Music City and Beyond

Nashville, known as Music City, is filled with incredible opportunities to listen to live music and learn about the history of one of our favorite genres of music. But it’s so much more!! We just spent the last week exploring this historic city while navigating the increasingly severe pandemic. 

On our first day here we headed towards nearby Franklin, south of Nashville. Our first destination was the legendary Loveless Cafe. Known for melt-in-your mouth biscuits, we started our day with chicken and waffles and a yummy BBQ omelet, along with incredible biscuits and preserves. Where this was once a restaurant and motel for travelers along Highway 100, it’s now a favorite stop for Nashville locals. Yum!

Just past the Loveless Cafe begins the Natchez Trace, the 444 mile-long parkway that links Nashville to Natchez, Mississippi. Originally an Indian footpath, the route has served settlers, slave traders, soldiers, and now modern day travelers. We didn’t get very far along the parkway, but we did capture some cool photos of the double-arched bridge at the beginning of the Trace. 

Steve was planning to run the Nashville Rock and Roll Marathon this week but like many other things this year, it wasn’t meant to be.  Less than a week ago, it was postponed due to the pandemic. Steve had the option to defer his registration or to do the race virtually. He chose the virtual option and ran 26.2 miles through the streets and and parks of Nashville on his own, fully self-supported. He finished this race in just over four hours and placed second in his age group. Here he is as he was heading out the door to run with his water on his back. 

Almost every day we were in Nashville we selected one major activity. Here’s a run-down of our fun:

The Grand Ole Opry– The Opry, the longest running radio broadcast in U.S. history, is recently back open after being closed to live audiences since March. We snagged two of the limited-availability tickets for Saturday night’s performance. The two hour show featured country stars Russell Dickerson and Lady A. 

Cheekwood Holiday Lights and Chihuly Nights – The Cheekwood Estate and Gardens preserves a 1930s mansion and grounds. With incredible views and a deep history, the annual holiday light display coincided with a show of the work of one of our favorite artists, Dale Chihuly. His large-scale glass art installations dotted the gardens of the historic estate and were accented by the twinkling of the holiday lights.

It was a festive, beautiful evening that got us in the holiday spirit. 

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum – A visit to Nashville isn’t complete without a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. On a rainy afternoon we explored country music from its early days to the modern era. Highlights for us were references to television shows from our childhood. Minnie Pearl’s dress and hat (complete with price tag) reminded us of all those Hee Haw episodes we watched with our parents. The Bandit’s TransAm was a cool reminder of the classic movie, Smokey and the Bandit. 

Belle Meade – On a nice afternoon we toured the Belle Meade Plantation. Belle Meade began in 1807 with a log cabin and 250 acres.  Over time, and with the dedication of the Harding and Jackson families and the workers who lived there before and after Emancipation, this site became one of the largest thoroughbred horse farms in the South. In fact, all Triple Crown winners can trace their pedigrees back to Belle Meade. 

Between our tours and events we also visited the Nashville Farmers Market, the State Capital area, and Broadway, the downtown street lined with bars featuring live music at all hours of the day. Masks are required and there’s lots of social distancing in light of the pandemic. We are following all of the rules and guidelines and being careful to wash our hands and use our hand sanitizer as much as possible.

We’re now headed south with a few interesting stops planned. Whiskey anyone?

Memphis

We rolled into Memphis on a clear day and could feel the vibe immediately. Our home in Memphis is the Tom Sawyer RV Park, located right alongside the Mississippi River in West Memphis, AR. Our waterfront site gave us a front row seat to watch a never-ending parade of barges. Throughout the day and night we listened to the hum of the barges as they passed. 

Luckily the water level seemed low—at least compared to the sign we saw in the park that indicated the water level had risen at least twenty feet in May of 2011.

Memphis is the home of the blues and there are numerous attractions celebrating music. We purchased a “Backstage Pass” which gave us entry into the key musical sites. First we visited Stax Museum of American Soul Music where Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Isaac Hayes among others cut their hits. It was fun to see the wall of records and Isaac Hayes’ 24-karat trimmed Cadillac Eldorado. 

The other big studio tour not to miss in Memphis is Sun Studios. Known as the “birthplace of rock and roll” Sun is the location where Elvis was discovered and where Johnny Cash recorded his famous songs including, “I Walk the Line.”

BB King, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison all recorded in the studio that we were able to wander around. Steve even tried to sing (not really) into the original microphone used by the hitmakers. After visiting Sun Studios we we felt like we had a pretty good introduction to Memphis music.

You can’t come to Memphis and not visit Beale Street. This legendary lane is where all the music goes down. We kind of compared it to Boubon Street in New Orleans. However, during a pandemic, there’s not much going on!

We were able to see a little live blues music at BB King’s Blues Club and wander the street without the usual crowds. 

Memphis is a significant location in the civil rights movement, and we were eager to learn more about the historic events that have shaped our world today. The National Civil Rights Museum traces the history of civil rights from 17th century to present day, though the story is certainly not over. Events of the last year seem to be mirroring much of what we learned at this incredible museum.

The museum is located in and around the Lorraine Motel, the site of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. As part of the museum tour we were able to see rooms 306 and 307, where King and his colleagues were staying. The rooms were set just as they were at the time of the assassination. You can’t help but have a deeper, more meaningful view of history when you visit places like this. 

A visit to Memphis would not be complete without a visit to Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley.

The highlight is certainly the audio-guided tour of Elvis’ eclectic home. We saw it all including the jungle room, the racquetball room, and the meditation garden which holds the remains of Elvis and his family members. The best part, at least for us, was the lack of crowds due to the pandemic. Most of the time we were alone as we took our time wandering the grounds. 

A tour to Graceland includes more than just the mansion. They now have a large entertainment complex across the street which features his cars, boats, motorcycles, and airplanes. It also displays his gold records, adorned jumpsuits, and tons of other Elvis memorabilia. I must admit, if you aren’t a big Elvis fan, it’s a LOT of Elvis. But we enjoyed it!

Yes, Memphis BBQ is as good as they say and we made sure to do our research!  Central BBQ is one we can highly recommend. We’re now headed east to Nashville, the home of country music and you can be sure we’ll continue our research! 

Branson, Bentonville, and a Tornado Warning

We’re continuing our winter RV trip south by exploring some of the places we’ve always heard about but never thought we’d have the opportunity to explore. First stop: Branson, Missouri.  From Gary and Kristy’s house in Kansas City we headed to the southern most part of the state and based ourselves at Table Rock State Park, just outside of Branson. We prefer to be a little removed from the cities at this point. We have more room and it gives us plenty of space to social distance.  This campground was just the ticket. 

While at Table Rock, Steve got in some long runs in preparation for his marathon in Nashville in a few weeks. He really enjoyed the fall colors along the trail. We had one day of wet and windy weather but otherwise it was cool and clear. Branson, we found, is a lot like Las Vegas for families with a central strip packed with big attractions and theaters. 

While in Branson we took in two shows. First we got discount tickets to see Anthems of Rock. It’s not the typical country-western show you find here, but we knew the words to every song and sang along. 

We also attended the Dolly Parton Stampede, a legendary show that features 32 horses as the stars.  A little singing, a little comedy, and a lot of horsemanship made for a very entertaining evening. We kept saying that Dad would have enjoyed this one. 

One day we took a little road trip to the south and drove through Berryville, Arkansas. Steve lived in this little town when he was around six years old. He couldn’t find his old house but we did drive by the plant where his Dad worked. It’s now a Tyson Foods processing facility and the entire area smelled like chicken nuggets.

From Berryville we headed to nearby Bentonville and the home of Walmart. We’d heard that this was a happening area and we weren’t disappointed. If I had been fit to ride, we would have hit the many, many mountain bike trails in the area. Since I’m still in the surgical shoe, we’ll have to save that for the next visit.

Instead we toured the Walmart Museum and learned about the founding and subsequent growth of the world’s largest retailer. The museum is in the location of the original Walton’s 5 and 10. Steve particularly liked Sam Walton’s old truck, which Sam drove until his death in 1992.

If you are ever in Bentonville we highly recommend you visit the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Established by Walmart heiress Alice Walton, the world-class collection of art and the stunning architecture rivaled most of the museums we visited in New York.

My favorite piece was the Georgia O’Keeffe Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1. which I later learned was acquired by Walton in 2014 for $44.4 million.

We left Branson and continued our trek south. As pitstop on our way to Memphis, Davidsonville Historic State Park in Arkansas was a fun choice. Again, there were very few people around and we could explore the adjacent historic park on our own.

Davidsonville was the site of Arkansas’s first post office and courthouse. The townsite was established in 1815 and abandoned within 15 years in favor of more readily accessible locations along the Black River. Today there are two “ghost structures” that indicate the location of the original post office and courthouse, along with an interesting interpretive walk through the historic site. 

The real fun at Davidsonville occurred around midnight when we were awakened by our weather radio alerting us to a tornado warning in our area. We were invited by the ranger to wait out the warning in the visitor center and it only took about 30 minutes to be back in our beds, safe and warm. No tornados, no damage, just a false alarm, but it made for a little excitement!

Our next stop is now Memphis, so stay tuned for the next blog featuring the blues and a little Elvis.