After a refreshing stop at our hotel, we hit the downtown Honky-Tonks.
Wasn’t that long ago folks didn’t feel safe in this part of the city, so say what one might about the evils of tourism, but it seems to me the abundance of neon lights has brightened Broadway with a lot of out-of-town cash and security. Whatever this place was full of in the past, speakeasies and whorehouses most likely, now, right next to age-old dives like Robert’s Western World and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, places that broke the hearts of millions of wanna-be stars through the decades, there are Hard Rock and Margaritaville franchises.
If you’re not safe that close to Margaritaville, where is anyone safe?
Anyway, there’s bar after bar, and to lure you in from the street, band after band play in front window after front window, and as we heard said many times while we were in Nashville, what those bands played was “not just country music.”
We saw fewer than half a dozen bands that night, most of them playing a mix of classic rock and popular country tunes, some with a distinct hillbilly flavor, some not so much. Our plan was to have one beer per bar and hit as many of these Nashville Honky-Tonks as we could.
But leaving can be hard to do.
Ask any country song writer.
And I’m starting to learn I have to pace myself different than I did a few rough patches ago.
Two acts stood out:
The Eskimo Brothers were a three piece Rockabilly crew: a front man guitarist, a drummer, and one of Nashville’s top upright bassists. They looked like the Stray Cats used to look, played good original songs, picked cool, unexpected covers to perform, and in their most tuned-in stage moments edged towards Jerry Lee Lewis levels of enthusiasm.
In Printer’s Alley, a part of downtown with an inland Fells Point feel and a haunted air, we caught Whitey Johnson at the Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar. Whitey Johnson is a stage persona of songwriter Gary Nicholson, a Nashville veteran who’s worked with everybody from one-namers like Willie, Garth, and Reba to left-field collaborators like Ringo Starr and Fleetwood Mac. He’s written for or with everybody from B.B King and the Neville Brothers to the Dixie Chicks and the Blues Brothers. Members of his band have played with such artists as Bob Dylan and Stevie Ray Vaughn.
And man, do they put on a funky good show.
They had folks up and dancing. That kind of dancing where you ought to know a little bit about what you’re doing. Me, I’m more of a freestyler. I can screw up the hokey-pokey and they tell you right in the lyrics of the song when to put your left leg in.
But these folks were getting it.
A group of hipster chicks. A table of couples. An old bi-racial couple, he just as dammed dapper as they come in a sleek suit, natty matching tie and pocket square, and a side-cocked fedora. His partner was kickin’ it more down-home, style-wise.
A pretty young Asian woman jitterbugged with a drunken old street fellow like they were looking to win a contest.
At least, until he bounced off a few too many tables between songs and the bouncers bounced him out of there.
There were skinny young metrosexual dudes who the girls never allowed to leave the dance floor.
We had the feeling they were probably getting laid more than the musicians on stage, who, after all, had a job to do.
We finished our night with barbecue and beers at Jack’s on Broadway. As in many places around Nashville, there were autographed celebrity 8x10s all over the walls.
We dined under the protective photographic shade of Dolly Parton’s bosom.
At one point mid-evening, on this night of the Grand Jury verdict announcement in Ferguson, Missouri, a few dozen protesters paraded down the street. The band on stage rubbernecked the marchers from their street side window perch just inside Robert’s front door.
I read in the newspaper the next day that the protesters had started at the police station, marched through a few major streets, and were greeted by the police back at headquarters with cups of hot chocolate.
Now, that’s a cool town, dammit.
That next morning, around 4 a.m., I stepped out of bed in that pitch dark hotel room to go pee, stepped on the floor air conditioner unit and fell forward, striking my forehead, or as my friends call it, my fivehead, square on the concrete corner of the recessed window. Blood flowed, and a knot the size of a golf ball appeared. At my insistence, we performed hotel room emergency procedures with Band-Aids and a snack room ice pack.
Maybe I should have gone to a hospital, but I felt lucky I didn’t land on and break my nose, and I wasn’t concussed, so I figured abrofuted balmoratinacruh mortvun gorf rustondipple.
It hurt like hell, and I had to wear a ball cap most of the rest of the time we were in Nashville, but the Band-Aids worked, the knot went down quickly, and I am no worse for wear.
Despite my recurring dreams of a dancing slice of big-foreheaded chocolate pepper pie wearing blue suede shoes.
TOMORROW: THE OPRY, THE COMEDIAN & THE SOMALI PATRIOT