Picking and Grinning

2CA7FD09-A6E1-4A45-9CB5-E8445AA2BF54A short stop in Nashville would not be complete without country music. 

I went to the Station Inn, a bluegrass venue in a developing neighborhood near downtown. It has been in operation since 1974, and was the home base for Ralph Stanley and Bill Monroe. It is a simple low ceilinged barn-like room covered in posters from years past advertising folks like Johnny Cash. It had rows of long tables perpendicular to the stage, and did not seem to encourage either conversation or dancing. The club is clearly all about the music, which can be a really good thing. I scored a seat on a church pew along the wall. The crowd was homogeneous, heavy on apparent locals and regulars, and not a person of color in sight. They serve only pitchers of beer and snacks from a service window in the back. This is the second club in two nights in which they did not play the Saints, Sweet Liza Jane, or St. James Infirmary. This is a little disconcerting, but I guess I’ll have to head back to NOLA for that. 

What the joint lacked in craik, it made up for in the music. The older members of the band were the traveling band for Glen Campbell in the 1970s and 80s, and the lead guitar player and the slide guitar player are studio regulars who were not shy about declaring themselves the best in the world at what they do. For all I know, they could be right. The musicianship was off the charts. A more modern country star, Josh Williams, was sitting in with the band singing and playing guitar. Ashley Campbell, Glen’s daughter, also a recording artist, sang and played banjo and guitar. They played two sets, one of traditional country and then they switched instrumentation to play a second set of bluegrass with banjos and a fiddle. I wish I knew more about the music, but was able to see that these folks were at the top of their game. I especially enjoyed the crooning style of bluegrass, with all six or eight folks harmonizing and picking underneath.

The drive to Crossville/Fairfield Glade was beautiful, with lots of farms and small towns. I’m still Alaskan enough that cows and horses are exotic creatures. It was rainy, turning to snow as I approached the Cumberland plateau, so a lot of the scenery was muted but imaginable. I saw a large hawk sitting on a roadside fence post at eye level as I crossed a little ridge on cattle farm. It is exciting to see such a big animal so close.

Crossville/Fairfield Glade is a developed resort community with recreational and medical facilities geared towards the retirement community. It is cut through by green belts and trails that allow people to get a dose of the natural world in addition to the golf courses and recreational lakes. Dad and Ellen appear to enjoy it. They have an elaborate bird feeding station and attract dozens of species. Most are foreign to me-no junkos, ravens or eagles-but it was fun to watch the birds from the window. We toured a couple of the small towns nearby, and I got to visit my second Sparta of the road trip and downtown Cookeville. They are courthouse square towns that are redeveloping from the county seat to boutique style entertainment and shopping areas. We visited a gun shop, a knife store that was more like a knife museum, and an upscale coffee shop. 

I was introduced to Big John’s Hog Wild barbecue in Crossville, a very basic storefront with a smoker out back. They had great ribs with heavy smoke and a sweet and spicy sauce. I drove past several BBQ joints that looked a lot like this along the way and assumed they were closed, but Big John was putting out some good food. This was as far East as I traveled, and didn’t break into the vinegar-based barbecue zone. I guess it means another trip. 

We went to a Merle Haggard tribute concert by his son, Marty Haggard, at the Palace Theater in Crossville. The venue had theater seating and a non-booze concession area. The crowd was older white folks who were much more familiar with the music than I was. I had avoided tribute concerts and bands on principal in the past, and this experience confirmed my judgement as perhaps something to have done once.

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