My alarm buzzed at 3:00 a.m. on May 12th, 2016. “It’s time to leave for Nashville,” it whispered in my sleepy ear. The Honda Ridgeline had been creatively packed the night before, leaving room for the gear of our two traveling companions who we picked up at the start of our journey to music city.
By 8:00 a.m. we had reached a rest stop in Ohio and Todd (FLL sales associate and also my husband) ended his driving shift and passed the torch to me. The cloud that had been hovering over Pennsylvania for the past month had lifted and the boring drive brought excitement while passing through the city of Cincinnati. Ah! We are getting closer! After making a pit stop in Louisville, Kentucky to visit the Louisville Slugger Museum, we changed drivers again and headed out for the final stretch to Nashville.
At long last we pulled into the Nashville KOA and began situating the cabin that would become our makeshift home for the next five nights. It was hot. It was humid. With overwhelming anticipation, we headed out to wet our whistles at a bar called The Nashville Palace that was not even a mile from the campground. We were itching to get a glimpse into the lives of the locals. How did they dress? Speak? What on earth did they eat?
The team chose a table in clear view of the band on stage and ordered beers brewed in Nashville by Yazoo Brewing Company. As far as the eating goes, everything is fried with a side of French fries (which inevitably left our Lancaster County bellies longing for fresh vegetables by the end of our trip). Nashville Palace is true to the popular Honky Tonk style with a dark wooden décor and framed photos of famous country stars collaged around every corner complete with a wall of row after row of cowboy boots. We were in love. I have never seen so many people wearing cowboy hats in one place in my life. But the absolute best part about it was that live music is available for your entertainment seven-days-a-week no matter what time of day you mosey on in.
If you have been to Nashville before you are probably thinking, “Well, duh. It’s Nashville. That happens everywhere there!” Just bear with me and remember this was a first for us. We decided on a shot of George Dickel to end the night as Eileen Rose belted out a bone-chilling rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” Our first night in Nashville was a success.
At the start of day two, we spoke with a tour bus representative at the campground who mapped out where to visit in downtown Nashville. “This whole street right here?” she said while highlighting a section of street, “Ya’ll are jus’ gonna have fun here.” Yes, please! It was Broadway and it was 11:00 a.m. Honky Tonk music permeated from every open door as we were greeted by bouncers who checked our ID’s and welcomed us into the establishments. Paradise Park quickly became one of our favorite spots. The interior is modeled after a trailer park with green indoor/outdoor carpet, a junked car perfect for photo ops, and tires strewn throughout. Past guests graffitied on the tables which made for a boatload of entertainment as we ate our hotdogs topped with various fixings.
Our sole purpose for the Nashville trip was Nashville Boogie Vintage Weekender—a four-day event with over 50 live performances, a vintage market with vendors selling anything from clothing to tintypes, a classic car show, a fashion show and pin-up competition, and even dancing lessons. The Opryland Hotel and Convention Center is impressive and overwhelming in and of itself with its enormous glass ceiling, numerous restaurants, massive foliage and creek that runs through it, complete with paddle boating options. Those attending the Vintage Weekender were dressed to the nines in rockabilly attire. Women decked themselves out in vintage dresses and styled their hair in victory curls and impeccable up-dos. The men wore anything from 50s-inspired buttondowns to embroidered vintage western jackets. It was like stepping back in time.
We settled in a spot right in front of the stage for the much-anticipated performance of Unknown Hinson. If you have not heard of Unknown Hinson, do yourself a favor and look him up. Now. Not only are his songs absolutely hilarious, the now 62-year-old comedic country musician never breaks character with his drawn-on eyebrows and over-the-top facial expressions. He is best known as the voice actor of Early Cuyler on Adult Swim’s “Squidbillies” and was sure to mention that they are working on the tenth season of the show. After a dazzling performance, we hit the merch table to purchase CDs and meet the man behind such songs as “I Ain’t Afraid of Your Husband” and “I Make Faces.”
Another notable performer of the evening was Pokey LaFarge who tours with a six-piece band and is known for his ragtime sound. An upright bass and horn section filled the stage as Pokey had concert-goers dancing to songs such as “Close the Door.” Young and dapper, Pokey LaFarge is worth a download and makes for a perfect soundtrack to your Sunday morning or evenings around a campfire.
Our final day in Tennessee would not have been complete without stopping into the store Cooter’s where the General Lee sat parked out front like a trophy of our childhood. Memorabilia from The Dukes of Hazard lined the walls in cases and the boys geeked out on what cars, backpacks, and figurines they owned in their youth. We posed with a cut out of Daisy Duke and finalized our purchases of stickers and magnets after a long-winded talk with the passionate sales clerk.
As day turned into evening and our Mellow Mushroom pizza digested, we piled into the truck and headed to the Grand Ole Opry for the final performance of the trip. The Grand Ole Opry is just as beautifully preserved as we had anticipated with its wooden bench seating stretched throughout the auditorium and lack of illuminated screens. Taking our seats behind a group from Australia, we gazed upon the very stage where country music legends such as Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, and Patsy Cline once played. It was difficult not to get emotional in such a historical venue while anxiously awaiting Chris Isaak to perform.
From the moment Chris Isaak took the stage in his brilliantly embroidered suit jacket, he commanded the crowd with his impressive vocal range and his seemingly modest, down-to-earth attitude. Not only is he still a total sex pot with rocking songs, he also puts on one hell of a performance complete with a “smoking” piano, killer light show, and synchronized dance moves. The band who he had been playing with for thirty years was just as compelling as the front man himself. At one point, Chris wandered into the crowd with his cordless microphone to sing a song. We lost sight of him from the balcony but to our surprise he popped up on the second floor a mere ten feet away from us. I personally sympathized with the screaming, fainting female Beatles fans in that moment as I barely gained my composure. The woman next to me looked at me and shouted “Oh my! How fun!” as we smiled and cheered together.
I never wanted that evening to end. But alas, it did, and Chris disappeared into the darkness after thanking the crowd and tossing guitar picks to the lucky front row attendees. Riding on the high of one of the greatest performances I had ever seen, we headed back to the cabin to pack our belongings and sleep off the final night in Nashville.
During the long drive back to our homeland, we reminisced about our amazing vacation and flipped through our photos vowing to return someday to soak up more of the city where music is behind every open bar door. If you are lucky enough to venture to Nashville, go. It will change you as it has me.
Boogie on, Nashville. Until we meet again.