Boots, buckles and cowboy hats!

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We have just arrived home in West Lafayette after two weeks on the road. We drove straight from Nashville to home in 6 hours – a bit amazing considering it took us 6 days driving to get there. When we told people at the conference the way we got there, they all wanted to know who sold us the map!!

Our week in Nashville was as much fun as our previous week. The city certainly celebrates and relishes its title as country music capital of the world. I guess it’s sort of like a northern version of Tamworth (that should get a few American hackles rising!!!). Our hotel was on Broadway which is alive with country music every night (although we discovered on Tuesday morning that they don’t do breakfast much before 10.30).

I went along with Peter to the conference welcome party on Monday night, where we met a number of previous acquaintances, including folks from Purdue, Petrea Redmond from USQ, and Ian and Kay Gibson. I met Jan from Sheffield England who, like me, was here for social purposes only and we agreed to meet up the following day to visit the Grand Ole Opry. We then joined a group who continued their revelry at the Back Room at Tootsie’s Orchid Bar. This was a delightful place – smoky and decrepit, absolutely oozing with “atmosphere”, with photos and signatures of many country music legends and many other hopefuls covering every inch of its smoke-stained walls. The place was crowded and two live bands were playing – one in the front room and another in the back room. We had a beer and enjoyed the ambiance for a while before returning to our hotel.

Peter had an early morning co-presentation with Petrea, so he headed off to his conference as I prepared for a day’s sightseeing. I met Jan in the foyer at 9.30 and we headed off to find Opry Land. After a few deviations from the planned route (and nearly ending up in the river at one point), we did make it to our first port of call – the Willie Nelson museum. This was housed in some large rooms behind a shop which was filled with many tacky souvenirs. The only thing I was even tempted to buy was a guitar-shaped fly swat. I thought that was pretty classy. I did actually return later to buy a couple as souvenirs. The museum itself was excellent. It was filled with lots of personal items and memorabilia which had belonged to Willie, some of which had been purchased when he was forced to sell most of his assets to pay his tax debt. Many other country music greats were also represented there. Jan and I felt a bit ashamed that this opportunity was being wasted on us, as many of the names and faces were completely unfamiliar to us. We even had the grace to be embarrassed by a video presentation which revealed the cultural iconic status of Tootsie’s bar where we had so casually tapped our feet the night before. This tiny venue was THE place in Nashville – almost on a par with the Grand Ole Opry itself. The video showed Willie and friends sitting in almost the same seats we had occupied, chatting about songs which had been written there, including “I Fall to Pieces”.

We looked at a few more shops in the area and then drove around to the Opry Mills, which turned out to be an Outlet Mall in the same complex as the new Grand Ole Opry. By this time light rain was falling, so we decided to go in and shop and have some lunch while we waited for the rain to clear.

We found a fifties style full service diner and ordered fries with chili, cheese and onions. We were enjoying our meal and a chat when the music changed to “YMCA”. At this, all the waitstaff circled the diner and started singing and dancing the actions to the song. Jan and I joined in from our seats. What a hoot!

After checking out a few more shops, we went outside to find the rain was even heavier, so we had to huddle under our umbrellas to walk across to the Grand Ole Opry theatre. This new version which is a 4400 seat broadcast studio was built in the 1970s and replaced the original Ryman Auditorium which is located in downtown Nashville. Unfortunately the Opry was closed for a private function, but we walked around the outside and could hear the music being played inside. We called in to the Grand Ole Opry Museum and saw displays about Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins and many more.

That evening we went downtown to dinner with Ian and Kay Gibson and some of their colleagues from the Wichita State University. After finding no room at the first few inns, we finally got a table at the Big River Brewery. The meal and service were first class.

After dinner we wandered down to the banks of the Cumberland River which is in flood following 8 inches of rain in two days. The local TV channel had their cameras down there doing a live flood report, so we stayed and watched the action.

Next day, I finally mailed Emily’s birthday parcel to her. I hope it arrives in time!! More rain was predicted and many accidents had already been reported, so I decided to make it a walking tour day.

I wandered through the downtown and uptown areas and visited yet another country music museum – this time one in honour of Charlie Daniels.

Again, wandering through a comprehensive display of awards, memorabilia, belts, boots and cowboy hats kept me intrigued for quite a time.

I eventually moseyed on out of there and found the Hatch Show Printery. They claimed to have introduced the notion of hand bills and posters as a means of promoting shows, and their premises were adorned with original and replica versions of many famous name show bills. A young boy was helping his mother run the first proof of a wedding invitation they were printing and he was more than happy to pose for a photo for me.

That evening, we joined Petrea, Peg and Dave, Jim Lehman and a number of graduate students from Purdue for dinner at a Thai restaurant followed by another stroll by the river to check the flood heights, and another visit to Tootsie’s Bar.

Thursday morning dawned cloudy but dry, with predictions of below freezing temperatures on their way overnight. I wandered downtown again to the visitors centre which is housed in the Gaylord Entertainment Centre – an amazing looking building which is the ice hockey stadium and looks as though it has either just landed from or is about to take off for Mars. From there I walked to the Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry. It was built as a house of worship by Ryman after he was converted from his previous worldly ways during a travelling gospel crusade. The hall later served as the major cultural centre for Nashville hosting many operatic and orchestral performances, the Zeigfield Follies, and shows by stars such as Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy (I loved their old movies!), Ethel Barrymore, Dorothy Lamour, Bob Hope, Doris Day, Enrico Caruso, and Roy Rogers (to name but a few), and of course was the home of the Grand Ole Opry radio show. Today it continues to serve as a popular music and cultural venue. I tried to book in for a tour but was told there would be none that morning as there was an orchestral performance for school children about to commence. Cheekily, I joined in with a group of 4th graders from a nearby town of Murfreesboro and sat in to enjoy a performance by the National Symphony of Cinderella by Sergei Perkofiev (excuse the spelling), with narration written by some of the children and read by their teachers. It was delightful and most of the several hundred fourth graders in the audience appeared to enjoy it very much.

I met up with Petrea in the afternoon to take her souvenir shopping and to see the new Grand Ole Opry complex. We also visited the local Farmers Market where we shared a bottle of Tamarind nectar and looked at the wide variety of ethnic foods on sale, and wandered through the Bicentennial Mall which has the history of Tennessee inscribed on a number of marble slabs and columns. In the evening I went along to the conference to see the poster presentations (Peter was one of the judges), and Peter, Petrea and I then met up with Peg, Dave and Judy from Purdue, and Ian and Kay and their friends from Wichita for dinner at a seafood restaurant. I had a tasty dish of alligator bits. The temperature had plummetted and there was actually some light snow falling as we walked downtown.

Friday morning was equally chilly and I limited my wanderings to the old Union Station which was restored in the 1980s as a magnificent hotel, and the Frist Centre for the Visual Arts which opened only last year and is also a magnificent restoration of what had been the old Post Office building. The collection on display consisted of many very modern and pop art works, some of which I admired and others that left me shaking my head in disbelief. Upstairs they have an interactive art workshop with lots of fascinating activities. This is obviously a great resource for local art students and a number of class groups were present taking advantage of the stimulus materials and activities. It was still freezing cold when Peter arrived home from the conference so I was not keen to venture far from our hotel for dinner. I suggested we go across the street to the Union Station so that Peter could also enjoy the spectacular stained glass ceiling and elaborate plaster work in the beautiful old building.

I spent Saturday morning packing the car and making my final trip downtown to enjoy my last moments in this wonderful city.

Pat and Stephen are Davy Crockett fans and were able to tell me correctly that he was born in Limestone, Greene county in the state of Tennessee. Stephen actually knew his street address and I think maybe even his phone number! Janet showed her depth of musical knowledge by giving me the first verse of the House of the Rising Sun which is allegedly in New Orleans.

Stephen has suggested the question for this week (and since he is the winner from last week I will let this be his prize). He asks: what was the name of the play that Abraham Lincoln went to when he was assassinated?