So coming to Washington today marked the end of our musical journey. While New York might have some Rock ‘N ‘ Roll in it, Washington DC won’t keep the momentum going long enough for us to hold interest.
However there is some stuff to tell before we start in the Nation’s Capital, and plenty musings on the origins of music according to moi.
Thursday morning we started out by heading straight to the Johnny Cash museum in Nashville. When I say straight there I mean we waited half an hour for the regular free transport to appear, got it to within five blocks of our destination and walked the rest.
The bus only goes 2.5 miles from the Nearly-OutofTown hotel we are staying in.
We love Cash…
Securing our tickets for the museum at $22 each we paused for breakfast in the little cafe near the gift shop. It looked nice and I had a decent bagel with egg, cheese and round sausage (like square sausage but round!). Wife had the French toast for a change. That kept us going for the tour to come.
Johnny Cash is a genuine hero of mine. Even before I took any interest in country music, he was up there with all the other rebels of rock music that I took a shine to as a once pretentious young lad with ‘a soor look on ma puss’ (you know the teenage James Dean look we all aspired to) . However soor looks aside, the museum is pretty poor for so much cash (ahem).
There’s some guitars in the cabinets that he once played and costumes he and June Carter wore on stage (different ones – Johnny was never a cross-dresser – in public). But then it’s really just a series of banners telling his story from rags to riches, teen angst to drugged up hell-raiser, heathen to religious convert. There are artefacts such as pages of handwritten lyrics and all the gold discs he won, but when compared to Graceland you don’t feel that you had value for money.
But it’s good value compared to some of the other stuff we did – that’s to come later though.
After Johnny, we set out on that most important of musical journeys, the pinnacle of any man’s country adventure.
The search for a second hand guitar.
There are several essential qualities in a Nashville guitar –
1) It needs to look like a country guitar, 2) It can only be a Gibson or an Epiphone, 3) It needs to be second hand, and 4) It must twang at the very touch of your thumb.
It’s like magic. The right guitar is wand of country music – ‘the guitar chooses the cowboy!’
Of course price is also a huge factor.
So while several guitars spoke to me as we hunted through the Gulch for the elusive instrument that would take me from strictly rhythm to riff wizard, only one touched me where it mattered most.
The cheapest one.
However I destroyed my wife’s day having to watch me like a kid in a sweetie shop at Carter’s Vintage Guitars twanging on $3000 dollar guitars (second hand), and that felt good.
Not at all – that was the set up. My second hand guitar was the instrument I needed to play for her my own song celebrating our 30 years of marriage this year. I played it for her in Nashville – the first time it has ever been heard.
It was rubbish – but it was personal.
And even better – my guitar is an Epiphone, it’s a hybrid electric so it looks well country, I am not its first owner (let’s assume some Nashville hero had it first) and it 100% twanged when I hit the strings.
My worry now is getting it home in one piece. The case has taken one dent already on the flight to Washington – a character dent we will call it.
So after that excruciatingly uncomfortable moment for my poor spouse (she should be grateful I couldn’t find a working guitar at Sun Studios), we headed out to hear some real music at Pucketts where we had our dinner.
I ate the pulled pork with Mac n Cheese on top and fries on the side. My bashful belle had Southern Fried Chicken with tatties and veg. We finished with Pound Cake with ice cream then wandered into Broadway to hear some more actual music from the many bars.
Our last morning in Nashville was hot for a change. We’d had rain most of the time.
I started with a 5k run around the park near our Nearly-OutofTown hotel. There’s a replica building of the Pantheon there so there is an interest in the area. I would have preferred a Downtown run by the river – but you gets what you pay for.
We then waited about forty minutes for our regular transfer bus to almost reaching distance of Downtown Nashville and then walked the six blocks to the river side.
There is a foot bridge over to the Nashville Football Stadium and there is a lovely riverside park there which has great views over the city. You can still hear the music from Broadway (a little quieter) and the screams from the Party Cars are less screechy from here. When you’re my age you need some respite – considering this is half ten in the morning on a Friday and the town is already in full party mode.
We moved on to take a tour of the original Grand Ole Opry theatre – the Ryman and ate a nice lunch in their cafe before going for our tickets. I had a steak sandwich and my muse had a chicken sandwich. Sounds plain but they were very nice and accompanied by freshly fried ‘crisps’.
We then paid $24 each for the theatre ‘tour’. We were a little annoyed to find that we could have got 10% off the cafe had we bought the tickets first. I bit my tongue.
Now the Ryman theatre ‘tour’ is basically getting inside to look at the theatre auditorium. That’s it, no backstage peak, no guide to tell us what wonderful things went on where. There is a video to watch telling the history of the place, and in case you forget that, you can read it all in the banners displayed around the back of the auditorium. There were tickets for the evening performance at this price. We could have seen the show and we’d have got the ‘tour’ for free.
The only joy in my heart at this moment was knowing that I’d be going home sometime to a lovely guitar that I bought second hand in Nashville.
We took the local bus to Opry Mills which is like the Eastgate Centre of Nashville.
When I say ‘like’ I really mean completely unlike of course. You can buy a 25 ft motor boat at Opry Mills. You can’t get a charger for an iPhone 4 at Eastgate.
You can also buy assault rifles and enough ammunition to start a small revolution if you so wish. They’re for hunting of course.
But the main purpose in being here was the Friday night radio show – the Grand Ole Opry. We had ‘right-at-the-very-back’ tickets for the evening’s entertainment and we would be part of the wonderful history of country music forever now. Our claps, ‘whoops’ and cheers would enter the archives of Country Music recordings and be heard for all of eternity.
Now I had to grab a few pics with some of the locals before taking our seats. They all wanted to be seen with me. Must have known I had a guitar at the hotel.
The musical event that is the Grand Ole Opry is a joy to be part of. There are legends of the scene on every night and we were treated to some great performances. There are also some new bands on – and most of them are great too.
The best bit for me is the DJ who stands at the side of the stage and does all the ‘adverts’ live in front of the audience. Dollar Stores were sponsoring part of it so we heard all about their offers, and Boot Barn were giving three for two on cowboy boots. It was hysterical.
The worst bit were the young performers trying to schmooze the elderly audience (not me – just everyone else in the audience). They were playing to the religious and portraying themselves as the new saints of the country scene. It’s as if the Opry is run by the church (maybe it is).
One girl sang a song in tribute to her brother who died three years ago. That I could take – lovely sentiment.
Not to be outdone the next band dedicated a song to an uncle who died of cancer and might have been in the audience if it hadn’t been for that. But praise Gawd nonetheless.
The next guy blasted out Amazing Grace before dedicating a song to a night he lost by getting pissed. He was serious.
I was waiting for the last guy to dedicate his number to his second cousin’s pet dog’s fleas which were eradicated by a vet two weeks ago – but he didn’t go there. Too emotional I guess.
I was left thinking about this religious aspect to the whole music scene and wondered about its significance. The congregating slaves in Congo Square were there to praise and brought a new type of music to the world in the process. As music filtered north it was embedded into church gospel and country. Think about Elvis and his gospel, Johnny Cash and his later stuff when he got all Churchy.
Aretha Franklin was a gospel singer.
I wondered if the passion, the emotion that people put into popular music, was born in churches. It wasn’t so deep before that – Beethoven never ‘saw the light’. Bach never ‘broke down and cried.’
Think about Bono and how he delivers his words. Rock music, even when it is punk or anything that seeks to offend those with deep beliefs, is probably sung with passion because of those origins.
Now before I leave the music for you to decide, I must finally recount our getting home from the Opry experience.
We knew we would need to get a taxi home because the buses stop before the show finishes. What we didn’t know it that the entire civilised world outside of our little country has gone Uber daft and taxis no longer exist outside of a few hard-core companies determined to ride out the internet age. Good luck there.
The taxi stance we expected to wait at did not exist. The car park and all entry and exit roads were jammed with Ubers and people holding up their phones to see which one was theirs.
The one taxi we spotted shrugged us away when we asked how much it was to town. Clearly he was looking for a mug to sting for the week’s wages he had lost to Uber.
Sadly WE don’t have Uber because WE won’t pay the extra cost and so WE don’t have a phone that works in this country!
Thankfully my lovely wife makes friends within five seconds of meeting someone and knows their entire life story within three minutes. Honestly, I can turn my back for five minutes and then find her arm in arm with a woman from Kansas who has three children (Ruby, Joy and Henry), married to Gary for fifty three years next Tuesday and who has been suffering from an in-growing toenail for over six months but fortunately it will be operated on my Dr. Milton of the Happy Acres Practice at three pm next Friday.
And this lovely woman (none of the above details are correct but my wife can fill you in if required), has told her husband that this poor couple ‘all the way from Scawtland’ are stranded and need a lift to their hotel.
He, being an absolute saint, agrees to pay for our Uber on his credit card and I have to fight to pay him for it back in cash.
It was a wonderful end to our night. Whoever they are – we love them.