This one is a beauty — the Epicenter of Country Music and Rhythm and Blues. Home of three former US Presidents has a rebuilt Athena Temple in the Buckle of the Bible Belt and runs from the majestic Smokey Mountains all the way to the Mississippi River. So much good stuff it deserved a run-on sentence. It’s the Volunteer State, Tennessee.
Yes, Memphis is the home of the King, but it is all home of Blues and Barbeque. The city, named after the former capital of ancient Egypt, and as the old world namesake, this Memphis also straddles a great River. You can see the entire route of the Mississippi River (in miniature of course) at Mud Island. This Island Park is the cities playground an with a park that features an annual Barbeque cookoff each summer that attracts carnivores from across the country. The Island also has an outdoor music venue that features A list talent.
The star attraction of Mud Island though, is the “Memphis Belle” A WWII era B-17 Bomber called “The Flying Fortress” the Belle was a symbol of strength and survival. Only about 20% of these planes survived the war. There are some fascinating stories about Belle’s exploits and the crew that became world famous in the late 1940s. I will do another post just about that.
Memphis also has the National Civil Rights Museum that was built around the Lorraine Motel. On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated while standing on the second-floor deck of the hotel.
Above all else, Memphis is probably best known for its musical connections. You have Beale Street home of great live Blues Music almost every night of the year, Stax records, the heart of R&B and Soul music, Sun records, where Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Charlie Rich all got their start. Well, those people and also a guy named Elvis too.
Beale Street was where you would go to hear your favorite Stax artists. Even today Beale has a plethora of juke joints and Blues clubs that play well into the night and early morning.
In 1950 a 15-year-old Elvis wandered into the Sun Studios to make a novelty record for his mother. The studio still has the original recording, the first time Presley’s voice was ever recorded publicly singing. You can hear the tape on the Sun Studio tour. A who’s who of vintage rock have made music here. And their presence is still felt in the air.
Now we head up I-40 to Nashville. The Country Music mecca. You have the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum, Ryman Auditorium, The Honkey Tonks on Broadway and Printer’s Alley, The Grand Ole Opry and the sumptuous Opryland Hotel, The Parthenon, and the home and final resting place of three US Presidents and a lot more. You could easily make a full vacation just on Nashville and Memphis, but they are only a small part of this great state.
The Country Music Hall of Fame Museum is something I would recommend even if you aren’t that keen on Country. You may surprise yourself. The museum has clothing, guitars, banjos, mandolins, and violins from the greats and the greats I had never heard of before. I figure they made got inducted, so they did something right. The most moving exhibit was the original manuscripts for some of Country’s most memorable songs. These songs were written on envelopes, the inside of books; one and even on the back of a canceled check. Just goes to show you never know where you’ll be when inspiration hits.
After visiting the Hall of Fame, I went on a tour of the Ryman Auditorium. The building has a storied past. Built-in 1892 as a revivalist church. At the time it was known as ” The Union Tabernacle.” As early as 1904, it began to host concerts, boxing matches, traveling Broadway productions, and expositions. From 1943 to 1974, the auditorium was the home of the grand ole opry a radio, and live performance show heard in over thirty states. Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and practically everyone honored in the hall of fame down the street got their start on the Ryman stage.
The gentleman who ran the backstage tour had worked there since he was a teenager. He had met just about everyone and had an anecdote on just about everyone. Dolly Parton was performing the night I was there. We hung out in her dressing room, and he had arranged for us to meet her but she was running late, so we missed that opportunity.
The Ryman interior
The tour concluded with a walk on the Ryman stage and a photo of me behind the stage microphone. As I stood there for my picture the photographer handed me a guitar and said “Here, pose with this guitar” I objected because I told him I didn’t know how to play and that no one that knew me would believe I was playing. The photographer who obviously, must have been having a bad day said: “Well, no one is going to believe you can sing or made it to the Grand Ol Opry either.”
Even though I don’t play guitar, this is one of my favorite pictures of me. The guy was good. I still have the original photo on my wall. The funny thing was when I would show it to people and tell them it was on the Opry stage in Nashville everyone would ask ” Dude where’s your hat?” like in a cowboy hat. I would definitely wear one, but only if I could still rock out in it too.
The hotel is located next to the new home of the Grand Ole Opry. Every Saturday night you can see a live performance, and you never know who might show up.
Nashville has another stunning piece of architecture, a recreation of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. The building was erected for the state’s Centennial celebration in 1897. Originally slated to be destroyed after the festival, the building had found its way into the hearts of Nashville citizens, so the structure remained. In the basement of the Parthenon is a museum that covers the exposition and the history of the Parthenon. On the ground level, there is a replica of the statue of Athena, the goddess of Wisdom.
Lynchburg Tennessee is the home of the Jack Daniels distillery. Here the potent potable is aged and distilled through a secret family recipe. And yes you can sample some if you want. Whiskey always had too much of a kick for my tastes but is immensely popular.
The tour covers the history of the brand and how the drink became a southern staple.
Pidgeon Forge and The Great Smokey Mountains
Shared with North Carolina, The great Smokey Mountains National Park is the most visited in the entire country. Gatlinburg and Pidgeon forge is where most visitors who aren’t camping stay the night. Pidgeon Forge is also the home of Dollywood. A theme Park built by singer Dolly Parton. The Park has been a real boon to the local economy and was an excellent way for the singer to help out her old hometown.
Ms. Parton isn’t an absentee landlord, she regularly makes appearances at the Park and even has an apartment at the park so she can stay overnight.
While there are a lot of thrill rides, there is much scenery that is reminiscent of a small mountain town. This place deserves a full post, and so I will be doing a post just on Dollywood in the future.
There’s so much left to tell Chatanooga and their great aquarium, more about the Great Smokey Mountains, Gatlinburg, and Knoxville. Plus a lot more to see in Nashville and Memphis, so sometime in the future we’ll do a Part II. For now, it’s upward and onward. Ohio is next.