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The Karaoke Man

I said goodbye to Meriwether Lewis that morning and continued heading north on the beautiful Natchez Trace Parkway through Tennessee while watching endless pastoral scenes rush by, each worthy of a photograph.  I drove into Tennessee's capital, Nashville, late in the afternoon, where I stopped at a grocery store and got restocked with supplies.  I knew this was the South because of the endless bags of fried pork rinds, cans of grits, and jars of chitlins on the shelves.  Pork rinds are pretty disgusting, grits are really disgusting, and as for chitlins I won't even go there.  Of course, I'm sure Southerners feel the same way about bratwurst, so we're even.


Above:  Walter Shannon, karaoke devotee, with the CD present he gave me.

I pulled into a state park campground on a lake outside of Nashville that night at dusk.  The next morning at the campground, while sitting at my picnic table in the steamy sunshine, I decided to work on my website, so I pulled out my laptop computer and started typing away. 


A few minutes later, I noticed a gray-haired, shirtless guy cautiously approach my campsite.  I greeted him as he walked towards me and he broke into a sheepish smile.  "I was just wondering what you were working on, with your computer there," he said with a Southern drawl.  I told him about my website and my trip, then invited him to sit down at the table and we talked for the next half-hour.  He told me that his name was Walter Shannon and that he was a retired telephone line worker from Kentucky.  Walter was soft-spoken, polite, and a little shy, and he said that he was visiting relatives here in Nashville for a few weeks.


As we talked, Walter told me with an embarrassed smile about his recent passion:  karaoke.  "I go to karaoke clubs about twice a week and really enjoy getting up and singing."  I had to suppress a smile because Walter was the very first person who had ever confessed to me about being a karaoke addict.   After we talked for a while, Walter said, "Well, I don't want to bother you anymore so I'll head back to my campsite." 


"You're no bother at all," I assured him, "I enjoyed talking to you."  I shook his hand, he walked away, and I started packing up my truck. 


A few minutes later, Walter shyly approached me again.  "I wanted to give you a present for your trip," he said as he handed me one of his karaoke CDs.  He'd written on the cover, "To Del, may you travel safely."  I was touched by this gentle man's kind offering, then I smiled and shook his hand.  Twenty minutes later, I headed into Nashville while listening to Walter's version of "Ring of Fire" cranked up on my truck's stereo.  



Above left:  Back on the Natchez Trace Parkway, heading north towards Nashville.

Above right:  One of the many beautiful vistas along the Natchez Trace Parkway in central Tennessee, this one at Baker Bluff.



Above left:  View from the parkway, overlooking Highway 96 near Franklin, Tennessee.

Above center:  I said goodbye to the Natchez Trace Parkway here at its northern terminus near Nashville, Tennessee, after traveling on it for four days and 500 miles.

Above right:  Getting groceries in Nashville (note the beautiful truck in the foreground).  They didn't have Krispy Kreme donuts, though, darn it!

Music City, USA

I'd never been to Nashville, Tennessee, and didn't really know what to expect.  I thought Nashville would be spiffy and glamorous, filled with southern belles and impressive looking dudes wearing white suits who drove Cadillacs.  As I headed into town, though, I was a little disappointed, probably feeling like folks who visit Hollywood for the first time.  But then I parked my truck, walked around Nashville and started to get a feel for the place.  No, it's not glitzy.  But with all the bars and honky tonks, each filled with live musical acts, Nashville is a fascinating place and unlike any city I've ever visited.  As I strolled up and down Broadway, I walked past lots of guitar-toting guys dressed in jeans, flannel shirts, and cowboy hats, each hoping to make their dreams come true.  Music is definitely king in Nashville.


Above:  The venerable Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee.

A few months before leaving Portland, I had bought a CD by one of my favorite singers, Emmylou Harris, called "Live at the Ryman Auditorium."  I didn't know what the Ryman was but the CD sounded great and I'd listened to it several times on this trip.  While camping the night before, I was reading my AAA TourBook, as I do every night to plan the next day's adventures, and learned that the Ryman Auditorium was located right here in Nashville. 


According to my TourBook, the Ryman was a beautiful old building in downtown Nashville that served as the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, the country radio show that's been on the air every Saturday night since before Moses parted the Red Sea.  Best of all, the auditorium was open daily for tours.  This sounded like my kind of place.


After I got to Nashville in the early afternoon, I found the Ryman, which wasn't hard to do, since it's the most beautiful building in downtown Nashville.  Then I paid my admission fee, walked inside and learned the story of the Ryman Auditorium. 


Back in the 1880s, a Nashville riverboat captain named Thomas Ryman, who was a bit of a hell-raiser, converted suddenly to Christianity.  Soon afterwards, Ryman decided that the Christian folks in Nashville needed a decent place in Nashville to congregate, so he built an auditorium, which he called the Union Gospel Tabernacle.  The tabernacle opened in 1892 at a cost of about $100,000 and it originally seated 3,755, which was later expanded to 6,000 by adding the so-called "Confederate Gallery" upstairs.


During its first few decades, crowds filled the tabernacle to hear celebrities, such as the Arctic explorer Robert Peary, orator William Jennings Bryan, and band leader John Philip Sousa.  Ryman died in 1904 and at Ryman's funeral, the attending reverend suggested changing the name to the "Ryman Auditorium," an idea which evoked a standing ovation from the gathering.  In 1943, The Grand Ole Opry radio show moved into the Ryman and for the next several decades, the Ryman was known as "The Mother Church of Country Music."



Here's Emmylou Harris singing at the Ryman Auditorium.  This is Walls of Time.


The Grand Ole Opry show left the Ryman in the 1970s and moved into a glitzy, new auditorium in the Nashville suburbs, and for the next 20 years, the Ryman sat empty and forlorn.  It was almost torn down in the early 1990s but was rescued and refurbished by dedicated country music lovers.  Today, you can take a self-guided tour of the Ryman during the day, and at night you can once again hear the strains of live country and bluegrass music.


I spent a couple hours walking around the Ryman Auditorium while soaking in its ambience, and I strolled across the stage where Patsy Cline, W.C. Fields, Roy Acuff, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Mae West, and dozens of other celebrities have entertained audiences for the past century.  The Ryman is a wonderful place and a "must see" in Nashville.  If you listen closely, you can even hear Minnie Pearl's "How Do" echoing off the walls.



Left:  Coming into town, my first visit to Nashville.




Above left:  My first stop in Nashville was at the AAA office, where I got resupplied with maps and books for the next month.

Above right:  Driving in downtown Nashville was an "interesting" experience.  Note the small white car on the right that got crunched by the truck as it tried to maneuver a tight turn.  Here's a tip:  When you're in Nashville, don't park near the street corners.



Above left:  Inside the Ryman, where you can almost hear Patsy Cline singing "Walking After Midnight."  The upstairs balcony is known as the Confederate Gallery.

Above right:  The original oaken pews from 1892 were carefully refurbished during the renovation of the Ryman a century later.



Above left:  Broadway is Nashville's "Street of Dreams" for hundreds of country musicians.  Some are good and some not-so-good.

Above center:  A bar scene on Broadway.  It's all the free country music you could ever want or can stand.

Above right:  The Nashville skyline.

Heading South Through Tennessee

Above:  After leaving Nashville I headed south once again, this time towards Chattanooga.  This is at Stone's River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  Note the rifled cannon barrel.

I left the lively honky-tonks of Nashville around 2 p.m. and headed southeast through steamy central Tennessee.  A few hours later I stopped outside of Murfreesboro at a Civil War battlefield known as "The Battle of Stone's River," as the Union Army called it, or the "Second Battle of Murfreesboro" as the Southerners called it. 


Given the late hour, I had to make a very condensed visit.  I dashed through the National Park Service Visitor Center, then quickly strolled among the cannons and trenches.  In less than an hour, I had grasped the basic points of the battle.  I would've liked to have spent more time at the site, learning more about this important conflict in early 1863 (which had the highest percentage of casualties of any major battle during the Civil War), but the sun was dipping towards the horizon and the friendly park rangers were gently ushering me towards the gate.  I bid adieu to the nice rangers and got back in my truck, not wanting to start the Third Battle of Murfreesboro.


I drove down more two-lane highways late in the day, then pulled into Old Stone Fort State Park at dusk and found a nice campsite in the mostly-deserted campground.  This would be my home for the next few days as I got caught up a bit with my website and, of course, ate more brats.



Above left:  Road shot in southern Tennessee.  The farther south I drove, the steamier it got.

Above right:  Downloading photos and (once again) cooking bratwurst.  This is at Old Stone Fort State Park in Manchester, Tennessee.  And in case you were wondering, well no, I never get tired of eating brats!



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