Tag Archive | music

Music City



A place I’ve never been, and always wanted to go – but I almost forgot to plan it into the trip!  Good thing I didn’t, because in many ways it was the highlight of the vacation.

Historic and modern, Nashville is full of striking architecture

Historic and modern, Nashville is full of striking architecture







As you may remember, the object of this journey was to see mountains, and I had decided to spend Monday afternoon in Nashville on my way back home.  At the last minute, I re-arranged the itinerary, putting me in the Music City on Thursday and Friday instead – all the better for music appreciation.

In all, I was in, I think, six different music venues, and heard more bands play than that, which right there made it all worth it – living as I do in an area where you’re hard pressed to find one band playing on a Friday night!  I highly recommend both Roberts’ Western World on Broadway

Robert's Western World is a classic dive honky-tonk on Broadway, still specializing in PBR and hotdogs, and the classic country offerings on their small stage add to the ambience.  We came here first, tried a couple other spots, and then came back for their foot-tapping sounds and unpretentious style.

Robert’s Western World is a classic dive honky-tonk on Broadway, still specializing in PBR and hotdogs, and the classic country offerings on their small stage add to the ambience. We came here first, tried a couple other spots, and then came back for their foot-tapping sounds and unpretentious style.

and the Grand Ole Opry, if you want the classic country experience.  If you want more modern country, or don’t like country at all, the city still has plenty to offer.  Nashville is without doubt a musical destination, its tunes suiting its geography, nestled between the hip towns of the south-east, the old-time Appalachians, the deep south, and the rural Midwest.  I barely scratched the surface, and look forward to going back to hear more!

Langhorne Slim and the Law was one of the smaller, not-really-country bands that I checked out, in this case in an upstairs bar packed full of college students.

Langhorne Slim and the Law was one of the smaller, not-really-country bands that I checked out, in this case in an upstairs bar packed full of college students.

The Grand Ole Opry live radio performance was a wonderful experience - even better than I expected it to be!  We saw about ten acts in two hours, and they each included some personal anecdotes of their musical career.  Act more quickly than I did, and you won't wind up with this obstructed view...

The Grand Ole Opry live radio performance was a wonderful experience – even better than I expected it to be! We saw about ten acts in two hours, and they each included some personal anecdotes of their musical career. Lady Antebellum “headlined,” but I loved the oldest performers the best! Act more quickly than I did, and you won’t wind up with this obstructed view…

There is plenty to do in Nashville if you don’t want to listen to live tunes (but… why would you go there if you don’t like music?).  Historic buildings, sports teams, a lovely river, shopping, plenty of bars, barbecue joints (or hot chicken – that’s a big thing down there).  The downtown area is very walk-able; the touristy area is really only a few blocks square, but outside of that are some fun shops and restaurants, too.  Looking at all of the offerings, I was struck that it would be a fun place to visit with children, though in mid-October we saw more bachelorette parties, family reunions, and anniversaries.  However, remember that I was only there for 36 hours – and everything I saw had to do with music!


The Johnny Cash Museum had only opened months before we went, and although it was well-done, I didn’t feel that it was worth the hype… or the price of admission.  If  you’ve read or heard much about Johnny Cash (heck, even liner notes would be enough), you’re not going to learn too much here.  I did think it was neat to see his IMG_1402hand-written letters, his official papers, and his stage costumes.  They also went a little more in-depth on his later, less-public life, which was interesting.  There were multiple kiosks with mini screens and headphones, so that you could watch videos of some of his stage or television appearances.  We got in there in the morning, before there were many others inside, and within a half hour it had gotten too crowded to be comfortable, which leads me to believe that it would not be any fun at a busier time of year.

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum


The Country Music Hall of Fame has been on my list for some time, and the museum attached to it is really amazing.  It takes the visitor from the very beginnings of “country” music, with folks coming out of the hills singing harmonies, dancing to jug bands, or strumming true folk songs on guitars, though the modern day with its diversity of sub-genres.   It does a great job of balancing the evolving music, the social forces that popularized or altered it, the distinctive showmanship of the genre, and the values espoused by its performers IMG_1416(whether the gold-plated automobiles or their pious devotion).  It combines text, videos and recordings, glass-case displays, and beautiful architecture.  My only critique is that there is not much that is interactive, so kids may get bored before you do.  The ticket is good all day, so if I had it to do over again, I would go in the morning for an hour or so, then walk around and eat lunch, and come back to digest the rest.  As it was, it was tough to take it all in at once, and I almost missed checking out the Hall itself.

IMG_1423Though the city was busy for the weekend, I found crowds to be mostly manageable, in the middle of October.  It is possible that I wouldn’t want to be there in a weekend in a more popular travel season.  Another lesson learned was to make my hotel reservations online as soon as I found something I wanted.  Waiting only made it too late to reserve the place I wanted online, and when I got there in person I had to pay almost twice as much for the same room.  On a positive note, I did make sure to get tickets to some shows, so I had some entertainment planned out, and I recommend that, as well.  I can’t wait to get back to Nashville again, and would love to hear your thoughts on not-to-miss sights and sounds in town!



Top 10 Places I Want to Go Next

It has come to my attention that what started as a “travel” blog has morphed into a “nature” blog.  This is because I have been traveling primarily locally – to those who don’t live here, it is probably just as interesting as anything else, but for me it has lost the zing! of “something new.”  Rather than focusing on the specifics of my routes, my campsites, the novelties witnessed, I’ve been looking a little more closely – at the flowers in bloom, the curious insects that cross my path, the riffles of water babbling over bedrock.  Now that the flush of spring and the annual “newness” of nature is fading into the laziness of summer, I’m going to turn over a new leaf (so to speak), and profile my travels a little more.  To kick it off, on this rainy day,  I’m going to do a little dreaming about my next vacations – some shoe-ins (I already have the plans in place), some a bit more of a stretch (might be years down the road).   I heartily welcome tips for travel to these locales, features not-to-be-missed, and ideas for great road food along the way!

1. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Upper Penninsula of Michigan.  Natural wonders, backpacking trails, and if it’s timed right, swimming in Lake Superior!  I hope to get there in mid- to late-August of this year, when the water is as warm as it’ll get (though it still takes my breath away)!

2.  The Everglades, Florida.  I wanted to see it before the wetlands were consumed by the rising sea levels, but it appears that the Burmese Pythons have beat climate change to the destruction of this global treasure.  The sooner the better, to see the amazing flora and fauna of these swamps.  I hope to schedule a trip this winter for a 7-10-day exploration of the area – at a time when the heat is at a minimum!

3.  Central America.  At this point I’m thinking of the Dominican Republic, to combine some eco-tourism with Caribbean beaches and tasty Latin food, plus exercising my Spanish a little bit.  Can I do the Everglades and the Caribbean in one winter?  I doubt it, but we’ll see!

4.  Sawtooth Mountains and Salmon River, Idaho.  I loved this place from the first moment I saw it – and I got to see it for a full 24 hours, because my car broke down and needed some new electronics installed in Ketchum (in 2001!).  I’ve been working on finding the time to head back there, plus a partner for a wilderness backpacking trip, ever since.  I’m ready to actually put some energy into it now, and am hoping to get something in place for next summer.Challis Stream

5.  The Carolinas.  North or South, it doesn’t much matter at this point, because I’ve never been to either… working on that quest to hit All 50 States.  Plus I have heard they are beautiful.  Suggestions very welcome for this one!

6.  Ashland, Wisconsin and the Bayfield Peninsula.  Until a year ago, I had never been to this cool town and awesome natural areas surrounding it and jutting out into Lake Superior.  Then I went for a day for work, and whetted my appetite.  I hope to get back this summer or fall for a long weekend, maybe to take in some music at the Big Top Chautauqua or just camp, hike,  swim, and check out the historical and cultural attractions in the area.

7.  Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Milwaukee?  Yes!  Every time I go there, I have fun and get to see something new.  I want to spend a good 2-3 days there and have some a couple nights on the town.  It has all the culture, history, and charm of an old industrial Midwestern city, but it isn’t quite as big and bustling as Chicago!  Great food, great beer, lovely lakeshore, good music, museums, and baseball!.  I already have plans to head there in July, so keep watching for updates!  Recommendations on favorite restaurants are particularly welcome here – I have loved the Comet Cafe every time I’ve been (you should try their bacon pancakes -delish!), but want to try something new!

8.  Louisiana.  I went to New Orleans for the first time a few years ago, to visit my sister and explore the town.  It was great fun, but I want to explore some of the natural areas in the vicinity a bit more.  I’ve always wanted to go to Tab Benoit-sponsored  Voice of the Wetlands concert – blues all-stars uniting for the preservation of Louisiana’s bayous and traditional culture.  I’d love to rock out to great blues music, dine on oysters, and explore the amazing natural treasures on our southern coast!  If not this year, then next!

9.  Is it #9 already? Man, what to choose?  Or, more specifically, what not to choose?  Can I cop out, and make this spot into a whole category?  Well, sure I can – it’s my blog, I make the rules!  So I’m going to choose “Places I want to revisit” – and include Berlin, Germany; south-central Alaska; and the southwest desert all in one!  Since I don’t have any of these vacations even mentally in the works yet, they’ll have to get separated out more once a few more of the destinations above get knocked off.  I’m looking forward to it, though!

10. A new continent. Yes, another cop-out.  Technically, I have never been to most continents.  But if I can get to one new one in the next 5 years, it’ll make me happy.  Asia and Antarctica top my list of potentials, but I wouldn’t sneer at a free trip to Africa or Australia, either!  It appears that I only have “A” continents left in my never-visitied category…

How about you ? Where to next?  Or must-see places that I left off my list?

Last Day on the Road

November 5-6, 2010   

Miles 9133 – 9836

Mountain View, AR – Chicago, IL

After leaving the awesome Blanchard Springs Caverns, I headed over to nearby Mountain View, Arkansas for some culture.  The Ozarks are known for three things, at least in my mind: beautiful scenery (check), hillbillies (er, check), and music.  The first two are shared pretty closely with lots of places, among them southwestern Wisconsin.  The last makes the area unique, and in a lot of different ways.  Most people have heard of Branson, MO, and a lot have been there.  That’s one example of the excellent country music available in the Ozarks, but Mountain View shows off another side of things.

In warm weather, visitors to historic downtown Mountain View, “The folk music capitol of the world,” can listen to accomplished musicians picking guitars, banjos, mandolins, and bass on porch stoops all over town, and even join in if they had the foresight to bring an instrument along.  Nightly concerts at multiple locations around town bring in sell-out crowds, and several museums of mountain music and crafts round out the experience.

In November, though, most of those places are shuttered up tight, along with the ice cream shops, fudge factories, and t-shirt dealers.  In late fall, I was left with a few die-hard music stores, a luthier’s studio, and a small post office from which to mail the last of my postcards.  I nearly bought a mandolin in town, just to say that I had, but settled on just a few picks, instead (after all, I’d barely played the mandolin I’d just dragged over 9,000 miles around the country with me).  I walked around town in the chill, and drank a hot tea in lieu of the ice cream before heading over to the Ozark Folk Center.  Of course, even that closes early in the off-season, and I got there just as the doors were shutting.  Instead of displays of heirloom crafts and musical artistry, all I got was the gift shop… but even that was full of high-quality, handmade items.  Plus, it gave me the opportunity to look for some last-minute gifts from my long travel – and even a couple Christmas presents!

I left Mountain View with a determination to head back on some warm summer day in the future, and headed north.  I crossed into Missouri just before sunset, drove straight east, and a few hours later crossed into the southern tip of Illinois.  I meandered around, generally northward, for a few hours before finally finding a spot to spend the night in the Shawnee National Forest.

I woke up in the morning to a towering cliff topped with brilliant fall leaves  – I couldn’t have picked a better campsite if I had tried! 

I headed up from Cairo towards Carbondale, with a short detour to go through Anna, IL, which I had always wanted to see.  Around mid-morning I got to a park near Carbondale that had been recommended to me by a friend (thanks, Jared!) for one last hike.  The Little Grand Canyon is a favorite among college students and families alike, and on this beautiful fall day I could see why.  Not only was the scenery itself beautiful, but I had the chance to look out on the flat Mississippi River floodplain and realize that these were the last hills for many, many miles.

My drive north confirmed that fact, as I got on the interstate and zoomed my way north through cornfields and concrete for another 6 hours until I hit the urban sprawl of the Chicagoland area.  I threaded my way through it until I could smell Lake Michigan, see familiar store fronts, and make second-nature turns through narrow city streets.   I rang a familiar bell, and my mom opened the door and welcomed me in to the fragrant meal they had been keeping warm all evening.  Home at last!  And ready for the next adventure…

Looking westward towards the Mississippi River from the peaks of the Shawnee National Forest in Illinois.

Bites, Bats, and Bingo

10/22 – 10/25/2010

Detail on the floor of the state capitol building, Austin TX

Austin, TX

I got into Austin late on Thursday afternoon, and my friend Kevin started right in on planning a fun-filled weekend.   I told him that I wanted to see “the bats” while I was in town, and we headed out to see them that very evening.  The Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin is host to the largest urban bat colony in North America, reaching 1.5 million at the peak of the summer season.  These are Mexican free-tailed bats, the same species that I saw at Carlsbad Caverns.  They migrate to Mexico and Central America from approximately November through March, but I was lucky enough to catch them while they were still in town.   At sunset every night, they fly out from their roosts under the bridge and swarm over Lady Bird Lake, looking for insects.  It was pretty neat to see, but not quite as intimate of an experience as at Carlsbad.  Not everyone can say they’ve stood downtown in the Texas state capitol with traffic speeding by and seen hundreds of thousands of bats fly off into the evening, though!  I forgot to take pictures, but luckily some other folks have great videos posted on YouTube:

After checking out the bats, I had the first of many tacos in Austin.  These were delicious fish tacos (from Wahoo’s), which would later on be joined by traditional tacos, and gourmet tacos (El Chilito – gourmet in flavor only; the price and atmosphere are as simple as you can get).  Austin definitely has a lot of good food, and one could probably argue that tacos are its specialty.  That person, however, might get some disagreements from fans of Barbecue, as Austin is located just slightly off of the “Texas Barbecue Trail,” and I had the opportunity to sample some of its finest on a busy Saturday night.  Although good, I have to admit that large chunks of meat are not always my favorite food, so the experience may have been better than the flavor for me.  There seemed to be a crowd there from a nearby wedding, stopping in for a bite between the ceremony and reception, perhaps?

Of course, before getting to Saturday, or Monday for that matter, we have to get through Friday.  In the afternoon, I spent some time relaxing at Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park.  This is a 3-acre, 1,000-ft.-long pool fed entirely by an underground spring.  The 68-degree temperature of the water was refreshing at first, but a bit chilly as the sun went behind the trees.  As I lay on the grass drying off afterwards, I marveled at the courage of the topless bathers around me – not for baring their breasts in public so much as taking off a layer while I was shivering!   After that, I went out and had a few beers while watching the Texas Rangers vs. SF Giants in the final game of the World Series.  Make that a few too many beers… which may help to explain why I didn’t even remember who won the game!

As a result, Saturday started off somewhat slowly, but I eventually made it out to an Audubon preserve on the outskirts of Austin, where my friend Kevin showed me some of the local flora and explained his research.  After an afternoon hike there, we were ready for the aforementioned barbecue, checking out a couple locales in downtown Austin, and catching a free outdoor show by The Old 97’s.  The evening was even capped off by a stop at the famed Broken Spoke, where I enjoyed the live honky-tonk band and even tried a few horribly-executed two-steps myself!

The highlight of Sunday (after an exhausting game of street hockey) was a visit to Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon, a hole-in-the-wall dive bar that just happens to have the world’s greatest Sunday afternoon entertainment.  Dale Watson played excellent classic-style country while simultaneously MC’ing the main attraction: Chickenshit Bingo.  Yes, it is pretty much what it sounds like.  They put a chicken in a cage on top of a board with numbers on it.  If the chicken shits on your number, you win!

Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon on a packed Sunday afternoon

The winner!


Ginny keeps watch on the customers so no one can heckle the chicken

Texas State Capitol, Austin

On Monday I did some of the requisite stuff, like visiting the State Capitol, and had a delicious lunch and nice visit with my friend Lisa.  I realized that I’ve never really toured the whole Wisconsin state capitol, and decided to do more of those “touristy” things once I returned home.

Texas Pride is everywhere

In fact, the return home was almost imminent.  After all, Austin was my last planned stop on the trip.  Before heading north, though, I decided to explore a little more of this great state, and headed for the coast to explore more about Texas history and take a dip in the Gulf of Mexico… topics for future posts!