Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Nashville: Music, Music, Music

Having spotted a ridiculous deal with Westjet to Nashville direct (I prefer Air Canada of the two national Airlines and also terminal 1 to terminal 3) I couldnt let it pass. Heading to Pearson International Airport (YYZ) early Sunday November 5, the day of the clocks changing thankfully back an hour, it allowed me a luxurious extra hour as I needed to be at YYZ two hours before my 935am flight.

As the GO Train was going to be my mode to connect with Union Pearson (UP) Express, unfortunately it was Sunday and service did not start until 730am. Uber it was. A $20 cab ride on a rainy morning took me to the west end of the multi-year renovation project called Union Station. The UP is a welcomed, clean and efficient means of transportation to Toronto's international airport that would make the Swiss check their watches.

Our Westjet flight left on time and surprisingly had a bilingual attendant and not a joking recording as they usually refer to.  After a hard landing at BNA (Nashville airport) I found the express bus that I wanted to take downtown but only runs every hour. So over to the cab line and I discovered it was an easy US$25 flat rate to downtown even though I was staying further west (thanks to hotwire).  My life was then in the hands of a crazy Jordanian that had too much caffeine and I think was half deaf from the blaring AM country radio in his right ear. I asked him after being in Nashville for 29 years, did he like country and his reply was NO. I landed amongst the Sunday morning (yes morning), pre game traffic revelry of a Titans - Ravens NFL match.

As i was dropped off at the cheap and cheerful Comfort Inn just west of the downtown I'd heard from the previous lady in front of me that rooms would not be ready until 230pm.  I asked how long to walk downtown and received again another wild estimate that added to the volatility of answers.  As I just landed with a sense of exploration coursing through me, I began to walk Demonbreun St. down to 5th and found the main Broadway strip.

As I overheard at the hotel, there is a volunteer transportation service in covered golf carts that for US$2 to US$4 will take you about anywhere downtown. Regardless, as I was walking in the direction of downtown geo fighyer here ripped overhead and I deduced the Titans game was about to start. So far an eventful morning !

It was barely noon and every bar had its doors open with live music cranking. I needed lunch (and a beer) so I wandered up and down both sides of the street and settled in at the  Honky Tonk Central where I had a rather  average pulled pork sandwich  (a very un-American sized proton) and a couple of Tennessee Lagers after the recommendation of my blonde bartender.

After watching the two acoustic players of a band in the top open floor it was time to try others. Venturing in and out of various bars and rooftop patios a band at Nudie's caught my attention (And also the Tennessee lagers). Like many places, it had three floors and a band on every one. Easy to pass the time. 

As the sunny afternoon became 230pm then 330pm, I started to think about checking in; however fans post Titans - Ravens game  started to roll in from across the bridge into downtown and Sunday Funday kicked it up a  gear! As I was up early to be at the airport by 730am, the second wind kicked in and calls for a power snooze (I would have had to check in first) went out the window.

I wandered again to a couple of patios and poked my head into a few other places. Eventually I ended up at the Mushroom where the front man with a wireless mic was on stage, on the street, and through the crowd. Playing mostly rock songs it was a welcome break from the country music I was bombarded with for the last four hours (although it was welcomed and I soaked it up).

The band itself had a very solid drummer and talented guitar player that drove in from another gig in Orlando! Listening to the conversations and interaction of many bands so far, it appears the music scene is fragmented in Nashville with musicians inserted here and there or bands assembled for the occasion or based on musicians' availability. The other thing I've learned is the quality of gear that each musician has ! The house gear that each bar has ! And the pedal boards that even the solo acoustic guitar player has! Where are these stores in Nashville? 

After that band finished their set including questionable behaviours on behalf of the  aforementioned front man (there was a 21 year old's birthday and the singer knew her, the Mom that WAS there and the Dad that WASN'T there!) It was time to check in to the hotel.

I walked back down Broadway heading west to the comfort inn.  With a curious look as to why my bags were there for eight hours the front desk attendant handed me my keys. After dumping my stuff in the room and checking emails I headed out to the end of Broadway around 19th for something to eat and to see something different (upon recommendation of the waitress at the Hard Rock Cafe where I was WiFi hopping earlier in the day). I landed at Sliders for some ....Sliders. And again another band playing on a very small stage. After finally eating that day (with exception of lunch) I took an Uber to avoid the sketchy walk over and headed home.

Day 2 started with the free breakfast with the usual hotel selection of muffins, yogourt, monster bagels, questionable scrambled eggs and the much coveted "waffle maker" (why these types of hotels throughout the USA are so emphatic about the waffle maker is beyond me).  The CNN that was broadcast on two televisions was covering the mass shooting of the Texas church; however, sadly no one in the room seemed to acknowledge the story. 

Afterwards, I made an ambitious 8km run through the State Capitol buildings and grounds later retuning by way of the Gulch Greenbelt back to the hotel. After a quick shower I headed out by feet to the western end that hosts Music Row - two main streets of historic recording studios, production companies, sound engineers, publishing houses etc all housed in quaint southern style, Tennessee homes usually on a raise lot higher than street level. Outside of some of these homes in this curious neighbourhood were large billboards laying  claim to the latest #1 hit country song that was produced there or recorded there or the singer was managed there. After circling around the two main streets of Music Row at a casual pace, I headset east across the river to Nissan Stadium. The walk across the pedestrian bridge gave some of the best views of the city and I wanted to return later at night for a different view. With not much beyond the acres of parking lot and my attention was no longer captured and I walked back into the downtown area, down to Broadway again towards the Johnny Cash museum. But first lunch. After learning that most food options on Broadway are sub par I headed off Broadway to FGL House (Florida Georgia Line). A nicer place compared to the rough and tumble but fun Honky Tonk establishments on broadway, although the air conditioning was turned to 11 and a simple (but delicious) , southern spicy hot chicken sandwich took a half hour to be served.

After dousing myself in a few gallons of water, I headed to the Johnny Cash museum across the street. A modest US$18, it was an interesting history and documentary of the country legend (for this non country fan).  They had such pieces of gear as the original guitar amp that was used to record "Walk the Line".  Interesting fact -  one of the few musicians and songwriter that has had hits on all forms of medium including 78, 33 and 45 rpm records, eight track, CDs, MP3 formats. The remaining exhibits, guitars, letters, old recording contracts and other items from Johnny's past helped to understand his career but also the significance of music in Nashville's history.

As I stopped back at the Hard Rock for some WiFi hopping I had to stop in at the Coyote Ugly (first time in one of these, $2 beers advertised). Very empty, about a dozen people in total.  The lone bartender jumped on the bar, gave us empty cups to put on our heads and a quick game of " Coyote says" was on. If your cup fell off, you were out. After making it to the final three, the final challenge involved the splits on a questionable bar floor and that's where the female winner took the lead in this contest. After the Coyote Ugly ego crush, I was feeling a bit hungry again and went for the cheap and cheerful old Spaghetti factory. As the rain increased and so did my carbohydrates intake,  I darted across the street to the honky Tonk Central. A non country cover band did a set of such unexpected songs by green day, blink 182 and rage against the machine. Awesome!

With the band changing and the rain in full downpour, I made a bolt to Nudie's as one band had just finished setting up (actually the bass player I saw earlier in the day with another band, he must have played there all day!). Fronted by an outgoing and energetic female singer sporting a reflective and revealing shimmery top they switched from high energy country songs to Tom Petty and Journey covers that pleased everybody! 

With the skies fully open (I think I saw  Noah building an ark at the end of the street) I jumped  into a cab and headed home.

Day 3 began the same as I arrived for breakfast in my running gear. Having been fully oriented with the breakfast assembly, I made a more efficient use of my time.  Back to the hotel for a stretch and Strava check, I headed out west again toward Centennial Park where the Parthenon, a replica of the one in Athens and houses one of Tennessee's art galleries, is located. Having followed Broadway all the way I made my way further south than planned but ended up running through a very interesting and picturesque area of Vanderbilt university bypassing the hospital, frat houses, stadiums and other immense sports facilities typical of an American university or college. Finding Centennial Park I jogged through it with the Parthenon eventually peeking through the trees towards the back of this intricately Park. After snapping the obligatory photo I made my correct way back to the hotel, bestered, checked emails, watched Bloomberg then wandered out again. This time heading back towards downtown I took a detour through to the Gulch area comprised of new construction and buildings that have resulted in what appears to be a new neighbourhood within an older party of the city.  I passed a few restaurants noting "The Pub" which claimed to have THE best fish and chips.  I then passed the Thompson, Weston hotels before being spit out to Korean Veterans Blvd.  Later passing the Omni hotel (that houses the hall of fame and  historical print press shop as well as Music city centre, a large conference centre.

All the while crews working outside were setting up for a large and high profile event as I later found out was the Country Music Awards to be held the next evening after I was scheduled to leave.

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