PART III: NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, DAY 2
The next night, we decided to check out Broadway. The street is lined with vintage neon signs advertising honky-tonk bars and kitschy restaurants and shops. You can find every imaginable souvenir mug, magnet, bedazzled t-shirt, and Elvis likeness. Made in China. If you look closely, though, you can also find the beautiful Gruhn Guitar shop filled with vintage Martin acoustics, Fender and Gibson electrics, banjos, mandolins, and Dobros. We also stumbled upon Hatch Show Print, which has been printing show posters since 1879. We found posters for Wanda Jackson and Old 97’s and purchased them on the spot.
I loved walking down the sidewalk on Broadway and hearing different music from each venue spilling out into the night. Every few steps was a different sound: Mainstream country covers, tribute bands, bluegrass and karaoke. There is no cover charge for most bars; the musicians survive on money left in tip jars. We wanted to go to Tootsie’s, a tiny bar with good country rock, but it was completely packed–standing room only. I wanted to stand outside and listen, but the sidewalks were crowded, and people were pushing to get through.
We moved to the next bar, called Second Fiddle. It was a long, skinny bar, dark and dead silent, except for the county cover band trying to get everyone’s attention on this Thursday night. The band was fairly decent; but not good enough to hold our attention for more than one drink, so we left. We weren’t sure where to go next; we were a bit tired from our late night and from hoofing it all over the city earlier that day.
Then…the sound that captures my soul…old-timey, Outlaw Country! We peered in the picture window of Layla’s Bluegrass Inn and saw the upright bass getting spanked, flying fiddle rosin, a frontman with a mowhawk and tattoos, a rockabilly drum beat, and guitar player who looked and sounded like Ken Bethea of Old 97’s. We were in!
Layla’s was tiny half empty (or half full, depending on how one looks at it), and half of the people were half-drunk. We decided to catch up, and ordered Pabst Blue Ribbons and saddled up to a tall round table close to the stage. The PBR slid down like water, and we ordered a couple more.
That little band blew us away. And their name, perfection: Slim Chance and the Can’t Hardly Playboys! It doesn’t get any better than that. Within minutes after our arrival, they broke into a rollicking version of Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” followed by a Waylon Jennings number, Hank III and then my favorite train song, “Orange Blossom Special.” Josh Headley almost caught that fiddle on fire during his rendition of that song. They played a few more songs that were equally rowdy and a little dirty.
They play at Layla’s every Thursday night. I wanted them to come to Seattle and fire up The Tractor. They’d fit right in. I wanted to get up and dance, but instead, I let the ex-football player white guy at the other table get up and act like a fool. I took a few pictures and the band hammed it up for me. I could’ve stayed the rest of the night until they kicked me out; but we had to be responsible parents and get home at a reasonable hour, and try to act sober.
On our way out of town the next day, we stopped by Third Man Records,
snapped some pics and purchased some t-shirts in the tiny storefront. We were hoping for a tour, but they were busy that week. It was pretty amazing just to be there and see the Rolling Record Store up close. There are hundreds of vinyl records on sale from the many bands that are now on Jack White’s label. Lots of cool souvenirs and shirts, too.
I wish we had more time to explore Nashville. I would have loved to see more shows at some of the other smaller, but well-known venues such as The Bluebird Cafe and The Basement, and also visit the historical United Record Pressing, but it wasn’t meant to be on this trip.
My Southern experience exceeded my expectations. The Gulf weather was warm, the countryside was beautiful, and the people were friendly. I embraced the South, and it embraced me. And Nashville still has a heart and soul, if you know where to look.