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  • Des & Sandie Nichols

NASHVILLE - MUSIC CITY


For a year now, we have been seeking out and probing the stubborn corners of America and we have just delved deep into the final apex of the Golden Music Triangle. Nashville greeted us just as we had left it - pulsating. Music is everywhere. As you do the tourist stroll down Broadway, the main drag, the sounds of live bands explode out of every bar (where the bands play in the large front windows so you get a great view of the bands' backs as you pass. It is the Amsterdam of sound, with best on offer in the plate glass shop windows, but this time, instead of scantily-clad, gyrating young ladies you get the bums of sedentary, overweight, hairy drummers. Gives a new meaning to the bawdy shout of 'Get your kit off'). Everyone here has one thing in common - a frustrated, underrated musician lurking within. Your barman is a musician, your waiter is a musician, even the Über drivers tell you they strum a bit. The difference between Nashville and the other two corners of this musical triptych is that New Orleans and Memphis have the air of living in reverence of the past, of building a museum to the late greats, of looking backwards. Nashville, however, lives in the present, making only passing reference to the past but instead placing all its energy into today's exciting arrivals on the scene. It is this youthful hope and enthusiasm that drives this city. You feel it is happening all around you and the next big stars of Country, Blues and R&B could just have their backs to you in the next bar window..

Broadway is so wide it loses its soul

Live music in every bar

Broadway is like Bourbon St is to New Orleans and Beale St is to Memphis - but wider, much wider. As a result it doesn't have that intense party feel with the two sides of shoulder-to-shoulder Honky Tonks and cowboy boot stores divided by four lanes of traffic. But it is still special. And don't miss exploring the offshoot avenues which hold their own secrets and attractions.

Sadly, it is only recently that the preservation gestapo have woken up and realized that the area is under siege from developers and there are a lot of great old buildings to save. But it is a bit late. Too many have already been torn down making the Broadway area an isolated keepsake of the past. And, as it is so wide, the vision of the marauding creep of modern glass and concrete monsters make it a somewhat incongruous and disharmonious architectural mix.

This is a great Broadway rooftop bar but with the new age backdrop

Old Broadway with the space-age Bridgestone Hockey Arena behind

If you, the starry-eyed new singer or musician, make it to a certain level, you will be invited onto the stage of the Tennessee Mecca - the Grand Ole Opry. Many think that the Opry is a theater. Well, strictly, it never has been. The Opry is actually a concert, showcasing a variety of acts on the same bill, some world-famous, some just well thought of and given a break. Its other claim to fame is that it is the longest running radio show in the US. Way back in 1925, George D. Hay launched a one hour 'barn dance' on WSM radio. In 1943, the show found a home in the Ryman Theatre, a converted church just off Broadway and, as a result, established Nashville as the national capital of Country music. Today, it has a new home, which everyone refers to as the Grand Ole Opry.

The plain-Jane concrete entrance designed to unimpressed

The auditorium

From the outside it is a minimalist, uninspiring concrete and brick monolith that would be totally at home on London's appalling South Bank. But inside it opens up into a sweeping auditorium of bench seats for 4000 (bench seats, what a good idea - no jostling over the arm rests). Every week, there are three or more shows, each of over 2 hours, with changing performers each time. Bluegrass, country, folk, gospel and comics fill the bills, and the tourists and fans fill the seats every night. It is one of those special events, like Wimbledon, where the occasion IS the event and you will be thrilled to get a seat irrespective of who is on stage.

The girls ready to go country

Elizabeth Cook, Country Singer

Our cherished visit had been delayed since September last year. As you may recall, we were getting ready for a show when we got the call that Sandie's brother Brian had had a heart attack and, panic-striken, she scrambled for the first plane out the next morning and I prepared the wobble-bus and the cats for a two day, 1000 mile drive back to Florida, aborting our trans-America plans. Our ever-supportive pal Darren dropped everything and flew up, landing soon after Sandie left, to share the anxious drive to Ft Myers Beach. Mercifully, Brian is firing on all cylinders now, and possibly on a couple more that he didn't know he ever had.

Anyway, back to the Music City. The concert was excellent - superbly staged with fantastic performances, incredible sound, great viewing and a pumped up audience, plus the bonus of huge TV's all around to get a good close-up look. We were surprised and delighted in equal measure that it was not just a menu of old has-beens but a young cast of great-looking gals in their sexy skirts and heart-throb guys in their hats and blue jeans doing their country stuff. For us old rockers, the country music itself was a bit like a Chinese meal in that we enjoyed it but were left with nothing specific to remember. The only blackspot was the wine - two large glasses of a very ordinary Pinot Grigio cost $48 - almost the price of a ticket (we pensioners had to share just one glass on the interval round - a first).

But we have left Nashville now, retracing our steps through Tennessee and North Carolina before setting off to Williamsburgh, on the Atlantic coast of Virginia, still in search of somewhere to live. But we shall long remember our Nashville camping nights, parked up near the Grand Ole Opry on the edge of town, accompanied by a Disneyesque canopy of fireflies, eating our favorite cowboy dinner - spatchcocked chicken barbecued on the grill, cheesy scalloped potatoes and baked beans. Tomorrow we move off again towards our old favorite, Asheville.

And finally...

We just awoke this morning to find a scary, boss-eyed face staring at us in his attempt to wake us up. Good morning, Sooty!


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