EPIC US ROAD TRIP 2017

DAYS 15-21- THE SOUTH - FLORIDA, ALABAMA, LOUISIANA, MISSISSIPPI & TENNESSEE

 

Image || The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, Louisiana.

dMb US State Digest

Florida (FL) | Alabama (AL) | Mississippi (MS) | Tennessee (TN)

Quick Link Regional Highlights

Epic US Road Trip 2017 – The South

After 2 weeks of driving south, a right turn in Jacksonville, Florida on Day 14 saw us turning our back on the pioneering history of the Eastern Seaboard. From there on out the 1,575 miles of ground we covered over the course of a week in travelling first in a westerly & then northerly direction through The South was all about the slow and inexorable return back towards the cooler climes of New England, sill the depth of a rather big country away when pulling out of New Orleans, as deep as we’d go in the Deep South, on the morning of Day 17. Welcome (back) to The South. Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi & Tennessee.

Day 16. Wrought iron balconies on Rue Demaine, French Quarter (Vieux Carré), New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.

MaccWhere?
We were aiming for an overnight in Jacksonville, Florida when pulling out of Savannah, Georgia, 140 miles to the north, on the afternoon of Day 14. Being the largest city by area in the contiguous US meant the lack of room in many a Jacksonville inn on a October Tuesday evening came as something of a frustrating surprise. It also meant we pushed on an extra 30 miles across the Florida panhandle, eventually being halted by somewhere called Macclenny. The only night we’d devote to the Sunshine State, when bedding down in somewhere like Macclenny you really do feel like you’re just passing through, which is exactly what we were doing.

dMb US State Digest

florida_glossy_square_icon_256Florida

State Nicknames – The Sunshine State. State Motto – In God We Trust. Admitted To The Union – March 3, 1845 (27th state). Population – 21 million Floridians (3rd most populous state). Area – 65,750 sq miles (22nd largest state). Capital – Tallahassee. National Parks – 3 (Biscayne, Dry Tortugas & Everglades). National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 5/1. Famous For – Sunshine; speaking Spanish & Latino vibes (almost 25% of the state population is of Hispanic & Latino descent); Micky Mouse & Walt Disney World; diversity; Miami Beach chic; snowbirds & retirees; tourism & all-inclusive theme parks the size of countries (Florida receives well over 100 million visitors a year and the state’s lucrative tourism industry employs nearly 1.5 million people); Art Deco architecture; Spring Break parties; wetlands & everglades; once belonging to Spain (Florida became a US territory in 1821); environmental issues; the manatee; citrus fruit, especially oranges; space shuttle launches from the Kennedy Space Center; the month-long recount of the 2000 Presidential election that put George W. Bush in the White House despite losing the popular vote; good times; golf courses; powerboats; being the southernmost state; NASCAR (born in Florida’s Daytona Beach in 1947); alligators; lightening; tornadoes; beaches; the Keys & big game fishing. State Highlights – All that fun in the sun; Miami’s Art Deco district; offbeat Key West. Florida Titbits – Florida is Spanish for “land of flowers”, a name bestowed upon the land by Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León when he spotted and landed on the peninsula on April 2, 1513, making Florida the first region of the continental US to be visited and settled by Europeans; mostly surrounded by water, Florida has the longest coastline in the contiguous US (approximately 1,350 miles / 2,170 kilometres); it has the lowest high point of any US state (105-metre-high (345 feet) Britton Hill); it is one of only two states, the other being Hawaii, and thus the only continental US state with a tropical climate; Florida is one of seven states that does not impose a personal income tax; a renowned retiree haven, Florida contains the highest percentage of any state of people over 65 (almost 20%); proving that it’s not really a small world after all, Walt Disney World’s 4 theme parks, 27 themed resort hotels, 9 non-Disney hotels, 2 water parks, 4 golf courses and other recreational venues are the most visited vacation resort on earth with over 50 million annual visitors; a 2013 Gallup poll indicated that 47% of state residents agreed that Florida was the best state to live in (but they would say that).

Florida. State #10. Macclenny, Florida. October 11, 2017.

If you can’t find something to do in Florida, you are just boring…

Guy Fieri, celebrity chef

EPIC US ROAD TRIP 2017 || Day 15

 

The Historic Capitol as seen from the New Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida. October 11, 2017.

 

“It’s a nice place, but that doesn’t hide the fact that for a tourist there just isn’t a whole lot to see in Tallahassee, ironic really given its status as the capital of the tourism behemoth that is Florida.”

Day 15 || October 11 2017

Route || Maccleeny, Florida to Mobile, Alabama.
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 397 (639)
Posted From || Mobile, Alabama
Today’s Highlight || The Florida/Alabama state line

Oh yes, we’re motoring now alright. ‘Twas easily the busiest day of the lot on the road today, Day 15. Almost 400 miles of westerly driving along Interstate 10 across the Florida panhandle saw us getting back to Alabama, state #11 (it was state #18 last year). Having experienced the Civil Rights history synonymous with the state’s centre last year, now we find ourselves on the Gulf of Mexico in Mobile, as deep in the Deep South as we’ve ever been, and we got here from Macclenny via a stop in the Florida capital of Tallahassee. That was interesting. Different, but interesting.

As seen from the 22nd-floor observation deck of the State Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida. October 11, 2017.

As seen from the 22nd-floor observation deck of the New Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida. October 11, 2017.

Tallahassee

Florida (FL) || It’s a nice place Tallahassee, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that for the tourist there just isn’t a whole lot to see here, ironic really given its status as the state capital of the tourism behemoth that is Florida. A planned city full of suits, bureaucracy and heat, Tallahassee was chosen as the site for the State capital in 1824, conveniently located equidistant between Augustine and Pensacola, the two largest cities at the time and obvious choices for a capital. Convenient then and convenient now – the city’s geographical location meant it was a convenient break for us in the 395-mile drive west from Macclenny towards the state line with Alabama.

FLORIDA STATE CAPITOL – NEW || The New Capitol building as seen from the steps of the Historic Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida. October, 11 2017.
While Tallahassee is admittedly short on attractions, it does, and unlike the other 49 state capital cities, boast two capitol buildings. Go Florida! The old one, a.k.a. the Historic Capital, was spared from the wrecking ball when the new 22-story capitol, the Executive Office Building, a.k.a. the New Capitol, seen here, a much uglier & boxier affair built in the 1970’s (although it looks like it was airlifted in from Soviet-era Moscow). Both now live happily side-by-side, the Historic Capitol essentially a museum and the New Capitol the somewhat sterile administrative centre for the Sunshine State.

NEW CAPITOL VIEWS || A road junction as seen from the 22nd-floor observation deck of the New Capitol building in Tallahassee, Florida. October 11, 2017.
At least the towering New Capitol building has an observation deck. 22 storeys up, it offers nice views down over the relatively quiet city.

FLORIDA STATE CAPITOL – OLDThe Historic Capitol as seen from behind the pillars of the New Capitol building in Tallahassee, Florida. October, 11 2017.
Tallahassee’s Historic Capital was built in 1845 to replace a structure built in 1826 with the preset-day dome and wings added as part of a 1902 expansion. Surviving the wrecking ball means the Historic Capitol has now assumed the role of the historical centrepiece of the multi-building Florida State Capitol Complex. Restored in 1982 to its 1902 appearance both inside and out, today the building, officially the Florida Historic Capitol Museum, exhibits Florida’s political history by preserving & displaying the old Governor’s Suite, Supreme Court, House of Representatives and Senate chambers (all three branches of the government) exactly as they would have appeared in the early 1900’s. And to say it was scheduled to be knocked. I’m glad someone saw sense before it was too late.

HELLO GOODBYE FLORIDA || At the Florida/Alabama state line on Interstate 10, Cantonment, Florida. October 11, 2017
It’s a little over 200 miles of Interstate 10 driving west from Tallahassee to the state line with Alabama, just north of the so-called Florida Redneck Riviera city of Pensacola. We arrived at the state line late in the evening with unfinished business to tend to – having missed capturing the Florida state line photograph entering the state from Georgia yesterday, we made sure to capture it today when exiting the state (just as we expected, the state line signs have been a lot tougher to tick off this trip, the eastern seaboard proving a different, much busier beast). This took a bit of work, but it was worth it – between this and last year, we’ve now given the thumbs up in front of 40+ state line signs and Florida gets our vote for the most impressive state sign of the lot.

I saw this quote in the lobby of the Florida State Capitol today and thought it apt.

Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.

– Ernest Hemingway

Late in the day. Interstate 10 on the Florida/Alabama state line. October 11, 2017.

This was to (Sweet Home) Alabama. Late in the day by the side of Interstate 10 passing over the Perdido River on the Florida/Alabama state line, Cantonment, Florida. October 11, 2017.

dMb US State Digest

alabama_glossy_square_icon_256Alabama

State Nicknames – The Yellowhammer State; Heart of Dixie; The Cotton State. State Motto – Audemus Jura Nostra Defendere (We Dare Defend Our Rights). Admitted To The Union – December 1819 (22nd state). Population – 4.8 million Alabamians (24th most populous state). Area – 52,400 sq miles (30th largest state). Capital – Montgomery. National Parks – 0. National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 2/2. Famous For – Racial segregation; being the birthplace of the ill-fated Confederate States of America; French influence; cotton; Rosa Parks & the Civil Rights Movement; Harper Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer Prize winning literary classic To Kill a Mockingbird. State HighlightsThe Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights Trail, a US National Historic Trail; typically Deep South antebellum architecture. Alabama Titbits – The word Alabama means ‘tribal town’ in the Creek Indian language; the state is hot, sticky & windy – along with Oklahoma, it has the most reported EF5-rated tornadoes, those delivering total destruction of buildings, of any state; the 1901 Alabama Constitution, with almost 800 amendments and running to over 310,000 words, is by some accounts the world’s longest constitution and is roughly forty times the length of the US Constitution; Hitler’s typewriter, a survivor from his Eagle’s Nest mountain retreat, is exhibited at the Hall of History Museum in Bessemer; not a place to be poor, Alabama’s income tax on poor working families is among the highest in the US (although it does levy the lowest property taxes in the US); forget Louisiana’s New Orleans. Stretching back to 1703, Mobile, Alabama is known for having the oldest organised Carnival, a.k.a. Mardi Gras, celebrations in the US.

Alabama. State #11 this year, State #18 last year. Eastern Shore, Mobile, Alabama. October 12, 2017.

We’re now in Mobile at the head of the Gulf of Mexico’s Mobile Bay, a mere 2 days after departing the eastern seaboard & its Atlantic Ocean. Named after the Mauvilla Indians, it’s a new city in a familiar state. I’ve always wanted to come here, for no other reason other than one of my very favourite YouTube videos emanates from here. Leprechauns in the Deep South? Generally no, but tonight yes.

New Orleans is a 2-hour drive from here. The city is the only reason we’re this far south – this wasn’t on the original itinerary. That said, we’ll be there tomorrow, Epic US Road Trip 2017 Day 16. We’re super pumped for that.

EPIC US ROAD TRIP || Day 16

 

Bourbonfaced on Shit Street. Bourbon Street, French Quarter (Vieux Carré), New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.

 

“A place to let everything go, this is a city where seemingly anything goes, party central with the party firmly centred on the French Quarter’s infamous Bourbon Street, a neon-lit party zone that actively embraces getting shitfaced 24/7. Revelers, hopping from one no-cover-minimum-drink-purchase bar or jazz club to another with a bucket beer or luminous fishbowl cocktail in hand, come here to have a good time, and it seems a lot of them do just that.”

Day 16 || October 12 2017

Route || Mobile to New Orleans, Louisiana.
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 167 (269)
Today’s Highlight || The French Quarter, New Orleans

As it turns out, Mobile was the Day 16 calm before the storm. Seemingly things can get just as raucous in the southern Alabama port city as they can in nearby New Orleans (OK, maybe not that raucous), but what we experienced of Mobile to start this day was a million miles removed from how we ended it on the infamous party streets of the New Orleans French Quarter (Vieux Carré), so much so that it’s hard to believe the two French-influenced Deep South port cities are separated by a mere 150 miles of US Interstate 10.

On the corner of Burgundy & St. Ann streets in the French Quarter (Vieux Carré), New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.

Mobile

Alabama (AL) || The largest city on the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida, Mobile, a.k.a. The Port City, is Alabama’s only saltwater port, one that has shaped the city right from its very founding by the French in 1702 as the first capital of their La Louisiane (New France) colony; the French needed a base along the Gulf Coast to achieve his grand plan to drive the English out of their Atlantic colonies. Thereafter the port city was a colony of Britain & Spain before American troops captured the city during the War of 1812. Something of a cultural centre with a shady, oak-infused Historic Downtown of wrought iron-heavy mansions, the city is the birthplace of Carnival, a.k.a. Mardi Gras, celebrations in the US.

USS Alabama. Battleship Memorial Park, Mobile, Alabama. October 12, 2017.

Funky, feisty, festive. Or historic, hip and happening. Colorful, cool and cultured. You can call this coastal town a lot of things when you have a vibrant 300 year history with lots of stories to tell and long-standing traditions celebrated on a regular basis. Once called the Paris of the South, Mobile has long been the cultural center of the Gulf Coast and you’ll find an authentic experience found nowhere else in the southern United States.

Mobile.org

Things are a little different down here to what we experienced of central ’bama last year, understandable give the fact that Mobile is the state’s only real coastal town. Unfortunately for Mobile we had bigger crawfish to fry and so didn’t see a whole lot of what the city has to offer, finding only as much time as was necessary to stop off in Battleship Memorial Park en route from Mobile’s Eastern Shore to New Orleans.

C-47D Skytrain, Battleship Memorial Park, Mobile, Alabama. October 12, 2017.

Battleship Memorial Park
Mobile’s military park, occupying a large plot of land on the western shore of Mobile Bay, displays a number of notable World War II-era veterans saved from the scrapheap (planes, tanks and whatnot), as well as some more modern warring paraphernalia such as a Lockheed A-12 spy plane. A lot of the equipment was damaged (or destroyed altogether), and the park itself forced to close for 4 months, when Hurricane Katrina infamously blew through the region in late August 2005. No such meteorological menaces to worry about on this particular gorgeous Deep South mid-October day.

USS ALABAMA || USS Alabama, Battleship Memorial Park, Mobile, Alabama. October 12, 2017.
Battleship park’s star attraction is the 210-metre-long (690 feet) USS Alabama, the third such World War II remnant we’ve spotted in 4 days following USS North Carolina in Wilmington, North Carolina (Day 13) & Charleston’s USS Yorktown (Day 14). Laid down in 1940 and launched in 1942, she was saved from the smelter in May 1962 by a group of concerned state citizens, towed here in mid-1964 and opened as a museum ship in early 1965. Awarded US National Historic Landmark stats in 1986, Lucky A is famous for escaping unscathed from 9 major World War II dutsups. However, she wasn’t so impervious to Mother Nature, the aforementioned Hurricane Katrina in 2005 causing her to list eight degrees to port and shifting at her permanent anchorage.

The poignant memorial to the men of Alabama who ‘could not return’ from the Vietnam War in Battleship Memorial Park, Mobile, Alabama. October 12, 2017.

Having left Mobile, we needed to cross an 80-mile stretch of southern Mississippi in order to get to the state line with Louisiana (only passing through today, we’ll be back in Mississippi proper tomorrow). We (very briefly) forayed across the state line from Vicksburg, Mississippi, further north, into Louisiana on Day 24 of Epic US Road Trip 2016. On that occasion we didn’t see a ‘Welcome to Louisiana’ state line sign, and nor did we make it down to New Orleans. Today we put right both of those oversights.

Thumbs up at the Mississippi/Louisiana State Line on the Stephen E Ambrose Memorial Parkway/Interstate 10, Pearlington, Mississippi. October 12, 2017.

dMb US State Digest

louisiana_glossy_square_icon_256Louisiana

State Nicknames – Pelican State (official); Bayou State; Sportsman’s Paradise; Creole State; The Boot. State Motto – Union, Justice, Confidence. Admitted To The Union – April 30, 1812 (18th state). Population – 4.7 million Louisianians (25th most populous state). Area – 52,380 sq miles (31st largest state). Capital – Baton Rouge. National Parks – 0. National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 1/2. Famous For – Jazz; French, Creole & Cajun influences (Louisiana is the only state with a large population of Cajuns, descendants of the Acadians who were driven out of Canada in the 1700s because they wouldn’t pledge allegiance to the King of England); Tabasco sauce (originated here); being laid-back; traditional po’ boy baguette sandwiches; deltas, coastal marshes & swamps; canals, ditches & levees; Carnival, a.k.a. Mardi Gras; multiculturalism; thunderstorms, tropical cyclones and hurricanes; slavery; the Purchase of 1803 (when the US acquired the then Louisiana territory from France). State Highlight – The Big Easy, a.k.a. New Orleans. Louisiana Titbits – Claimed for France by Robert de La Salle in 1682, Louisiana was named after Louis XIV, King of France from 1643 to 1715 (to this day, Louisiana is the only state that still refers to the Napoleonic Code in its state law); it’s the only state in the US with political subdivisions termed parishes (64 in total), equivalent to the counties of the other 49 states; the state has more Native American tribes than any other southern state; somewhat ironic given its multilingual heritage, Louisiana is one of the only states in the US with no official state language; the southern coast wetlands of Louisiana are among the fastest-disappearing areas in the world, mainly due to human mismanagement of the coast; the state is far and away the biggest producer of crayfish (known as crawfish in the US, small warm-water lobsters without claws) in the world, accounting for some 90% of world’s supply; rich in petroleum and natural gas, Louisiana was the first site of petroleum drilling over water in the world; The Empire State Building-esque Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge is the tallest state capitol building in the US; as of 2016, Louisiana, with the nickname Sportsman’s Paradise, was the birthplace of the most NFL players per capita for the eighth year in a row; in Louisiana, biting someone with your natural teeth is considered a simple assault, but biting someone with your false teeth is considered an aggravated assault.

Louisiana. State #12. On the streets of the French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.

New Orleans

Louisiana (LA) || The largest city in Louisiana & located near the mouth of the mighty Mississippi River, the home of jazz & Mardi Gras. The city’s historic French Quarter (Vieux Carré), where we hung out, is, and while characteristically & infamously gritty, a nice place to wander nonetheless, awash as it is with colonial-era charm – the whole district is a riot of churches, colourful wooden architecture and beautifully preserved foliage-draped wrought iron balconies. And not forgetting, of course, that a beer, a luminous fishbowl cocktail & a devil-may-care joie de vivre party scene is never far away no matter the time of day or night.

Chartres Street, French Quarter (Vieux Carré), New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.

New Orleans is one of the world’s most fascinating cities – it’s home to a truly unique melting pot of culture, food and music. Come down and experience New Orleans, one of America’s most culturally and historically-rich destinations.

NewOrleansOnline.com

Funky Pirate Blues Club, Bourbon Street, French Quarter (Vieux Carré), New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.

New Orleans & The French Quarter (Vieux Carré)
Louisiana’s largest city, New Orleans was founded on a crescent of the mighty Mississippi River – hence one of its nicknames as The Crescent City – in 1718 and named after Philippe II, Duke of Orleans, the Prince Regent of France. Today the city of almost 400,000 sprawls on both banks of Old Man River, the waters of which are nearing the end of the 2,320-mile (3,730 kilometre) journey south to the Gulf of Mexico from its source in northern Minnesota. Sprawl it may do, but it is The Big Easy’s compact 1.7 km² French Quarter (Vieux Carré), the city’s heart on the north side of the river, that attracts the vast majority of the hordes. First laid out in 1722, the year New Orleans became the capital of Frances’ La Louisiane (New France) colony, and from where present-day New Orleans grew, the French Quarter is a US National Historic Landmark District-listed 80 blocks of colonial-era architecture, ironwork galleries, overhanging arched balconies, drooping foliage, dilapidation, graffiti, grunge, parties & misfits.

Royal Street, French Quarter (Vieux Carré), New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.

The oldest part of what is often classed as the ‘most unique’ city in the US, most of the French Quarter’s historical buildings that stand today date from the late 1700’s, when the city was under Spanish rule, or from after US annexation following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. All the earlier French structures were either decimated by fires in 1788 & 1794 or succumbed to the passing of time. All bar one, that is.

OLD URSULINE CONVENT || A carriage ride outside the mid-16th Century Old Ursuline Convent, French Quarter (Vieux Carré), New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.
Despite the fires of the late 1700’s and the steady decline of French influence post 1803, there can still be found in New Orleans today a remnant from the French period of rule. The Old Ursuline Convent was the home of the Ursuline Nuns who came to New Orleans from France in 1728 in a noble bid to ‘relieve the poor, sick and provide education for young girls.’ Built between 1749 & 1753 next to the site of a first building erected in 1734 and today housing a museum, apart from being the only remaining French-era building to be found in the city of New Orleans, the Old Ursuline Convent is also the oldest structure in the entire Mississippi River Valley of the southern US.

The Crescent City has suffered plagues, wars, imperial regime changes and devastating floods. Yet, it always wakes up with a smile on its face. This may be because its inhabitants step to an easy beat first laid down three centuries ago.

LouisianaTravel.com

Hardships & Katrina
Plagues, wars and imperial regime changes. And all that before the wrath of Katrina. While there are still, a decade-plus on, many a New Orleans so-called Dead Zone, the French Quarter (Vieux Carré) suffered little flood damage relative to the rest of the city as a result of Hurricane Katrina doing her damndest to wreck havoc on the city on August 29, 2005; the district is some distance from the breached levees and sea walls that failed so spectacularly to protect the surrounding city, 80% of which was submerged by the time Katrina, the second costliest natural disaster in the history of the US, had blown through. The ‘Katrina Tattoo’, the line on buildings that marked the heights of the 2005 floodwaters, isn’t to be found in the French Quarter, but there are other, many other, blights on the landscape. It all adds to the gritty uniqueness I guess.

Kerlerec Street, New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.

FRENCH MARKET || French Market, French Quarter (Vieux Carré), New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.
A tourist magnet, New Orleans’ French Market is a good bet for regional staples like crawfish, Cajun food & Creole cooking (the Flea Market, seen here at the northern end of the market, is especially popular at weekends although I’d imagine the tourist tat stalls are busy every day of the week). Stretching for 6 blocks along the aforementioned crescent of the Mississippi River, this series of breezy commercial buildings predate European colonisation (it was founded as a Native American trading post) making its present-day iteration the oldest public market in the US.

FRENCH MARKET – CAFE DU MONDE || Café du Monde, Decatur Street, French Quarter (Vieux Carré), New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.
At the southern end of the French Market and on the edge of Jackson Square, the renowned open-air Café du Monde is a New Orleans institution. Established in 1862 and open 24/7, there are probably better, less crowded places to enjoy a café au lait & beignet (a French fritter, a deep-fried, yeast-raised doughnut dusted with confectioners’ sugar & the only food item on the French Market’s Café du Monde menu), but there are very few establishments as iconic or better located.

JACKSON SQUARE & ST LOUIS CATHEDRAL || The Andrew Jackson statue in the centre of Jackson Square fronting the Renaissance-style St Louis Cathedral, French Quarter (Vieux Carré), New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.
The historic site of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the French Quarter (Vieux Carré) grew around central Jackson Square and, almost 3 centuries on, it still anchors the district today. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and open year round except during Mardi Gras, the square’s centre is dominated by a mounted state of Andrew Jackson, hero of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. The park is overlooked by the unmissable St Louis Cathedral, the square’s Renaissance-style masterpiece. Completed in 1851 and built over the foundations of a colonial 1727 church, it is both the oldest active cathedral & one of the finest examples of French ecumenical (church) architecture in the US.

JACKSON SQUARE || Art for sale on the railings of Jackson Square, French Quarter (Vieux Carré), New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.
It’s impressive how the small two and a half acre green space that is Jackson Square manages to block out the melange that surrounds it. Fortune tellers/Psychics, street performers, sketch artists & wackadoo vendors abound (although enticed, I passed on the purchase of a Trump Voodoo Doll), the art hanging for sale on a section of the square’s 1851 perimeter iron fence one of the more refined (& photogenic) aspects of the square’s immediate surrounds.

MARIGNY & FRENCHMEN STREET || Frenchmen Street, Marigny, New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.
Grunge hits its height in the Marigny neighbourhood of New Orleans, just beyond the northern reaches of the French Quarter and the first suburb to be established outside its boundaries when it was created in 1805. Looking every bit as dated as it is, Marigny is the heart of the local gay scene. It’s also a happening live-music hub – virtually every establishment lining the district’s gritty main drag of Frenchmen Street is a bohemian bar and/or live music club.

TREME, JAZZ & LOUIS ARMSTRONG || The Mardi Gras Arch at the entrance to Louis Armstrong Park off N Rampart Street, New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.
New Orleans is synonymous with jazz, the musical genre that originated in the city around 1900 and developed thereafter through increasingly complex styles. One of the city’s most famous native sons, pioneering jazz trumpeter and bandleader Louis Armstrong, was born in New Orleans on July 4 1900, his unique gravelly singing style and personality bringing him worldwide fame as one of the most beloved entertainers of his time. Armstrong died in 1971, 9 years before the April 1980 dedication of the park honouring his name in the Tremé district of the city to the west of the French Quarter, the oldest African American neighbourhood in New Orleans.

A loving city dedicates this park to the memory of Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong, a Jazz musician who brought the charm of New Orleans to the world. Now, this unique urban garden carries on the spirit of a great American and offers a place for leisure and entertainment for the citizens of New Orleans and the world – the people ‘Satchmo’ loved so well.

– On display in Congo Square, Louis Armstrong Park, New Orleans.

LOUIS ARMSTRONG PARK & CONGO SQUARE || Hanging out in Congo Square, Louis Armstrong Park, Tremé, New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.
Featuring lagoons, fountains, bridges & performance pavilions, the 32-acre Louis Armstrong Park is also the location for the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park, a US National Historical Park created in 1994 to celebrate the origins and evolution of jazz. However, the symbolic, if not geographical centre of the park is Congo Square, formerly known as Beauregard Square. A brick open space that is today an American cultural landmark, this was the one place where enslaved people were allowed to congregate and play the music they had carried with them over the seas, a practice outlawed in most other slave-holding societies. The preservation of this musical heritage helped lay the groundwork for the rhythms that would eventually become the musical form we now know as jazz.

What A Wonderful World. Satchmo. For sale in the French Quarter (Vieux Carré), New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.

Grungy & gritty New Orleans has always been a beacon for the misfits of America, a mix of confused destitute types and societal non-conformists. Suffice it to say there’s no shortage of characters on the streets of the French Quarter, a people watching location par excellence.

French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.

MISFITS || Down on his luck. French Quarter (Vieux Carré), New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.
One man and his dog (& banjo & possibly all his earthly possessions).

Speaking of misfits. Cue Bourbon Street.

Bourbon Street, French Quarter (Vieux Carré), New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.

New Orleans is a drinking city and no mistake. A place to let everything go, this is a city where seemingly anything goes, party central with the party firmly centred on the French Quarter’s infamous Bourbon Street, a neon-lit party zone that actively embraces getting shitfaced 24/7. Revelers, hopping from one no-cover-minimum-drink-purchase bar or jazz club to another with a bucket beer or luminous fishbowl cocktail in hand, come here to have a good time, and it seems a lot of them do just that.

Bourbonfaced on Shit Street. Bourbon Street, French Quarter (Vieux Carré), New Orleans, Louisiana. October 12, 2017.

Everyone knows what Bourbon Street is like. It’s loutish in the extreme, a 24/7 bachelor/stag & bachelorette/hen party booze-fuelled good-time zone. It’s loud, it’s brash, it’s bright & it can get blurry in a hurry, an experience perfectly summed up on a t-shirt I saw for sale in the French Market that read ‘I meant to behave, but there were too many other options.’ Bourbon Street. You either roll with it, steer clear altogether (Bourbon Street is possibly an unavoidable consequence of a visit to New Orleans so this, I fear, is easier said than done), or hit a happy medium – take a stroll along its length at least once to appreciate what you’re not missing. Even those who want to entice all to visit the city hint at the alternatives to New Orleans’ most infamous street.

Most people can easily recognize one of Louisiana and New Orleans’ most famous streets — Bourbon. However there are many more iconic streets, historic downtowns and lovely off-the-beaten-path streets around Louisiana that will offer a glimpse into the true nature of a town.

LouisianaTravel.com

A few more captures from a few eye-opening rambles up and down Bourbon Street.

The highlight of the visit to New Orleans for me was the architecture, the more colourful & tumbledown the better. Here are a few parting shots from the city of eye-catching edifices seen during explorations of some of the quieter streets of the French Quarter & its immediate vicinity.

EPIC US ROAD TRIP || Day 17

 

Meridian, Mississippi. October 13, 2017.

 

“We stopped off in Meridian, 200 miles north of New Orleans. Why? It’s the birthplace of one Jimmie Rodgers. Who? Jimmie Rodgers, a.k.a ‘The Man Who Started It All’, all being country music. And while getting directions in an attempt to find his museum on the outskirts of the town I got to covet a look at Meridian’s impressive 1920’s Temple Theater, albeit from the outside.”

Day 17 || October 13 2017

Route || New Orleans, Louisania to Fort Payne, Alabama.
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 480 (753)
Posted From || Fort Payne, Alabama
Today’s Highlight || The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway

It was easily the busiest day of the lot so far on the road today. Four hundred eighty miles of US Interstate we covered today, Day 17, just over the halfway point of the wider road trip. Being on a crusade to traverse the 600 miles of road that separates New Orleans from Sparta, Tennessee by mid-morning on Day 18 ensured today was a day of covering ground. That said, there were still a few interesting stops en route. It seems there always are.

Watermelons for sale in Meridian, Mississippi. October 13, 2017.

We didn’t need to depart New Orleans by going north via the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, but then we would have never driven the longest bridge in the world. As it turns out we did. Or did we?

The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, Louisiana. October 13, 2017.

LAKE PONTCHARTRAIN CAUSEWAY || The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, Louisiana. October 13, 2017.
Traversing north to south the 1,600 km² oval-shaped lake and opened in the mid-50s as a single bridge (another parallel bridge/causeway was added in the late 60’s, the present north bound carriageway we drove today), the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is supported by 9,500 concrete pilings and measures an impressive 23.8 miles (38.5 kilometres in proper units of length). It was for decades the longest bridge over water in the world. The spoilsport Chinese (who else?) have recently built many more many times longer so the good folk at the Guinness World Records have since shifted the goal posts as it were, changing the wording/fabricating criteria to ensure this is still, as I type, the longest ‘continuous’ bridge over water on earth. Neat, and a great drive, especially going north; there’s a toll payable when driving the southbound carriageway.

The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge. The world’s longest? It depends on who you reference. Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana. October 13, 2017.

Back on dry land, it was a 35 mile drive northeast to the state line with Mississippi.

dMb US State Digest

mississippi_glossy_square_icon_256Mississippi

State Nicknames – The Magnolia State; The Hospitality State. State Motto – Virtute et Armis (By Valor and Arms). Admitted To The Union – December 1817 (20th state). Population – 3 million Mississippians (32nd most populous state). Area – 48,400 sq miles (32nd largest state). Capital – Jackson. National Parks – 0. National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 1/1. Famous For – Cotton fields; rural country roads; poverty; Juke Joints; being the coolest state to spell out (M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I); the racist past & civil rights history; being the birthplace of Elvis (Tupelo); riverboats & the Mississippi Delta, birthplace of the Blues. State HighlightsDelta drives & authentic Juke Joints. Mississippi Titbits – Once one of the 5 wealthiest states off the back of slave-driven cotton production, now Mississippi is the poorest state in the US, ranking low on the list of nearly every national marker of economy and education; although majority white since the 1930s & the Great Migration, Mississippi, at almost 40%, still has the highest percentage of black residents of any US state; the entire state is lowlands with a mean elevation of just 300 feet (91 metres) above sea level and is thus susceptible to flooding; school corporal punishment is common in Mississippi; the first Coca-Cola was bottled in 1894 in Vicksburg, Mississippi; a slow state anyway, Sundays & Mondays in Mississippi, and especially in the Delta, are so-called slow days. Best not be in a hurry in this part of the Deep South.
Mississippi plate. Memphis, Tennessee, USA. September 18, 2016.

Mississippi. State #13 this year, State #17 last year when this pictures was captured on the streets of Clarksdale, Mississippi. September 19, 2016.

Even though we were passing through, we still found time to search out a pioneer. A musical one. And now that we have, I’m somewhat surprised we didn’t tick this box last year; we passed through Meridian en route from Vicksburg, Mississippi to Selma, Alabama. That said, we were in a rush. It seems we’re always on a dash in this portion of the Deep South, somewhere that shouldn’t be rushed.

Meridian

Mississippi (MS) || We stopped off in Meridian, 200 miles north of New Orleans. Why? It’s the birthplace of one Jimmie Rodgers. Who? Jimmie Rodgers, a.k.a ‘The Man Who Started It All’, all being country music. And while getting directions in an attempt to find his museum on the outskirts of the town I got to covet a look at Meridian’s impressive 1920s Temple Theater, albeit from the outside.

By the mid-1920’s Moorish Revival Temple Theater in Meridian, Mississippi. October 13, 2017.

JIMMIE RODGERS || Outside the no-pictures-allowed-inside Jimmie Rodgers Museum, Meridian, Mississippi. October 13, 2017.
Meridian boy, musician and lyricist Jimmie Rodgers, and in the span of a career that lasted only some 5 years before his untimely death from tuberculosis in 1933 at the age of 35, sang of real life & the common man in a way that placed a defining stamp on what would later become country music – The Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, established in 1961 with Rodgers as one of the first three inductees, simply refer to him as ‘The Man Who Started It All.’ The small intimate museum honouring him, full of historical artifacts & instruments, is located in Meridian’s Highland Park off Jimmie Rodgers Drive, for now that is – The Jimmie Rodgers Foundation that maintains the museum has plans to move it to a bigger site in downtown Meridian, the move scheduled for April 2018. We got the lowdown on the museum and the move from Bob, an affable southern old-timer and war vet who was manning the museum & who was only too happy to show us around, himself a memorable highlight of the visit.

JIMMIE RODGERS GRAVE || At the Jimmie Rodgers grave in Oak Grove Baptist Church Cemetery, Meridian, Mississippi. October 13, 2017.
Bob’s DIY map of how to get from the museum to Meridian’s Oak Grove Baptist Church Cemetery did the trick, albeit after a few missed turns. It was a beautiful evening in a peaceful setting, perfect therapy prior to resuming the drive north.

Although the light was fading fast, there was still enough road-trippin’ time remaining on this day to cover another 240+ miles of US Interstate driving. That got us over the state line back into Alabama and saw us sitting in a traffic jam (roadworks, as always) when bypassing Birmingham before halting for this day in Fort Payne. It’s cooler here, a good few degrees cooler than the southern Gulf Coast we left earlier in the day. Dad likes that (he struggled at times in the hot & steamy Deep South). We’re 130 miles shy of Sparta, Tennessee location for the one-day bluegrass festival we’ll enjoy tomorrow, Day 18. Yep more bluegrass. One-day, bite-sized bluegrass, the sole reason for the epic dash north.

EPIC US ROAD TRIP || Day 18

 

Capturing the performances outside the Oldham Theatre in Liberty Square, Sparta, Tennessee. October 14, 2017.

 

“We probably would have stopped by anyway, but the one-day musical celebration of Sparta’s most famous native son that is the annual A Lester Flatt Celebration gave us the only reason we needed to ensure we’d bust a gut in driving the 1,937 miles (3,117 kilometres) we drove to get here – via a deep Deep South detour – just 6 days after saying goodbye to the 4-day festival of bluegrass we enjoyed on North Carolina’s so-called Bluegrass Island, only 650 miles away at its most direct. We tend not to do most direct. Epic US road trips are more epic that way.”

Day 18 || October 14 2017

Route || Fort Payne, Alabama to Sparta, Tennessee.
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 142 (229)
Today’s Highlight || Sparta’s one-day A Lester Flatt Celebration

We saw leaves falling today on the 142-mile drive from Fort Payne to Sparta, Tennessee. Just after crossing the Mississippi/Tennessee state line, and although oh-so subtle, it was still the first obvious signs of autumn that we’d encountered on the road trip so far. Of course plenty more of that to come over the following weeks as we continue the push towards the autumnal glory of a New England fall, but right now we’re all about the music. Today, Day 18, was the first of many dedicated to Tennessee, musical Tennessee, the best and some say the only kind of Tennessee there is.

Edifices of Bockman Way, Sparta, Tennessee. October 15, 2017.

dMb US State Digest

tennessee_glossy_square_icon_256Tennessee

State Nickname – The Volunteer State. State Motto – Agriculture and Commerce. Admitted To The Union – June 1796 (16th state). Population – 6.6 million Tennesseans (17th most populous state). Area – 42,100 sq miles (36th largest state). Capital – Nashville. National Parks – 1 (Great Smoky Mountains). National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 4/1. Famous For – Music; Jack Daniel’s; Elvis & Graceland; the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan. State Highlights – Bluesy Memphis, Nashville honky-tonks & the Great Smoky Mountains. Tennessee Titbits – The name ‘Tennessee’ originated from the old Yuchi Indian word ‘Tana-see’ meaning ‘The Meeting Place’; it was the last state to secede from the Union prior to the outbreak of the Civil War and the first state to be readmitted after the war. One gets the impression it never wanted to leave; Tennesseeans are sometimes referred to as Butternuts, a tag which was first applied to Tennessee soldiers during the Civil War because of the tan color of their uniforms; Tennessee has more than 8,600 caves, the most of any US state; the state ties with Missouri as the most neighbourly state in the US – it is bordered by 8 states; Tennessee won its nickname as The Volunteer State during the War of 1812 when volunteer soldiers from Tennessee displayed marked valor in the Battle of New Orleans; Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry is the longest continuously running live radio program in the world. It has broadcast every Friday and Saturday night since 1925; the state is divided into 3 distinct geographical regions, a.k.a. Grand Divisions, legally defined social & cultural regions known for their distinctive musical heritage and as represented by the three stars on the state flag – Bluegrass (eastern Great Smoky Mountains), Country & Western (rolling central hills), & Blues (western lowlands); the state has not one, not two but 9 different official state songs. Yes, music rules ‘round these parts y’all!
Tennessee plate. Memphis, Tennessee, USA. September 18, 2016.

Tennessee. State #14 this year, state #16 last year when this picture was captured on the streets of Memphis, Tennessee. September 18, 2016.

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Music Valley Drive, Nashville, Tennessee. October 17, 2017.

Sparta

Tennessee (TN) || Founded in 1809 and named after the famed town in Greece, Sparta is small-town musical Tennessee with some big-name former residents, one of which, Lester Flatt, is one of the most influential proponents of the bluegrass sound he helped to pioneer. Present-day Sparta is grabbing this association with both hands and running with it, even going so far as to brand itself as ‘Bluegrass USA!’ (& who could blame it if doing so is going to attract the likes of bluegrass-lovin’ us).

Enjoying the bluegrass in Liberty Square, Sparta, Tennessee, a.k.a. Bluegrass USA! October 14, 2017.

…the high-pitch, close-knit harmony of voices, guitars and banjos – sending out that unmistakable sound of bluegrass. That distinctive sound has been emanating from Sparta and White County for so long and in such profusion that we have become, proudly, Bluegrass USA!

SpartaTN.gov

At the Lester Flatt Memorial on Bockman Way, Sparta, Tennessee. October 15, 2017.

LESTER FLATT || The grave of Lester Flatt in Oaklawn Memorial Cemetery outside Sparta, Tennessee. October 15, 2017.
It took a bit of searching out (we almost gave up looking) but we eventually found the small bronze plaque that marks the final resting place of Lester Raymond Flatt (1914-1979) in the peaceful Oaklawn Memorial Cemetery 3 miles from Liberty Square in central Sparta. The Sparta native and bluegrass pioneer played a central role in defining the musical genre as a member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys before going on to form one of the most successful & influential bands of its era by joining forces, in 1948, with banjo maestro Earl Scruggs; their ground-breaking collaborations as Flatt & Scruggs & the Foggy Mountain Boys, whose fame spread thanks to Grand Ole Opry radio & national television broadcasts, still define the genre & influence its protagonists today.

We probably would have stopped by anyway, but the one-day musical celebration of Sparta’s most famous native son that is the annual A Lester Flatt Celebration gave us the only reason we needed to ensure we’d bust a gut in driving the 1,937 miles (3,117 kilometres) we drove to get here – via a deep Deep South detour – just 6 days after saying goodbye to the 4-day Outer Banks Bluegrass Island Festival in Manteo, North Carolina, only 650 miles away at its most direct. We tend not to do most direct. Epic US road trips are more epic that way.

A LESTER FLATT CELEBRATION || Flatt Lonesome performing in front of the Oldham Theater to close the 2017 A Lester Flatt Celebration in Liberty Square, Sparta, Tennessee. October 14, 2017.
The annual one-day celebration of all things bluegrass honouring Sparta’s favourite son is probably the town’s blue-ribboned event. The free bluegrass performances fronting Sparta’s picturesque Oldham Theatre is obviously the main event, but craft stalls, food vendors, a classic car show and a farewell fireworks display supplement the music.

OLDHAM THEATRE || The Oldham Theatre, Liberty Square, Sparta, Tennessee. October 15, 2017.
Somewhat surprisingly, information on Sparta’s most striking edifice is hard to come by. A true neighborhhod cinema house, the Oldham Theatre appears to have been constructed around the late 1930’s and is today one of the last remaining such structures in the US. Converted in 2005 for use as the Sparta Visitors Center, today it doesn’t seem to serve any purpose (although its awesome facade lighting still works to great & photogenic effect) save for providing both a backdrop & a dressing room for the performers of the annual A Lester Flatt Celebration.

A few more captures from an enjoyable day in Sparta.

EPIC US ROAD TRIP || Day 19

 

Nashvegas. Lower Broadway, Nashville, Tennessee. October 15, 2017.

 

“An obvious first stop was party central, Nashville’s Lower Broadway… Still today the centre of Music City’s live music scene, it’s a rousing stretch of neon, noise & rhinestone-tinted BBQ joints, dance halls, bars & honky-tonks. You won’t find much, if any, real country music around here these days – the kind that made Nashville famous & sung by the kind of crooner that Nashville once made famous – but you will have no problem finding a hootin’ & a holleriin’ good time.”

Day 19 || October 15 2017

Route || Sparta to Nashville, Tennessee.
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 121 (195)
Today’s Highlight || Nashvegas – Lower Broadway, Nashville

From the bluegrass of the Appalachian Great Smoky Mountains in the east through the Country & Western sounds of central Nashville to the steamy blues of Memphis in the west, music reigns supreme & captivates Tennesseans.

Cross our wide state, and along the way, meet entertaining folks, experience warm smiles and feel the rhythm of original music.

TNVacation.com

Nashville

Tennessee (TN) || We did cross a portion of the state today, Day 19, in driving the 85-mile section of Interstate 40 that separates sedate Sparta from lively Nashville. It was Sunday, the eve of a Tennessee Titans game and the bars & honky-tonks of Lower Broadway were especially swingin’ (they go off most days). Perfect timing. It was a Sunday funday in Nashvegas. Yehaaa!

Nashvegas. Lower Broadway, Nashville, Tennessee. October 15, 2017.

Nashville – Music City USA
For wannabe song writers or the up-and-coming next big thing, Nashville, the Music City USA, is the only show in town. And for country music fans it’s the mecca, a trip there the ultimate pilgrimage. Since the mid-1920’s, when the immense popularity of a simple radio program broadcast from Downtown Nashville called the WSM Barn Dance, later nicknamed the Grand Ole Opry, led to the city branding itself as ‘The Country Music Capital of the World’, Nashville has been attracting guitar-toting, stetson & rhinestone cowboy boot-wearing singer-songwriters & musicians who have since moulded the C & W genre from the ‘hillbilly music’ of the early 20th century to the purist ‘Nashville sound’ of the 1960’s to the overly fabricated & pop-tinged so-called ‘New/Hot Country’ of today.

The next big thing? Performing in Music City. Nashville, Tennessee. October 15, 2017.

Suffice it to say, and while both a big college & sports-mad city, Nashville is still all about the music: Music Row; the bars, dance halls & hell-raisin’ honky-tonks of neon-heavy Lower Broadway, where Nashville becomes Nashvegas; the mammoth Country Music Hall of Fame; the iconic Ryman Auditorium, the venerated ‘Mother Church of Country Music’ and permanent home of the Opry from 1943 until 1974; &, of course, the revered Grand Ole Opry House itself, a 4,400-seater purpose-built auditorium built in the early 1970’s on the city outskirts as the centrepiece of a country music-themed entertainment complex called Opryland USA. Opryland rode off into the sunset in 1997 but the Grand Ole Opry House is still there, entertaining the masses numerous times a week and providing the stage upon which every country crooner, male or female, aspires to perform.

It’s fall y’all! Fronting the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee. October 17, 2017.

Lower Broadway – Nashvegas
A glaring omission on last year’s Epic US Road Trip 2016 itinerary (Memphis, 200 miles to the west was as close as we got on that particular occasion) & a much anticipated return to the city after my first & only other visit way back in 2003, we were never not going to swing by Nashville this time around. An obvious first stop, and where all Nashville roads lead, was party central, a.k.a. Lower Broadway (best get it out of the way as soon as possible). Still today the centre of Music City’s live music scene, it’s a rousing stretch of neon, noise & rhinestone-tinted BBQ joints, dance halls, bars & honky-tonks. You won’t find much, if any, real (= purist) country music round these parts these days – the kind that made Nashville famous & sung by the kind of crooner that Nashville once made famous – but you will have no problem finding a hootin’ & a holleriin’ good ole time. And you might even find some friendly locals among the throngs of good-time-lovin’, bar hoppin’ revellers.

Nashville holds steady at no. 4 on the list, even as the bachelorette parties descend on its already densely populated downtown. Still, the atmosphere is hard to match: Music City, with its ever-present guitar strum, “has so much character, is the perfect size, has great live music, delicious restaurants, friendly people, affordable accommodations… the list goes on.” “It’s a city of characters and the vibe of downtown is hard to beat.”

Conde Nast Traveler awarding Nashville Number 4 on its 2017 list of ‘The Friendliest Cities in the U.S.’

LEGENDS CORNER || Legends Corner, Lower Broadway, Nashville, Tennessee. October 15, 2017.
I’m assuming that the small stage of Lower Broadway’s Legends Corner, one of Nashville’s original honky-tonks, did once play host to many a legend of the C & W genre. It just doesn’t these days. Today it’s a music bar like all the rest, albeit one with a legendary status & name, and on this particular Sunday Funday afternoon its patrons were being entertained by Legends resident Buck McCoy, seen here.

Some will say that a trip to Nashville is never complete without visiting the tried and true honky-tonk saloons along downtown Broadway. While it’s hard to go wrong in any of these gritty watering holes, Legends stands out as one of the best. Country music record covers plaster the walls, but the real attraction is the bar’s live music: Some of the city’s finest contemporary acts make their mark onstage.

LegendsCorner.com

ERNEST TUBB RECORD STORE || Bluegrass CDs in the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, Lower Broadway, Nashville, Tennessee. October 15, 2017.
Unlike its many bars & honky-tonks, about the only place where you’ll find real country music on Lower Broadway these days is in the racks & bins of the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, about as iconic a Nashville music store as there is (& where they sell bluegrass, too).

Lower Broadway, Nashville, Tennessee. October 15, 2017.

We’ve a few nights in Nashville, enough time I hope to enable us find some real country music. There’s gotta be some around here somewhere, if only for old times’ sake.

EPIC US ROAD TRIP || Day 20

 

Urban Cowgirls. 5th Avenue N, Nashville, Tennessee. October 16, 2017.

 

“We did find some real country music today. Bluegrass, too. Happy helpings of both. We started the day in the wee hours in the Nashville Palace, a drunken stagger from our room in the Fiddler’s Inn and the self-titled ‘Home of Traditional Country Music’, and ended in the intimate & cozy confines of The Station Inn, ‘Forever Bluegrass’ since 1974.”

Day 20 || October 16 2017

Route || Nashville, Tennessee.
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 70 (113)
Today’s Highlight || The Station Inn, Nashville

It’s here. You just need to know where to look (& to avoid Lower Broadway). We did find some real country music today. Bluegrass, too. Happy helpings of both. We started the day in the wee hours in the Nashville Palace, a mere drunken stagger from our room in the Fiddler’s Inn and the Nashville’s self-titled ‘Home of Traditional Country Music’, and ended in the simple but intimate setting of The Station Inn, ‘Forever Bluegrass’ since 1974.

Ending Day 20. The Station Inn. 12 Avenue South, The Gulch, Nashville, Tennessee. October 16, 2017.

In between we paid a few visits to a few graves in the city’s sprawling Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery, country music’s very own Arlington Cemetery; toured the Ryman Auditorium, the so-called ‘Mother Church of Country Music’; & visited a reproduction of a famous Athenian temple in Centennial Park (it wasn’t all music today).

Intermission. No music here. Shadows at The Parthenon in Centennial Park, Nashville, Tennessee. October 16, 2017.

It was bit of a morbid start to Day 20, battling the Nashville traffic to get to the serenity of the city’s Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery, the final resting place for many a country music superstar.

WOODLAWN MEMORIAL PARK CEMETERY || Shrine. The final resting place of Tammy Wynette in the Cross Mausoleum of Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee. October 16, 2017.
Twice today we visited Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery, the evening lighting as bad as the morning lighting that necessitated the second visit (never did I think I’d find myself disgruntled with lighting in a graveyard). Snoop around in here long enough & you’ll eventually stumble across the grave of many a country music heavy-hitter (Eddy Arnold, Porter Wagoner, Marty Robbins & Webb Pierce, among others, are all buried here), although having a map as provided by the staff in the cemetery’s impressive, maze-esque funeral home would speed up the search (it’s a big place). We came here to view the grave of George Jones (see below), eventually ending up in the cemetery’s cross-shaped mausoleum, the preferred resting place for those who didn’t want to be buried outside or underground. You’ll find more former country A-Listers in here (Little Jimmy Dickens, Jim Ed Brown & Lynn ‘(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden’ Anderson to name but a few), not to mention a rather bizarre replica of Christ’s Tomb, but the mausoleum’s biggest attraction is surely the final resting place of one Tammy Wynette. ‘The First Lady Of Country Music’ who was blighted by health problems throughout her adult life before her untimely death in 1998 at the age of 55. One of country music’s best-known and biggest-selling female artists, her signature song Stand By Your Man, just 1 of Wynette’s 20 chart-topping hits, is also one of the most recorded songs in the history of the genre and the one that also crossed over into the pop charts thus catapulting her in the process to superstar status.

(THE) GEORGE JONES || Performing in The George Jones, 2nd Avenue North, Downtown Nashville, Tennessee. October 16, 2017.
With a long list of hit records (he had more songs on the Billboard chart and more top 40 hits than any country artist in history) & a distinctive, unmatched voice, Texan George Jones was, for the decades prior to his death in 2013 at the age of 81, frequently referred to, by other country singers no less, as the greatest living country singer, one who, and unlike some of his contemporaries, stuck with real country music with a vengeance by showing unabashed loyalty to strictly country arrangements. It’s no surprise then that present-day Downtown Nashville has a shrine to ‘The Possum’, as he was affectionately known. The George Jones is a multi-level commercial juggernaut boasting a smokehouse, an event space, a museum & a rooftop bar, the small stage of which is seen here, with views across the Cumberland River towards the hulking Nissan Stadium, home to the Tennessee Titans of the NFL. No longer part of the wider Jones estate following a late-2016 sale, it remains to be seen if the new ownership group will show respect for the legacy of one of country music’s most iconic figures, or slap his name and face on whatever they feel can make them the most money (while purchasing the property, the group also acquired the rights to use Jones’ name & image).

He was one of the finest interpretive singers who ever lifted a microphone… There cannot be a single country songwriter of the last 50-odd years who has not wondered what it might be like to hear their words sung by that voice.

– Andrew Mueller of Uncut magazine commenting on Jones’ influence shortly after his death in 2013.

The Nashville Parthenon
Well I never! A replica of an iconic Greek monument from antiquity slap-bang in the middle of a Nashville green space. I was especially intrigued to see this having being somewhat underwhelmed by the original in Athens some 6 months earlier. The Nashville Parthenon may be a less-than-a-century-old copy of the original masterpiece, but at least it’s there. At least there’s something to see. About the only aspect of what is an impressive Nashville charlatan that disappointed today was the fact that it was closed to the public, as it always is of a Monday.

PARTHENON || The Parthenon. Centennial Park, Nashville, Tennessee. October 16, 2017.
The original 70-metre-long by 31-metre-wide (230 x 98 feet) Classical-style Parthenon temple was built in the 5th Century BC on a sacred site in ancient Greece, the crest of the Acropolis, the famous hill overlooking Athens. Dedicated to Athena, Greek Goddess of Wisdom & benevolent protector of the city of Athens, the temple, now mostly in ruin & what’s left perennially covered by an unsightly skin of scaffolding, was built to house the long-lost 12.8-metre-tall (42 feet) ivory & gold statue of Athena, the most renowned cult image of Athens & considered one of the greatest achievements of Phidias, the acclaimed sculptor of ancient Greece. The replica of The Parthenon that presently stands pride of place in Nashville’s Centennial Park is, not surprisingly, the world’s only full-size reproduction of what is considered the epitome of ancient Greek culture. Built as the centrepiece of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition of May to October 1897, it was envisioned to serve as the Exposition’s gallery of fine arts that ‘would inspire a love of beauty and a spirit of excellence’, so said the Nashville Mayor of the time Eugene C. Lewis. The success of the Centennial and the public’s favourable response to the temporary Parthenon (built of brick, wood & plaster) meant the post-Expo’s plan to destroy it was shelved in favour of its total reconstruction using more permanent materials, this carried out in phases between 1921 and 1931 – it opened to the public in its present form on May 20, 1931. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in February 1972 & in receipt of a full makeover in 2002, today its vast gallery space serves not only as an art museum but, and just like the ancient Athenian original, also as a shrine to Athena, albeit only of late – Nashville’s Parthenon only received its Athena statue, Athena Parthenos, in May 1990, unveiled to much fanfare on the anniversary of the Parthenon opening to the public. A modern fill-size copy by Nashville native Alan LeQuire, it took 8 years to complete and today, at 12.75 metres (41 ft 10 in) tall, is the largest piece of indoor sculpture in the Western Hemisphere. Plain white for twelve years, in 2002 Parthenon volunteers gilded Athena under the supervision of master gilder Lou Reed to accurately reflect what was thought to be her original Athens Parthenon appearance, doing no harm in the process to Nashville’s long-standing reputation as ‘The Athens of The South’.

OK, back to musical Nashville, and from one place of worship to another.

RYMAN AUDITORIUM || The external facade of the Ryman Auditorium, The Mother Church of Country Music, in Downtown Nashville, Tennessee. October 16, 2017.
A much venerated Nashville landmark, the redbrick Union Gospel Tabernacle opened in 1892 as a house of worship and was renamed The Ryman Auditorium in 1904 following the death of Thomas Green Ryman (1841-1904), a prominent riverboat captain and Nashville businessman who was the central figure in devoting generous contributions of both time and money to the building’s construction. Put to use as a venue for a wide variety of events, the auditorium gained a reputation as the region’s preeminent performance hall, unintentionally given the fact that it wasn’t designed as such – it only received its first stage in 1901, almost 2 decades after its opening. However, it was as the venue for the Grand Ole Opry, the popular live radio show that had outgrown several local venues since its inception in 1925, that really put the Ryman on the map, the building gaining national recognition as the ‘Mother Church of Country Music’ by playing to packed audiences every week of the Opry‘s 1943-1974 Ryman residence. Included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 (& designated a National Historic Landmark in 2001), it sat largely abandoned for 2 decades following the Opry‘s 1974 departure to a new, custom-built venue, before opening once again in 1994 as a performance venue following major renovations. Another $14M restoration followed in 2015, ushering in a new commercial-driven campaign to market the historic auditorium to visitors as ‘The Soul of Nashville’ and somewhere that has been ‘Historically Cool Since 1892’.

BIRTHPLACE OF BLUEGRASS || A statue to Bill Monroe, a.k.a. The Father of Bluegrass, outside the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. October 16, 2017.
It was upon the Rynam stage in December 1945 that the ‘Father of Bluegrass’ Bill Monroe found the sound of a new musical genre. When Monroe’s rapid-fire mandolin and ‘high lonesome’ vocals were joined by Earl Scruggs’ virtuosic & innovative signature three-finger style of banjo playing, Lester Flatt’s guitar and vocals, Chubby Wise’s fiddle, and Howard Watts’ bass, ‘bluegrass’ was born. Today, bluegrass remains a staple on the stage where it started.

RYMAN TOUR – THE SOUL OF NASHVILLE || Inside the Ryman Auditorium in Downtown Nashville, Tennessee. October 16, 2017.
Undoubtedly looking all the better for the extensive 2015 renovation (the shaded interior still evokes that of a church thanks to the reproduced stained glass windows & pews), but the experience of visiting the Ryman today is a vastly different, less intimate experience to one I got while undertaking the DIY tour back in 2003 when I recall being the only person poking around the auditorium’s innards. Visually not much about the Ryman seems to have changed in the intervening 15 years, but it’s a much busier place these days, the present-day Ryman’s The Soul of Nashville experience that visitors buy into both popular & seemingly hellbent on recouping as much as possible of the $14M spent on the aforementioned renovation. The tour is still self-guided, there’s plenty to read on the history of the building and The Soul of Nashville theater experience video that begins every tour is brilliantly conceived & innovatively presented, but it’s still all a bit too commercialised for my liking – you have to pay extra on top of the already expensive entrance fee to have your photo taken on the hallowed Ryman stage, just one step too far for me.

THE STATION INN || Carl Jackson & Friends performing at The Station Inn, 12 Avenue South, The Gulch, Nashville, Tennessee. October 16, 2017.
Something of a bluegrass mecca, the dark and intimate first come, first served, cash-on-the-door-only venue that is Nashville’s Station Inn has been ‘Forever Bluegrass’ since its opening in 1974 (it’s also a roots & Americana music venue). Based in the trendy & hip Gulch district of the city, originally home to the downtown railroad terminal, the simple venue has hosted some pickin’ masters over the years & many a legend has graced its stage, one of which, Grammy award-winning Carl Jackson (wearing the cap), we got to meet tonight.

A few parting shots from the city as captured today on the streets of Downtown Nashville.

EPIC US ROAD TRIP || Day 21

 

It’s fall y’all! Outside the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee. October 17, 2017.

 

“Both as big & as well-oiled a commercial enterprise as you’ll find anywhere in present-day Music City and a tourist must-do, embarking on a tour of the Opry, and especially in conjunction with a tour of the aforementioned Ryman Auditorium, gives an awesome insight into what it is that turned Nashville into the centre of the country-crooning rhinestone universe.”

Day 21 || October 17 2017

Route || Nashville to Knoxville, Tennessee.
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 198 (319)
Today’s Highlight || The Grand Ole Opry House, Nashville

We got back on the road today, an almost 200-mile drive east of Nashville via Interstate 40 getting us to the outskirts of eastern Tennessee’s Knoxville. We’d done a lot up to this point in Nashville, but we still had but one Music City loose end to tie up prior to hitting the road for this day. Cue the Grand Ole Opry House.

Blame It On My Country Roots. In the gift shop of the Grand Ole Opry House, Nashville, Tennessee. October 17, 2017.

The Grand Ole Opry & The Grand Ole Opry House
What started out in 1925 as a simple for-radio broadcast of old-time music from Downtown Nashville on 650AM WSM, the WSM Barn Dance, is today the longest continuously running live radio program in the world. Quickly attracting a live audience, known since the late 1920’s as The Grand Ole Opry and branded as ‘The Show that Made Country Music Famous’, the Opry‘s permanent home since 1974 – prior to which, since 1943, it was staged in Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium – has been the 4,400-seater Grand Ole Opry House located some 9 miles east of Downtown Nashville. Both as big & as well-oiled a commercial enterprise as you’ll find anywhere in present-day Music City and a tourist must-do, embarking on a tour of the Opry, and especially in conjunction with a tour of the aforementioned Ryman Auditorium, gives an awesome insight into what it is that turned Nashville into the centre of the country-crooning rhinestone universe.

OPRY TOUR || Dressing Room 5, ‘Stars and Stripes’. Backstage at the Grand Ole Opry House, Nashville, Tennessee. October 17, 2017.
For such a large venue, I was struck by how compact the immediate back-of-stage environment of the Grand Ole Opry House is, the Artists’ Entrance, the bronze plaques & personal mailboxes of invite-only Opry Members, the palatial Family/Green Room where artists & VIP guests hang out, and a peak into some of the 18 themed & lavishly-decorated dressing rooms (this one decorated as a tribute to America’s service men & women) taking up the bulk of the popular 1-hour Backstage Tour itinerary.

2010 NASHVILLE FLOODS – THE SHOW MUST GO ON || Hallowed ground. The stage of the Grand Ole Opry House, Nashville, Tennessee. October 17, 2017.
Of course the Opry Backstage Tour includes a walk across the stage for the requisite – ching! ching! – optional-purchase-at-the-end-of-tour photo op standing in the famous ‘Circle’, a six-foot circle of wood that sits center stage & that was removed from the Ryman stage to be set into the stage here when the show moved to its present location 1974. The stage backdrop reflects the Opry‘s origin as the 650AM WSM Barn Dance, broadcast on Opry nights since its inception in 1925 & today the longest continuously running live radio program in the world, a run it managed to sustain even during the May 2010 floods that crippled Nashville and closed the Opry House for 5+ months. Despite damage that included a ruined stage, pews, curtains, floor and the walls, the music or the broadcasts never stopped as the Opry continued to venue-hop during the summer of 2010. After undergoing $20 million in renovations – the venue’s entire ground floor, including the stage, was submerged & had to be rebuilt – the Opry House reopened in October 2010, a preserved marker on the wall in the backstage Family/Green Room showing the level of the flood waters the only sign of the floods that caused more than $2 billion in private property damage & left 11 in the immediate Nashville area dead.

Epic US Road Trip 2017 Home

NEW ENGLAND / NORTHERN COLONIES || Connecticut

DAY 01 110 miles || T.F Green Airport, Rhode Island, to New Haven, Connecticut

MIDDLE COLONIES || Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland & Washington D.C.

DAY 02 312 miles || New Haven to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

DAY 03 098 miles || Gettysburg to Lancaster, Pennsylvania

DAY 04 149 miles || Lancaster to Atlantic City, New Jersey (via Amish Country & Philadelphia)

DAY 05 201 miles || Atlantic City to Washington D.C. (via Lewes, Delaware & Annapolis, Maryland)

SOUTHERN COLONIES || Virginia, The Carolinas (North Carolina & South Carolina) & Georgia

DAY 06 206 miles || Washington D.C. to Richmond, Virginia (via Monticello, Virginia)

DAY 07 240 miles || Richmond to Manteo, North Carolina (via Williamsburg & Jamestown, Virginia)

DAY 08 003 miles || Outer Banks – Manteo, North Carolina

DAY 09 003 miles || Outer Banks – Manteo, North Carolina

DAY 10 038 miles || Outer Banks – Manteo, North Carolina

DAY 11 032 miles || Outer Banks – Manteo, North Carolina

DAY 12 274 miles || Manteo to Wilmington, North Carolina

DAY 13 192 miles || Wilmington to Charleston, South Carolina (via Myrtle Beach, South Carolina)

DAY 14 285 miles || Charleston to Macclenny, Florida (via Savannah, Georgia)

THE SOUTH || Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi & Tennessee

DAY 15 397 miles || Macclenny to Mobile, Alabama (via Tallahassee, Florida)

DAY 16 167 miles || Mobile to New Orleans, Louisiana (via southern Mississippi)

DAY 17 480 miles || New Orleans to Fort Payne, Alabama (via Meridian, Mississippi)

DAY 18 142 miles || Fort Payne to Sparta, Tennessee

DAY 19 121 miles || Sparta to Nashville, Tennessee

DAY 20 070 miles || Nashville

DAY 21 198 miles || Nashville to Knoxville, Tennessee

KENTUCKY & THE GREAT LAKES || Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan & New York

DAY 22 307 miles || Knoxville to London, Kentucky (via Maynardville & Sneedville, Tennessee; Coeburn, Virginia; Jenkins & Hyden, Kentucky)

DAY 23 376 miles || London to Dayton, Ohio (via Sandy Hook & Olive Hill, Kentucky & Greenfield, Ohio)

DAY 24 393 miles || Dayton to Erie, Pennsylvania (via Michigan & Toledo & Cleveland, Ohio)

DAY 25 430 miles || Erie to Lake George, New York (via Cooperstown, New York)

NEW ENGLAND / NORTHERN COLONIES & CANADA || Vermont, New Hampshire, Quebec & New Brunswick (Canada), Maine, Massachusetts & Rhode Island

DAY 26 143 miles || Lake George to Montpelier, Vermont (via Ticonderoga, Crown Point & Westport, New York & Burlington, Vermont)

DAY 27 213 miles || Montpelier to Franconia, New Hampshire (via Barre & Chelsea, Vermont & Lincoln, New Hampshire)

DAY 28 253 miles || Franconia to Quebec City, Quebec, Canada

DAY 29 326 miles || Quebec City to Woodstock, New Brunswick, Canada

DAY 30 330 miles || Woodstock to Bar Harbor, Maine

DAY 31 244 miles || Bar Harbor to Portland, Maine

DAY 32 280 miles || Portland to Hyannis, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

DAY 33 123 miles || Hyannis to T.F Green Airport, Rhode Island (via Providence, Rhode Island)

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