Knoxville Carpark Mural
Knoxville Carpark Mural

To say that Nashville has opened my eyes, ears and taste buds to new heights is an understatement. The level of musicianship is sky-scraperingly good. The food options vary from organic, wholesome, tasty goodness to off the Richter-Scale sugar and cholesterol levels. And sights like the monstrous Opryland atrium spanning nine acres of lush indoor gardens including a river with a gondola, or the fifteen semi-trailers surrounding Broadway worth of Taylor Swift’s touring machinery must be seen to be believed. My violin has been lovingly repaired, restored and polished by talented Luthier Jennifer at the Fiddle House and the mighty Bushwackers have had a run of well-received shows at venues all over town during our involvement with the Americana Festival and Sounds Australia.

A Musicians Dream Sign
A Musicians Dream Sign

Musicians are taken care of by signs such as this on bustling Broadway. I so wanted to dismantle one and pack into my suitcase in order to temporarily place outside the front of certain performing venues in Sydney where No-Stopping signs are often conveniently situated. No wonder the musicians in Nashville are so approachable and happy in spite of only being remunerated by tips. Even when not touring with Paul Simon, his Drummer Jim Oblon performs regularly at the FooBar with a slick, four piece band as a blisteringly-good guitarist smashing out the blues and blues-inspired country standards for tips alone. He plays for the love of it and we all buy CD’s from him after seeing him walk around in the break with a tip bucket :-).

With Rick Price and Sam Hawksley at the Rutledge
With Rick Price and Sam Hawksley at the Rutledge

Which brings me to the Time Jumpers.  Any band with the likes of twenty-time Grammy award winner Vince Gill as a member, would not be playing for tips. I think not. They are playing for the love of it as this ten piece exquisite band are all individually in high demand outside of being a Time Jumper and this doesn’t stop any one of them showing up every single Monday Night at Third and Lindsley (with the exception of a coinciding world tour of course). Where to start with trying to describe the magnificent Time Jumper experience? A good place is probably with the fiddles. I have played in bands with more than one fiddle in my time but never have I heard anything as finely tuned, sweet sounding with killer intonation to match as that of the triple-fiddle tones of Larry Franklin, Kenny Sears and Joe Spivey. (I’d like to use every adjective for ‘Sublime’ found in the thesaurus to describe their sound but will settle for ‘Superlative’ for the moment). It’s jaw dropping to say the least and not once do any of them try to out-play or out-clever each other during their solo moments – their personalities are identified through their own playing each having something different to say, and then coming back together for their three-part distinguished sound.  Can it get any better?

Union Station Hotel Foyer
Union Station Hotel Foyer

Well yes it can because enter stage-left pedal-steel extraordinaire Paul Franklin, Nashville’s top session steel player for two decades. ‘All Aboard’ is an instrumental written by Paul and was one of my favourites of the night. Tuning into the associated train whistle noises created by all instruments on a bed of descending diminished chord-cluster made you feel as if you were actually on board the train. Eat your heart out ‘Orange Blossom Special’. Likewise, the reed work of Accordionist Jeff Taylor cuts through accurately and spell-bindingly – pure genius. Next,  additional Grammy Award winner veteran  ‘Ranger Doug’ Green arises from his seat behind the band and Yodels us all to Nirvana in a most chivalrous manner. If your eyes were closed, you’d be forgiven for thinking the lead guitar work subtly emanating from Andy Reiss would be Charlie Christian or Wes Montgomery. Every phrase tantamount to excellence. Drummer Billy Thomas (Robert Plant) and Bassist Dennis Crouch provide the back-bone with absolute first-class sensitivity and feel.

Dawn Sears, positioned regally at the front of the stage is now the second singer who has made me cry, Bonnie Raitt being the first and only till hearing Dawn. (I never attend a Bonnie concert without a box of Kleenex, and didn’t think to bring any to the Time Jumpers so know to do so next time. ) The delivery of her own composition ‘So Far Apart’ tears my heart apart it’s so hauntingly beautiful and the entire room is gob-smacked and mesmerised by her vocal propensity. We meet Joe Spivey at the bar during the break and he is very friendly and happy to give us his time and a picture with him. He tells us the Time Jumpers have literally just stepped off a plane from Switzerland where they had been performing at a country music festival, so please forgive us if we seem a bit faded due to travelling. You would never have picked that from these high level musicians (except for maybe Vince Gill donning a pair of shorts and a track-suit top).

What is the culinary element to this story you maybe wondering? Here it is. We obviously haven’t come here for the food tonight but at least there is salad with the option of Ranch dressing on the side at Third and Lindsley. Of more interest than an iceberg lettuce (which seemed to be the main ingredient in my mediterranean selection) was what I learned at the merchandise table where Jean, widow of original Time Jumper pedal steel player John Hughey who died in 2007, is seated. Jean still collects admission fees on the door and rarely misses a TJ performance and has many stories and happy to share them. I mention the fact I like to write about food and music adventures so she offers me this tasty morsel: “John and I spent many years on the road together, travelling to shows, criss-crossing all over the USA and we hated flying so we always drove, no matter how far the miles we weren’t ever getting on a plane if you paid us to! It’s a Southern tradition to put salted peanuts in the coke bottles and shake them up as the concoction enables you to stay awake for hours on end, and was the method we and other musicians used as a fatigue deterrent for driving such monumental distances”.

Peanuts in Coke? I laugh at the bizarreness and am perplexed but not at all surprised at this invention originating from the land also responsible for the creation of Peanut Butter and Chocolate together. Might take Jean’s advice and try Peanuts in Coke next time I drive to Tamworth 🙂

photoI was given a great tip-off for a gig tonight in Nashville. There was to be a house concert staged at The Violin Shop where none other than fiddler extraordinaire Aubrey Haynie would be appearing accompanied by a band of Bluegrass elite starring Sam Bush, Dennis Crouch, Alan O’Bryant and Brian Sutton. This gig was unadvertised and not promoted so felt very privileged to have been in the know thanks to Nashville based English no-slouch himself fiddler Eamon McLoughlin who let us in on the secret.

We were told only that the venue was on 8th Ave Nashville, no street number and Google Maps couldn’t find it either so made a special trip in the afternoon along the twenty kilometre long street eyes peeled when our driver and Musician friend Tom spotted it so knew where to return in the evening. In the car-park there was a BBQ oven in the shape of a steam-engine smoking away, in which was housed a side of pork being prepared for the evening’s festivities.

The Magnificent Violin Shop
The Magnificent Violin Shop

Later after satellite navigation confusion and a slight logistical drama trying to again locate the venue, we arrive back luckily just in time for the concert to commence. Champagne, Lobster and Caviar would most certainly be on the menu if I was hosting a House Concert back in Sydney with musicians of this calibre however we are in the deep south of America, so the steam-engine cooked pulled-pork rolls presented on sweet, doughy rolls are suitable for this occasion. Complimentary Chardonnay and Shiraz flowed civilly along with the omnipresent basket full of Hershey Chocolate bars.  I am listening to one of my most favourite  fiddle players of all time so the food here is of little importance as it is the music that really matters tonight. And it is, impeccable of course and I even got to Meet Aubrey afterwards, he is a most agreeable chap indeed.

Prince's Hot Chicken Shack
Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack

Our first night in Nashville is far from being over yet and Tom decides for us where our next destination will be. I have mentioned that I like to write about food and music adventures so he ponders this for a moment then has an idea for our next food experience. We jump in the car and drive around the spaghetti-western freeways to the other,  not so well-cowboy-heeled side of town and arrive at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. As the name suggests, this is exactly what they serve – Chicken and in varying degrees of heat starting from Mild through to Extra Hot and is a local specialty of Nashville. Portions of breast, thighs and wings are drenched in buttermilk, breadcrumbed then marinated in a heavily guarded secret blend of spices of which Cayenne Pepper is most abundant. They are then deep-fried and served up on slices of thick white bread which soaks up all of the oil, no salad leaf in sight. Presented in a grease-proof papered basket with ubiquitous potato chips adjacent, Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack is a cholesterol-lovers paradise and the restaurant is full at 11.30pm.

Being a chilli addict and not afraid I place an order through the small window in the fluorescent-lit shop for a quarter chicken ‘Hot’. With a quizzical stare the girl promptly retorts with, ‘Oh no you won’t, it’s too hot for you. You need mild or medium.’ How can she know what I need, I ask? She continues, ‘Not even my mother (who cooks in the Shack kitchen) eats the ‘Hot’ because the last time she did while pregnant twenty-four years ago, it sent her into early labour and I was born. So you want the Medium, and if it’s not hot enough bring it back and we’ll make sure it is but I don’t expect you’ll be back with this request.’ When I enquire about what’s in the spices she says ‘If I tell you, they will kill me.’

Musical Horses
Musical Horses

While waiting for the order, I take a few pictures of the Chicken and Jesus art displayed on the walls. The security guard approaches, who judging by his size and physique looks like he consumes nothing BUT Prince’s Hot Chicken everyday.  He tells me the pictures are FOR SALE, not for taking pictures of. He’s got a .45 Caliber Handgun strapped to his wide girth so I quickly delete them all.

The chicken arrives, the girl wasn’t wrong about the heat-factor and I do have to admit tasted great. Fat drenched white-bread and all, I will just drink green tea for the next four days to combat the digestion havoc that will undoubtedly result from this culinary experience.

Finger Pickin’ Good indeed 🙂