at the end of that month. We will over the next week round off the USA portion of our 2022 journey and hopefully normal service will be resumed sometime in 2023 when we actually work out what we are going to do next.
Just before 7pm the queue starts to move forwards, we have been chatting with those around us and it seems to be a mixture of “out of towners” and locals. For a fair number including us this was the first time here. Slowly up the ramp, still wondering about the capacity limit and we are in.
We scan the room looking for an empty table and make our way to the wall on the left of the stage. Settling in we start talking to neighbours who like us are both from out of town and first timers.
Sunday night is “Bluegrass Jam Night”, There is no set format just a group of musicians who have turned up to play. Bluegrass instruments only (guitar, fiddle, mandolin, dobro, bass, etc) are allowed at the jam. Numbers can vary and musicians from famous names to newcomers can turn up. The relaxed atmosphere and the unknown mix of music makes each Sunday night a unique experience.
The walls are covered with generations of posters from previous events. Since “The Station Inn” has been running since 1974 there is quite a range of dates. With my almost non-existent County Music knowledge I do not know any of the names. Anne may be better placed as she used to enjoy country music when she was driving the Australian outback roads by herself in a 4×4 in a previous life.
With food and drink sorted, we settle in to an evening of music. I have to admit that every time, which is rarely, that I go to a live music event I enjoy the atmosphere and think why do I not go more often. Oh well.
Part way though the evening, as part of interacting with the crowd, one of the musicians asked who has come the furthest for the evening. “Florida”, “New York” as few call out. The couple next to us call out “ They are from Australia” pointing to us. Others take up the refrain and suddenly we’re declared the winners. Great, we have won. The music restarts and we go back to enjoying the evening.
A short time later a man approaches our table, introduces himself as Josh and asked if we have collected our prize for being the furthest away. There is a prize? We can select a piece of merchandise from the store. Anne asks him if the is the owner, yes he is and we can get a t-shirt, or a cap. In fact, take anything you like he says, t-shirts and caps and whatever. We go to collect our prize. We both choose a t-shirt and as I eye the hat, I have always wanted an American style cap from a local business. We have our prizes.
We continue to chat and are then invited to move back to the other side of the bar where we end up spending the rest of the evening. The conversation flows and we feel we have made a connection, not only with Josh but the other people we meet behind the bar, musicians, and other workers. The bar is busy, and we often feel like we are in the way with rushing waitresses squeezing past or behind us, never complaining. Anne and Josh spend quite some time in his office, talking his Native American artwork and other photos on his wall and chatting for ages about his past, his family and his dreams. Musicians come and go, business goes on around us but we all make the most of each other’s company. As we once did previously in Indiana where a chance encounter leads to lifelong friendship, this feels very similar.
What an amazing evening, being able to make such a strong connection we will be back tomorrow night for sure.
The next morning, in our budget motel’s foyer which doubles up as the breakfast area, we meet a young couple and get chatting. He is a musician, looking to break into the Nashville scene, with his own songs. He is young, and he has the best contacts here he tells us. Another guest is there too, having his breakfast, walking back and forth, then just standing, listening to our conversation. He tells us he recognised us the winners at the World Famous Station Inn last night – he was behind us. We get chatting and ask whether he’s local. It turns out he is none other than Howard Fields, one of Kenny Rogers’ ex co-managers. How he got into the music industry was fascinating. A former army lieutenant colonel, he was asked by a friend to check on their son who had been trying to break into the music scene in Nashville for some years and they wanted his opinion on his talent and their investment. Discovering there are many buskers with more talent than some represented in the numerous bars in Nashville, he thought he could help them with his business and management experience. He become involved in artist management in 1992 and opened an entertainment management group with a couple of partners in 2009. He shared stories of his first meeting Dolly Parton, how he would use his time on the road between Atlanta, where he lived, and Nashville to listen to the hundreds of CD’s he received from fledgling artists and how he selected the ones to keep listening to. We realised his stories to us were really lessons for the young artist we had been talking to. A nice way of not giving them a lecture. The artist’s girlfriend did ask Howard some interesting questions. We left so that they could spend more time with Howard and hoping they would listen to his advice.
While Nashville is well known as the “Country Music” capital, a lesser known title the city has looked to add is the “Bachelorette Capital” challenging Las Vegas for the title. The visible signs for us are the tractors pulling trailers loaded with partying ladies slowly through town.
Broadway, a street that bisects the centre of Nashville downtown to the Cumberland river is home to numerous entertainment venues offering food, drinks and of course live music. Each venue has at least one band playing, in some cases there is a band per floor! One wonders how many musicians are needed to provide each venue with continuous live music every day of the week. As we wander amongst the tourist throng, of which we are a part, going from venue to venue we are struck by how each building seems to contain their own sounds. Perhaps the older buildings have better sound insulation.
We spend an afternoon wandering from live music venue to live music venue sampling a wide range of both musical styles and artists. Of course, some were better than others, most playing more contemporary country music than blue grass. We saw a number of artists walking the streets with their instruments, walking in and out of those venues hoping for a gig and buskers on the pavement – witnessing many dreams in the making, or so we hoped for them. The quality was nothing like that of the Station Inn but the atmosphere was great.
We have complied a short music video which will be posted separately which gives a small glimpse of the array of musical talent on display. Go and enjoy for yourselves.
Anne’s grandfather was a printing engineer so her interest was pricked when we came across the Hatch Show Print, a letterpress print shop since 1879, which has been printing with wood type, hand-carved images, oil based ink and mineral spirits which conditions and preserves the wood. Sadly there were no tour slots left over the next few days. It has created the many iconic posters for classic films, circuses and fairs.
Our evening concludes back the “The Station Inn” for another night of music in what after only 24 hours seems like “home”. We are lucky enough to meet Lorretta and Jane who has been coming here for decades.
A great musical evening is sadly curtailed by a medical emergency for a band member’s family which required an ambulance. While the remaining band members gamely played on, their hearts were not in it and the audience applauded and supported their decision to conclude early. I am pleased to say that they survived this very worrying episode.
We reluctantly leave Nashville knowing we have new friends, a feeling of family and we will return to Nashville and “The Station Inn” to renew friendships and continue our country music education at some time in the future, hopefully not too far.
– Anthony & Anne