Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Country Music

I may as well begin with a disclaimer. I have never followed country music, so what follows is one country-music ignoramus’ impressions of one visit to Nashville.

The General Jackson showboat revue presented country stars’ hits through history (since 1925). Six young singers told us a few stories and imitated a few famous singers. Most song choices were love songs. Although the female singers were quite shimmery with sequins, the show itself was refreshingly unglitzy and unshowoffey.  The technology was simple. When a guy came out to sing a Roy Acuff hit, a black-and-white photo of Roy Acuff was projected on the curtain behind the stage. No one swung from the rafters onto the stage in a flaming chariot; they walked on like normal people. Strobe lights and amps were neither blinding nor deafening; we saw no attempt to outdo any extreme special effect common in rock concerts. We enjoyed the evening’s retrospective entertainment.

We enjoyed the Grand Ole Opry variety show for its simplicity as well. Divided into four half-hour segments, each with a different sponsor, each segment featured two or three country stars who each sang two songs. No offense to any of the fine talents on stage, but the only one with name recognition for us was the Charlie Daniels Band, famous for furious fiddling (and belt buckle the size of a pie plate). Again, no high-tech or uber-glamor. A deep-voiced announcer read the commercials: “It’s spring! And you’re going to want to stock up on fishing lures at Bass Pro Shop.” And “It’s spring! And what better place to buy all your supplies for spring cleaning than the Dollar Store?” Performers dressed casually and comfortably and interacted easily with the audience. Another fun evening. 

A bonus of both shows was frequent, freely flowing, natural references to God. If God blesses us half as much as performers in these two shows asked Him to, we’ll be angelically glowing in the dark by the end of this week.

In stark contrast to the General Jackson’s and Grand Ole Opry’s wholesomeness was the honky-tonk district of downtown Nashville. Close to the Ryman Auditorium, the Grand Ole Opry’s home from 1943 to 1974, this district is seedy and a tacky testimonial to time-honored traditions. Country music expresses the human condition in heart-tugging lyrics. Downtown Nashville sells guitar picks, beer, more beer, cowboy boots, more cowboy boots, and souvenir packages of dried cow patties. The honky-tonk district seems to miss the heart and soul of the country music genre. 

As omnipresent as Elvis was in downtown Nashville (two statues in this photo alone), he was curiously absent from both music shows we saw, and I missed him.

Robert took a great shot of a bronze statue of country-music greats Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl inside the Ryman Auditorium, an old church dubbed "the mother church of country music."

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Nashville’s Opryland Hotel (official name: Gaylord Opryland Resort) was our vacation destination for three glorious days. Even the 360-degree tour on their website could not have prepared me for dewdrop air, green palm-frond umbrellas over paths winding among rushing waterfalls and dancing fountains, and purple orchids arching out of rock gardens at every turn. Segueing from expansive, echoing marble-floored lobby to lush garden atrium, I gasped in delight at what was to be my temporary tropical respite from biting March winds.

Glass ceilings allowed sunlight to warm our pale, winter-weary faces, but I cannot say the atrium was a serene scene. Waterfalls thundering, hundreds of tourists talking, and children squealing were loud. Constant camera flashes contributed to sensory overload. YET, this environment was also a feast for the senses. Whether reading on our balcony above a waterfall, sipping Sauvignon Blanc in a fountainside cafĂ©, or spotting papaya bunches in palm trees, we let the moist heat of tropical greens gently massage kinks out of our everyday-grind muscles. This bustling place breathed life back into sagging spirits. 

P.S. If this blog post sounds like an unsolicited commercial for Gaylord Opryland Resort, so be it. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

1,024 Miles

Musings en route, Chicago to Nashville …

Indiana is one long state—or maybe we’re just too old for long-distance driving. Route 65 the length of Indiana, the width of Kentucky, and part-way into Tennessee makes everything easy but the actual mileage. It’s a smooth highway with clear signage, clean rest stops, courteous, orderly driving (people drive in the right lane, pass in the left, then move to the right, unlike Illinois, where drivers stay in the passing lane), reassuring police presence, and friendly fellow travelers. Sights along Route 65 were mostly rural: bare brown, tan, and gray fields stretching to the horizon like wall-to-wall carpets. Great expanses spanned between gray, weather-worn barns. Scattered across fields were irrigation devices looking like giant gray, metallic caterpillars someone had crafted from an Erector Set. Many flat, black fields with tawny corn stubble resembled bristly welcome mats you scrape your muddy boots on.

We saw very little advertising, which was nice. Here are several examples of advertising we did see. Two black and white Holstein statues perched on a shiny stainless steel cylindrical tank car sporting the sign “We’ve got milk and moooore ; We dairy you to exit  at 22C.” A little later on, more cows double-dairied us to exit at 22C. The cheese-tasting establishment at exit 22C looked well-attended, so apparently punning bovine advertising mooooves customers to action. On our way south, we spotted a black billboard with huge white letters: HELL IS REAL. It wasn’t until we came back north five days later that the billboard gave us the solution to the problem; on the back of the HELL message was JESUS IS REAL. Faded Stuckeys billboards often had panels blown out by wind. We didn’t see any actual Stuckeys restaurants.

As we approached Indianapolis, Louisville, and Nashville skylines, silos and water towers on stilts gave way to cell towers and skyscrapers. The most fascinating roadside sight for us was the wind farm north of Lafayette, Indiana. As far as the eye could see, tall, white, triple-propeller turbines twirled. I smiled to think of the blades as a clock’s second, minute, and hour hands chasing each other. Like chasing the wind, or chasing someone in a different wedge of a revolving door, “catching up” is impossible. Normally, the frenzy of trying to catch up frustrates me, so the fact that the turbine metaphor made me smile is a good sign I was on vacation (!!!) with nothing to catch up on. Except for the distances, our drives to and from Nashville were moooovelous.