In October 2014, Pat and I made our first visit to Music City, USA, and attended an 89th birthday party. It was not my birthday. Instead it was a birthday celebration by The Grand Ole Opry, the iconic 4000 seat auditorium that is the center of the country music world in America.
Music City, USA, is of course Nashville, a city of 1.6 million residents. It’s the capital of the great state of Tennessee. It’s also where The Grand Ole Opry opened its doors 89 years ago this month, although it has only occupied its present site since 1974. The auditorium was packed, but we had great seats from which to enjoy the concert being held to mark the birthday. Only four years ago, the place was under water. I do not mean financially, because I have rarely seen an operation in the entertainment industry making so much money. It was under water, because the nearby Cumberland River had burst its banks and left The Grand Ole Opry under four feet of water. It’s made a great recovery from that disaster. In other words, it has dried out, which is something that many a country music star has needed to do from time to time.
The entertainers performing for us included 93 year old Little Jimmy Dickens, all 59 inches of him, Keb Mo, a talented entertainer who reminded me of Nat King Cole, and JT Hodges, a handsome young Texan who looks something like Elvis. Then there were a cute brother and sister from Australia, whose names I forget. The longest and final act was by the country music star, Trace Adkins, whose face was almost completely obscured by the brim of his cowboy hat. His ex-wife shot him in 1994. The bullet passed through his heart and lungs without killing him. I wonder how he arranged that. He did not press charges against his former beloved and, when we watched him, seemed none the worse for his experience.
People in Nashville live for country music and performers travel from all over the country just to be there and to have a slim chance of breaking into the big time. The main drag in Nashville is called Broadway and it’s full of bars, in all of which live country music is sung around the clock, from 11am until 3am the following morning. The singers in the bars earn little for their efforts, but are simply happy to be performing in Nashville.
When we returned to the Hotel Preston after our visit to The Grand Ole Opry, we stopped downstairs in the hotel’s Pink Slip Bar for a late night drink. The live music in that bar was superb, good enough to be performed on the stage of The Grand Ole Opry itself. There was a beautiful young singer from Houston, Texas, called Angela Oliver, supported by a talented guitarist called Mike Rogers. They really deserve a break and, if any country music producers are reading this, try looking at her webpage at www.angelaolivermusic.com
On the following morning, we visited The Listening Room Café for a Sunday brunch. The café lies near Nashville’s football stadium, where the Tennessee Titans were doing battle with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Live music in the café was provided by members of the same family, aged from the mid twenties down to four or five. A little kid on the trumpet was fantastic. In Nashville, music is everywhere.
Mention of Jacksonville turned our thoughts to Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States, after whom Florida’s largest city is named. I usually carry several pictures of him in my wallet, since his stern visage appears on every US twenty dollar bill.
Jackson’s home for most of his life was The Hermitage, which is an early 19th century mansion, sitting on 1120 acres of land and located just ten miles to the east of downtown Nashville. Jackson and his wife are buried there.
We toured the grounds of The Hermitage in a wagon slowly pulled by two huge and soporific old horses. We saw where Jackson made a fortune growing cotton and we viewed the slave quarters. Jackson owned hundreds of slaves, which was fortunate for him – if not for them – because Jackson’s busy life left him little time for growing the cotton himself.
But what a life Jackson led! Born in 1767 to Irish immigrant parents, his poor childhood included his teenage participation as a courier in the Revolutionary War. In his early twenties he became a lawyer, who helped to found the State of Tennessee and who fought and killed a man in a duel. Then he became a soldier and was the general who convincingly beat a larger British force in 1815 at the Battle of New Orleans.
Jackson next turned his attention to the Spanish, took Florida away from them without specific orders so to do and later served as military governor of the newly acquired territory. He became the US senator for Tennessee, narrowly lost the 1824 presidential election and finally captured the White House in 1828. He served as President for eight years and died in 1845 at the age of 78. No wonder he needed so much help to grow his own cotton!
Just as there is so much in Jackson’s life that I have no room to mention, so it is with Nashville. There are wonderful places in that city about which I have said nothing. On my next visit, I intend to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Johnny Cash museum and Willie Nelson Museum and General Store and much else.
We did however manage to lunch at Nashville’s oldest restaurant, established by Germans in 1890. It’s called the Gerst Haus. It brews its own beer, under the name Gerst Amber Ale, which is much needed in order to wash down the huge portions of German fare that the restaurant serves. Danke schon !