Oct 11, 2023 – Boone, NC, to Nashville, TN
We were headed for Nashville, today, and it’s on the other side of the mountains from Boone. So our day started by relying on our navigation system to guide us through a complicated series of state and county roads across those hills and valleys. It was an interesting ride. The route then dropped us onto a busy I-81 which seemed to have more tractor trailer rigs than cars. Traffic finally got lighter after we got onto I-40 and past Knoxville and the rest of the drive was easy.
Two Rivers Campground, where we stayed, is a nice place. It’s situated among a couple of large RV sales lots and a KOA campground at the end of the strip of hotels that surround the Grand Ole Opry complex. It had been a long drive and we relaxed around the campground for the rest of the day.
Oct 12, 2023 – Nashville, TN
Nashville is not a town to tour in a large vehicle, even in our small camper. Instead, the campground office staff made reservations on our behalf for a HOHO bus tour of Nashville and arranged for us to be picked up by a shuttle bus for our round trip into town.
We were dropped off about a block from Ryman Auditorium where the HOHO bus would pick us up.
Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium
Bill Poses with Bill Monroe, One of the Three Fathers of Bluegrass
Sandy Stands by Loretta Lynn
By all appearances it looked like the buses were crowded so we decided we would not hop off and on but simply stay aboard the whole trip. The bus driver/tour guide was excellent and kept up his clear patter constantly for the entire one and one half hour trip. The route took us past most of the notable sights in town. But it was not our plan to tour state capitals, churches and empty performance venues.
Entrance to Vanderbilt University
Hall was Closing as We Arrived
Tower at Corner of Country Music Hall of Fame
This is Nashville, after all, and we wanted to spend our afternoon listening to live music along the honky-tonk strips like Broadway and Printer’s Alley. Even early on a Thursday afternoon the place was crowded and hopping! We took pictures around the Ryman, stopped in some of the many iconic bars, like Tootsies Orchid Lounge and the Redneck Riviera. Every venue had constant live music, often several floors of live music and their first floor windows were wide open allowing the music to pour out onto the sidewalk. We also visited places like the Goo Goo Candy Store, Country Music Hall of Fame and a cowboy boot emporium.
Tootsie’s is Orchid Because Tootsie was Cheap and Mixed Leftover Paint for the Exterior
Even the Stage Lighting at Tootsie’s Echos the Venue’s Color
Willie Doesn’t Look Pleased with Tootsie’s Cuties
Playing On in One of Dozens of Bars Along Broadway
Goo Goo Bar Claimed to be “A Nourishing Lunch”
A disappointment was that the music was almost all very loud country rock. We are more into acoustic and bluegrass style stuff and that has almost completely disappeared from the strips. The only real bluegrass venue that remains is The Station, a place we visited twenty years ago. The act playing there didn’t excite us too much. Instead, we settled for a delicious dinner of Shepherd’s Pie at an English pub on Printers Alley before returning to the campground.
Rooftop Party Goes on Above Legends of Country Music
Seems Every Rooftop was a Bar
Broadway is a Busy Place
Statue Gal Attracted Lots of Looks
Most Places Employ Security
A Few of Hundreds of Cowgirl Boots
Sandy’s Fancy Jacket Weighed a Ton
Sign Helped Us Find Our Way to Printer’s Alley
The campground advertized live music performances on their grounds and that evening featured singer, Paul Hill, and “the Redhead”, his wife, Lin. Paul has a very good voice and did a great karaoke act. The Redhead also sang and shined with comedic commentary about their act, marriage and their life in Nashville. It was a surprisingly enjoyable show.
During the show one of the other campers told Sandy about the free annual Lester Flatt Bluegrass celebration scheduled for Saturday in Sparta, TN, about an hour-and-a-half in the wrong direction. Hmmm?
Oct 13, 2023 – Nashville to Sparta, TN
We decided to delay our visit to Memphis and head back to Sparta for the bluegrass event we’d heard about last evening. We arranged to stay at another Harvest Host, the Farmer’s Storehouse, just a mile outside of Sparta. The business is an organic food co-op and flour mill “From Farmers Who Respect God’s Design” for foodies who demand higher standards.” They hadn’t responded to our request to stay there so we took a chance and stopped in anyway and they welcomed our stay. They were lovely, energetic people who hadn’t responded because they were too busy preparing for that evening’s hoe down!
Sparta is a neat, clean small city of 5,000 people and is the county seat of White County. It also happens to be the home town of Lester Flatt, famed musician known by most people for his partnership with Earl Scruggs. They are credited with the invention of the music genre we call bluegrass. Tomorrow this city will host their 21st annual Lester Flatt Celebration. The free event would feature a concert stage hosting five bluegrass groups and about 50 craft and food vendors and organization booths. Much of the area surrounding the town’s Liberty Square was already roped off.
We made several stops around town including a sale in a church basement and a thrift store, one of Sandy’s favorite pastimes. Of course it was Bill who did most of the buying including a nice steel fry pan and a shirt. Sandy only netted a couple of small decorator items. WalMart was the source of several food items and we stopped at Happy Trails Brewery & Taproom for a draft and a bite to eat.
Back at the Farmer’s Storehouse the free community hoe down was just beginning. The straw covered floor of the huge tent was surrounded with straw bales for seating and decorated with pumpkins. A sound system was playing music. Kids were already taking advantage of the bouncy house above the tent.
Formal Seating Ringed the Hoe Down Tent
Bull Roping was a Hit with Kids
Bill Missed the Fact that the Bar Served Beer
Dancers Whirl Around Tent Pole
Little Kids Had a Ball Too
Lots of people started arriving as evening approached, many of whom were families with lots of young kids. Square, line and other dancing styles ensued. Oldsters and toddlers alike filled the dance floor & everyone had a great time. We finally walked up the hill to our home on wheels and called it a day as the evening’s celebration continued.
Oct 14, 2023 – Sparta, TN
That morning we stopped in the Farmer’s Storehouse for some coffee and to buy some peach preserves. Then it was off to the post office to mail some packages and then to park in the public library parking lot which was closed and only a block from the concert venue. There was already a large crowd seated in front of the stage but you needed your own chair. So we returned to the camper to grab our folding chairs and claimed a spot not far from the stage. Opening ceremonies started promptly at 11:15 and the first of five acts was on stage by 11:30.
The event was hosted by Blake Williams, himself a famed bluegrass musician who played with Flatt along the way. The five bands included, in order, Classy and Grassy, The Kody Norris Show, Carley Arrowood Music, Authentic Unlimited Band and Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers. Every act was very good.
Classy and Grassy was Really Young
Carley Arrowood Music was Emotionally Captivating
The Kody Norris Show in Traditional Glitzy Outfits
Authentic Unlimited Band Had the Fastest Pickers
Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers Closed Out the Day
Classy and Grassy needs some development but put on a remarkable show for a group of five whose front man was only 18 and whose fiddler and mandolin players were only 14. (The fiddler’s rendition of Orange Blossom Special was fantastic!) Carley Arrowood’s original songs were, for Bill, most emotionally captivating. And all of the last four groups were first class musicians and performers who kept us in our seats ‘til the end at 7:00. Bill had never heard of any of these performers but it’s a totally new scene since he had much to do with bluegrass music fifty years ago while in college.
We were supposed to stay at another Harvest Host about half an hour away but the winery was already closed for the day and we were tired and weren’t up for the drive. So we opted for the local WalMart parking lot instead. We bought some soup there for dinner and didn’t last long before calling it a night.
Oct 15, 2023 – Sparta to Memphis, TN
The day dawned rainy and stayed that way nearly all day. High temp was 60. The weather discouraged us from a planned hike to see several waterfalls at a nearby state park so we headed on out toward Memphis.
We’d made reservations at T.O. Fuller State Park. In 1938 it became the first state park open to African Americans east of the Mississippi. It’s a small park just southwest of Memphis and only five miles from Graceland. The rain had stopped by the time we settled in but it had been a longish drive so we stayed put in the campground.
There was a large group of small tents set up in the campground. We spoke to a couple of the tenters, curious about who they were. Turns out they were college students sailing south on the Mississippi as part of a for-credit course. There were sixteen of them sailing on two, 22 ft catamarans. They’d be aboard for two months with a goal of sailing through New Orleans and into the Gulf of Mexico, weather permitting.
Oct 16, 2023 – Memphis, TN
Perfect weather today. So, Graceland or not. We’d been put off by the high price of tickets, $80 each if you included a tour of the house. But others told us it was well worth it so we relented and drove there in the camper, parking in the Graceland lot at another $15 for the day. Turns out seniors get a 6% discount on admission which partly made up for the parking fee.
Welcome to Graceland
The good news was that it really was a great place to visit. House tours are scheduled and it would be more than an hour before we’d be able to board a bus for our tour. That left time to begin walking through the huge museum. The part we started with documented his singing career, telling his story and displaying old contracts, photos of special events and displaying a seemingly unending number of costumes he wore on stage.
Sandy Does Her Best Elvis Imitation
Spur of the Moment Contract was Written on a Coffee Stained Tablecloth
A Few of Many Dozens of Elvis Costumes on Display
This Costume Featured a Bald Eagle and was Designed Especially for NBC’s Aloha from Hawaii Special
Size of Elvis’ Trophy Wall Says a Lot
For the house tour everyone was issued an iPad and a set of headphones. As you moved through the house and grounds you played audio that thoroughly described what you were seeing with photos. Additional photos and stories were available at the touch of a button. Although people tended to move through the place in groups, there was no one herding you along and you could actually take as much time as you liked. The décor ranged from traditional to wild, especially the Jungle Room.
The Estate was Already Named Graceland when Elvis Purchased It
Graceland Living Rom
Dining Room was Designed by Elvis’ Mother
Elvis Liked Lyndon Johnson’s Multiple TV Setup to Watch all Three Networks at Once
Multiple Decorators Spent Several Days Installing Fabric Ceiling and Wall Covering
The Famed Jungle Room Sometimes Served as a Recording Studio
Beyond the house were the grounds and outbuildings that included things like his garage, stables for his horses and his racketball building. We learned a lot about “The King” that we’d not known. Did you know he was a twin? His brother died at birth and then came Elvis. His mother had no idea she was carrying twins!! The last stop was his meditation garden where he, his parents, Pricilla and a grandson are buried.
Horses are Still Stabled on the Property
Elvis Actually Died in His Racketball Room
Visitors Pay Their Respects by the Family Graves
Returning to the museum, we toured his car and motorcycle collection, displays about movies he made and his two airplanes. As you entered each museum section there was always a gift shop but that really didn’t detract from the place. All in all, we spent about six enjoyable hours there, far longer that we’d anticipated.
Elvis Liked Trikes so Others Could Ride with Him
One of Elvis’ Stutz Blackhawks
Solar Company Midget Race Car was Sold as a Kit
One of Many of Elvis’ Cadillacs
Posters from a Couple of Elvis’ 31 Feature Films
Elvis Purchased this 1958 Convair 880 only Two Years Before He Died
Convair Cockpit was Very Basic by Todays Standards
Main Living Area Aboard
Bedroom Seems Pretty Conventional
Next on the list was Beale Street where the Memphis blues scene is centered. Leaving our camper in the Graceland lot, we took an Uber to get there. At first we were disappointed. The place looked beyond gritty and deserted. But, it was only 5:00 on a Monday evening. Unlike Nashville, which is busy all day long, this was way too early for this place to come alive.
Signs Arch Over Both Ends of Beale Street
Beale Looks Better at Night
We finally decided to go into B.B. King’s Blues Club, paid the cover charge and took bar seats in front of the stage. We were delighted when the band returned from their break. Memphis Jones was a great, three-piece band, that played all Memphis based music and related some of the history of that music and the town between the pieces they played. After two sets they were replaced by the B.B. King All Star Band. They were a seven-piece outfit that included trumpet, sax, guitar, drums, bass, keyboards and vocalist. They, too, were excellent. Both groups are house bands.
B.B. King’s Blues Club Occupies Corner at Head of Beal Street
Memphis Jones On Stage
B.B. King’s All Star Band Belts it Out
German Couple Touring the US
We sat next to and engaged with a well traveled couple from Germany who are touring parts of the US. Across the room a tour group arrived who were celebrating one of their member’s birthday. When Sandy pointed out that it was also Bill’s birthday both Dave and Bill got a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday.
It was about 10:00 when we finally boarded another Uber for the ride back to our camper. The driver insisted that we had to see the local Bass Pro Shop and the Pyramid. The building is a huge pyramid in form but was closing as we arrived. We promised we’d return to see it the next morning. Meanwhile, we admired the light show that plays on the “New Bridge” across the Mississippi.
Back at Graceland we discovered that barriers keep vehicles out of the parking lot at night. Bill had to move one out of the way to get out of the lot. That accomplished, we returned to the campground and it didn’t take long before we “hit the sack”.