A Music City follow up
It was only as a result of a conversation yesterday that I realised, I hadn’t posted a follow up with more details of our fun day in Nashville. Right opposite our hotel was an Arcade, which sounded interesting, based on our experience of the beautiful Victorian arcades we know and love. But this one was of a different era, another time…
The most interesting reason to use the Arcade - apart from the obvious shortcut - was to visit the Post Office; the one with the picture of Elvis inside and the Pony Express logo on the wall outside. We’d chosen to save the carrier pigeon’s energy by bringing the Christmas cards destined for US friends in our bag with us and were happy to have such a local facility on hand to send them on the last leg of their journey.
Judging from the shiny and well used brass seat, we were a little slow in missing the opportunity to take our place in the duet that morning. Blame it on the jet lag… Nashville is filled with statues and memorials to musicians, mostly life sized. I’m sorry, I didn’t record who this is.
I guess a life-sized bronze is fine unless you happen to be Little Jimmy Dickens, standing less than 5ft tall, here outside the Ryman Auditorium, which was our next stop on that Saturday morning. It took me a while to take a photo without someone draped over his shoulders - most visitors seemed to see his small stature as an invitation to give him a hug!
Planners that we are, we didn’t have to join that queue for entry to the Ryman, having bought our tickets in advance. We sailed right in and took our seats in the theatre where an introductory video was to be shown.
Each couple or family chose their seats carefully, avoiding those directly in front of someone else, until the last couple entered and sat down as the first music began to play. Huh. Thanks a bunch!
The show was great and gave us a real flavour of Nashville and how music provided a foundation for the city’s growth. With the steamships and the traders on the river, the emigrants passing through on their journeys west (all fitting nicely with our last road trip) and the hard drinking, the scene was set for preachers and members of the gospel tabernacle to do their work, giving rise to the “Mother Church of Country Music”.
We enjoyed looking around the place, checking out our seats for this evening’s concert and noting that yes, it really was an old church, with the pews still in place and seating layout arranged for people rather smaller and narrower than the vast majority of the audience. It looked like it might be a bit tight! (It was, but we were saved by a couple of no-shows in our row, meaning we could spread out a little!)
Nashville has a number of alleys here and there and several recommendations for restaurants and bars were to be found on “Printers Alley” just behind the hotel. In reality, they were none too inviting…
Modern Nashville is architecturally rather interesting, though, and walking towards the Country Music Hall of Fame, we were impressed by this collection of buildings, including the JW Marriott hotel in that silver skyscraper just beyond.
There in the foyer of the Country Music Hall of Fame, the queue was building to visit Santa, sitting in front of the most e-nor-mous tree imaginable! We made our way right over to the general admission and continued our country music discovery.
The exhibition is on two levels - once on the first floor, the story begins with the early days of folk music brought by immigrants from England and mainland Europe. We enjoyed standing beneath focused speakers and listening to the accompaniment to the black and white films being shown on the screens opposite. As a purpose built experience, this worked excellently - we heard specific music when we were meant to hear it, otherwise just heard a general soundtrack, because yes of course, any centre for music should not be silent!
It was around now that I realised that in most cases, although the name was familiar, I knew nothing more about the person: Emmylou Harris being the first on the list. We had a lot to learn!
In most cases, the music was very accessible and even the songs we hadn’t heard before soon became familiar enough to hum along to.
It would take a hard heart not to be moved by the rhythms and sheer energy of the cowboy bands and looking around, most of the visitors were tapping their feet and smiling as they watched.
Arranged in an almost identical way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, the story was told by means of the artefacts too - the distinctive outfits and instruments of the inductees, together with a little pen portrait of each one.
It soon became apparent that the “king” around here is Johnny Cash. Featured in several short films and in a variety of displays, it was he who pops up most frequently. Yes he played the Opry (but crashed out) and there’s a separate museum devoted entirely to his life and work. Maybe he’s just the biggest star in the world of country music? I don’t know!
I’m sure I don’t need to explain who I thought was The King? When we’d come up in the lift, the museum guide had told us not to miss Elvis’ Gold Plated Cadillac - though it’s hard to imagine how we might have done that, large as it is!
Peering inside reminded me of that lovely Railton limousine we’d seen in Kalamazoo last year - all mod cons were here in Elvis’ car too, including a TV. I wonder how frequently it was used?
The gold Cadillac was used as the “full stop” at the end of the gallery and as we made our way downstairs, we noted the vast collection of gold and platinum records up there on display - an appropriate wall-covering don’t you agree?
Downstairs was a temporary exhibition about the work of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings in Austin, TX.
The style of the posters and the artwork was more of our era. We even recognised most of the names!
But with no real background knowledge and less of a linear narrative to the exhibition layout, we found it hard to navigate.
It was a relief to return to a continuation of the story we started upstairs, to Shania Twain and more contemporary country music stars. I’m sure we passed Dollie Parton and Tammy Wynette somewhere along the way as well, needless to say!
This final gallery led to the actual “hall of fame”, where the plaque of each inductee is placed. I recognised a few names, if not their faces
Also in here was a large painting by Thomas Hart Benton, about whom I would have confidently said “oh yes, the painter of the Missouri State Capitol murals” except that recently, I came across another Thomas Hart Benton (his great grand uncle - what? - and Senator) leading to some confusion (mine!) Anyway, I think I will stick my neck on the line and state that this is surely the work of the painter and not the politician!
As usual, the foundation sketches and drawings are of even more interest to me.
I love to see this background work; a reminder that “real” artists don’t just paint from scratch but work through many variations and studies first. Those of us who expect perfection in the first five minutes need as many reminders of this as we can get.
Though we’d just about done with the Hall of Fame now, there were still other things to see here, had we been able to summon up the energy! By now it was well into the afternoon and we were beginning to flag. The Hatch Printshop is the source of all of those distinctive Opry posters and a tour of their printworks was on offer. Much as I would have enjoyed that, it would have been a step too far right now…let’s say we saved it for next time!
On this Saturday afternoon, it was all quiet around here too, so I’m not sure what we might have seen.
We could still see and appreciate the products of their workshop.
Before leaving the Music Center, we gathered up a few leaflets to inspire and inform the rest of our visit. We were spoiled for choice!
Our weary feet might have been tempted by the two scooters parked oh-so-conveniently there but our sensible heads said “don’t be daft” ! So we rode the free green bus back to the hotel instead.
We might have been tapping our feet on the way though.