Nashville, a little bit country

Where we left you all standing at end of the last blog.

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.

Some of the Station Inn crowd on Sunday night.

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.

Station Inn Sunday night jamming.

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. 

All part of the Station Inn’s long music history.

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.

With Josh. An amazing connection made.
Behind the bar at the Station Inn with Marissa
Anne’s new T-shirt from the Station Inn.

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.

Our new home behind the bar at the Station Inn.

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. 

Bachelorette party on the move in downtown Nashville.
Not sure the legality of a Pedal Tavern under drink/ drive laws in Australia.

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.

Broadway in Nashville, teeming with music venues.
Layla’s Honky Tonk, Broadway Nashville.
Let hope they used the stronger brackets securing this one.
Nudies, been running since 1947.
Window listening instead of window shopping.
Elvis Presley’s suit in Nudies bar
The place to get those special cowboy or girl boots.

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. 

Hatch Show Print, Nashville
All the original machinery inside Hatch Show Print.

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. 

Eddy Dunlap playing his steel guitar
Eddy Dunlap’s steel guitar
Val Storey, Carl Jackson, and Larry Cordle

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.  

Anne, happy after an evening of Bluegrass music.

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

A day on the road or why we have no time to write blogs

I write this as we speed down Interstate 40 towards Memphis as in the car seems the only time there is to write in the last 10 days.  Our days seem to be so packed with experiences that there is no time to record them. While not a typical day as they are all different, I would like to take you through one day. We are in Louisville Kentucky staying near the airport at one of the Hilton Tru branded hotels.  This brand is a new experience for us: it is modern with new decor and reasonably priced for us retirees. Think Ibis Styles with larger rooms and huge bathrooms it you’re familiar with that brand. Having never been to Louisville, Anne has been diligently researching the city for places of interest.  Since neither of us are followers of the “Sport of Kings” horse-racing, the city’s connection to the Kentucky Derby holds no major attraction for us. However Anne has discovered there is a family museum here. The “J B Speed Art Museum” established in 1927, now known as the Speed by locals.  What a find.  Situated in the grounds of the University of Louisville, the museum is housed in a modern airy building, which reminds Anne of the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in Brisbane.  Famous works on display included a Rodin sculpture and Renoir, water lilies of course. I did ask for a family discount, but luckily Sunday was free.

“Our” museum in Louisville

Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky

In their own words, “ Whether you’re an art aficionado or don’t know a Dali from a Degas, you can find fresh inspiration and meaning at the Speed Art Museum. With modern architecture, expanded programming, interactive exhibits and inviting outdoor spaces, the Speed offers countless opportunities for everyone to create their own connections and experience art at their own speed.” “ The Speed acknowledges that indigenous peoples were the original stewards of the land and resources on which the Museum is built. ” Their description of their museum, acknowledgement of indigenous people added to its name, our name!, was very enticing and did not disappoint. Fabulously airy sections, modern, quirky, fun, traditional, surprising, and extremely accessible – not overwhelming as some museums can be. Most rooms only have a few pieces in them. They invite you to reflect and connect, bringing different perspectives to a certain topic.

“Vocho” by Margarita Cabrera

“We the People” by Nari Ward

Close up of the laces making “We the People” by Nari Ward

Part of the Parlor, 1619 from Grange, a house located in Devon

“The Three Shades” by Rodin, sculpted before 1886

Cherry Tree quilt attritubed to Virginia Mason Ivey, around 1860

Close up of Virginia Mason Ivey’s Cherry Tree pattern

Dress by Dakota Sioux artist, 1880-1890

Great idea!

There was also a huge interactive section

The Speed Art Museum could rival Anne’s favourite modern art gallery in the world, Brisbane’s GOMA.

Anne’s artistic viewing needs sated for now, we head south.

Interesting location for a roller coaster as we leave Louisville.

Louisville Storm Chaser roller coaster

The interstate road system is great for covering distances in a day, but not as interesting as the back roads we prefer when on the motorbikes.  We stop for coffee in Elizabethtown Kentucky, a small town that has worked hard to spruce up its centre.  The coffee is good and a restaurant beckons for lunch. We have found that each place we visit has something to offer or a story to tell.

Elizabethtown courthouse

Beautiful mural brightens an abandonned shopping centre


Refreshed we continue south towards Nashville, we had hoped to visit Mammoth Caves National Park but all online enquiries showed no availability for the day to tour. These caves are the biggest system in the world.  Over 420 miles / 675 kilometres have been mapped to date on five levels with a tiny fraction open to the public.  The caves are so big that for many tours, you have to be bussed to a separate entrance miles / kilometres away.  We decided to head there anyway and were rewarded with being able to secure some freed up tickets for self guided tours that afternoon. No fantastic stalactites or stalagmites for us but an introduction to an amazing cave system. We see mining from 100 years ago and evidence of human activity dating back some 4,000 years. The weather is also warmer and for the first time in a 10 days, the sweaters are off.

The original entrance to Mammoth Caves.

Audubon Avenue looking towards Rafinesque Hall.

Yes this did fall from the roof!

The Rotunda, a feature in the roof of the cave.

We had decided that Nashville, famous for its country music heritage should be on this trip.  Anne used to enjoy country music while driving in the bush, she had swapped to country from learning Italian on tapes which Anne found she concentrated on more than the dirt roads!     Our driving has us running a little late for an evening of Bluegrass music at the world famous “Station Inn” in Nashville. Anne discovered this place, which has been running since 1974 the same year we met, during her research. Playing live music seven nights a week with excellent reviews, it seems a good place to start our country and bluegrass music education. The Station Inn is situated in the “Gulch”, so named as it was once a depression in the ground that contained a railroad yard.  After WW2, the decline of the railways saw the area fall into decline. Development around the turn of the century has seen the “Gulch” develop into an upmarket area surrounded by new high rise apartments and offices 6:45pm sees us standing in a queue/line on our first warm evening on this trip, I do love the warmth, while waiting for “The Station Inn” to open.  No tickets are sold, first come first served cash only entry, although for Sunday “Jam Night” entry is free.  Will we even get in? We have no idea of the capacity.

Looks like we arrived too late

Getting closer but can this place take us all?

It’s been a long day already, so you’ll have to wait til the next blog to find out what happened next…

While not a typical day, one can see how there is no time left for blogging, well after all we are the 2 slow speeds.

– Anthony & Anne