Saturday, September 22: Some Nashville sights (and music)

Today we did two touristy things (1): we went to the Gulch, and we went to the Parthanon.

The Gulch is your typical trendy redevelopment zone. Once the site of Nashville’s train yards, it was mostly vacant for the second half of the twentieth century. About 10 years ago, much of the land was bought by a developer and it is now a “hip and trendy neighborhood”. There are high-rise condos, boutique stores, and restaurants. we walked around for an hour or so, and I had lunch (2).

Look, I’m a butterfly, September 2018

At a couple of spots we saw people queuing for something,. One was a bakery. The other was a mural where people, wait in a (long) line to take their picture in front of. It’s even featured on the cover of one of the promotional books in our hotel room, featuring a current country music (3) star.

Women’s power, September 2018

From there we ubered over to the Parthanon in Centential Park. Not the actual Parthanon, as that’s in Athens. We saw what’s left of that one when we were there. This full sized replica was built in 1897 for the Tennessee Centenial Exhibition. Inside is a massive statue of Athena, which is alleged to be a reconstruction of the statue which stood in the original Parthanon. This is mere speculation (4) of course, as the statue in Athens was destroyed millennia ago.

Also nearby is a monument to the suffragette movement, as Tennessee was the 36th state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, giving woman the right to vote in 1920.

Justine Blazer poses for the camera, September 2018

After we returned to the room, I went for my daily fix of music on Broadway. Damned if I didn’t hear yet another rendition of (wait for it …) Don’t Stop Believing. Enough already!

We had dinner in the Capital Grill in the hotel. To my surprise, it is called that because we are located right by the state capital, and not because it is part of the world-class Capital Grill chain. It is also not as good as any restaurant in that chain. But it was okay, and I had a single barrel Jack Daniels after dinner. That was quite good.

It turned out to be a good decision to hit the bars on Broadway earlier, as a steady rain developed by dinnertime. So my Tennessee music experience is over, at least for now.

(1) As if everything else we’ve done on this trip wasn’t “touristy”.

(2) Sally wasn’t hungry.

(3) She’s wearing cowboy boots, a cowboy hat and holding a guitar. I assume that makes her a country artist. The book doesn’t specify.

(4) Slightly more than speculation, perhaps. There are contemporary descriptions of the original, as well as likenesses on coins and elsewhere to use as guides.

Friday, September 21: More better blues (and country, and rock, and pop)

Friday we went to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

I took no pictures.

I usually don’t take pictures in museums, not because they don’t let you, but for one of two reasons:

– the scenes are usually uninteresting

– taking a picture of a picture (or sculpture, or …) doesn’t appeal to me

The museum itself was moderately interesting. If you are a real fan, then they have a pretty solid collection of artifacts related to your favorite artists: guitars, shoes, boots, belts, costumes, hats, suitcases, etc. There are a few interpretive displays to help understand how the blues combined with Irish music to create traditional country music. There’s little interpretation of how country morphed into today’s blend of country, pop and rock.

Don’t stop believing … how crowded it gets, September 2018

In the evening we went back to Broadway to see some more music in the bars. Like last night, what we heard was far from the music that used to be broadcast from the Grand Ole Opry. The song we heard more times than any other was (wait for it …) Don’t Stop Believing. I always liked this song back in the day (it was released in 1981), but I’m suffering from severe over-exposure now. It’s everywhere – weddings, bar mitzvahs, political rallies, Memphis, Nashville, on my Pandora mixes. Enough already!

A really good, really loud band in a really crowded venue, September 2018

Here’s some more of the playlist from last night:

  • Play That Funky Music (Wild Cherry)
  • Country Road (John Denver)
  • My Girl (Tempations, Rolling Stones, and everyone else)
  • Everybody Wants To Rule The World (Tears For Fears)
  • Drops of Jupitor (Train)
  • Sweet Caroline (Neil Diamond)
  • You Shook Me All Night Long (AC/DC)

There were also straight country songs, but they were outnumbered by the rock and pop stuff

I really don’t mean to criticize the musical tastes of people around here. I liked most of the music I heard, country and not-country. I just find it amusing that Don’t Stop Believing is the most popular (by the number of performances I heard) song in the home of country music. In one bar, the band (who were very good) asked the audience “do you want to hear more country, or pop, or rock” and rock won by a substantial margin.

The crowds are out of control, September 2018

It was crowded Thursday night (don’t these people have to work?), and Friday even more. And by 11:00, people were losing their inhibitions somewhat.

Thursday, September 20: Music City, USA

We left Memphsis, Home of the Blues, and headed on up to Nashville, the center of that music juggernaut known as Country Music. This ride was much shorter than the six hour trek down to Memphis: an easy three hours.

We’re staying here at the Hermitage, the old-school fancy hotel downtown. The first thing we noticed when we walked into the room was the Tennessee state capital outside the window.

Tennessee State Capital, September 2018

The room itself was lovely, as it was hand-picked by Sally. While the style was similar to that of the Peabody in Memphis, this was superior in every way: size, fit & finish, view, and of course price.

Hermitage Hotel, September 2018

After another exhausting but finally satisfying dinner trying to find some food that didn’t contain forbidden substances, we walked over to Broadway to find some music. The contrast with Beale Street was immediate and huge.

The bluesmen (1) on Beale Street appeared to me to be playing for tips and fun, with no expectation of making a career or living from it. In fact, most of them appeared to be fairly well along in years, past the time when they’re thinking about any career at all. In contrast, what we saw this evening were much younger musicians, with a high caliber of musicianship, and either working as musicians or trying to make a career (2).

Nashville’s Broadway crowds, September 2018

The demographic differences for both the musicians and audiences is also pronounced. In Memphis the musicians are mostly black, with an occasional white guy thrown in. The audiences are mostly white, but also mostly older tourists (3).

In Nashville the musicians we saw today were all white. The audiences were all white and ranged from youngsters who needed to show ID to a small number of older folks. While some were no doubt tourists like us, most appeared to be relatively local folks in town to party. And both the street and the bars we walked past were all very crowded, although we only made it one block before we settled into Dierks Bentley’s Wiskey Row.

The band was quite good (and loud), and they were playing what passes today for country music. Here’s part of the setlist we heard (4):

Don’t Stop Believing (Journey), Summer of 69 (Bryan Adams), Space Cowboy (Steve Miller Band), Living On A Prayer (Bon Jovi), Ring Of Fire (Johnny Cash), Magic Carpet Ride (Steppenwolf), Santeria (Sublime), Should I Stay Or Should I Go (The Clash), Before He Cheats (Carrie Underwood), The Grange (ZZ Top).

We liked all the music. And they sang it with southern accents, and put in a few country licks. But the definition of country has been stretched beyond recognition.

(1) I saw exactly two woman singing on Beale Street.

(2) Women were also much more represented, although still a minority of the performers.

(3) Like Sally and me.

(4) There were a couple of songs I didn’t recognize, which I assume were “country” hits.

Wednesday, September 19: Civil Rights in America (and more Memphis)

Many years ago, we visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Israel. We subsequently visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. Last year we visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Today we visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

Human antipathy and cruelty to “others” is universal and endless.

MLK was killed on the balcony outside 306, shots came from across the street, September 2018

This museum is built in, and alongside, the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered 50 years ago on April 4. He joined a long list of Americans murdered because they fought for civil rights, or were simply African American. His death was sadly not the last.

King’s room, September 2018

Slavery in the Americas was massive and pervasive. By 1860 55% of the people in Mississippi and South Carolina were slaves. Louisiana, Florida and Georgia were all mid-40s. Overall, 13% – about 1 in 8 – people in the US were slaves.

Rosa Parks in the front of the bus, September 2018

The battle for freedom and equal rights began before the African slaves ever reached our shores, continued on the plantations, through the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century, and to today.

The Uber driver taking us back to the hotel asked if we enjoyed the museum; “enjoy” doesn’t really describe it. But we were very glad to have gone.

After resting up for a bit, I went out for a walk. It was 95 degrees, sunny and humid today, so I wasn’t expecting to get far. But here’s what I found.

Guitars in many colors, September 2018

There’s a Gibson guitar factory here which gives tours, but I had no reservation and couldn’t get in. But the showroom was a colorful cornucopia of guitars.

A streetcar named MATA, September 2018

There is a city beyond Beale Street’s three blocks. For instance, Main Street is a long pedestrian mall served by electric streetcars. There are, however, almost no pedestrians to be seen. Is it the heat? There are restaurants and discos, shops and offices. But I saw extremely few actual people.

Rollin’ on the river, September 2018

The Mississippi River is only a few blocks away. Other than a tourist riverboat, and a barge train heading up-river, there was no one there either.

After dinner at a nice restaurant on Main Street, we walked back to Beale Street to get another music fix.

Bikes on Beale, September 2018

What we found was the Bike Night on Beale. Hundreds of bikes and bikers completely fill Beale Street’s three blocks every Wednesday during the summer. There was a competition of glitz, and a competition of volume between the bikers and the bluesmen.

Tuesday, September 18: Going to Graceland, in Memphis Tennessee

If you not only like music, but like to know about how it came about, then there are two must-see sights in Memphis: Graceland and Sun Studio. The two are intertwined: Sun Studio is where Elvis auditioned for Sam Phillips and where he recorded his first earth shaking albums.

Vintage gear in Sun Studio, September 2018

Sam Phillips was a Memphis recording engineer who got tired of seeing other record labels make the big money off the records he recorded, and started his own record company in the 1950s. What is arguably (1) the first rock-‘n’-roll record, “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston, was recorded there in 1951. Ike Turner composed the song and played keyboard. The list of artists who recorded there includes Howlin’ Wolf, BB King, James Cotton and Junior Parker. Later, rockabilly and country artist such as Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis came through.

But it was a 19 year old kid who pestered Phillips for a year that set off a chain of events and changed the music world in 1954. Elvis Presley, playing with two musicians that Phillips had hooked him up with (5), cut “That’s All Right”. And the rest is history.

Sun Studio itself is tiny, and the studio is lined with vintage instruments and equipment still used several days a week for recording sessions.

After lunch we went out to Graceland. The “Mansion” is a large house which wouldn’t look outsized in a lot of upscale neighborhoods in the New York suburbs. It is incredibly glitzy, in a 1960s and 1970s kind of way. The property contains a number of outbuildings, including a horse barn, racquetball court, a garage for golf carts, etc. All the trimmings of someone who had no constraints on what toys to buy.

Graceland interiors and graves, September 2018

Across the road, there is a large museum/theater/shopping/eating complex. We watched a bit of one of Elvis’s terrible movies, where he played the singer in a band who also is a race car driver (2). We saw a lot of glitzy costumes. There are rooms dedicated to Lisa Marie Presley, his only child and heir (3).

Clothes fit for a king, September 2018

We also saw glitzy clothing in Lansky Brothers, the so-called “Clothier to the King” (4). While Sally encouraged me to go for it, I resisted.

Beale Street Blues, September 2018

This being Memphis, I couldn’t resist going back downtown Beale Street to hear some more blues.


(1) The argument is made by Sun Studio and Sam Phillips.

(2) Spinout, (1968), also starring Shelley Fabares as a romantic interest.

(3) Lisa remains owner of the Mansion itself and 15% of Elvis Presley Enterprises, which owns all of the licensing rights to Elvis and his work.

(4) So-called by Lansky Brothers.

(5) Scotty Moore and Bill Black, who would perform in Presley’s band for many years.

Tuesday, September 18: Honorary Duckmaster

The last post told you about the Peabody Duck March: a bunch of ducks swim around in a small lobby fountain all day, then the hotel sells a ton of drinks as tourists hang out in the lobby for upwards of an hour before to watch them walk down the red carpet to the elevator.

Yes, the ducks walk down a red carpet and take the elevator to their living quarters on the roof.

We happened to get back to the hotel from our afternoon excursion at exactly the right time, so we bellied up to the rope to watch them walk, I mean March, up close. Little did we know that we were in for a special treat today: there was an Honorary Duckmaster assisting in the ceremony.

Miss Tennessee anointed Honorary Duckmaster, September 2018

Christine Williamson, Miss Tennesse 2018!

Marching ducks, walking Miss Tennessee, September 2018

She successfully helped to herd the ducks down the carpet and into the elevator. We were very excited to be there to witness this historic event!

Monday, September 17: Memphis Blues

Monday we took the longest one-day drive we’ve ever done: 420 miles, going from Lexington south and west to Memphis. While we left in the rain, it was pretty uneventful except for when the iPhones’ clocks all changed an hour. I didn’t realize that the line between Eastern and Central time runs through the middle of Kentucky and Tennessee. This actually gave us an extra hour on a day when we could use it.

Ducks ready to March, September 2018

The Peabody in Memphis is an institution, and they have their renowned Duck March in the lobby twice a day. As the name suggests, a bunch of semi-trained ducks walk from the elevators to the lobby fountain in the morning, and back in late afternoon. We managed to arrive and snag a choice (although not prime) viewing spot among the crowds for what is ultimately watching some ducks walk for about a minute. But the hotel gets to sell a load of drinks while everyone is waiting.

The lobby is quite nice and ornate. The room itself is not up to (our) modern standards – only a tub shower, no minibar, ugly carpet, no obvious color scheme other than “all”. We can see the Mississippi River a few blocks away from our window, and both Arkansas and Tennessee across it. And there is a concierge on the floor, along with a nice buffet breakfast and afternoon drinks (1).

Eric Hughes Band, September 2018

But we didn’t come to Memphis for the hotel – we came for music and music history. In the evening, we walked over to Beale Street, a few blocks away. Beale Street is three blocks of bars with a lot of music, mostly blues. We settled into one and had dinner, and wound up staying for the first hour of the show. The Eric Hughes Band was rockin’.

BB and WC Handy were here, September 2018

After walking Sally home (2), I came back to find some more music and watch the people in the street. Despite Memphis being 63% black (3), The people I saw were 95% white, and 50% old (4). We were pretty much all tourists, as further evidenced by the big busses parked a couple of blocks away.

Music playing and people dancing, September 2018

None of that stopped the musicians, however. I heard everything from blues, to great funk/soul, to three white boys playing acoustic guitars, to a poor black woman singing Hotel California by reading the words from her phone and making up the melody as she went along.


(1) The afternoon drinks don’t start until after the renowned Duck March, as they wouldn’t want to stop you from buying drinks in the lobby.

(2) Like a good southern gentleman.

(3) 2006-2008 American Community Survey, via Wikipedia.

(4) My eyeballs.

Sunday, September 16: Bourbon Day

The area around Lexington has two main exports: thoroughbred horses and bourbon. We decided to spend the day visiting the second of these, as we are more likely to consume that product in the future (1).

There is a marketing group of distilleries which together run the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Which is really not much more than a list of distilleries grouped near each other. I looked at the group near Lexington and chose three to visit. Then our schedule (2) wound up with us being in Lexington on Sunday, when all the distilleries run shortened tour hours. Then I thought none of the tours required reservations, when it turned out that several do. So the end of all of this is that we wound up visiting two distillaries today rather than the three we had intended. Which, in turn, wound up being perfect.

Buffalo Trace Distillery, September 2018

The first stop was Wild Turkey. $11 per person for a one hour tour, including a tasting of four varieties. The tour guide was mediocre, the tour was superficial, and the bourbon was just okay.

Caleb and bourbon in the barrel, September 2018

The second stop was Buffalo Trace. Free. Caleb, our guide was excellent. No reservations, first come, first served. The tour was 90 minutes, Very detailed, with losts of questions and answers. The tasting yielded two drinks Sally liked, plus chocolate candy chasers.

Art collection, 21C Museum Hotel, September 2018

I think I mentioned the other day that this hotel chain – 21C Museum Hotels – is serious about their art. Here are a few samples from the Lexington branch.

We finished off the day with a great steak dinner at Tony’s, a few blocks from the hotel.


(1) The last time either Sally or I was on a horse was in college, when we took horseback riding to meet half of our PhysEd requirement. It didn’t end well.

(2) Many of you know that we rescheduled this trip from the spring, which resulted in the days we are in certain spots becoming suboptimal. But all is good.

Saturday, September 15: Lexington, KY

Saturday we took a long drive to Lexington, the heart of horse racing and bourbon in Kentucky. As we knew, this trip involves more and longer drives than our previous ones, because as we’ve experienced the places closer to home we need to drive further to see new stuff. This drive was 280 miles, and took us almost five hours including a stop at our new favorite fast food place, Sheetz (1).

21C Hotel, September 2018

We’re staying at the 21C Museum Hotel. Their deal is that they actually have art galleries in their public spaces, and the exhibit at the exhibition hotel was very enjoyable. The hotel itself is very modern and streamlined compared to the country inns we were in for the last two stops.

Latino Festival, September 2018

After dinner, we walked around a bit and came across a Latino Festival around the block from our hotel. Music, food, people in costume, etc.

Sunday morning in Lexington, September 2018

Sunday morning I went for an early walk. Saying the city was quiet is an understatement.


(1) I mentioned the other day I had no idea what the name Sheetz means. I now know: the chain was started by Bob Sheetz in 1952.

Friday, September 14 – Traveling to West Virginia

We left our little Inn after a hearty family-style breakfast with our new friends from last night. The innkeepers served a full breakfast, but you got what they made – in this case, a cheese omelette, sausage, fried potatoes, English muffin, a pear swimming in sweet cream, etc. While it wasn’t to our taste, everyone else seemed to like it.

John Brown in Harper’s Ferry, September 2018

On our way, we made a quick stop in Harper’s Ferry, another historically significant location about 20 minutes from the Inn. Harper’s Ferry is where the abolitionist John Brown attacked a US armory, and was ultimately captured by an Army unit headed by Colonel Robert E. Lee. Today it’s a National Monument and a restored village, which is very cute. Unfortunately, the weather continued to not cooperate and we left after about 30 minutes, as it was drizzling.

Retro candy in Harper’s Ferry, September 2018

But not before Sally scored some retro candies in a retro candy shop.

Lewisberg is coolest, September 201&

The trip down to Lewisberg, WV was pretty much all interstates. About 3/4 was heading south on I-81, which was chock full of trailer trucks. Several of the drivers didn’t seem quite in control of their rigs, moving in what seemed to be an uncontrolled fashion across their lane. This made me pretty nervous, and I kept my distance as much as possible. Then we headed west on I-64, which took us across the mountains, was much more picturesque, and had almost no trucks.

Seriously retro hotel, September 2018

Lewisberg is the self-proclaimed “cutest town in America”, and all four blocks are indeed cute. Our hotel, the Historic General Lewis Inn, is shabbily elegant. Which is to say, it was probably very nice 150 years ago, but could definitely use an update. The bathroom in our room is definitely smaller than the one on our cruise ship last year (1). The electrical wiring is all surface mounted on the walls, as the rooms didn’t have outlets when it was built.

A long climb ahead, September 2018

And it goes without saying that there were stairs. Many stairs.


(1) Sally insists that the hotel was built without en suite baths, and our bathroom was originally a closet. I can’t argue with that.