Daily Archives: August 13, 2007

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

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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!

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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…

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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