Monthly Archives: August 2007

The Peabody Ducks

The oldest and, short of the Heartbreak Hotel at Graceland, surely the coolest place to stay in Memphis, the Peabody Hotel is known for its world-class restaurants, the super hip Lansky Bros. boutiques (started by the clothier to the King himself!) in its lobby, and of course, the world-famous Peabody Ducks.

The Peabody Hotel, Memphis

Residing in a penthouse suite upstairs (yes, they actually live there!) the Peabody Ducks spend their days relaxing in and around a lavish Romanesque fountain in the hotel’s lobby, pictured below.

Apparently the whole thing started as a whiskey-fueled prank pulled by the hotel’s General Manager and a hunting buddy in the early-1930’s. After drinking way too much Tennessee sipping whiskey, the two decided to place some decoy ducks in the hotel’s fountain. Guests found this charming, so the owners brought in real live ducks and bang…a beloved Memphis tradition was born.

Fountain @ The Peabody Hotel, Memphis

Every morning at 11:00am, the ducks step off the elevator and waltz down a red carpet in the lobby to the rousing music of John Philip Sousa.

Led by the red-suited Duckmaster (pictured below) the ducks make their way to the fountain where they bask in the glow of tourist’s flashbulbs for the rest of the day. Then, at 5:00pm (on the dot!) the Duckmaster returns and leads them back down the red carpet to the elevator and their waiting penthouse beyond.

The Duckmaster!

After touring Sun Recording Studio in the morning, Christine and I met Mom in the Peabody lobby a little before 11:00am and the crowd of eager duck-watchers was already at a fever pitch.

I’m not kidding, it was insanity. I almost came to blows with a snarky hillbilly chick who said I pushed her, which was not true. I bumped her, ON ACCIDENT, with my backpack. But, man, did I want to push her after that. Crazy!

Unfortunately, since it was such a mob scene around the red carpet during their actual march to the fountain, these more sedate pictures of the ducks (taken the day before) will have to do.

The Peabody Ducks, up close!

Pretty fancy looking plumage for a duck, huh? Even Christine, an avowed bird hater from way back, pronounced the ducks cute and almost petted one…almost.


Filed under Do

Legendary Sun Studios

We tried coming here the day before and were told that every tour that day was sold out…every single tour! Wow. So, Christine and I came back first thing the next morning and managed to score tickets for the 9:40am tour. I know…early.

Legendary Sun Studios, Memphis

But, hey, early or not, there was no way we were gonna miss out on a visit to Sun Records Recording Studio, home away from home to many of music’s most iconic figures and quite literally the birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Rock.

Our rockabilly tour guide put it best when she said: “It’s been written that if music was a religion, then Memphis would be Jerusalem, and Sun Studio would be it’s most sacred shrine.” And man, was she right. Being here was truly a religious experience for us both.

Wall outside Sun Studio

Even before an 18 year-old Elvis stepped through the front door to record a couple of songs for his Momma’s birthday, pioneering producer/Sun Records founder Sam Phillips was making music history at Sun with blues artists like Howling Wolf, Rufus Thomas, B.B. King and Ike Turner’s former band, Jackie Brenston And His Delta Cats, who recorded the first true rock ‘n’ roll song, “Rocket 88″here in March of 1951.

Bean @ Sun!

Originally known as the Memphis Recording Service — a place where anyone who paid their $3.25 could make a record — Phillips turned the tiny building on the corner into a world-class recording studio that is still in operation today with acts like REM, U2, Paul Simon and Beck lining up to record on the hallowed ground where Elvis Presley first stepped behind a microphone to record his seminal rock ‘n’ roll hit, “That’s All Right (Mama)”.

Memphis Recording Studio Neon

Aside from Elvis’ brief stay at the label (Phillips sold Presley’s contract to RCA in the fall of 1955 to settle an unrelated lawsuit that had nearly bankrupted the company) Sun Records was also home to legends like Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins.

Inside Sun Records Recording Booth

Legend has it that when Elvis (his star already well on the rise) stopped by Sun to visit Phillips one December day in 1956, he heard Perkins recording in the studio and decided to join him in an impromptu jam session. When Jerry Lee Lewis joined the pair, Phillips immediately called Johnny Cash at home and told him to hurry down to the studio, where the foursome joked around on tape and recorded together for the rest of the afternoon.

Labeled by the media-savvy Phillips as the Million Dollar Quartet, this one time gathering of the greats was immortalized in the now famous photograph shown behind my head in the picture below.

The Million Dollar Quintet

The tour (a steal at $10 per person) begins upstairs in a small room above the studio that is full of super cool stuff that, sadly, does not photograph well sans flash (they have a pretty strict no-flash-photography rule, upstairs at least).

But the loot up there is first rate — they have some of Elvis’ suits, dozens of original records and promo posters from various Sun artists and a treasure trove of instruments — the coolest thing is that everything the tour guide tells you is punctuated with the actual recordings she is talking about. And the music just chills you, baby. Seriously, the goosebump factor was off the charts.

Elvis & Roy!

Cool Wall Of Fame Stuff

Moving downstairs, you stop just outside the recording studio at the old front office. Here they have meticulously preserved the desk of Sam Phillip’s secretary, Marion Keisker. The first person to hear Elvis’ voice on tape, Keisker (pictured below with Elvis and Phillips) did the actual recording the day Elvis, the “White kid who sings Black” walked in off the street to make a record for Momma.

Pretty cool, huh? Just wait…it gets even better.

Marion Keisker’s Desk

Sam, Elvis & Marion

Stepping inside the studio, the first thing you see is a small “X” marked on the floor with tape. This folks, is the exact spot where Elvis Presley stood to record “That’s All Right (Mama)” in 1954. Whoa!

If you had told me the day before that a worn old piece of black tape would give me the chills, I would not have believed you. But it did. Big time! Hallowed ground indeed.

The exact spot where Elvis stood!

And then, the true highlight of the tour…just beyond the tape is the actual microphone Elvis used to record. And not only can you pose with it — which, as you can see we both eagerly did — but you can actually TOUCH it too.

I thought Christine was gonna faint. Seriously, she is kind of a fainter.

Christine @ Elvis’ Mic!

Tom @ Elvis’ Mic

All in all, the tour was spectacular. And after fighting off the crowds (there were already two packed tour buses there at 9:00am!) to buy some Sun gear, we somehow snagged a table at the original Sun Cafe — which is little more than a lunch counter and two small booths nestled inside the store — where we shared a coffee and a fantastic chocolate malt for breakfast.

Surely, Elvis would approve…

Me & Mr. Malty


Filed under Do

Graceland: Part V

The sun setting over Graceland, we enjoyed the remarkably good Elvis “tribute artists” in the plaza — practically all of whom were non-native English speakers! — and mingled with the crowd of super cool Elvis look alikes. My favorites were the late-Elvis super fan couple pictured below.

Me and the Elvis Couple!

This dude was so devoted that he was braving the crowds and the heat (in costume!) while toting an oxygen tank!

Unfortunately, he disconnected from his tank for the picture, but he was really cool and when I asked his wife if she was hot in that plastic wig she had on, she answered: “Yeah, but it’s for the King.” Awesome!

Christine, Italian Elvis and bad-wig Elvis!

Christine loved the Chris-Isaak-ish Italian Elvis (pictured above) and then just before I snapped the pic, that old grizzled Elvis in the blue jumpsuit appeared. Wow, two Presleys for the price of one!

Snuggled up behind the girls in the next pic was the best singer of the bunch, another Italian Elvis who really rocked the tent!

The girls and the best singing Italian Elvis @ Graceland!

But I think our favorite guy there was the Indian Elvis (not pictured) who kept checking his hair in a mirror. Hilarious!

Despite the withering heat — Courtney and Mom tried to sit down on the curb and actually burned their butts! Seriously! — we were enjoying the Elvis parade in the plaza and then, before we knew it, 8:15pm was upon us. The candlelight vigil, arguably the defining moment of Elvis Week 2007, was about to begin outside the mansion!

An annual event for years, the candlelight vigil begins at nightfall, on the eve of the King’s death on August 16th, 1977, with the closing of Elvis Presley Blvd. to thru traffic. Almost instantly, the street floods with candle-toting fans who gather around the gates for a series of speeches by specially-selected members of Elvis’ many international fan clubs.

The candlelight vigil begins!

The speeches were surprisingly moving but the kicker was when they started playing actual Elvis songs over the deluxe speakers on the lawn. I’m not kidding you, not a dry eye on the boulevard!

Lighting our candles — generously supplied for free at little tables all up and down the block — we held them over our heads and began to sing along.

Honestly, you haven’t lived till you’ve heard 75,000 weeping, candle-toting Elvis fans singing along to “If I Can Dream”. Probably one of the coolest things any of us has ever experienced…really, profoundly beautiful!

Candlelight vigil @ Graceland!

So, holding our candles high, we sang along through “Love Me Tender” and “The Wonder Of You” before finally succumbing to the heat — not to mention the frenzied emotion! — and making our way back to the car.

The vigil continued throughout the night with the snaking line outside the gates making their way onto the property to pay their respects at Elvis’ grave. We didn’t stay for that, but the sight of all those flickering candles in the rearview mirror as we drove off was really something to behold.

A fitting end to a truly amazing day at Graceland. Thank you, Elvis!

Our last emotional pic @ Graceland!

1 Comment

Filed under Do

Graceland: Part IV

Now that we’d eaten that famous sandwich, toured the mansion, and mourned at the grave, we set off to see the rest of Graceland.

While all the museums were awesome in their own way, the highlights for us were the jumpsuits in the “Sincerely Elvis” museum, the “Elvis After Dark” museum and those insanely cool airplanes on the tarmac! Let’s start with the planes…

The “Lisa Marie” @ Graceland!

Located just beyond the main gates are not just one, but two of Elvis Presley’s airplanes: a smaller commuter jet with a swinging interior that would leave Austin Power’s lime green with envy, and the super luxe, converted Convair 880, the “Lisa Marie”.

Purchased from Delta Airlines in 1975, Elvis had the 96-passenger jet completely refurbished to the tune of $800,000.00. His renovations included a full conference room, two bedrooms and a 24 karat gold sink in the bathroom (pictured below).

Stock photo of the gold sink on the “Lisa Marie”!

But the coolest thing to us was what he actually used the plane for.

When Elvis learned that a young Lisa Marie had never seen snow, he famously packed her and his entire posse onto the plane and promptly flew to Denver, Colorado so his daughter could build a snowman. They landed, played in the snow for a few minutes, then hopped back on the plane and headed home to Memphis! Wow…thanks, dad!

Just beyond the planes on your left is another sprawling museum called “Sincerely Elvis”. This one is jammed with row upon row of the dazzling, jewel-encrusted jumpsuits that made the late-career Elvis so freaking awesome!

Cool Elvis jumpsuits @ Graceland!

There are literally hundreds of jumpsuits in this place (as well as in the other museums around the park) but pictured here are some of our favorites.

Elvis’ Aztec Calendar jumpsuit, Graceland!

Elvis’ Tiger jumpsuit, Graceland!

And finally, we come to the “Elvis After Dark” museum. This was the last Graceland museum we visited, and since it’s a little further away from the others — and our dogs were barking BIG TIME! — we almost didn’t make the hike out there. But thank God we did, because here was true Elvis-mania at it’s finest.

A notorious night owl, Elvis lived for the wee small hours (I hear ya, brother!) and this museum is dedicated to all the crazy stuff he and his posse would do “after dark” at Graceland — no prescription drug jokes please.

Housed here is Elvis’ extensive police badge collection, various games and music but best of all, an actual TV that Elvis shot out with a pistol in the mid-70’s (below). Kudos to Vernon and Minnie Mae for saving that thing! So, cool!

TV that Elvis shot out with a gun, Graceland!

But wait, it gets even cooler…

Not only is this museum home to the pimped-out velvet cape/suit that Elvis wore when he famously “dropped in” on President Richard Nixon on December 21, 1970…but in the next display case over is the actual plain gray suit that “Tricky Dick” wore that day as well! Whoa, who knew THIS would be at Graceland?

Nixon’s suit from his meeting with Elvis in

Needless to say, this museum was definitely worth the schlep out there, and the gift store outside the main entrance is probably one of the best at Graceland. We bought a cool, gold-plated Graceland Christmas ornament that I’m sure our ancestors will cherish.

Reconnecting with Mom and Courtney — who were chilling with beers and lemonade while we braved the last couple of museums — we scored some folding chairs in the plaza (actually more like a converted parking lot) and watched the Elvis impersonators sing while we waited with the ever-expanding crowd for the candlelight vigil to begin!


Filed under Do

Graceland: Part III

Since we lacked the foresight (or the space in the back of Mom’s car for that matter) to actually bring a cool homemade memorial wreath with us to Graceland, I begin this post with something I created after our visit.

Red Elvis #1

Featured above is my lovingly-rendered comic book-ized tribute to Elvis Week 2007. I call it RED ELVIS #1, and yes, I know I am a total nerd bird. All I can say in my defense is that perhaps once you experience the genuine outpouring of crazy fan love and devotion at Graceland for yourself, you’ll be moved to create some Elvis “art” of your own as well. Or…maybe not, who knows?

Flowers For Elvis #1

In any case, the rest of the pics here are of the actual arrangements, wreaths, cards and photo collages that fans from around the world sent to Graceland in honor of the King’s passing.

Imagine the shipping costs on some of these things…yikes.

Flowers For Elvis #2

The groundskeepers at Graceland (who are legion) said massive floral arrangements like these arrive every day of the week all year long.

Flowers For Elvis #3

Flowers For Elvis #5

Flowers For Elvis #4

Of course, the number of arrangements arriving increases dramatically during Elvis Week and around his birthday in January, but regardless of the time of year, whatever floral craziness arrives at the front gates is immediately put on display and tended to until it fades and/or dies. Pretty amazing, huh?

Flowers For Elvis #6

Flowers For Elvis #7

Anyway, hope you dig the pics, my favorite is the last one, the swinging crown with the golden guitars on it…so cool!

And hey, if any of you cats have some Elvis “art” you’d like to add to the gallery here, send it my way and I’ll slap it up on the virtual wall next to my boy, RED ELVIS #1.

Flowers For Elvis #7

Flowers For Elvis #8

Flowers For Elvis #9

Flowers For Elvis #11

Flowers For Elvis #12




Filed under Do, Make

Graceland: Part II

As a child Elvis promised his mother Gladys that: “One day, I’ll make money. I’ll be somebody and I’ll take care of you. And Momma, you’ll never have to work on your hands and knees again. I’ll buy you the prettiest house in Memphis…”

And in the spring of 1957, Elvis kept that promise when he bought the Graceland mansion (pictured below) and grounds for $102,500.00.

Graceland Mansion!

Beautifully landscaped with gigantic shade trees, the front yard is massive and even cluttered with lights, news vans and reporters (the press was literally EVERYWHERE you looked at Graceland during Elvis Week) the house is stunning to behold.

Stepping off the shuttle bus — after a brief drive across Elvis Presley Blvd. and through the mythic front gates — we made our way to the door where a Guide helped everyone sync up their audio tour headsets then ushered us inside the House Of Presley. And let me tell ya, stepping across the threshold was the first of many goosebump-inducing moments that day.

Inside on your immediate right is the white-on-white Peacock Room, the site of Elvis’ funeral on August 16th, 1977 and for years before that, the most used room in the house.

The Peacock Room @ Graceland!

Priscilla has called this room (pictured above) a truly lived-in living room. This is where the family opened their Christmas presents each year and the room’s epic, fifteen-foot couch was just as likely to play host to one of Priscilla’s many great danes as it was to welcome a visiting celebrity guest.

On the far left wall there is a super cool photo/portrait of Elvis that his father, Vernon, had hanging from a thumbtack in his office for years. When the home was opened to tours in 1982, Vernon had the portrait (seen below) framed and hung where it is now, directly across the room from a similar portrait of Vernon.

A very sweet, familial touch to an insanely decadent living room.

Elvis portrait in Peacock Room, Graceland!

Across the hall from the Peacock Room is a surprisingly intimate formal dining room, the highlight of which is a really cool, totally-70’s portrait of Priscilla and Lisa Marie that unfortunately did not photograph well minus a flash. Sorry.

Moving past the ornate, roped-off staircase — the entire second story of the mansion is off limits to tours and literally hidden behind dark curtains at the top of the stairs — you move down the hall towards the bedroom of Gladys and Vernon Presley, Elvis’ parents.

The room is nice, but the coolest thing here are the dresses hanging behind the glass in Gladys’ closet (not pictured, but just this side of the bed in the photo below). Though they are probably very expensive, the gowns are just as plain and dowdy as the simple house dresses she wore while raising her young son in near poverty in Tupelo, Mississippi. A sweet, humble woman to the end, no wonder Elvis loved her so much!

Gladys & Vernon Presley’s bedroom, Graceland!

Exiting the Presley’s bedroom, you head down a mirrored staircase (with mirrors on the walls AND the ceiling!) towards the crazy cool yellow and blue TV Room.

Inside, a gigantic record player/sound system and retractable movie screen are built into the ceiling above a row of three TV’s on the far wall. With each TV dedicated to one of the major networks at the time — an idea Elvis copied from President Nixon — Elvis could watch all three channels at once and often did.

Today the TV’s play a constant loop of early-70’s shows and even with the sound muted, the visuals give the room a really groovy, vintage vibe.

The TV Room @ Graceland!

There is also a long bar crafted of bright yellow leather and another doozy of a couch with a freaky Michael Jackson-ish monkey statue (pictured above) on the coffee table. And though you can’t really see it in my picture, Elvis’ moto “TCB” (Takin’ Care of Business) is emblazoned above a shiny lightening bolt on the wall behind the couch. Very cool!

Exiting the TV room and the small, closet space that doubled as the 35 mm projection room, you enter the funkiest room on the entire tour, the Pool Room.

Inspired by a swatch of swinging, psychedelic fabric Elvis and then-girlfriend, Linda Thompson fell in love with at a designer’s showroom in 1974, the room is covered floor to ceiling with over 350 yards of gathered fabric.

Stock photo of the Pool Room @ Graceland!

So over the top that it’s almost beautiful, the room gives the word “busy” a whole new meaning. Seriously, I don’t know how you could concentrate on a game of pool with all that crazy-ass fabric screaming at you…yikes!

Heading back upstairs you enter the room that for many fans is the heart and soul of Graceland…the world-famous Jungle Room.

Unfortunately, the room was kind of in a shambles as a CNN production crew was moving the furniture around for a Larry King interview with Priscilla scheduled for later that afternoon. So though we didn’t see the room at its postcard-ready finest, we did get to hear the gentle cascading of the built-in waterfall and run our fingers through the thick green shag carpeting on the walls and floor, so for us, that was enough!

Stock photo of the Jungle Room @ Graceland!

Exiting the Jungle Room you enter a small museum dedicated to Elvis’ favorite hobbies, with some books from his library, his Kung Fu outfits and a huge case of really cool monogrammed firearms. On the opposite wall is the crib where Lisa Marie slept and the actual Las Vegas wedding attire of both Elvis and Priscilla. Really cool stuff!

You then head outside past Lisa Marie’s childhood swing set — which many people have said contains a bullet hole from an errant shot by a trigger-happy Elvis — into Vernon’s office and the smokehouse, before following a garden path into the first of several award rooms.

Lisa Marie’s bullet-hole ridden swing set! Cool!

Filled with various awards (his three Grammys, gold records, etc.) won by the King over his long career, the room is amazing. Sadly, many of my flash-free pictures here didn’t turn out, but one of our favorite things in these rooms was the leather suit Elvis wore on his groundbreaking “’68 Comeback Special” on NBC.

So, though my photo was too crap-tastic to share with y’all here, please enjoy this stock photo I found online. Cool, huh?

Elvis’ leather jumpsuit from the “‘68 Comeback Special”!

After exploring the awards room to the fullest (we spent at LEAST an hour in there!) you enter the Racquetball Room, which contains a piano where Elvis sang “Unchained Melody” with some friends on the morning of his death.

Now, I am not kidding you, at this point in the audio tour, EVERYONE in that room was weeping. It was that dramatic! And when Priscilla’s quivering voice comes on and tells you where she was when she got the news that Elvis had died (in case you were wondering, she was watching a movie in a theatre in L.A.) there was not a dry eye in the house. It was insanely moving!

Then, the booming music of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathrustra” (more commonly known as the theme to the film “2001: A Space Odyssey “) fills your ears as you enter the towering former racquetball court.

The Raquetball Room @ Graceland!

Dripping with gold albums, awards and sparkly sequined jumpsuits, the room literally takes your breath away. And with tears running down our faces, we soaked up the magic one last time before heading outside for the final stop on the audio tour…the Meditation Garden.

Located in a very peaceful u-shaped garden area just behind the swimming pool, the Meditation Garden is home to the graves of Elvis’ mother, Gladys; Elvis’ stillborn twin brother, Jessie Garon Presley; his father, Vernon; aunt Minnie Mae Presley, and yes, the King himself, Elvis Aaron Presley.

Original tombstone for Gladys Presley @ Graceland

Here again the tears flow freely. I think my Mom said it best when she said that after touring his house for so long and getting such a sense of who Elvis was as an artist and a man, you kind of forgot till the end of the tour that he is actually dead. And yeah, you kind of do. So when you reach that grave site, man alive, what a blow!

And we weren’t even that big of fans before. Judging from the sniffling of the crowd, the true blue fans (even grown men!) were really dying inside. I know it sounds crazy, but it really was that emotional.

Elvis Presley’s grave @ Graceland!

So, after waiting in line to pay our respects as his grave, we made our way through the sea of flowers and cards (which you’ll see more of in the next post) back towards the waiting shuttle bus and the ancillary museums beyond.

For though our tour of the mansion and grounds was complete, there was still much to do and see at Graceland!


Filed under Do

Graceland: Part I

Before we left for our trip, we were warned by my brother Ryan — the only person we knew who had ever actually been there — to plan on spending a LOT of time at Graceland.

And man, he wasn’t kidding. One day wasn’t nearly enough!

Main Entrance to Graceland!

Everything we did at Graceland was so cool and fun that describing our experiences there could literally fill volumes, so in the interest of time, I’ll condense the visit down into small, bite-size chapters (hence the ominous “Part I” mentioned above) for your reading pleasure.

That said, let’s start at the beginning. We arrived at Graceland just after 1pm and were stunned by the totally rinky-dink infrastructure. The parking lot was tiny and not even remotely as organized as it could be — you know, “You are parked in Section H for ‘Hound Dog!'” like they used to do at Disneyland — I mean, even just numbered sections would be nice.

It was pretty much a hillbilly free for all, but somehow in the flood of cars surging through the gates, we found a sweet parking spot near the main entrance. Thank you, Elvis!

Graceland Parking Lot!

Armed with our cameras and Elvis fans (embossed with the slogan “#1 Fan”, they were Courtney and Christine’s saving grace since we couldn’t find matching t-shirts in our size range) we followed the scent of BBQ hamburgers towards the only restaurant around.

Which brings up another infrastructure problem, there is practically nowhere to eat at Graceland. Seriously, my inner Walt Disney was screaming to slap up a couple themed restaurants — you know, “Colonel Parker’s Chicken Shack”, “Priscilla’s Rib Hut”, etc. — but my dreams of modernizing the food court at Graceland would have to wait as we were absolutely starving!

The only place to eat @ Graceland!

Ducking into the only restaurant in the area, we were instantly overwhelmed by the crowd. The picture above does not do that joint justice…because, let me tell ya, that place was packed!

And with upwards of 50-to-70,000 people in attendance that day alone they actually ran out of food about ten minutes after we ordered. Yes, they literally ran out of food to sell. Insanity!

A couple of the surly waitresses locked the doors to keep the hungry throngs at bay, but I swear to God, I thought people were gonna riot.

The infamous fried Peanut Butter & Banana sandwich!

Lucky for us we had secured a safe haven (a row of four barstools at the back of the restaurant) so we were able to avoid the fireworks out front. And then, our lunch arrived!

Picture the most ordinary hamburger you’d find at any theme park and you have this place pegged. Nothing fancy, but here at this no name restaurant near the parking lot, with people banging on the doors out front, we experienced one of the true culinary highlights of our trip: Elvis’ late-night favorite, the legendary fried peanut butter and banana sandwich!

Pictured above with a side salad, though it usually comes with fries (!), this sandwich is so grease-tastic, you can almost hear yourself getting fatter as you eat it. And yes, that’s a compliment!

Elvis had the right idea, baby! This sandwich rocks!

The girls each had the obligatory bite, followed by the obligatory gag, but I thought it was pretty damn tasty…if not exactly marriage-worthy on my food scale, then surely worthy of a trip to the drive-in in my van.

My only complaint is that they used smooth peanut butter and mashed it together with the bananas. Chunky peanut butter and whole slices of banana would have been much better and way more rustic to boot.

Inside Elvis Presley’s favorite sandwich!

But hey, we were eating Elvis’ favorite fried food mere steps away from his final resting place…who were we to complain?

So, our bellies full, we checked in at the ticket booth (thankfully I had pre-ordered our tickets online weeks earlier, which allowed us to cut to the front of the reserved ticket line!) and joined the rabid fans waiting for the next Graceland shuttle bus.

Gigantic Graceland Ticket!

We purchased the mid-level Graceland Platinum Tour (a steal at $27.00 per person!) which includes an audio guided tour of the mansion and grounds along with a self-guided tour of Elvis’ two custom airplanes (yes, he had two!), Elvis’ automobile museum, the Sincerely Elvis Museum (mostly filled with his super cool jumpsuits!) and finally, the Elvis After Dark museum which I’ll tell you more about later.

Courtney, Christine & Mom in line @ Graceland!

And even though it was roasting outside — we later heard that the temperature peaked at 115 degrees that day! Yikes! — we were so excited to be waiting in line to see the home of the King, that the gentle Southern breeze generated by our matching Elvis fans was more than enough to keep us cool.

Courtney, Mom & Me in line @ Graceland!

Me & Christine in line @ Graceland!

Having finally reached the gates of Graceland, we were ready to step inside!

1 Comment

Filed under Do, Eat

Memphis Ribs: Dry vs. Wet

Anyone who’s been there can tell you that there are two very distinct schools of thought when it comes to smoky, down-home Memphis BBQ.

Those who like their ribs “wet” — slathered with BBQ sauce BEFORE they are smoked for hours at a time — and those who like their ribs “dry” — rubbed down with a spicy dry rub before they too are smoked for hours at a time.

Being the good tourists that we were, we decided to try them both. So, after soaking up the Elvis love on Beale Street we made our way to the epicenter of the “dry” rib revolution: the world-famous Rendezvous restaurant in downtown Memphis.

RENDEZVOUS in downtown, Memphis

Located halfway down a dark alley off of Union St., Rendezvous has been serving their secret recipe dry rub ribs to Presidents (Carter, Clinton, both Bushes, even presidential hopeful, Barack Obama) world-leaders (the Premier of Japan was a recent guest!) and celebrities (Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise and Tina Sinatra are just a few of their Hollywood regulars) in the smoky halls of their basement locale since 1948.

The walls are covered with old pictures and newspaper clippings and the place has this kind of speakeasy vibe that is really cool. Stepping inside, you move down a long flight of stairs into the main dining room where almost immediately you begin drooling like a madman as you are practically knocked to the ground by the aroma of smoked pork ribs.

Seriously, I thought my brother-in-law Rob’s smoker smelled good, but this place…wow…if they made a cologne of that scent, I’d wear it daily!

We put our name on the list, had a pitcher of beer at the bar (Bud, which is all they serve) and before we knew it, we were being ushered to our table where we promptly ordered the specialty of the house, a full-rack of dry rub pork ribs with two sides (red beans & rice and spicy cole slaw, shown below).

“Dry” ribs @ Rendezvous, Memphis!

As you can see, it was nothing fancy — just good old paper plates and plastic cups — but once you poured some of their patented Rendezvous BBQ sauce on top (they have spicy and mild, both of which were fantastic!) and bit into those ribs…whoa! D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S!

Maybe it was the pitcher of beer talking or maybe it was the majesty of the meat, but Christine and Courtney went positively bonkers over these ribs, moaning and groaning louder than I usually do at the table! I’m not kidding, I’m surprised they didn’t lick their paper plates clean. They were on a dry rib hight and almost instantly Christine’s pulled pork sandwich (from South Street in Nashville) dropped from first to a distant second in her favorite-meal-of-our-trip ranking.

I understood their enthusiasm, and I did really like the ribs a lot, but being a fan of wetter, juicier food groups, I had a feeling I might like “wet” ribs better.

Christine, Mom & Courtney outside Blues City Cafe, Memphis

So, the next night, after braving the crowds at Graceland, we headed to the premiere destination for “wet” ribs in all of Memphis, the Blues City Cafe. A sprawling diner located in the heart of bustling Beale Street, the Blues City Cafe is also home to a super cool honky-tonk where a kick-ass Johnny Cash impersonator was rocking the house with a fervor that put poor old Joaquin Phoenix to shame.

And here in the glow of the neon sign out front ordering all who enter to “Put some South in your mouth”, my rib lust was finally satiated. These were, hands down, the best ribs that have ever graced these lips (and that is really saying something as a lot of ribs have graced these fine lips, baby!) and probably one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Yes, they were that good.

Wet, delicious, dripping with Blues City Cafe’s world-renowned spicy BBQ sauce and best of all, paired with big, delicious sides — steak fries, cole slaw, baked beans to kill for AND bread! — wow! Now that’s eating!

“Wet” ribs @ Blues City Cafe, Memphis

Not surprisingly, Courtney and Christine — who did not order the ribs at Blues City, but tried mine…yes, I shared — announced that thought they were tasty, they preferred the dry variety at Rendezvous.

Mom was kind of on the fence, claiming to love both styles of rib artistry, but there on Beale Street, with Johnny Cash tunes booming in my ears, I found the perfect smoked meat on a bone and God as my witness, swore that one day I would return to this place and try them again. Amen!


Filed under Do, Eat

Arriving in Memphis!

From the minute we exited the freeway and caught our first glimpse of the moonlit Mississippi River, the sultry Memphis night literally tingled with the magic of Elvis Week 2007.

Now, I know that sounds crazy, but it’s totally true. Everywhere we went there was an energy in the air that made it clear that something very fun and uniquely Memphis was taking place all around us.

Welcome Elvis Fans!

It’s kinda like being at Comic Con or a Star Wars convention. No matter where you went, there was this communal spirit of super geek fandom that just swept you up in its giddy wake. I’m not kidding, it was actually kind of thrilling.

Crowds on Beale Street, Memphis

The streets of Memphis (not to mention our hotel, which hosted the Belgian fan contingent: “Elvis Matters”) were clogged with Elvis fans from all over the world. Seriously, English-speaking fans were the EXCEPTION here.

Elvis Matters poster in our hotel elevator!

And almost right off the bat you knew that this was a place where it was OK to wear matching Elvis t-shirts, proudly tote shiny Elvis backpacks, hats, fanny packs (yep, they still make them) and even guitar-shaped purses.

Courtney & the Kiwi Elvis!

On this Tuesday night in Memphis, at the height of the city-wide Elvis Week celebration (marking the 30th anniversary of his death on August 16th, 1977) you were out of place if you DIDN’T have a permanent “Elvis Lives” decal on the rear window of your minivan!

Elvis Lives!

These were some serious fans here for some serious fun. And even though our true and total embrace of Elvis super fandom would come later, we had an absolute blast our first night in town.

The ladies with creepy Rob Schneider-Elvis!

Even slogging through the crowded stores on Beale Street looking for our own set of matching Elvis t-shirts (a cause which Courtney and Christine valiantly spearheaded, but ultimately was not meant to be — I mean, hello, we’re talking about a pretty wide size range between the four of us!) was fun.

Yes, it was crowded, crazy crowded, Disneyland-on-a-summer-day crowded, but man alive, we loved every crazy minute of it! A really amazing welcome to a really amazing city…and we hadn’t even eaten yet!

1 Comment

Filed under Do

Loretta Lynn’s Ranch

Situated on a lush, sprawling 3,5oo acre site about 75 miles outside of Nashville, Loretta Lynn’s town (yes, she owns the whole town!) of Hurricane Mills has it all.

Loretta Lynn’s Plantation Home

There’s a slew of restaurants, a campground, horse trails, an outdoor concert arena, a flea market (which, sadly, was closed) and even a fully-operational US post office. Wow! If I’d known about that, I would have mailed my postcards from there just for the postmark!

But we weren’t here for stamps, camping (in that heat? Yikes!) or even the Coal Miner’s Daughter Museum, which is a very cool place stuffed with memorabilia from the Oscar-winning movie.

The main reason for our stop in Hurricane Mills was to tour the haunted plantation home where Loretta and her late-husband “Doolittle” Mooney lived with their children for 30-plus years and to step inside the scale replica of the home where Ms. Lynn was born and raised in Butcher Holler, Kentucky (below).

Replica of Loretta’s Butcher Holler Home!

The tour begins, where Loretta’s story did, in the replica of her ramshackle childhood home. As you can imagine, it was blazing hot in there but everything inside was so cool that you hardly noticed.

Huge fans of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” we were stunned by how accurately the home was depicted in the movie, right down to the enormous radio in the corner (that ran on batteries!) and the walls papered with the torn pages of a 1940’s Sears & Roebuck catalog. It was like stepping back in time…seriously, you could almost smell the moonshine wafting in from outside.

Coal Mine @ Loretta’s ranch!

But perhaps the most amazing thing of all is that Loretta’s parents raised eight children in this place. Amazing! Our tour guide (a bra-less Alabama gal with an accent as thick as the heat that day) then lead us out the back door and into a replica of an actual coal mine.

Though pictures were not allowed inside, I think I can best sum up the experience by saying that that place was straight-up creepy. Very interesting, and surprisingly cool temperature-wise, but the mannequins (dressed like coal-smudged miners) were more than a little frightening.

Coal Miner’s Daughter Tour Bus!

Squinting as we emerged from the depths of the coal mine, we hopped on the super cool tour bus (shown above, could that logo be any cooler?!) and headed back across the river to the plantation home. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the main house (or the replica home, coal mine, etc.) but the place was pretty darn cool.

Very 1970’s, lots of orange and brown in the kitchen and the downstairs bathroom was all done in lime green right down to the sink and toilet! Whoa.

Courtney & Me outside the plantation home!

Another highlight was the main entry hall which is covered floor to ceiling with framed copies of Loretta’s album covers. It was pretty impressive, but not nearly as cool (or weird, depending on your taste) as Loretta’s collection of 1970’s-era Avon perfume bottles in her pink-on-pink downstairs bedroom. So ugly and kitschy they were kind of cool.

Then, finally, the tour guide told us about the ghosts! Apparently, the house is haunted not only by the spirits of the infamous Anderson clan (current residents of the graveyard pictured below) who built the plantation, but also by the ghosts of their slaves as well, many of whom were starved and beaten to death in the “slave pit” in the front yard (not on the tour, by the way).

Anderson Family Graveyard!

But the ghost that Loretta and her family encountered most often was that of a forlorn, weeping young woman who lost her beau in the Civil War. Spooky!

Much to Courtney’s disappointment, we didn’t see or hear anything remotely ghostly, but wow, what a tour. The house was really cool and if you looked out the back window from the kitchen you could catch a glimpse of Loretta’s tour bus parked out front of the more modern house she lives in today.

The tour guide said Loretta was home, but we didn’t smell fresh-baked cornbread (Loretta’s favorite), so you never know.

Leaving Loretta’s Ranch…

Anyway, after loading up on goodies at the gift store (they weren’t all opened, but there were a whopping five gift shops!) and corndogs and country lemonade at Loretta’s Snack Shop, we hopped back on the Music Highway with Memphis on our minds…


Filed under Do

The Music Highway

Snaking through the rolling green hills between Nashville and Memphis is Interstate 40, which we were delighted to discover is also known as “The Music Highway”.

Named in honor of the iconic musicians born and bred along its 210 mile stretch — Tina Turner, Chet Atkins, Carl “Blue Suede Shoes” Perkins, Bessie Smith, you name it — the Music Highway even has its own impossibly hip signage!

Super cool Music Highway sign!

And the signs are just the beginning, the rest areas are even cooler!

For some reason rest stops out here are a billion times nicer than anything we have on the West Coast and most of them even have an attendant, on-site, 24/7. Crazy! And aside from being super clean, well-lit and enclosed, every rest area we’ve ever visited in the South (and between Courtney and myself, there have been MANY) has also been completely air conditioned. Yeah!

Coolest rest stop ever!!

And as if all that weren’t enough, the rest stops along the Music Highway are also named after the musicians from the area!

We stopped at the amazing Isaac Hayes, Tina Turner and Booker T. & The MG’s rest area (pictured above) which is also home to the aptly-named Rufus Thomas “Walking The Dog” dog trail. I swear, all that was missing was piped in music, this place seriously rocked!

“Walking The Dog” with Christine @ the rest area!

Makes you wonder why we don’t name our rest stops in California. I mean, hello, we name our airports after Bob Hope and John Wayne. Why not a Marlon Brando crapper? Could be cool!

Anyway, aside from being named after them, the rest area also had tastefully framed photos of the musicians hanging outside the attendant’s office in the lobby, pictured below. Yes, they had a lobby! Que fancy!

Rest area art!

If we had more time we probably would have stopped at every rest area along the route just to see who they were named after, but, sadly, we did not. So, we kept moving, but man, what a trip these places were…

Tina Turner @ her self-titled rest stop!

1 Comment

Filed under Do

Nashville’s Parthenon

Our last stop in Nashville was the Parthenon in Centennial Park, which, ironically, is the first thing we saw from the road when we drove into town a couple nights back.

The Parthenon, Nashville

Originally built for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition of 1897, this scale replica of the Parthenon in Athens (yep, SCALE, it’s gigantic!) was the centerpiece of the exposition and though it was meant to be temporary, the building soon became something of a Nashville landmark and was left standing.

However, by 1921, the Parthenon was crumbling so it was rebuilt to last in the 1930’s and aside from a couple of minor touch-ups over the years (they recently added air conditioning, which I’m sure was welcome) the building remains as it was in 1897, the perfect architectural tribute to the “Athens of the South”.

Christine, Courtney & Me @ The Parthenon, Nashville

We didn’t get to go inside — where they house a gilded, 42-foot-tall statue of the Goddess Athena that is the tallest indoor sculpture in the United States! — but that was fine with me, because the outside was why I was here in the first place.

For the Parthenon is a key locale in one of my all-time favorite movies, director Robert Altman’s 1975 masterpiece, “Nashville”.

The 3 Graces @ The Parthenon!

I won’t give anything away for those of you who haven’t seen the film, but the last 20 to 30 minutes of the movie take place at a huge free concert at the Parthenon and what happens at the end will literally blow you away!

A shocking ending to a lush, rambling, beautiful film that truly captures the multifaceted nature of this amazing city…wow. If you haven’t seen it, rush out and rent “Nashville” today! The movie is long and slow in parts, but the music is awesome and trust me, that ending will really knock your socks off!

Robert Altman’s POV shot of The Parthenon!

Just walking past those towering columns where the late, great Robert Altman shot one of the coolest endings ever, wow, I was in film geek heaven.

But after taking dozens of pictures while the ladies wilted in the withering heat, it was time to say goodbye to Nashville. The ghosts at Loretta Lynn’s plantation home were calling us…


Filed under Do

Opryland & Cooter’s Place

Since we were so blown away by our experience at the Ryman, we kinda knew visiting the “real’ Opry in the Disney-fied Music Valley area would be a disappointment, so we saved it for the end of our visit. And that was probably a good idea, since it kind of blew.

Grand Ole Opry, Nashville

Of course, had we managed to see an actual show here perhaps we would have enjoyed Opryland more, but because of our tight schedule, we managed to be there on days when the Opry was dark.

Which sucked, because the day before we arrived Loretta Lynn was there and the day after we left, Porter Wagoner was due to hit the stage with Marty Stuart and Kellie Pickler. I know…suckage! We should have stayed longer, but there was just no time as Memphis and Elvis Week were beckoning…

Me & Courtney whistling Dixie @ The Opry!

Anyway, these pictures will give you an idea of what the place was like, really kind of ordinary, with none of the history or soul you felt at the Ryman.

There was a giant mall (Opry Mills) nearby and a huge hotel complex behind that, but I swear if you squinted your eyes, it felt like you were at Universal Citywalk or Downtown Disney. You know, totally sanitized and totally theme-park-ish…and not in a fun, Dollywood way either. VERY disappointing.

Bland Ole Opry signs, Nashville

The one saving grace was a small “Dukes Of Hazzard” museum we stopped at on the way out called “Cooter’s Place”.

Owned and operated by the actor who played Cooter on the show, Ben “Cooter” Jones — who I hear legally added the “Cooter” to his name a few years back — the place was so strange and so rinky-dink that it was actually kind of charming.

The General Lee outside Cooter’s Place, Nashville

And though my tour was brief — the ladies gave me ten minutes to check it out while they waited in the car with the AC blasting — I did manage to get some cool pics. Oh yeah, and the tour was free too. Even better!

As you can see, the kid’s room was the spookiest. That mannequin in the pajamas, yikes! But the thing that really would have given me the willies as a kid are those freakishly-lifelike Halloween costumes on the back wall.

Kid’s room @ Cooter’s Place, Nashville

Terrifying Hazzard Halloween masks!

Hell, even know, that Boss Hogg mask haunts my dreams…who would wear that? Scary! And yes, those are Catherine Bach’s original Daisy Dukes hanging on that old clothesline. Or at least that’s what the sign said.

The original Daisy Dukes!

And speaking of signs, you can see by the one near the door (pictured below) that we missed seeing Cooter by a few days too…yikes, Loretta, Porter and now Cooter?! Who planned this trip?

An event not to be missed! Go, Cooter!

Luckily for us, our next and final stop in Nashville turned out to be one of the best!

1 Comment

Filed under Do

The Pancake Pantry

After checking out of our hotel we ate breakfast at the Pancake Pantry, a beloved Nashville institution with seemingly a different type of pancake for every person waiting in the snaking lines outside. Seriously, if you could dream up a batter, they could make it.

Best Pancakes in the South!

Cool pancake art @ The Pancake Pantry, Nashville

I had the buckwheat pancakes, which were black as night and fantastic and Christine had some amazing sweet potato pancakes, the remains of which are pictured below. Gross picture, I know, but first rate stuff!

The remains of Christine’s sweet potato pancakes @ The Pancake Pantry

And when we told our super friendly waitress that we were heading to Loretta Lynn’s compound that afternoon, she said not only had she been to the mansion, but that she was a bridesmaid there recently at the wedding of one of Loretta’s granddaughters. Whoa…small world.

She also said that the mansion where Loretta lived was haunted by the abused slaves of the former owner and that she herself had heard strange noises there while visiting. Courtney got goose bumps just hearing that, and — her “Ghostbuster” senses tingling — was halfway out the door before our waitress finished talking. She couldn’t get there fast enough!!

But first, there were a couple more stops we needed to make in Nashville.



Filed under Eat

The Bluebird Cafe

Much to our friend James’ dismay, neither Christine nor I had heard of the quintessentially-Nashville Bluebird Cafe before we began planning our trip. I know, we’re lame.

Had we simply gone with him when James implored us to see “The Thing Called Love” — River Phoenix’s last completed film, set in and around the Bluebird — back in 1993, we would have known all about it.

Mom entering The Bluebird Cafe, Nashville

In any case, once we read about the club’s rich history as a launching pad for up-and-coming singer-songwriters like Faith Hill, Kathy Mattea, Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks (who signed with Capitol Records the day after performing at a showcase here in 1987) we knew we couldn’t miss a visit to the Bluebird.

Located way outside of town in a shockingly suburban stretch of mini-marts and grocery stores — the last place you’d expect to find a famous, world-class music venue — the Bluebird is tucked into a dingy strip mall next door to the Green Hills dry cleaners, pictured below. Strange, I know…but looks can be deceiving.

Signs outside The Bluebird Cafe, Nashville

Inside, the club is pretty nondescript, not much more than a long bar and a bunch of scattered tables and chairs set around a really small stage. But once the music starts up, the vibe is so soulful and intimate that right away you understand why the Bluebird’s motto is: “Shhh!”. Because, whoa, you could not talk in that place without everyone hearing you…it’s that small. But once the jams start flowing, who wants to talk anyway?

The night we were there, there was a blues band (whose name I will remember in time and post here, but for now, totally escapes me) performing and they were totally on fire! Really fantastic, dirty delta blues done right. You could feel that music in your bones, baby!

We stayed till they finished up (around midnight) then drifted back towards town with our ears ringing and our hearts pounding from the experience. Or maybe it was those fried pickles. Either way, a truly magical night…

Sign on the road outside The Bluebird Cafe


Filed under See

Deep-Fried Pickles!

Whoa, two of our favorite things together at last…deep-fried and pickles. Like peanut butter and chocolate these two were destined to meet. And the minute Christine and I read that they were staples on almost every menu in Nashville, we knew we were destined to try them.

Unfortunately, our first sampling was horrible. Well, not that anything battered and deep-fried could ever really taste that horrible. Let’s just say they weren’t living up to their potential.

Cool hillbilly bathroom @ The Stage, Nashville

We first tried them at The Stage (pictured earlier in the post on Nashville) which is a rocking little honky tonk on Broadway. The band was awesome (they played Jimmy Buffet for Mom!), the beer was cold, and the bathroom — as you can see in the picture above — was hillbilly-tastic. So cool!

The problem was we were starving and there was only one lady working the whole joint, so it took a year to get served. She manned the bar, she made the burgers, she did it all. God bless her for that, but she needed some help. And so, unfortunately did those pickles.

Yuck! Deep-fried pickles @ The Stage, Nashville

The pickles were the flaccid, store-bought variety and the Ranch dressing was hard. Yes, I said hard, Disgusting! Of course, any normal person would have stopped there, but not us.

This first failed attempt at pickle bliss only whet our appetite for more. So, that night at dinner, we tried them again at a self-proclaimed “dive restaurant” near our hotel called South Street. They had sawdust on the floor, a tire swing out front and the bar was in a treehouse, which was very cool, but way too smoky for us West Coasters.

So we ate downstairs amidst a sea of crazy cool Elvis murals.

Cool Elvis murals @ South Street, Nashville

More Elvis murals @ South Street, Nashville

And here, in the glow of the King, we found it…the perfect deep-fried pickles! These were crunchy, Jewish deli pickles to die for and the batter was so light and fluffy you’d think you were eating tempura shrimp. They were fantastic!

The totally awesome deep-fried pickles @ South Street!

The rest of the meal was tasty, especially Christine’s pulled pork on a cornbread fritter (which she later proclaimed as her SECOND favorite meal of the trip) but our communal desert was our best yet. Really sensational! And best of all, it too was deep-fried! Yeah!

We had originally wanted to try a handmade Nutty Buddy (candy bar), which our guide book assured us was a Nashville must-eat, but they were fresh out of Nutty Buddies, so we settled for the deep-fried cheesecake pictured below.

Deep-fried cheesecake @ South Street!

OK, I know it looks kinda gross, but holy God in heaven, it was amazing! You never saw four spoons moving that fast in your live. If the girls would have let me I would have licked the plate clean. Truly spectacular.

More deep-fried deliciousness @ South Street!

Then, our deep-fried pickle jones satiated, we chugged down some coffee and headed up the highway to the world-famous Bluebird cafe for some blues!


Filed under Do, Eat

Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop

Winding up our walking tour of the District pretty much where we began, we found ourselves at the legendary Ernest Tubb Record Shop on Broadway.

Ernest Tubb Record Shop, Nashville

Scary cool Ernest Tubb statue in his record shop!

Featured prominently in movies like “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, “Sweet Dreams” and “Nashville”, the cavernous record shop is probably most famous for what took place in the back room on Saturday nights at midnight.

Grand Ole Opry regular (and I’m assuming avowed night owl) Ernest Tubb felt that the weekly show at the Ryman ended too early. So, he would hustle the Opry stars through the back doors of the honky tonks on Legend’s Corner to his record store across the street, where he kept the party going with his weekly radio show, the Ernest Tubb Midnite Jamboree.

Original Midnite Jamboree Headquarters!

Inside the record store!

The second longest running radio program in history (behind the Opry) the show celebrated it’s 60th anniversary this past May and is a required stop for everyone who plays the Grand Ole Opry.

Like the Opry itself, the Jamboree relocated to Opryland — in the Music Valley area of town — a few years back, but the record store across the street from Legend’s Corner remains virtually untouched.

Mom & Courtney @ Legend’s Corner

The giant guitar on Legend’s Corner!

We didn’t buy any CD’s at the store, but man, what a selection! They had EVERYTHING. Tons of vinyl too.

And even though we didn’t buy any, they also carried a brand of George Jones bottled water called “White Lightening”. It was so insane, I had to find a picture on his website and post it here for you guys.

George Jones bottled water!

Isn’t that crazy? He looks like such a molester in those shades. Yikes. But, man, if I thought that would have traveled well on the plane home, I so would have bought it. Oh, well, maybe next time…


Filed under Do

Hatch Show Print

After touring the Ryman and stopping for a snack (deep fried pickles, which I’ll discuss later) and some rocking good live music at The Stage on Broadway, we made our way towards world-renowned Hatch Show Print.

One of the oldest working letterpress print shops in America, Hatch Show Print has been a Nashville staple since the Hatch brothers first opened their doors to the public in 1879.

Hatch Show Print!

Creating beautifully handcrafted letterpress posters for everything from county fairs and wrestling matches to the classic concert promo artwork for the Grand Ole Opry shows itself, this place rocks.

Hatch Show Print promo poster outside

The super hip staff is crazy-friendly and works like, literally five feet away from you in their vast studio (pictured below) while tourists like us peruse the coffee cups, t-shirts and reprint posters in the tiny store area up front.

Inside Hatch Show Print

The place smelled of fresh ink and earthy wet wood and looking up at the classic concert posters on the wall (Dolly, Johnny, Hank, Elvis…you name it), you could almost feel the history here. There was just this vibe of cool about everything and the fact that they had a whopper of a cat (pictured below) sitting in the middle of the store only made us love this place even more.

Hatch Show Print cat!

We bought some coffee cups, keychains, and an awesome three color Johnny Cash print and when I inquired about refrigerator magnets, the gal at the register actually threw one in for free! Now I loves me some free shit, but you give me a free magnet from a super cool place like this and man alive, I’m a fan for life.

I thank you kindly, Hatch Show Print, I thank you very kindly indeed!

Hatch Show Print posters!


Filed under Do

The Ryman Auditorium

Our first stop after breakfast was the birthplace of Bluegrass, the amazing Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville. The original home to the Grand Ole Opry (which moved to newer, more Disney-fied digs called Opryland in 1974) the Ryman was built in 1892 by steamboat captain Thomas Ryman as a tabernacle for his tent-preaching spiritual mentor, Reverend Samuel P. Jones.

Yep, the “Mother Church of Country Music” began life as an actual church.

The Ryman Auditorium!

Birth of Bluegrass sign @ The Ryman

And stepping through the vestibule into the heart of the auditorium, you can still see traces of the Ryman’s true origins everywhere. The worn wooden pews — most of which are over 100 years old — are just as churchy and uncomfortable as you remember from Sunday school and the outer walls are lined with striking stained glass windows that give the entire building a haunting, otherworldly glow.

View from the pews, Ryman Auditorium

Christine, Courtney & Mom @ The Ryman, Nashville

Although we were aware of the Ryman’s storied history as home to the Grand Ole Opry radio show for 30-plus years, we were surprised to learn that the auditorium was also home to hundreds of early vaudeville acts, silent films, theatrical productions, political debates and even the occasional livestock sale.

And the list of legendary performers who have graced the Ryman’s weathered boards could fill books: actors and speakers like Helen Keller, Rudolph Valentino, Katherine Hepburn; modern rockers like Coldplay, Chris Isaak, The Pretenders, and Neil Young (who shot his concert film “Heart Of Gold” here in 2006), and, of course, country music icons like Loretta Lynn, Ernest Tubb, Minnie Pearl, Bill Monroe, Patsy Cline, Mother Maybelle Carter and even Elvis!

Seriously…the whole place just reeked of history.

View from the stage, The Ryman

The stage!

Our backstage tour (a sweet deal at $16.25 per person) began with a short documentary hosted by Trisha Yearwood and then moved into the surprisingly cramped backstage area for a tour of the dressing rooms of Opry-regulars Minnie Pearl and Johnny Cash, who taped his TV show here in the 1960’s.

Since cameras were not allowed backstage, I’ll give you the highlights. Aside from the dressing rooms (which were very small but very cool!), there was a green room dedicated to all the “honky tonk angels” or “girl singers” who have graced the Ryman stage over the years.

The B&W photos on the walls were beautiful and there was this really cool modern artist who did folk art-type paintings of some of the greats that were insanely cool. We totally wanted to steal the portrait she did of Patsy Cline…amazing!

Marty Robbin’s superfly suit!

Our tour guide was a nattily-dressed old timer who was VERY impressed that Christine and I hadn’t just heard of Porter Wagoner, but had actually bought his new CD on Amazon before our trip. I swear, if that dude was giving out gold stars, we would’ve made out like bandits. He was awesome.

Finally, after perusing dozens of display cases of cool old Opry stuff in the outer area — yes, that is Minnie Pearl’s original “price tag” hat pictured below — you are invited to step onto the actual stage for photos!

Minnie Pearl’s “price tag” hat!

I know! Could anything be cooler than taking the stage at the Grand Ole Opry? My God, we all had goosebumps and I was so nervous I held my guitar the wrong way. Hmm…guess I’m a lefty.

But no matter which way you hold your guitar, this was the perfect, awe-inspiring end an incredible backstage tour!

Tom & Christine onstage @ The Ryman

Mom & Courtney onstage @ The Ryman!

And after a rather lengthy visit to the gift store — located just beyond the spooky statue of Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl pictured below — we headed off to visit the bustling honky tonks of “The District”.

Roy & Minnie together again!


Filed under Do

Bongo Java & The Nun Bun

Our first meal in country music mecca was eaten fittingly enough, at the holiest of holy cafes…Bongo Java. Nashville’s oldest and most famous coffeehouse, and it was so good, we ate breakfast there twice. Which is really saying something considering the four vastly different palates involved.

Bongo Java, Nashville

Famous for their award-winning organic coffee, which they roast themselves at sister location Fido in the über-hip Five Points area of East Nashville, Bongo opened for business on Sunday, March 28, 1993 and three years later became world famous when the staff discovered a cinnamon bun that many believe bears an uncanny resemblance to the late Mother Teresa.

I don’t know if you remember when this story was making the internet rounds in 1996, but it was big news at the time, and the talk of the morning and late-night talk shows for months. Eventually, news of the discovery traveled all the way to Calcutta, where Mother Teresa’s “people” politely threatened legal action if Bongo continued selling merchandise with her name on it.

Bongo Hatch Show Print

A compromise was reached and the Bongo brass coined (and copyrighted) the term, Nun Bun. A shrine was built into the front counter to house the Nun Bun and the souvenir t-shirts and coffee mugs continued to fly out the door at an astonishing pace. And then, on Christmas day, 2005, someone broke into the shuttered coffee shop and stole the world-famous Nun Bun.

No culprit was ever found and nothing else in the cafe was touched, so whoever broke in knew exactly what they wanted. After searching eBay for months in hopes that the Bun thief would try to sell the pilfered pasty online, the staff of Bongo Java abandoned hope and created a new shrine to house the plaster replica they had fortuitously crafted months before the robbery. Pictured here is the replica plaster Nun Bun in her shrine.

The Nun Bun Shrine

The baristas we talked to — one of whom co-discovered the original Bun — said they sometimes get cryptic photos in the mail of the missing Nun Bun shot in various locations around the world. But since there is never a return address or a ransom note attached, the exact whereabouts of the true Nun Bun remains a total mystery to this day.

The Nun Bun! (Replica)

But the food, atmosphere and most of all, the coffee here is anything but. Bongo Java has really, truly first rate coffee house fare — the hashbrowns have a spicy, “dirty South” flavor that is out of this world — of the highest caliber.

And if you’re itching to try some of the fresh-roasted coffee beans for yourself (as Mom and I did) the best bets are the pitch-black Charbucks Roast and the sweeter, more mellow, Immaculate Percolation. Trust me, you won’t find better coffee anywhere in the South. This stuff rocks!

Our only complaint was that for some reason, they do not sell cinnamon buns anymore…hmm, I guess one miraculous bun was enough.


Filed under Do, Eat

Nashville – Athens of the South

Though we arrived in Nashville under the cover of night, the skyline was still dazzling and even the exit signs along the freeway thrilled us to no end: Opryland, Music Valley, Music Row, The Country Music Hall Of Fame, you name it, it thrilled us.

And once we found a hotel (we stayed at a pretty decent Courtyard By Marriot in the West End) and slept a spell, we awoke to the beauty that is Music City.

Bell South Tower, Nashville

Much more chic and metropolitan that we expected, Nashville truly deserves the moniker it earned in the 1850’s…”Athens of the South”.

Everywhere we went in this vibrant, overgrown college town (Nashville is home to over 20 colleges!) was practically crackling with music, energy and excitement.

Hard Rock Cafe, Nashville

Sun on Second, Nashville

The Stage, Nashville

Even the sweet-faced, shoeless waif strumming her guitar on the sidewalk (pictured below) sounded like Emmylou Harris.

Really great, heartfelt music was literally in the air…wafting at you from every cafe, dive bar and honky tonk you strolled past on the street, and no matter where you went, you got the feeling that anything could happen in this town.

A budding Emmylou Harris?

Gentlemen Jim Reeve’s guitar @ The Stage

That homeless waif could have a record deal next week, that grungy college dude who handed you his band flier on the street (and there were many!) could be the next Elliot Smith or Beck.

Seriously, Nashville is just that kind of town.

Musicians Wanted - Dead or Alive!

These are some random pics taken from different areas we visited. Unfortunately, we didn’t get too many pictures of the Music Row neighborhood, which is lined with really cool old homes that have been converted into record label headquarters.

And there weren’t just country labels either, there were companies specializing in rock, alternative, world music, you name it. Like everything we saw in Nashville, we loved this neighborhood.

Cool old record store on Broadway, Nashville

Trail West, Nashville

Book Man/Book Woman, Nashville

Anyway, after cruising around a bit to get a feel for the place, we were dying for some breakfast, so we headed uptown towards Bongo Java.


Filed under Do

Knoxville – Home of the Dew

Named for George Washington’s Secretary of War, Henry Knox, Knoxville is home to the Tennessee Valley Authority (created by FDR in 1933 to provide “electricity for all”) and is also the adopted home of “Roots” author Alex Haley.

Riverboat, Knoxville

But most importantly, Knoxville is the birthplace of the hyper-caffeinated sparkling beverage, Mountain Dew!

Slang for moonshine, Mountain Dew was invented here by the Hartman brothers in the 1940’s and was originally intended to be used strictly as a mixer for whiskey. Below is a picture I found online of a vintage advertising banner, which, incredibly enough, featured a hillbilly with a giant jug of hootch. Awesome!

Vintage DEW flag!

Located at the western edge of the Great Smoky Mountains, where the French Broad and Holston Rivers converge to form the headways of the snaking Tennessee River, Knoxville is truly “Do The Dew” country, with beautiful, flowing rivers everywhere you look.

Riverfront, Knoxville

We stopped here for dinner and a quick driving tour on our way to Nashville and were not disappointed. Home to the University Of Tennessee, Knoxville is a hip college town with a thriving music scene and a beautifully-restored downtown.

Although we arrived too late to visit the Women’s Basketball Hall Of Fame (which had a super cool giant basketball out front) or seek out the Alex Haley statue downtown, we did come across a huge line of big old “Claymates”, emphasis on the BIG and OLD, waiting in line to see Clay Aiken in concert.


Pictured above is one of their many festively-adorned minivans. The driver actually slowed down so I could get this shot as we passed them. Nice gals, those Claymates!

For dinner, we settled on a cool-looking place with a sweeping view of the river, called Calhoun’s – Taste of Tennessee.

Calhoun’s, Knoxville

Christine, Mom & Courtney @ Calhoun’s, Knoxville

Although famous for their ribs, we were saving our rib lust for Memphis, so Mom and I ordered the hot wings, which were good, but a little sweeter than we were used to. To wash it down, we shared a pint (yes, I said shared. We still had a three hour drive to Nashville ahead of us) of their Bohemian-style lager, Thunder Road Pilsner, which was hoptastic! Really good stuff.

But the true star of the meal was the side of Tennessee Corn Puddin’ (their spelling, not mine) that came in a small, unassuming ramekin with Christine’s Southern-Fried Catfish dinner, pictured below.

The Creamed Corn Casserole from Heaven!

I’m not kidding, I could do some seriously nasty things to that creamed corn puddin’, it was that delicious. Even Courtney — who ordered a salad — loved it. Pictures do not do that heaven-sent puddin’ justice. Whew…amazing stuff.

So, our bellies full, Clay Aiken probably well into his second encore of “Mandy”, we hit the road to Nashville.

Cool coffee billboard, Knoxville


Filed under Do, Eat

Cracker Barrel & Waffle House

No trip to the Old South would be complete without a stop at one or both of these fine dining establishments. And while native Southerners might scoff at that statement, trust me, to a couple of born and bred Californians, these places are downright exotic!

Cracker Barrel!

Cracker Barrel serves heaping, artery-clogging portions of fried, boiled, and mashed Southern staples. It’s not great food by a long shot, but, depending on what you order it can be pretty tasty (the Chicken Fried Chicken pictured below is amazing — the chicken and dumplings, a little less so) and the prices can’t be beat.

Plus, you literally can’t miss the place…we counted almost 20 locations on the drive from Raleigh to Nashville alone. But the real star of Cracker Barrel is the front porch and Old Country Store.

Chicken Fried Chicken Dinner

Just the fact that they have a wrap-around front porch at all is cool enough, but when you couple that with the fact that they actually sell the rocking chairs (most start at around $149.99) out there, well, how can you not love this place?

And the porch is just the beginning. Step inside the swinging front doors and you find yourself in a country store straight out of “Little House On The Prairie”.

The Old Country Store

Loaded with cool vintage candies, jams, toys, Southern spices and seasoning packets, cookbooks and a plethora of John Deere merchandise for the home, this place rocks. And, since they have been a proud sponsor of the Grand Ole Opry since 2004, their collection of Cracker Barrel exclusive CD’s leaves Starbucks decidedly in the dust. So, go for the food, but stay for the store. And no, the rocking chairs do not count as a carry-on item. We tried.

Now, for the pinnacle of our vacation breakfasts, our old standby…Waffle House.

Waffle House!

Simple, cheap and delicious, Waffle House is truly heaven-sent. Where else on this planet can you get a single freshly poured waffle for only $2.70! Yeah, you heard me, Denny’s, $2.70! Incredible!

Anyway, I usually order the chocolate chip waffle ($.35 extra, but worth it) with a side of eggs and hashbrowns and Christine gets the pecan waffle with a side of bacon. But everything we’ve ever tried there is fantastic. And that sweet slab of country ham pictured below is like, death-row-inmate-final-meal spectacular! A must try!

Chocolate Chip Waffles & Country Ham!

And when you go make sure to bring tons of quarters, because aside from the kick-ass breakfast selections, most locations also have a jukebox. And this is no ordinary jukebox, friends, for this one comes equipped with a whopping two rows of songs about Waffle House. Seriously!

This place is so good, people write songs about it! And the music is great. None of the singers are really famous or anything, but the songs are hilarious: “I’ll Take Mine With Hashbrowns”, “Working At The Waffle House”, and our all-time favorite, “Grill Operator” sung to the tune of Sade’s “Smooth Operator”. Trust me, you never heard music like this at McDonalds. True road trip classics!

Waffle House jams!

So, save the fancier, bigger-budget food for dinner and get yourself some Waffle House waffles ASAP. You won’t be disappointed!

On the web front, Cracker Barrel has a pretty cool website with tons of hillbilly stuff for sale and an e-mail newsletter called Front Porch News, which sounds kinda rad.

But if you really wanna experience these places online, check out the Waffle House tunes for yourself at:


Filed under Eat

The KFC Buffet

Wow…who knew? We never actually ate of one of these strange Sizzler-meets-the-Colonel hybirds — for some odd reason, the ladies vetoed me every time I asked — but man, did we see a lot of shiny red, white and blue billboards along the Interstate.

KFC Buffet?

So, although the pleasure of dining here will have to wait till next summer, I did pop over to document the place for the ages when we stopped for gas near the Tennessee border. And, man alive, what a site.

I think the pictures say it all…yikes.

KFC disaster!

KFC disaster #2



Filed under Eat

The Adventure Begins!

Here we are at the very start of our trip in Mom and Courtney’s driveway in Cary, North Carolina.

Hitting the road at the crack of 1:00pm — which is way early for the four of us — our bags are packed, the animals left in the able hands of a sweet, newly-single Scottish lass with an ear for Elvis (“Who doesn’t love Elvis?” was her heartfelt reply to my query about his popularity on her shores) and our iPod is literally bursting with classic country jams.

To paraphrase Paul Simon’s immortal “Graceland” (which would receive almost as much airplay in the car as Cher’s version of “Walking In Memphis”): “The Mississippi delta was shining like a national guitar, [we] are following the river down the highway to the cradle of the Civil War, [we’re] going to Graceland, Graceland! Memphis, Tennessee, we’re going to Graceland!”

Truer words were never sung!

Hitting the road!


Filed under Do