By Kathy Carter Drok
Maybe it’s because I am a musician, maybe it’s because I love to travel, maybe it’s because my husband went there to run in a marathon partnered with a children’s hospital, but whatever it is, Nashville captivates me like no place on earth ever has before: it started when we stepped off the plane and live music was playing.
No matter where you go, Nashville is an adventure.
While exploring en route to The BlueBird Café we ended up in a well-appointed neighbourhood that boasts the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Al Gore and Taylor Swift.
The architecture and estates are imposing and magnificent.
The BlueBird Café is a well-known mecca for musicians. It is a dumpy little place where careers are launched and history made.
The night was sold-out but they made room for us Canadians. Onstage that night was Fred Eaglesmith and The Traveling Steam Show. There we were in the BlueBird in Nashville, awestruck, wedged around a cramped table, watching a band that included four Canadians.
There are live bands playing in every restaurant, bar and grill and room up and down the strip in Nashville. The music starts in the morning and goes all day into the night. Monday is like Friday and Wednesday afternoon is like Saturday night.
The bands have big pickle jars for tips and sell CDs, swag and anything to make a buck and keep dreams afloat. If you aren’t playing in these rooms you can busk. Buskers are everywhere and are eclectic.
One band had a bass guitar made from a washtub, twine and a broom handle while someone played the spoons, another a banjo, plus a guy playing acoustic guitar while keeping the beat with a kick pedal lashed to a suitcase. Speakers are everywhere so no matter where you are outside you can hear the music playing inside.
The level of talent is overwhelming.
In Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge where everyone from Willie and Waylon and Patsy Cline to our own Terri Clark have sang, we stumbled into the VIP Section and the booking agent let us stay there. In Robert’s Western World we watched a guy play lead guitar until my mouth hung open.
Then he sat down behind a pedal steel and played a lead on it, switching back and forth between the two instruments.
The female lead singer belted out classic country and the bass player slapped the upright like he was born doing it. The drummer has backed up Loretta Lynn for years.
We woke up in Nashville one morning to hear the sad news George Jones had died. That night we had tickets to the Grand Ole Opry.
What a show: everything from the classic country performers to the hottest newcomers, all there paying tribute to “The Possum.” The night ended with a surprise appearance by Brad Paisley.
He performed a medley of Jones’ tunes plus a song he must have penned, interwoven with phrases from Jones songs. Jon Conlee and The GOO Band closed with a spellbinding version of Amazing Grace. If George hadn’t yet passed through the pearly gates, he certainly did that night.
The St. Jude Country Music Marathon and Half Marathon was amazing. We stayed on Music Row, an area that is home to hundreds of businesses all connected to the music industry.
I watched my husband run accompanied by all manner of spectacles – a guy running with a guitar, another with an American flag, ‘Elvis’ running with an intact black pompadour in the pouring rain, troops of American soldiers in uniform and the kids, all the kids; little sick kids in wheelchairs, babies in strollers being pushed by parents, little spastic arms flapping as they rolled by. The untold heart-tugging stories of why they all partake in this amazing event.
No visit to Nashville is complete without a trip to the Ryman Auditorium, the ‘Mother Church of Country Music.’ The Ryman was home of The Grand Old Opry from 1943 – 1974.
A treat for me was going into the recording booth at The Ryman Auditorium and recording two songs: one Patsy Cline cover for tradition’s sake and an original of my own Big Fat Tears.
I walked out with my own two CDs feeling gobsmacked! We heard the hot band Little Big Town play for their hometown crowd in The Ryman and they raised the roof .
The Country Music Hall of Fame is another must-do. You could go every day for weeks just to watch, listen and learn the history of country music and its players. The memorabilia, photos, early instruments, videos and collections of everything connected to the artists is magical.
But the reason why I fell head-over-heels-crazy-in-love with Nashville can be summarized in this. We were leaving the strip the last night and half a block from our car I heard singing, harmonies and gospel music so sweet I stopped in my tracks.
There in an empty parking garage was a group of teens and adults singing their hearts out just because they could, soaking up the acoustics in that garage and sending those pure tones out into the night.
Not self-conscious, not crazy, not out of place at all, just Nashville, just the music, always the music.
Kathy Carter Drok is a registered nurse and local musician.