Counting Down the Rollercoasters!

Sunday, June 20, 2010



Chapter 1: Meeting ‘Big Red’ and Sun Studios
Elvis' microphone!
Sunday, 13 June was, sadly, the end of our stay in Memphis. We had booked a car to take us through to Atlanta and so after storing our luggage at the hotel, we caught the free shuttle back to Graceland and then a taxi to the airport to meet our car. Considering all the luggage we had (an additional bag by this stage) and not wanting to be a little car on the big roads and freeways we booked a standard car. The guy at Thrifty thought we looked like ‘red’ people and introduced us to a Dodger Charger – kind of a 4 door muscle car (for families perhaps). She was gorgeous!! We introduced ourselves, worked out where the lights were, blinkers, checked the mirrors – and realised the park brake was on. Only problem was, where was the park brake? Not on the console like the Buick LaCrosse. More looking around and referring to the instruction manual, the park brake was a foot operated pedal! It was also time for Simon (our GPS) to come out of his box and guide us through Tennessee - the 'Volunteer State'. First stop – Sun Studios . A very easy drive back into Memphis and we negotiated our way into the car park and made it inside to join a guided tour that was just starting. Sun Studios is famous for recording Elvis' first single and signing to their label artists including not only Elvis Presley, but Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis – to name a few legends. The studio is in its original working condition despite having sat for years either unused or in another capacity including storage and a barber shop! They had some great memorabilia and after being guided through that section, we went down into the studio where some of these legends had actually recorded. The original microphone stand used by legends including Elvis is still there and we were given the opportunity to pose ‘a la Elvis’ with it! Artists still record there today but in the evening when it is closed to the tourists and fans, and the week we were in Memphis, John Mellencamp was also there recording.

Chapter 2: Time to Hit the Road!/”We’re going to Jackson” – Next Stop Nashville (well almost)
Sun Studio parking lot & 'Big Red'
After leaving Sun Studios with another bag of souvenirs, we collected our luggage, programmed our Nashville hotel into Simon and set off. Memphis was such a quiet place – very different to what I expected and we have made a pact with the city to come back again one day. Getting out of Memphis was very easy and the drive on the interstate even easier with Big Red’s cruise control. The speed limits in America are slight slower than at home (generally 45 / 55 / 60 / 65 miles per hour which equals 72 / 88 / 96 / 104 kms per hours respectively) and these roads were very smooth like most of our freeways at home – surely the speed limit could be a little higher we wondered. And we guess the cars, trucks and vans zooming past and leaving us in the dust were without doubt speculating the same thing! Lots of trucks on these roads too but they were speed limited and weighed at the many truck stops along the way. By this time we were nearing halfway between Memphis and Nashville and since we’d missed breakfast and now lunch, we were pretty hungry and started to look at the variety of food exits along the way. J was not convinced by some of them as they were standard fast food fare, but one sign piqued my interest for some ‘country cookin’’ at Casey Jones in Jackson, Tennessee. Casey Jones, Casey Jones, that name was ringing bells with me for some reason. Justyn was perhaps a little overwhelmed by the food options coming with each exit, and we thought we’d pop into Jackson as we had assumed it was the Jackson of Johnny Cash and June Carter’s song Jackson so we took the exit. A train and a museum dedicated to Casey Jones! That’s who he was – a railway engineer who alone was killed when his passenger train, the Cannonball Express, collided with a stalled freight train on a foggy and rainy night. His dramatic death trying to stop his train and save lives made him a folk hero who became immortalized in a popular ballad and heard on the Disney show back in teh 70’s and 80’s. Aaaannnnyways, we decided to pop into the buffet car area and met with coach-loads of people who were wandering around this replica country store and looking for the dining area. It was huge – but so was the country store! Apparently this place was famous for its all you can eat buffet (according to our hostess) and that was that. We were shown to our booth and then we ventured out to check out this infamous buffet. Let me tell you, it was a little overwhelming – not in the way the Las Vegas buffet was with its variety, but rather with the variety of beige and brown colours of blobs and bits floating or swimming in gravy, sauces, soups, broths etc. Negotiating our way around the bain-maries, we took a little of this and a little of that and met up back at our booth. With a questioning glance at each other, Justyn and I dug in and came up quite surprised that the majority on offer was actually quite tasty! Especially the little savoury pancakes, one of the brown goos which we think was chicken, the ham – we went back for seconds! Searching for the salad bar, they had some items that weren’t tones of brown, and we certainly had the pick of that section as many people seemed to steer clear of that portion of the buffet. And all you can drink soda (as in Coke) which in this weather (still in the 90’s!) went down a right treat (we will have to wean ourselves off Coke when we get home....). We wandered around the Country Store part after we finished filling our tummies and then set off again for Nashville.

Chapter 3: The CMA Concert – Brad, Darius, Trace and Blake all rock out
Arriving at our hotel in Nashville was very easy. We pulled into the Hutton Hotel, were directed to the self parking area and parked Big Red, pulled all our luggage out and set off for the lobby to check in. Again easier said than done! Fortunately after wheeling our bags around the car park for a few minutes, some of that Southern hospitality prevailed on us and we were directed to the check in counter. As we were checking in, what obviously looked like a band were also checking in – later that night we shared the shuttle ride with some members of that band who were with Paul Simon’s son, Harper Simon (nope – no idea either...). (Later in our stay, we also found out that Stevie Wonder, Darius (the artist formally known as Hootie) Rucker and Ryan Seacrest were staying there and we had a close encounter of the farthest ends of the lobby with Brad Paisley – more on him later!) Our room was very very nice, with a view of downtown Nashville but our most pressing thing to do was our washing! The concierge found a coin-op laundry and then we used the free car (they drive you, and pick you up within a three mile radius of the Hotel) to head down to while away a few hours. The driver who picked us up mentioned that tonight was the last night of CME Week (Country Music Association) and the last concert was on down at LA Field which is a big football (gridiron) stadium where the Tennessee Titans play. Big concerts with big name country singers were playing Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and Nashville was recovering from their huge floods in March 2012 which closed the Grand Ole Opry so the town was in high spirits. We decided on a whim to head down to the stadium to see if we could buy tickets on the door to go in and be a part of it. (We had been looking for a live gig to go to, but I don’t think country music was on Justyn’s radar!) We walked across the footbridge and could hear the crowds and the music blaring out. People had bought 4-day passes to this week which included seeing all the bands and singers as well as free concerts around the place. We’d missed the first two people on the card, but we arrived in time for the last four singers which were Blake Shelton, Trace Adkins, Darius Rucker and Brad Paisley (maybe you can Google them if you haven’t heard of them – they certainly have in Nashville!). The heat was insane, there was no cooling breeze at this time of night, yet these country music fans was singing (they know ALL the words of ALL the singers), dancing, whoopin’ and a-hollerin’ and basically enjoying themselves! And apparently the standard dress code for girls was summer dresses or short shorts / skirts with cowboy boots – boy I wanted a pair of those cowboy boots! (but not the short shorts!) It was a great concert, especially for the measly USD$38 we’d paid to get in! And it went to about midnight – 12:30am. It was a great night, completely unplanned and despite the long walk in the humid night air back to our hotel, we really did enjoy ourselves – even Justyn got a little country!

Chapter 4: A-Sleep-in and a-Wanderin’ in Nashville Day 2
With the end of CMA week last night in Nashville, things were a little quieter around town today. We decided to walk downtown and to the Farmers Markets which were recommended as a great place for lunch, so we headed to the Music City’s Visitor Centre, picked up some maps and directions and set off. The weather was still sticky and hot and we walked in the shade wherever we could find any. After about an hour, we found the Farmers Markets, but due to the flooding in April / May, the restaurant section had not re-opened yet! Big thumbs down to the guy in the visitors centre who sent us merrily on our way there! By this time it was getting on in the day and I was hot, sweaty and hungry and not willing to walk back into town so we called a cab and hit the Hard Rock Cafe for a late lunch. Outside the Hard Rock was a stop for a trolley tour of Nashville. We booked our tickets expecting an open-aired trolley / tram type vehicle which you could take photos out of, but apparently they had to bring in the smaller air conditioned buses as it was too hot (in the high 90’sF – over 40C) to tour around Nashville open-aired. I’m glad we decided to do this as there were no other tours really on offer and while we’d had what I guess was the quintessential Nashville experience last night, and our walking tour we did ourselves really didn’t highlight any areas or information regarding the town, we wanted to know a bit more about Nashville. Our tour guide was very engaging and he, along with what seemed like every other person we’d met so far in Nashville was in a band or played an instrument – the hotel shuttle driver had been to Australia to play at a US military base in Alice Springs earlier this year, the guys from Harper Simons’ band, the waiter in Hard Rock Cafe. Here are some interesting trivia items about Nashville that you may not know!:

• Publishing bibles etc is the second biggest industry in Nashville (they call themselves the belt buckle of the bible belt...)
• Nashville was granted the first FM license in the United States.
• The proper name for a citizen of Nashville is Nashvillian
• Oprah Winfrey was raised in Nashville by her father Vernon Winfrey
• They have an exact replica of the Greek Parthenon temple in Centennial!

At the end of the tour, we stopped at Mike’s Ice Cream for a well deserved ice cream – it was pretty good ice cream too! – we caught a taxi home to our hotel for a long cold shower. For our last night in Nashville, we decided to go to a restaurant recommended by the trolley driver and where apparently Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman ate “just last week” and was regularly listed on the places to eat in Nashville guides. Called Rotier’s Restaurant, it is hole-in-the-wall dining at its finest. Known for its cheeseburgers (but apparently Keith had the steak and Nickers the salad), we were not the ones to buck with tradition, so we ordered the cheeseburgers – surprisingly they asked if we wanted lettuce and tomato with our burgers – not had the option before so we can guess why it was evidently a favourite haunt for Keith and Nic. Too full from late lunch and my burger to eat it right then, I decided to live dangerously and order the icebox pie ‘to go’ as J was thinking about going to the AAA baseball game which was between the Memphis Redbirds and the Nashville Sounds. I resisted looking at the pie until we made it back to the hotel and fortunately the evening had cooled down significantly that my icebox pie did not need an icebox for the 15 minute walk back to our room. On our way back to the hotel we passed the Exit / In club which holds many small gigs – both comedy and music – which is where Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin were discovered. We had a look in but no one was playing tonight so we continued on under our own wandering star back home.

PS The icebox pie was pretty good – kind of like a lime-ish cheesecake with a whipped meringue-type topping and went down a treat before bedtime!

No comments:

Post a Comment