Five days in Tennessee were planned on the fly, given Hurricane Irma smashing our plans, but they were certainly a gift for us, after what was really becoming a bit too long sitting around in Florida. Thanks to the outflow of Irma evacuees, the 4-hour bus ride to Nashville from Atlanta ended up taking 8 hours, so we sure were glad to hop out of that Megabus and into one big fat Nashville party.
Everywhere you look are “pedal buses” (can’t think why no one has discovered Perth would be prime market) catering to an apparently booming bachelor and bachelorette party scene. Everywhere you look, hilarity and good-natured stumbling abound.
“Is it always like this?” I asked our Uber driver as crowds eddied round the car.
“Always, baby, always,” Yolanda told me.
We happened to coincide with Wizarding World Comic-Con, AND, a live discussion with Brian O’Halloran (Dante from Kevin Smith cult classic Clerks) and Jason Mewes, Jay of ‘Jay and Silent Bob’ who shot to fame in Clerks and remain a beloved element of most Smith films since. Yep, Mewes is just as silly and lovable as his on-screen persona and, amid teasing the sign language translators with his potty mouth, told some awesome insider stories about working with Smith and the gang, including about what it was like to meet the legendary Stan Lee and what it was like to work on the Mallrats set!
Snoochie-boochies aside, Nashville was all about the music. Even their bus seats are upholstered with treble clefs. We visited the Country Music Hall of Fame and scored last-minute tickets to the Grand Ole Opry, a live country music radio show that has been going for the best part of a century, and was for many decades the principal way new music spread throughout the state and beyond. We wandered the streets – there is live music in just about every bar, all day, every day – soaking in the vibe.
The vibe continued all the way to Memphis, which is also all about the music, but with a stronger focus on the blues and rock’n’roll. The excellent Rock and Soul Museum continued our crash course in modern music history, continuing the story of how such elements as slavery, the cotton picking industry, the push for civil rights and the development of independent record labels and recording studios all helped usher in new styles of music for a new era, culminating in the birth of rock’n’roll.
Yes, we went to Graceland and were amazed to find that even Elvis’ legendary extravagance was frankly rather elegant and restrained compared to the flagrant festival of consumption we see in many American households we pass through. Looking at his way-out but gorgeous furnishings really gave a sense of Elvis the person and was unexpectedly moving.
Memphis, not to be outdone by Nashville, also has live music streaming from every pub, particularly on the legendary Beale Street. The street is now a glitzy tourist trap rather than a beating musical heart, but is still worth a walk and a bar-hop, just for the bands. But you don’t have to be on Beale Street to hear a band in Memphis – we stayed not downtown but in Midtown’s Cooper-Young, an area that reminded us a lot of Perth’s inner-ring suburbs, and this was not only a welcome feeling but an awesome place to stay just for the wealth of music and food options to choose from.
Speaking of food: Nashville is famous for its hot fried chicken, and our biggest success in town was the heavenly Biscuit Love in The Gulch – well worth the wait. For those who missed a previous StuMobservation, Americans call scones “biscuits” and in the south, traditionally eat them with fried chicken and/or a kind of white gravy laden with sausage as part of a savoury breakfast. Crazy Americans and their delicious craziness.
Memphis, on the other hand, is all about the barbecue. A quick lesson: in America, barbecue is the art of slow-smoking meat, particularly pork, until it is falling apart and flavoursome, and is close to a national religion. It also varies by region. In the Carolinas and Georgia we ate “whole hog” smoked in a vinegary sauce with the fat “chopped” into the final product. In Memphis, barbecue generally means pork ribs, either “dry” (rubbed with dry spice mix pre-cooking) or “wet rub”, basted with a liquid-based sauce during cooking then doused with BBQ sauce to eat. We won’t even go into the sauces right now. In Texas, it’ll be another barbecue story altogether.
The best food by far was the dry rub at Central BBQ (visitors, don’t listen to all the hype about Blues City and Rendezvous – go directly to Central). Banana pudding and peach cobbler are the big names in desserts in this part of the south, as well as the pecan pie – pecans are plentiful as they are grown in the south and they feature on most dessert menus. We hadn’t managed to find a peach cobbler, yet, but indulged at length in banana pudding (Central also wins for banana pudding). In case you’re wondering, we’re tending to share meals in order to limit the damage 😉
Meat aside, it was really beautiful to see cities nurturing and honouring musical culture, and it certainly made going out nicer – not just all about the booze, despite what the pictures might suggest!
- Would come back just for the pork.
- The pork is so tasty it doesn’t need BBQ sauce.
- The BBQ sauce they have goes really well with pork.
- The pork ribs just fall off the bone.
- You can get pork crackle as a side with your pork.
- Central BBQ has better pork than you.
- I ordered the pork sausage instead of dessert, they chopped it up and served it in a bowl with a spoon. #Porklife
- We did other things between porks that weren’t boaring.
What we’re reading
Em: Here I Am, Jonathan Safran Foer
Stu: Blood of Requiem, Daniel Arenson
What we’re listening to
Shania Twain’s Come on Over as a soundtrack for a lot of punishing squats. We learned this album was the best selling record by any female artist of all time!
What we’re watching
Twin Peaks finale… what the hell was that?! We wanted closure, David Lynch! Also, the IT movie rocked. Everyone in the cinema clapped at the end. It was a lovely moment of solidarity with the Americans. Go see it.