Hey y’all! Greetings from the southern oven of Tennessee. Thanks to all of you who have been reading our blog, we hope we’ve kept you at least mildly entertained. Today we are headed into Arkansas, “the Natural State” to visit Little Rock and do some camping on Lake Ouachita. Over the last week, we’ve made our way through Tennessee, stopping in Chattanooga, Nashville and Memphis. It was a tour of musical enlightenment, and each city contributed its own style and flavor to our travels. Note: this entry is a little long, but we have a lot to fill you in on! Don’t worry, we are driving into the Plains where there I’m sure there is less to write home about.
Chattanooga: This was our first stop in a city after a week of camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was nice to spend a night on a mattress that hadn’t deflated by the morning. Chattanooga is a small city cradled by the Tennessee River, most remarked for its significant battles in the civil war. While we were intrigued by its history, we were most looking forward to sampling the local whiskey, (which Dicken will fill you in on later), climbing Lookout Mountain and staying on the Delta Queen riverboat on the banks of the Tennessee River.
Chattanooga proved to be a relaxed, outdoorsy and fun city. It had great restaurants, and a completely revived riverfront area with beautiful public parks and spaces. On Sunday morning, we checked out the local fathers day market (love you Bud and Paul) and tried all of the free samples we could get our hands on, and sampled some of the local brews. After walking around town, we were eager to escape the heat of the valley and decided to ascend up to cooler temperatures on the top of Lookout Mountain. To get there, we took the steepest incline rail in the world, which overlooked the Tennessee Basin. It was cool, but a little scary (in Torrey’s opinion). Point Park on the summit was the site of a major battle in the Civil War, and now that the smoke has cleared you can see beautiful views of the area.
The rest of our time here was spent on the North Shore of the river on the Delta Queen, a former working steamboat that is now retired as a floating hotel. It had great rocking chairs and swings on the decks and provided a nice respite before moving on to Nashville!
Nashville: Welcome to Music City, USA! Nashville was our favorite stop so far, and cannot be beat for its music scene. Immediately upon arriving on Broadway, the city’s main street and tourist attraction, we were inundated with live country music drifting out of every bar. We spent the night going from bar to bar drinking Gentleman Jack, listening to local musicians raise the roofs and bring people to their feet. Our favorite bar was Tootsie’s Orchard Lounge, which was packed on a Monday night. The band’s lead singer spent the night singing on the bartop and wandering the crowd, and kept everyone dancing to the early hours.
Quick Football Insert: England 1- Ukraine 0. Sweden 2- France 0. Three Lions on the shirt. Jules Remet still gleaming. Let’s go England.
Just when we thought our live music experiences couldn’t get any better, the next day we went to a bar called 3rd & Lindsley’s and each paid $25 for a benefit concert, which was supposed to be hosting a few well-known country singers and musicians. To our surprise, dozens more turned out for the cause. This included Josh Turner, Daryll Worley, Josh Thompson, Craig Morgan and world famous Toby Keith and his band, Incognito Bandito. It seemed that every musician on stage had at been awarded at least two Grammy’s or other musical accolades. Even the host, Jim “Moose” Brown was a famous producer and songwriter. Thanks to him, we can always drink at “5-O’clock Somewhere”. At a two hundred person venue, they managed to raise over $40,000. It is clear that the country music community is a tight-knit group. All of these musicians were there to support famous basist “Swine” Grantt, whose wife Jan was undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer and didn’t have the health insurance to keep up with the costs. At the end of the night, Toby Keith (who is close friends with Swine) pledged to match all of the money raised at the concert. It was a very moving and amazing night to be a part of.
Before heading out of town, we checked out the ENORMOUS Country Music Hall of Fame and took a walk down country music’s past… beginning with bluegrass in the Appalachian Mountains and ending with modern stars such as T. Swift, Brad Paisley and Faith Hill. While the musical techniques and technologies have changed quite a bit, country music has remained true to its roots, speaking to people about everyday troubles, hopes, dreams and love.
Memphis: Next, we put on our blue suede shoes and moved on down to the land of the Delta Blues (sorry, couldn’t resist). Memphis was an entirely different experience to Nashville. As one local explained to us, Memphis is known for three things: the Blues, Barbeque and Civil Rights. Compared to the beautiful, collegiate and country feel of Nashville, Memphis is a poor city and a little rough around the edges. Yet, it was rich in culture, music, food and home to the King of Rock n’ Roll… Elvis Presley.
On our first night, we decided try some local cuisine in the neighborhood at Soulfish, known for its fried and blackened catfish. It was our best meal of the trip! A basket of catfish included hushpuppies (a southern delicacy of fried cornmeal) and collard greens all for around $10. Check out their website here: http://www.soulfishcafe.com/
After they rolled us out of the restaurant, we wandered down to Beale Street to check out the blues scene. Turns out that Wednesday nights here is also “Bike night” and the street was closed down and lined with hundreds of Harley’s and Choppers. Beale Street reminded me of a smaller Bourbon Street- overrun with neon lights, and an anything goes attitude… you can both drink outside and smoke inside here. The blues bands were fantastic, with their soulful and harmonica playing lead singers, skilful base players and saxophonists and drummers.
The next day, we checked out a local tradition in downtown Memphis at the historic Peabody Hotel. Every morning at 11 AM, the staff rolls out the red carpet in the lobby to make way for the Peabody Duck March from the elevator to the lobby fountain. Dozens of tourists stopped to take photos of the four ducks swimming around in the fountain… it’s funny what keeps people entertained. On the roof, the ducks live in their “palace” made of $200,000 marble. As one staff member put it… “we sure do love our ducks”.
Then we made our way out to Graceland… home of the King. We had the privilege of entering his Jungle Room, billiard room, racquetball court and meditation garden. Aside from the estate, Elvis’s collection of cars and TWO airplanes (including a jumbo jet) were also on display. Did you know that more people tuned into one of Elvis’s televised concert than watched the first landing on the moon? That’s 1.5 billion people worldwide! A man like that deserves his monarch status.
We ended our time in Memphis dancing on the roof of the Peabody Hotel, where they host an outdoor party with live music and drinks every Thursday night. The music ranged from Rihanna to Barry Manilow, and was definitely an interesting scene not to be forgotten!