Nashville and Memphis, oversold cities?
So we left you off at Chicago, where goodbyes were hard...But the only way is forward right? So we hit the road, full of hope and excited at the idea of exploring the giants that are Nashville and Memphis in the music world and History. We had a 7-hour drive in front of us, but what’s the point of doing a road trip if you don’t divert from the initial plan? We stopped at an amish home furniture shop in the middle of nowhere in Kentucky, very beautiful wood artwork; we then went on to the antique furniture store next door, where everything and anything can be found. It’s like getting a glimpse of what the local inside home interiors look like, which is a mix of Elvis neons, license plates, diverse and useless glass figurines, guide books for grandma’s and pa’s, antique pop soda bottles, cabin accessories, as well as original pictures of IIIrd Reich soldiers for $2…Having spent so much time in this cavern of Ali-Baba, we decided to stop for the night in Horse Cave, you know, just because of the name. We didn’t see horses, but lovely hilly landscapes. On the next day we stopped at Franklin, KY, and we completely randomly found out (lucky coin) that it happens to be the city where Johnny Cash married June Carter in the most absolute secret in 1968. Lovely little town. And we were off to Nashville.
Considered by many as the ultimate pilgrimage for country-music fans and wannabe songwriters, the city is clearly focused on music, and has been since the 20’s. Music scores of various traditional country hits are even sealed in the streets’ sidewalks. As the good pilgrim you are, you wanna go take a look at the numerous concert venues that have hosted the most famous music stars in the world - Music City Center, Municipal Auditorium, Music Row, Ryman Auditorium… - too expensive to get in. So you walk down Lower Broadway St (SoBro) instead, and that’s when it hits you: live country and folk music, on every floor, of every bar (and there are many), all mixing up into a messy background noise. At the end of the street, you make a left, find some more bars and live music and...that’s it. Nashville kind of felt to me like an old music queen that used to have magic, and is now desperately trying to save face by marketing her way through, thus loosing this authenticity that we loved so much in NYC and Chicago…Plus, the city is booming and under construction everywhere, resulting in an odd patchwork of buildings, which doesn’t help with creating a sense of coherence and charm. As you know, we’re very much into the unconventional, so we first headed for a baseball game, probably made an appearance on Country Music Television, cheered for the Nashville Sounds who literally destroyed Las Vegas’ 51’ between some fake-Elvis appearances.
The next day was spent at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, some 3-hour drive away, welcoming more visitors than any other national park in the US (yes. More than Momument Valley, more than Grand Canyon and more than Yellow Stone). Some deers, birds, mosquitoes and waterfalls later, sadly no bears, we drove back to Nashville under the sunset.
Thanks to our Airbnb host (hi Maddy!), we didn’t leave Nashville without having an amazing view on Nashville’s night skyline from the rooftop of a luxury hotel, without getting a taste of each main honky-tonks down SoBro, ending up in a local bar in West Nashville, the non-touristy part of town where locals find shelter, and good music too.
On our way to Memphis, we stopped at the Shiloh National Military Park, site of one of the Civil War’s bloodiest battlefields, opposing the Confederates of the South to the Union in the North - led by the then unknown Major General Grant, who eventually led the Union to victory and became the 18th President of the USA. The park traces every step of the 2-day battle that happened there and also presents a documentary re-enactment, as well as clothes and accessories to try on. We couldn’t resist.
Arrived late at night in Memphis, we had no plan, and for once it wasn’t a good thing. We crossed Beale St’s freak show, horrifying vision of drunk people going from bar to bar, each more obvious and loud than the other, among almost 3 police agents per person. We walked around a bit in the streets, without much to see, and then made a reservation in a nightmare hotel: cockroaches (both dead and alive), dirty sheets, no running water in the shower, stains and foot prints on the doors in the hallway...great place, LO-VED it. Fortunately enough, we found another place to crash in on the next night, and went to explore the city on a Saturday night. So we went to South Main St, one of Memphis’ nightlife hot spots...nothing to be found, nobody in the streets...so we tried Cooper-Young...empty. We ended up deciding to have a pop-corn/movie night instead, found out that there are more people doing their grocery shopping in Kroger than in the bars on a Saturday night. Needless to say that we were disappointed by this supposedly music giant, going from one bad experience to another. To be fair, it seems that Memphis has its own secret groovy and bluesy scene when you know where to go, but we didn’t. On Sunday morning, we went to Al Green’s Full Gospel Tabernacle Church and finally got this little kick we had been missing.The mass wasn’t deep in preaching, but very powerful in singing and making you feel part of the community. Al Green’s singing improvisations were punctuated with very puzzling vocal outburst, “Hello”, “Amen”, “Yes” , “Thank you”...You cannot help but feel deeply touched by these people. And we were off to Guntown.
> Go to a baseball game: check
> Be on TV: check
> Sleep in a dodgy hotel: check
> Go to a Gospel mass AND see Al Green: check
> Our deep conversations with Maddy about history and religion
> Nashville’s underground bar scene in the west
> The Great Smoky Mountains where Sarah saw very closely a deer for the 1st time
> The Shiloh National Military Park that taught us a bit more about American History and the Civil War
> Al Green’s gospel mass
> That very awkward moment we had with the Horse Cave motel manager
> Wisely deciding to stop making those disgusting Cheddar sandwiches
We didn't like:
> The marketing around Nashville and Memphis’ music scene
> The horrifying hotel in Memphis
> The feeling of missing out on Memphis and being disappointed at the same time