All the stories he could tell…

Hank Williams Sr

“Stared at that guitar/At that museum in Tennessee/Nameplate on the glass/Brought back twenty melodies”

A musical pilgrimage. That’s what I called my trip to Luchenbach, Texas nine years ago.

Today I still pine for seeing Sun Studios in Memphis, Abbey Road, LaGrange and for standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona. I’ve a road-tripped to see U2, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Jimmy Buffet, Bob Dylan, Robert Earl Keen, Willie Nelson and The Rolling Stones. I’ve stood in the presence of Merle Haggard and a host of country stars because I was country when country wasn’t cool. One evening I walked around downtown Athens and heard the haunting melodies of REM float over the town from a concert at Legion Field. Once upon a time I even took my mama with me to see Hank Williams Junior. And I’ve listened to Americana under the stars at Luchenbach.

art in hall of fame

A journey isn’t just a beginning and an end. The in-between is crucial.

This latest adventure—to check The Rolling Stones off Nolan’s bucket list—started in the Upstate of South Carolina and led us all the way to The Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  But a journey isn’t just a beginning and an end.  The in-between is crucial.

This epic road trip to see The Stones was also a musical pilgrimage, with the principal detour being a visit to Nashville, two nights spent under Todd Snider’s East Nashville skyline, nameless musicians in honky tonk bars and a visit to The Country Music Hall of Fame. Add a quick trip to Bass Pro Shops and it’s staggering what you can cram into two days.

The essence of Nashville is to be found downtown on Broadway. Honky tonks with bad bar food and good cover musicians who don’t stand a chance of making it are interspersed with boot and hat stores and retro clothing boutiques. Every fifty yards or so there is a street musician busking for bucks, everything from one-man bands to traveler kids to Johnny Cash lookalikes to drum acts.

Johnny Cash's black suit

“Do you wonder why I always dress in black?/Why I never wear bright colors on my back?”

Up the street The Country Music Hall of Fame was packed on a Thursday morning. Curiously we arrived at the same time as a large group of excited but well-behaved black children. I happened to stand before Dwight Yoakum’s nudie suit with them and listened to their teacher point out details of the costume.

“See these pockets?” She said, gesturing to upper chest pockets. “They are called smile pockets because they turn up at the corner.”

Darn. Learn something new every day, I thought.

The children sat on the floor and filled out worksheets.

“This is, well, I’ll let you read it. Can you write down his name?”

* * *

art at Country Music Hall of Fame

“If Hank Williams was alive today/I can tell you where he wouldn’t be/Hanging around that Hall of Fame/In Nashville, Tennessee.”   Marshall Chapman, “A Thank You Note” from the album Jaded Virgin

Greasy and Nolan blew through it and I felt like I did as well. There is simply too much too see in one quick visit. Season passes and frequent trips are what it would take to absorb this museum.

Besides Dwight Yoakum, I worshiped at a few displays: Hank Williams’ guitar, Mother Maybelle’s guitar, one of many man-in-black Johnny Cash suits, Gram Parsons’ pills-and-cannabis nudie suit, Elvis Pressley’s Cadillac, Earl Scruggs’ banjo, the cornfield set of the television show Hee Haw. A wall of portraits of country music’s power couples: Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, Johnny Cash and June Carter, George Jones and Tammy Wynette. Web Pierce’s nudie Cadillac, obscene with tooled saddle leather and steer horns on the front. Little Jimmy Dickens’ display of tiny boots and lime green nudie suit. George Strait’s everyday Western shirt and Wranglers. Actual blue suede shoes.

Bob Dylan, Johnny Cast and the Nashville Cats

“Rock and country, they flow back and forth between each other.”

The current exhibit of note is Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats. I’d known that Johnny and Bob were friends. This huge exhibit was a testament to their sense of awe at each other and to the behind-the-scenes individuals that make Nashville tick. Session musicians and sound engineers.

nudie suit

Cannabis-and-pills nudie suit worn by Gram Parsons

It’s also an affirmation of the fact that music is plastic and fluid. Rock and country, they flow back and forth between each other. To me this is a huge paradox: I grew up thinking that you either liked country or rock. Not both. And this couldn’t be further from the truth. To hearken back to my biologist’s training, country and rock are mutualists, locked in a symbiotic relationship.

Right before the museum’s inevitable exit-into-the- gift-shop is the Rotunda. My glimmer twins walked right past it and sat down in the lobby to wait for me.

Whispering, a docent gestured, her voice reverent, “This is the actual hall of fame.”

A small fountain and wishing well were just inside the entryway, full of coins. The rotunda was magic. Holy. Quiet. I circled clockwise, reading the brass plate of each member. I was reminded of my emotional overload experiences at The Alamo and The Astronaut Memorial at Cape Canaveral. There were souls there with me. Souls.

* * *

 

Nashville Tennesse honky tonk

Nolan takes in Nashville from a honky tonk

We walked from the Hall of Fame to Broadway, where we stood on the corner and

Nameless musician in Nashville

“This city is slam full of broken dreams.”

Nolan eenie-meenie-minee-moed over where to eat. He selected a three-tiered honky tonk that boasted a different band on each level. We ascended to the third floor and the view was amazing. A trio of musicians played cover songs that reiterated the flux between country and rock ‘n roll.

“This is incredibly sad,” I said, still feeling all those souls, though this time I was thinking of the non-famous ones.

“What?” said Nolan.

“This city is slam full of broken dreams.”

One only had to look to the stage before us: three men holding guitars and two girlfriends making up the audience.

I put a twenty in their tip bucket as we left, leaned over and whispered conspiratorially to them, “We’re on our way to Indianapolis to see The Rolling Stones.”

“Aw, man, you’ll love ‘em. I saw them a couple of weeks ago when they were here and they were awesome.”

Thank you, sir, I thought.  In case nobody ever tells you, you are, too.

A musician huddles in a doorway in Nashville

“With a million dollar spirit/And an old flattop guitar/
They drive to town with all they own/In a hundred dollar car.”  ~Thom Schulyer; performed by Lacy J. Dalton.

Post to Twitter Tweet This Post

  • Share/Bookmark

Ladies and Gentlemen–The Rolling Stones. Part I, Venue Review

Part I of our epic road trip to see The Rolling Stones in Concert

Stones picture

Ladies and gentlemen…The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Fourth of July. An epic road trip. What could be more right?

Apparently football stadium shows with actual seats are a lot more right. This spectacular concept was good in theory. I had tickets to park in the infield, a great tailgate venue if there ever was one. And we couldn’t get there until after the opening act Rascal Flatts had started their set because of horrible traffic.

But before I begin lambasting the venue and production, I want to say some positive things about the city of Indianapolis! It was easy to navigate. The downtown was beautiful with streets and sidewalks that were wide and super-clean. The people were very nice, from fast-food waitresses to Dollar store employees to the staff at upscale restaurants. We would gladly go back and southern monster cities like Atlanta and Charlotte could learn something from this sleeper city in the Midwest.

Greasy and Nolan in Indy

My very own glimmer twins take in downtown Indianapolis

I’ll also add that driving through the tunnel into the Brickyard was an incredible thrill, even though I am not a race fan.

 

Approach

A short YouTube video produced by Indianapolis Motor Speedway gave instructions of how to get to the venue. It was woefully inadequate. It told of what street to approach from but not which direction and did not tell premier ticket-holders which gates were in use. Likewise the paper parking admission ticket did not tell which gates to use or which direction to approach. Fail, fail, fail.

If I learned anything it was to do a mock approach the day before and figure that (expletive) out.

Rolling Stones silver ticket section

Nolan, in Silver seating section.

 

Comfort

The big lie was our actual paper admission tickets. They boasted a section, row and seat number. They promised a vista of the enormous stage. In reality there were zero seats. I found this out the afternoon beforehand on the video from Indianapolis Motor Speedway on how to safely get there and enjoy the show as well as what you could or could not bring in.

It was presented like an incidental announcement—they advised then that it was festival seating. Bring blankets and cushions. No chairs would be allowed.

Blankets and cushions? No chairs?  Insert the world’s most common profane acronym here. We found a Dollar Store in Avon and bought three $7 cushions and a cheap fleece throw, all in suitably bright-almost-psychedelic patterns. It didn’t matter; we couldn’t sit comfortably there. The stage was at the bottom on a little hill. Sitting on the hill was more torture than standing. I won’t even go there about the chiggers.

I saw a medical tent. And remembered Altamont. And wryly wondered how many heart attack, strokes and fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up were taken into it.

 

Visibility

You needn’t have worried that I would throw my panties on the stage.

I never saw the actual stage or the actual Stones.  Just their images on the big screen. By carefully standing on tiptoes and peering between giants standing in front of me I could see the top ¾ of the huge screens above the stage. I saw images of Mick dancing around on stage. I even saw an image of –Keith, yes, Keith—running twice.

I like having the drunk and stoned dancing around me, a whiff of ganga, a splash of spilled beer and a passed out person or two. It adds to the whole experience.

But let’s face it—The Stones are old and so are we, their audience. I saw a lot of white-haired women like myself, cripples and really fat people hobbling along. It was a long but far from unbearable walk to the seating area, a hunt for a place to throw a blanket and a very long stand. Along the way some people took advantage of bicycle-rickshaws and some bumped along in their motorized wheelchairs.

Would Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie endure that cheerfully? I doubt it.

The Rolling Stones

Ronnie, Mick and Keith during the Indianapolis concert July 2015

Security

My sense of security was also let down. What do tens of thousands of people, the proximity of an airport’s flight path, alcohol and drugs, thousands of fireworks, the most patriotic national holiday and a heightened terror alert have in common?

A recipe for unparalleled disaster is what it is.

I may be a tiny bit more situationally aware than most people. Maybe it’s that I read too many Jack Reacher novels. I do like to have an escape route planned ahead. And I fully exercised it the night before when some jackass pulled the fire alarm in the hotel. I knew where the stairs were. Down and out in the middle of the (expletive) night!

Beforehand at the hotel, I mused aloud, wondering if The Stones had played a US speedway since Altamont.  Knowing that my own glimmer twins were naïve to the story I read it to them from the internet. All of it—poor planning, poor setup, drunk Hell’s Angels, fights/knives/gunshots, death. The alleged botched Long Island hit on Mick Jagger.

And I ended my soliloquy with the hope that I wanted to be carefully searched going in, because if I was, every potential terrorist or testosterone-fueled would-be killer du jour also would be carefully searched.

We weren’t. Going into the tunnel under the famed Brickyard a woman barely glanced at our tickets. Instead of scanning them she scribbled on them with a red magic marker. And we were in.

Tickets for the Rolling Stones Indianapolis concert 2015

Our infamous paper tickets, with red scribbles

Parking was a breeze. Well-handled and well directed. Once in the venue a security checkpoint was a joke. The search of my cavernous beach bag was cursory. And the pat-down? She barely brushed my pants.

Going through the bag beforehand I had removed my Thermacell mosquito repellent device because it has an internal ignition system and runs on butane cartridges. They wouldn’t have known that. A pile of confiscated items there at the checkpoint attested to the fact that they didn’t want you bringing in your own water and candy. My granola bars were not detected during the search. And once again, our tickets were never scanned.

Driving into the infield we stopped at a bathroom building to use the facility. Right near there we saw row upon row of fireworks sitting wired and ready to be detonated. Out there in the open, apparently unguarded. What if some nut with a match had run through there?

During the show I was able to relax and forget that someone could crash a plane into the crowd or point the fireworks into this knot of mellow old humanity and fire away. Was the security just carefully hidden? Were there armed moles scattered throughout?

Let’s just say that I was a bit on edge until the biggest fireworks display in the USA started shooting up into the sky instead of into the crowd. 10,530 charges. It was a suitably big bang. It could have made a much bigger bang.

This was the premier rock concert event held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Here’s hoping there are improvements before the next one(s).

The Show and General Musings

Must wait for the next blog.

In this one I’ll just say: They are old. We are old. Everything is so much sweeter with age. They are just as good as when I saw them (twice) in 1989. Raunch and roll at its pinnacle. Two hours of starting me up, making a grown man cry, a gasgasgas. I got a lot of satisfaction.

I’m alive and richer for it to tell the tale, though, and now must go soak my ancient feet.

Post to Twitter Tweet This Post

  • Share/Bookmark