Originally published Tuesday, March 13, 2018 at 05:57a.m.
My first ever trip to Nashville, Tennessee, began with a connecting flight aboard a small commuter plane designed to comfortably transport exactly 44 Lego Minifigures. My seat and its proximity to the ceiling forced my neck to follow the curvature of the fuselage, but other than causing me to list to the right for the remainder of the trip, it really wasn’t all that bad. I even discovered what my own knees smell like.
My second-leg flight out of DFW Airport was just as uneventful, except for the fact that my dieting colleague gave me his package of complimentary Biscoff cookies (Biscoff - from the German for “overbaked cookies that are only edible when you’re so hungry you’ve seriously considered eating the airsickness bag.”) Landing in Nashville, we were greeted at the gate by a singer performing the first of about 600 renditions of “Wagon Wheel” I would hear on this trip.
Before I describe a small part of this city so rich in the roots of country and western music, I must admit that I’m about as country as Donald Trump eating Kentucky Fried Chicken with a knife and fork. I only feel a little more rural when I drive 15 miles outside of town to drop off my daughter for her horseback riding lesson. (Sometimes, I even slow down a little before letting her out – and risk contact with flies, dirt, and whatever that is I smell out there.)
My first excursion into Nashvegas took me to the famously neon-draped Lower Broadway, home to numerous honky-tonks and barbecue joints. As I strolled along, taking in the sights and sounds (mostly of “Wagon Wheel”), the atmosphere actually reminded me of NOLA’s Upper Bourbon Street, only with fewer bodily fluids and less lingerie exposure - from the men, anyway.
Determined to see what the whole honky-tonk thing was about, I paid a visit to the world famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, which has hosted such luminaries as Charley Pride, Patsy Cline, and a young Willie Nelson (before the Pippi Longstocking pigtails and his intense fascination with the silly salad). Ironically, lounging appeared to be the last thing on the patrons’ minds, and it was cramming room only. In these conditions, the only dancing I could do involved trying to dodge the sweaty armpits gyrating on either side of my face as the band played “I Love Rock-n-Roll.” I eventually tunneled my way to the front exit and spurted out the door to the tune of – prepare to be shocked – “Wagon Wheel.” Although I enjoyed the music, I’m pretty sure I left with somebody else’s B.O.
Sadly, the Grand Ole Opry was closed the nights I was there. (They probably heard I was coming and were afraid I’d try to correct the spelling.) But I did get to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The tour started with a bus ride to the historic Studio B, where Elvis Presley, George Jones and other stars with impressive sideburns recorded some of their most famous hits. During the tour, I had to go to the bathroom, and, as I was finishing up, I wondered if The King himself may have also skipped washing his hands in this very room.
Back at the museum, I saw amazing artifacts like Elvis’s solid gold Cadillac Limousine and one of Dolly Parton’s gowns that, unfortunately, didn’t contain Dolly Parton at the time. But my favorite exhibit was the original Hee Haw cornfield set. Seeing LuLu’s dress and Grandpa Jones’s plaid shirt almost brought tears to my eyes. The Hee Haw variety show was a Saturday evening staple of my childhood (because my parents believed strongly in highly cultured television programming). I even had a pair of Hee-Haw overalls that I only quit wearing when I realized they would guarantee me the Most Likely to Get a Swirly award at school.
Regrettably, my first visit to this great town included only a few brief outings after hours of buttock-crippling conference seminars, and I’m fully aware that they don’t represent even a single rhinestone stud on the richly embroidered, lime-green Nudie Suit that is the Athens of the South. I look forward to the day when I can return for the full Nashville experience. In the meantime, I might just put on some Hee Haw overalls and sing my new favorite earworm: “ . . .So rock me Mama like a wagon wheel. Rock Me Mama any way you feel. Hey, aaaay, Mama rock me.”