Thurs 5/21 – DAY 1: Trip gets off to a late and edgy start as limo driver is five minutes late. We make it to Newark without incident by 7 am and we’re in the air at 8:50 am. Smooth flight… no problems. We hit the rent-a-car desk and Laura gets a little upset that the lady behind the counter downgrades us from compact to economy (the size of a smart car). We’re forced to upgrade the size for safety’s sake and it’s gonna cost an additional $120.00… arrrgghhh. Starting to anticipate that there’s going to be a lot of hidden costs to this trip. I head to the car garage and make a wrong turn taking us 10 minutes out of the way. When we get to our parking space (#205) there is another couple getting in to the same vehicle. Somehow we were issued the same rental. They kept the first car… we end up getting a nicer and newer model that we’ve named Tennessee Ernie Ford Focus. The gentleman at the upstairs Gold Counter says he’ll give us a discount for the trouble and says he “thinks you’ll be happy”. The price gets dropped to what we were originally gonna pay. The first of some amazing and serendipitous events is in the books…
We arrive and head for the first of our media comps – the Willie Nelson museum. Then, Cooter’s with a “Dukes of Hazard” museum. Fun stuff. We’re right across the street from the Gaylord Opryland hotel so we huff it on foot to avoid the $23 daily parking. Our good friend ERIC from the south told us this was a must see and it sure was. This is the hotel that country music built with 3 indoor arena size atriums with multi-level walkways. Back to the hotel… check in at the Marriot Opryland and time to swim although I’m so exhausted I can’t. But there is a hot tub. Off to bed to see what tomorrow brings.
Fri 5/22 – DAY 2: We’re both up at 5 am after a good night’s rest and we head to the city to check it out. Initial drive thru town and we realize parking here is pretty steep. About $30 for the day in the first lot we checked (but we later found out prices do vary). I don’t like that option so we drive around and find that the river-front has plenty of free spots – no meters, no nothing. So, because were there at 8 am we got free parking. We did the river-front walk and stroll across the pedestrian bridge as the sun is rising on Music City. Next, we head up Broadway and it’s very touristy but still cool. We have a credentialed 9:40 am tour of the Ryman – known as the Mother Church of Country Music – and it was an honor and a pleasure to be in this historic building. We exited around 11 am and the smell of the BBQ was all encompassing and the partyers had arrived. Ducked into a few honky tonks and picked up some CDs from local acts.
So, prior to heading to Nashville I researched domes and met an amazing human being named PAUL online (more about him later). We made plans to meet up. He alerts us to the fact that a Monolithic Dome is being constructed 30 minutes north in White House, TN. So, we jump in the car and head on up there. I should say that seeing a Monolithic under construction is bucket list stuff for me. We arrive and are warmly greeted by homeowners Robert and Annette who are in the process of building two concrete domes – one for them and one for the in-laws. It gets a little tense because they are right there at a critical juncture blowing cement into their interior walls. Still, they take us inside via airlock and we get a first hand view of one couple’s 10-year dream taking shape. I can’t believe our luck to be here at this moment. We head back to the city to visit the southern outpost of Mike Wolf and Frank Fritz – the American Pickers – and the new landmark Antique Archeology store there. Cool place and I notice many of the items that they discovered on their show.
We head over early to the Jonathan Jackson + Enation (Avery Barkely on the hit show NASHVILLE) concert at 3rd and Lindsay. Doors are at 6 and we’re online at 5. Again, getting there early we got one of the few parking spots in front of the club. This is a cool venue and after choosing seats on the lower level we decide to head to the balcony for a better view. We’re credentialed for this one and I meet with JJ’s manager Jason and he hands me two “All Access” passes for Laura and I to use at the meet and greet. I head back upstairs and we meet Janet and her 28 year old daughter Abbie from St. Louis who drove in just for this concert and have joined us at our table. We talk a bit about the south and the region. Janet says if there’s anyway I could get them passes, too… I text Jason, outline the situation and he makes a deal with the pair that if they buy seats for JJ’s St. Louis show he’ll give them passes for the VIP meet and greet. They make that deal and are thrilled. JJ is an amazing talent. This concert was their tour opener of their first real trek around the States. It’s a big night for him. Laura and I both get to meet this personable actor/musician and we take our picture with him. Janet pays for our dinner. Nashville, so far, so good…
SAT 5/23 – DAY 3: So, today we had planned to grab our free parking again. But, best laid plans… (good thing we had tons of goals and a fluid itinerary)… We arrive in the downtown and there is a marathon running event going on for Memorial Day weekend and streets are being paved!!! So, we ride through town and see signs for “The Gulch” and “Music Row” two areas that we wanted to check out anyway and were much less crowded at the moment. So, we hike around “The Gulch” a cool compact area of high-end luxury condos, restaurants and shops just on the outskirts of the downtown. Next, we park at the start of Music Row and walk around the two mile strip of houses that contain publishing, label, management, songwriting offices and music studios. It’s amazing to see and think of the influence this one street has had. As we get in the car we realize we’re only a mile away from Centennial Park… we had also got comped for a museum here housed in an incredibly impressive replica of the Greek Parthenon. Originally, we were going to visit this place on Monday for a blues music festival, but as luck would have it, an all day event was going on today as well featuring the world famous roots rocker Ben Kweller. We do the museum, walk the grounds and spend 2.5 hours at the festival. Not what we planned to do today, but turned out 10 times better. We’re hungry so we try the Coney Fork near our hotel. Pretty good food and an authentic bluegrass band to serenade us. Back to the hotel… swim and hot tub and off to bed.
SUN 5/24 – DAY 4: On this day we had originally planned to visit two state parks the first being a two-hour drive away with us hitting the second one on the way home. I convinced Laura to narrow the focus and just visit Burgess Falls about 80 miles outside of Nashville. We left at 8 am and got here around 9:30 to a fairly empty lot. It was a considerably difficult and damp 3/4 mile trail to 8 different waterfalls and a lot of steps. We were gonna do it twice, I said no…
At this point I should point out something disconcerting about the Nashville highways. The Tennessee D.O.T. is courteous enough to post the current year-to-date highway fatalities in real-time. 2014 Total YTD – 352 / 2015 Total YTD – 341. Yay! We’re on pace to break last year’s numbers and there’s still six months to go. Perhaps if the drivers in the good state of Tennessee would use their directional signals a few less people would be meeting Jesus on a daily basis. Oh yeah, and the roadkill is a little different down here as we observed a belly up armadillo today on I-40. More on this state’s crazy critters soon.
As we were leaving at 11 am the lot was full and there was a line of cars waiting to get in. The park ranger was apologetic saying they really need more spots and most likely the other parks we wanted to go to would also be “slammed” due to the holiday weekend. We head back on I-40 and find a two mile trail through the Tennessee woods at the less crowded Edgar Evins State Park. I reached out again to our new friend Paul because he tipped us off to an EARTHSHIP being built in Gallatin which we passed on the way out. He thought that the people would be wrapping up construction so we did a 40-minute diversion through the countryside to get there. When we arrived we couldn’t gain access because the builder was in California for family Memorials. Disappointing but we got to see more of this vast and pretty state. Next, we decide to visit the neighborhood everyone says is the one that is really on the rise – EAST NASHVILLE.
We’re back in the up and coming city at 3 pm and head to JENNI’s for dinner. It’s outlandishly priced ice cream. We paid $17.50 for two double cones but it was worth it. I’m gonna need to sell some songs if this is gonna become a habit. We jumped in a hammock on site and asked a young lady for more info on East Nashville. She pointed us in the direction of the 5 Points and Fatherland sections of the region so off we went. While walking past the “I Dream of Weanie” hot dog food truck a man called out “nice shirt” in reference to the Nils Lofgren tee I was wearing. We talk for about 5 minutes about the great, great guitarist of the E Street Band. As we said our goodbyes, I turned around and literally bumped into LENNON STELLA – otherwise known as Maddie Conrad on the hit show NASHVILLE. Trust me, I’m a big fan. I told Laura prior to leaving I’d love to run into her and it happened. We both got pics with her and now I’m flying for the rest of the day.
Crazy stuff because the two diversions of the Earthship and the Nils guy led directly to that moment. The Nils guy said to us prior, “don’t worry about a thing, there are no mistakes” and he was right. There really is a little bit of magic in the country. This has been a strange few days!
MON 5/25 – DAY 5: So, back to our new friend PAUL. He asked us if we would be interested in comps to the Tennessee Renaissance Fair. We said sure! What we didn’t know was that Paul’s family owns the expansive farm and has run the fair for 30 years. His uncle built the 7-story 4900 sq foot castle that exists on site. It’s featured in Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” video – check it out.
We got a private tour and then head to the festival courtesy of PAUL. This was an intensely fun and family oriented fair and a cash cow. We literally saw the Brinks Truck pulling away as we left. Before and after we checked out the upscale towns of Franklin and Brentwood. Had dinner at our favorite pizza place in the south – Mellow Mushroom. While in Franklin we stumbled into the Bagbey House formerly the Bennet House Studios where many great albums were produced. Some artists to record here include – Amy Grant, Faith Hill, Michael McDonald, Vanessa Williams, Jimmy Buffett, Whitney Houston, Michael Bolton, Wynonna, Trace Adkins, Gladys Knight, Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Dan Fogelberg and many more.
In between we visited a Civil War Bunker in Franklin – what trip to the south would be complete without checking out an historic battlefield??? Prior to starting the Day we went to the Grand Ole Opry to buy tickets for tomorrow’s Backstage Tour and the live radio show – featuring among others – the Swon Brothers from NBC’s The Voice.
TUES 5/26 – DAY 6: Another breakfast and typing up part one of these trip notes along with other writing from the trip.
Now, your local weather on the eights. When we landed in Nashville it was a brisk 58 degrees and a local exiting the plane muttered, “I can’t get away from this winter weather.” But, it warmed up for FRI, SAT and SUN before the same system that was battering Texas with rain was predicted to hit us for the rest of the week. But, on Monday – we only had a few drizzles and there were very threatening skies at the TENN RENNE FAIR but we really weren’t impacted at this event.
This was our OPRY day. We relaxed and swam most of the morning and had an hour-long backstage tour of the Grand Ole Opry at 2:30 pm. This was another fantastic tour of this multi-million dollar operation. We got to walk on stage and stand on the Ryman Circle. (I’ll be back with my band!) When we arrived the clouds were looming in the background. As soon as we made it under the awning the skies opened up for a torrential downpour with high winds. When we exited an hour later the storm had moved north and the sun was out. So, we were able to walk back to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel to hike the atriums for a second time. Afterwards, we revisited the Opry Mills Mall (a mall as long as the state of TN) for dinner and back to the Grand Ole Opry to take in the live radio show. It was so fun and they do two to three of these a week. We should start covering them for SoundPress.net and our new site, MusicCityNashville.net.
After the Opry Radio Show the most disturbing moment of the trip arrived. As we pulled out of the Opry Mills Mall lot we heard “Thump, Thump, Thump”. What the hell was that we said concerned for Tennessee Ernie Ford Focus. What’s that noise — an air leak? Turns out it was the heavy breathing of some animal in its death throes. Some critter of unknown species had crawled into our rear driver side wheel well. By the third rotation of our wheel it had stopped but there was really nothing we could have done. We’re sorry poor Southern critter, we suck! We’re from the north! At least it wasn’t a flat tire.
WED 5/27 – DAY 7: Another day for us in tourist mode. We had planned to visit three museums today. Prior to leaving I had reached out to dozens of sites and landmarks to see what we could get credentialed for. I made two inquiries to the Country Music Hall of Fame but didn’t hear back in advance. But, I had the P.R. director’s name and number and gave him a call from the lobby. He came down to meet us and comped us on the spot – another $50 savings in Music City. This place was incredible. We arrived at 9:45 am and exited at 12:45 pm but could have spent the whole day here.
Next, we headed uptown to a lesser known museum that we were comped for – the Musician’s Hall of Fame – that documents and highlights many of the unsung sideman of the industry. This one also had exhibits dedicated to many of the great rock albums recorded in Nashville. We enjoyed this place a lot. Oh yeah, once the doors closed behind us at 1 pm another round of torrential rain started – lasted for two hours. By the time we exited at 3 p.m. it had passed. Dodging puddles we headed to the state capitol before Rich went on a stealthy, secret and successful mission to land his dream job in the city!!!
A full week in and I haven’t yet had a great southern meal but this changed when we stopped in at Jack’s on Broadway which claims to have the best ribs in Nashville. I had a rib plate and Laura had smoked turkey and we were fueled up. Walking downtown we visited the Goo Goo chocolate shop and sampled some boutique varieties of this local favorite. Then, an ice cream company was shooting a video and handing out free cups of vanilla. Yay – free dessert! We checked out the Johnny Cash Museum store but ran out of time to visit the museum proper – this will be first on our list next time we’re here. We made another pass at the shops and clubs on Broadway before returning to the Gulch to see one of favorite bass players Jack Sundrud of POCO in support of an up-and-coming Nashville artist.
Lindsay Ellyn – an attractive singer-songwriter originally from Morris County – introduced herself to us. When we told her we were also from New Jersey she explained that she moved to Nashville in April 2014 and she’s happy she did and recommended that we do the same. Her CD release party was fun in an intimate setting at “Two Old Hippies” a music and clothing store. The thing about Nashville is every place you walk into is a potential venue – even the airport has a stage.
Inspired by the day and the city I head over to GODADDY.com to buy the domain “MusicCityNashville.net”. Now we have an outpost to give us credibility when the inevitable arrives and we set up shop in our new town.
THURS 5/28 – DAY 8: It’s the last day. All week long Laura was playing telephone tag with two recruiters. She wanted to meet up with some professionals in case we decide to dive in and make the move. At the last moment on the last day she was able to arrange two early appointments. So, it was back to Franklin and Brentwood. We had a few extra minutes so we walked the Galleria Mall in Franklin (who needs New Jersey, there’s plenty of these things down here, too!) This was another complex as long as the state and they were in the process of adding even another wing.
Speaking of expansion and development, you notice it in Nashville. This place is growing. It’s crazy and I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. That’s all I’ll say. Do a web search, check the statistics. I was reading a Nashville Business Journal article while Laura was in her meeting that said if the rest of the country was undergoing the same economic growth that Nashville was we would be in a booming market unprecedented in our nation’s history.
Well, the trip is winding down. We stop by the Bluebird Café and it’s not what you think. What they don’t show you on Nashville is that the historic club is housed in a strip mall on a busy road. But, still cool to see. Back up to East Nashville via Germantown for our last supper at 5 Points Pizza. I’m busy looking for Lennon but no luck today. A few hours until we fly out so we do another two hours hiking in the Gaylord Atriums before heading to the airport.
We touch down a little late and it’s nearly midnight but the strangeness continues as even our limo driver is kind of inspiring. Whereas the driver to start our trip didn’t say a word to us this guy went on about geniuses who were unappreciated in their times and entertained us with tales of MagLev trains, Nikola Tesla and Ayn Rand. It was a heavy way to end our surreal adventure.
This was a trip we’ll never forget. And maybe Nashville will become our new home. Please send good vibes our way for us to make the right decision and for all the doors to open up for us in a timely manner.
Best, Rich and Laura Lynch