Got into the Capital of Country Music around lunchtime on Sunday, and quickly realized that I had chosen a rather inopportune day to tour downtown, as there was a big CMA Fan Fest hoop-de-doo taking place, thus downtown was a clusterfuck of people. I wound up parking on the other side of downtown away from all the action in a garage across the street from Municipal Auditorium, where Ted Nugent recorded parts of Double Live Gonzo! (and paid homage to all that "Nashville pussy"). This actually worked out rather nicely, because it gave me a chance to roam along the bluffs overlooking the Cumberland River and the Tennessee Titans football stadium (whatever it’s called this week) before wandering down through the masses. I was very impressed with Nashville’s very underrated skyline and its distinctive architecture, especially the BellSouth tower (the big tall rascal with the matching lightning rods). And once again, Kansas City gets upstaged by a smaller city with a far more exciting downtown, as there is so much to do and see in downtown Nashville. Even without their big Country hoedown thing last weekend, I imagine there would still have been a fair amount of people hitting all the attractions, whereas downtown Kansas City on a Sunday afternoon would put people to sleep faster than your average Kenny G CD.
I also enjoyed the adjacent entertainment district along Broadway, which reminded me a little of Beale Street in Memphis, only a tad more subdued. They don’t emphasize the drinking and partying here quite as much as in Memphis, but there are plenty of bars, restaurants and clubs lining the street, and I partook of a dandy pork sandwich at Rippy’s BBQ that really hit the spot.
THE HALLI was pleasantly surprised by and impressed with the Country Music Hall of Fame, which is right next door to the Nashville Predators’ hockey arena (whatever it’s called this week), and just a couple blocks from Ryman Auditorium. I’m not a big Country fan by any means, but I do have a few Country artists in my CD collection (Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Jerry Reed, et al), and I certainly respect the history of this genre of music, given that it’s all interconnected with Rock history. The Country HOF was damn near as cool as the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and well worth the visit. They had tons of artifacts on display—everything from stage outfits worn by the different artists, various musical instruments (like Buck Owens’ red, white and blue guitar from "Hee Haw"), and cars of the stars, like Webb Pierce’s badass ride with the cow horns and Elvis’s custom Caddie that I featured a few posts back. Speaking of "Hee Haw", they had a rather humorous display in tribute to the show, featuring the mock cornfield and mannequins with the costumes worn by Grandpa Jones, Junior Samples, et al. I also enjoyed their temporary exhibit on Ray Charles and his successful foray into Country music. Also included in the Hall of Fame complex is a massive three-story music archive that looked pretty ambitious—evidently they’re trying to preserve every last Country recording ever made!
One area where the Country HOF clearly outshines the Rock HOF is the actual shrine itself where the inductees are honored. Each honoree has their own plaque on the wall in this cathedral-like room, very similar to the ones at the Baseball Hall of Fame, complete with their likeness in bronze and a detailed description of their career achievements (minus their lifetime batting average). The Rock HOF has this spiral ramp that you ascend with the inductees’ names emblazoned on the wall along with their signatures, but there’s nothing to detail their careers or explain why they’re in the hall. Also, it’s kinda dumb to see blank spaces for the signatures of the deceased artists—i.e., it’s a little hard to get Buddy Holly’s or Jimi Hendrix’ autograph posthumously. The Country Hall got it right for sure, and I highly recommend a visit there, especially to my friends who are big Country fans—Mr. Jefferies, attention! Hell, if I enjoyed it, I know you would. Yet another A+ in my book…
THE 50,000-WATT BLOWTORCH
Before I hit downtown, I made it a point to drive just south of the city to check out the WSM transmitter tower, and their website wasn’t kidding—it truly is a sight to behold. This behemoth is 808 feet tall—that’s 178 feet taller than the Gateway Arch, folks! It is any wonder you can pick that station up everywhere? I also spent some time listening to this very historical radio station while in town, and it was actually fun to hear "old-school" radio on AM again.
PERFECTLY GOOD GUITAR
I’d also been dying to see this thing in person. This is the main scoreboard at Nashville’s minor league baseball park, Greer Stadium. What do you suppose one would use as a pick for this thing, a manhole cover? I love the strategically-placed linescore on the guitar’s neck, too. There’s been talk of building a new ballpark downtown to replace this aging stadium, but I hope they transplant the scoreboard if they do move.
THE MAN IN BLACK
I’m not sure why, but I’m rather fascinated by famous people’s gravesites, so I paid a visit to the graves of Johnny and June Carter Cash in suburban Hendersonville. It was kinda surreal to find their graves in such a small cemetery in modern suburbia amidst all the strip malls and convenience stores. Nothing real fancy here—just very humble and tasteful—and their graves didn’t stand out at all amongst the others, which I found rather refreshing. R.I.P. Johnny and June...
GOIN' TO CHURCH
Yet another educational stop on my trip was the famous Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville, original home of the Grand Ole Opry. I knew a little bit about the rich history of this place—turns out it was very little. Anyone who is/was anyone in Country music has stood on this stage at one time or another, and it's amazing to think that this place was almost torn down. After the Opry moved in 1974 to its new soulless country club digs out in the suburbs in shopping mall heaven, the Ryman closed down and sat dormant and decaying for 20 years. Fortunately, the Gaylord Entertainment people (owners of the Opry and most of Tennessee) kicked in the money to refurbish, renovate and resurrect this musical temple, and managed to pretty much perserve its essence, right down to its original wooden pews.
Not only is the Ryman open daily for tours, during which you can stand on the stage (as I did for this pic), it's still a viable concert venue, hosting acts from every genre of music—not just Country—-everything from Seal to Robert Plant. Even Ted Nugent played there a week ago Friday—I hope he at least showed this place a little respect and refrained from doing his "get out of America if you can't speak English" shtick, but knowing him, he probably didn't. They say that the acoustics in this building are damn near perfect, and I hope to get back down to Nashville again and see a show there. I bet a John Hiatt concert there would be awesome. A++ in my book on this one. Special thanks to Brother Randy Raley for his recommendation of seeing the Ryman and Johnny Cash's gravesite—these suggestions helped to make this an awesome road trip. Thank you again, sir—I owe YOU a burger next time I'm in St. Louis!
WELL, BLOW ME DOWN!
My little Magical History Tour concluded with a trip back home along the scenic route through western Kentucky and southern Illinois, passing through Clarksville (now I know what an Austin Peay looks like!), Paducah and Carbondale (home of the Salukis). Just as I was about to cross back into the Show Me State, I stumbled across an old friend in the riverfront town of Chester, IL. More education for me on this trip, as I was totally unaware that the world's most famous spinach eater was created by a Chester native named Elzie Segar (click pic below to enlarge and read all about it), thus they put up this dandy statue. It's real easy to find if you're ever traveling in the area, right at the foot of the Mississippi River bridge on your right as you cross into Illinois on U.S. 51. Now they need a Wimpy statue! I yam what I yam...