Monday, March 29, 2010

TWO "Opry Moments" in One Night!

Often I've heard the expression, as you may have, dear reader, referring to "this was an Opry moment!" This calls one's attention to some very special happening on-stage while the Grand Ole Opry show is being performed. Well, on Saturday evening I heard not one but TWO happenings which qualify as "Opry moments"!

Before I get to the first "moment", let me set the stage. I was working my first Saturday on my new route in the White House area north of Nashville, selling ice cream out of a truck (actually a mini-van). It was a very sunny, windy day, starting out very cold; hence, I'm certain that my sales were slower than they will be on later, warmer Saturdays. And making up for the cooler air and lower income was the beauty of a Middle Tennessee countryside awakening to Spring after a brutal, long winter. Daffodils and other blossoms decorated the lawns and some of the flowering trees and shrubs. What caught my eye the most were the weeping willows, especially the several in this one property. The trees were just sending out the light green buds. In the strong wind the drooping thin branches swayed, weaving a mesmerizing picture of chartreuse gossamer.

I had the radio on to FM stations, mostly "Solid Gospel". But there I had to choose between the 104.9 (WBOZ - Woodbury) edition and the 105.1 (WVRY - Waverly) edition of the network. Usually the two air simulcasts, but this Saturday afternoon the Austin Peay Governors baseball team was playing, so 105.1 was carrying the game rather than the regular Les Butler-hosted programs. I chose not to hear two musics fight for my auditory attention, and listened to the game out of Clarksville (APSU's hometown). It turned into an exciting game -- lots of hits and home runs by both teams. However, Austin Peay won over visiting Murray State 11-8. Go, Govs!

Well, considering the coolness, I was making good sales on the ice cream. As sunset approached, I turned off the hurdy-gurdy nursery-rhyme jingles, left my final neighborhood and found a convenient place on the main hiway (US 31W south) to count my remaining bars, "bombs" (a species of Popsicle), cones, sandwiches, etc., and the cash I'd taken in. During this rather lengthy process I had the truck's radio on to WSM-AM 650, to hear the start of the Grand Ole opry.

Two notes. I call the vehicle a "truck" rather than the mini-van it really is, because the company has a slogan: "Stop the truck! Start the fun!" which I like. And this Opry show was the 4395th consecutive Opry (broadcast live on Saturday nites); the show is approaching its 4400th run, and shortly afterward the 85th anniversary of the world's longest-running live radio broadcast show!

Early in the first show (7:00-9:00 PM, the later being 9:30-11:30) a very special Guest comes on stage. She's Jordyn Shellhart, a Centennial H.S. sophomore from nearby Franklin, Tennessee. She introduces her first song by telling how exactly five years earlier, for her birthday her brother had taken her to the Opry; during the show he leaned over and said, "Some day you will be on that stage!" He'd passed away, but now on her sixteenth birthday she's making his prophecy come true, and she says, "he's got the best seat in the house"! As if that's not touching en'uf, after she sings a second song which she had written and is about to leave the stage, the cast stops her and sings "Happy Birthday" to her and presents a birthday cake! I don't reckon there's a dry eye in the house!

Moment Number Two comes later, in the evening's second show. A woman guest had sung her song while playing banjo, then introduces a visitor from Japan. He serves as a consul or some similar diplomatic title, but also plays and sings country-bluegrass songs. And so he comes out and starts a song, first just instrumental, then I hear him sing in Japanese. Then the woman sings in English. Then back to the man in Japanese, followed by her in English! This is fantastic on so many levels! Perhaps I say this because I've been a foreign language teacher and thus deeply appreciate songs that are bilingual! Now I confess, it's better if the languages are English and Spanish, both of which I understand and speak. But even a song bilingual in Japanese and English is a treat!

Whether it was for any other listener of not, it was my second "Opry moment" of the evening!

Friday, March 26, 2010

"Hello, Dolly!" -- Parton, that is!

Early this morning I went, as I often do, to the nearest Mapco Express convenience store for coffee & the "laptop lottery". As usual the TV screen high up on the end wall was on Fox News, "Fox and Friends". And there communicating with the two guys & gal (not in-studio but long-distance) was Dolly Parton!

Let me confess here & now. When I first converted into a tolerator of & shortly afterward a fan(atic) of Country & Western Music, I became aware of Dolly. I considered her to be simply some dumb blonde who happened to be well-endowed in a certain area & that probably implant-enhanced. And not exactly well-endowed in the vocal cords.

Oh, how time changes everything!

For one thing, she's recorded some very good songs, and she's written some terrific lyrics. E.g., "Coat of Many Colors" sings such a great truth! And she wasn't bad acting in those Tinseltown flicks either. Maybe not Oscar-nomination worthy, but some actresses have won the coveted golden statue with less talent. Better yet, Dolly bought a struggling theme park near her hometown in the Great Smoky Mountains, gave it her name, "Dollywood", and caused it to succeed. Plus she's given much back to Nashville, her other hometown.

Listening to her speak on "Fox & Friends" about this year's 25th anniversary for Dollywood, I was impressed again (as I seem to be every time I hear her speak) that here is no "dumb blonde" but rather one smart cookie! My newer-and-now good impression got underlined a few months ago when Dolly got a star in the Music City/Nashville Walk of Fame on the same day as did Charlie Daniels, the late Ernest Tubb, etc. I was at the induction ceremony & afterwards got fairly close to the country superstar. Close en'uf that I could have said, "Hello, Dolly!" and she would have heard above the noise of the crowd around her.

Plus, Dolly has said two things that simply delight me. Great quotes! One is, "You'd be surprised how much it costs to look so cheap." And the other, "There are only three real women singers: Streisand, Ronstadt and Connie Smith. The rest of us are just pretending."

Now, don't tell me"some dumb blonde" would say stuff like that! No, Dolly Parton is one smart cookie! (Especially when it comes to Connie Smith -- LOL.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Museum is history (as in "is toast")

Well, it wasn't called a museum, just the Musicians Hall of Fame. However, it was just as much a museum -- to an aspect of what brings in income to Music City USA -- as is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The Musicians Hall of Fame sat just two blocks up the hill on Demonbreun street from the CMHoFaM.

"Sat" is the operative word. It sits there no longer. It's gone. A facility that celebrated musicianship and its history and development is itself now "history". Toast. Gone.

Other buildings in the block and adjacent blocks are also toast. Such as Rockettown, where aimless and at-risk teenagers were ministered to. Like a garage that specialized in foreign-made cars like BMW or Volvo.

You see, dear reader, the "city fathers" of Nashville -- Mayor, Council, Chamber of Commerce -- chose to ignore an expert from San Antonio who supplied data that Nashville did not need to build another convention center. San Antonio may well be the most experienced convention and tourism metropolis in these United States. Nevertheless, the "city fathers" ignored an expert from there, and voted in favor of erecting another convention center. To replace the existing one downtown, which (they say) is inadequate.

Surprised as I was that Nashville ignored an expert, I was even more surprised that Gaylord Corporation, which runs a second and huge convention center out at what used to be called the Opryland Hotel (and Convention Center), are silent in their opposition to this potential competitor. And so buildings have fallen near the CMHoFaM. And the earth-moving machinery is beginning the task of digging deep, deep into the ground for the underground portion of the new convention center.

Meanwhile, Nashville teens have lost an entity that could have helped them cope with the challenges of juvenile life of the 21st Century. And those who would have honored the people who helped make this Music City USA have lost a facility where they could have.

Such is what they call "progress". . . .

Monday, March 8, 2010

"Back to the Barn" in more ways than one

At the start of A.D. 2009, perhaps even in the final days of '08, WSM-AM 650 began an advertisement about how in 2009 they were going to be taking Nashville "back to the barn". I wondered just WHAT they intended to do; I even e-mailed Keith Bilbrey about this before Gaylord so shabbily fired the iconic deejay (and Opry announcer). Keith didn't give me much of an answer, as in "wait and you'll see". Oh, well!

Then, some time in this calendar year, it finally hit me what "back to the barn" meant! Later last year, after Keith's firing, the station began a brand new live music show. It's on Wednesday evenings -- which means I've never listened to it since that's choir rehearsal time -- out at the Loveless Café. This famous eating establishment and former motel is, or used to be, out in the country on State Hiway 100, just past the northern terminus of the historic Natchez Trace Parkway. (More about the "used to be" remark later.) The show takes place in a large (and I think rather new) barn located out back of the café and former motel rooms. It's called "Music City Roots" and is billed as featuring artists from Americana, bluegrass, and (pop) country music.

Perhaps because I've yet to actually get to listen to the new show (and probably never will), the fact of its venue passed me by. Then one day I was musing about the program -- and suddenly (like a freight train!) it hit me. It's in a barn at the Loveless Café! "Back to the barn"!

Well, yesterday (Sunday) I actually got to go out to that venue. After another supremely blessing time of Sunday school and worship at Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples) we had a potluck dinner in the fellowship hall. Dieta Duncan even provided a chocolate birthday cake for yours truly, even tho' acknowledging that my birthday is really NEXT Sunday. Well, dear reader, I gave some effort to moderating my eating -- a rarity for me at a church meal.

You see, I wanted to save space for later. Saturday evening I got a phone call from Ellen in Clarksville, that she and our daughter Sarah and Sarah's intended would be coming to Nashville Sunday afternoon to visit his grandfather in Centennial Hospital, and wanted to take me out for an early birthday supper. She having told me they'd be at Centennial first, I offered to go from the church to the Centennial Park-Vanderbilt area and hang out until they'd be ready to pick me up.

Therefore, after the church dinner I took the MTA out West End Avenue and walked thru the park to The Parthenon. After a time of just sitting enjoying the warmth of the bright sunshine and the sights and sounds of an abundance of citizens out enjoying the beautiful weather in the park, I decided to circumambulate the beautiful, historic and iconic building.

Late in the afternoon Ellen and the "young-uns" came by and picked me up. After just a bit of discussion we settled on going out to the Loveless Café for supper. So westward on West End we drove, past where it turns into Harding Road, past Belle Meade Plantation mansion, past suburban Bellevue and past Chaffin's Dinner Barn. I had wondered if Chaffin's were the structure of"back to the barn" because I didn't remember its relationship to Loveless. But it's considerably closer in to Nashville on Hiway 100. We continued on out to the formerly small, formerly rural community of Pasquo at Hiway 100 and Natchez Trace Parkway. Pasquo is definitely within the expanding development of metropolitan Nashville now, with a Publix grocery store and numerous other chain stores in a shopping center.

And Loveless itself has changed. As we drove up I saw that just past it was a Shell gas station that wasn't there last time (several years ago) that I'd been this way. The motel rooms have recently been changed into shops, including a prominent one called "Hams and Jams". Out behind it sits the new Loveless barn that houses "Music City Roots.

But after just a short wait for a table in the also now-larger café, we discovered that the food is as home-like and delicious as ever. The four of us chose to go with family-style eating: all you can eat at your seat, two meats and three sides along with the famous Loveless biscuits made from a "Secret recipe". I was delighted that the drink selection included Pepsi products and Sierra Mist. The fried chicken that was one of the selected meats was "nothing to write home about" (as Ellen taught me to say), but the meatloaf and especially the home-made-from-scratch macaroni and cheese more than made up for this! The biscuits themselves could have served as a satisfactory meal, being served with blackberry, strawberry and peach jellies and honey.

Thus it was that I, having finally figured out what "Back to the barn" signified, literally went back to that barn. Or at least back to the famous wayside café behind which it sits! And what a totally pleasant ending to a totally pleasant Sunday! So pleasant I didn't even waste time mourning that the Loveless Café isn't out in the country like it used to be.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Baroque of an evening, Bluegrass next morning

Only in Nashville, a.k.a. Music City USA!

Thursday evening (i.e., last evening) I attended my first concert of A.D. 2010 in the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. This concert offering was "Bach's Masterpiece". Since Baroque music is one of the historic styles I really like, and Johann Sebastian Bach is my favorite Baroque or Classical composer, I had a strong desire to experience this concert. And I was not at all disappointed!

"Bach's Masterpiece" is his Mass in B Minor. It's rather odd that a German Lutheran composer would be interested in composing musical settings for the Latin Mass of the Catholic Church, but such is the case here. The printed program for the concert -- "In Concert" is actually a magazine that covers all Nashville Symphony concerts scheduled for a given month -- revealed that Bach worked on this monumental work of art (the score is some 180 pages long) in stages over the latter part of his career. And Bach never got to hear it performed. Indeed, it wasn't done until well into the 1800s, at which century it also received its name.

"Mass in B Minor" is something of a misnomer, according to the program; the central key chord is actually D (Major). What the musical score presents is the "Ordinary" parts of the Mass; that is, those portions which are always present in the ritual, all thru the year. Such as the "Kyrie Eleison" or the "Credo"; the former starts out the music in B Minor (hence, probably that latter-added name), and is actually the only part of the Mass in Greek rather than Latin. The Nashville Chorus plus a four-some of the four parts (soprano, etc.) sang along with the orchestra's musical rendition. Helmut Rilling, born in Deutschland, conducted voices and instruments. How appropriate is THAT, that a Deutsch conductor lead a work from a Deutsch composer -- possibly the greatest composer who ever lived!

Yep, I'm about as much a fan of J.S. Bach as I am of George Strait!

A couple of times during the evening I overheard others in the audience remark about not being able to follow the Latin lyrics. Neither do I know the dead language, but I'm quite familiar with Latin's daughter español (e também com outra filha, portugués), and I've attended Mass in Catholic churches sufficient times to be familiar with those "Ordinary" portions for sure. I could follow along fairly easily. Also could enjoy and appreciate the various tones and nuances Bach put into this work. Mass elements presenting solemn or even somber themes (such as our sin, or Jesus' atonement for us on the cross) sounded solemn, slow, even heavy. Portions with joyful language of praise or celebrating God's goodness sounded up-tempo and uplifting. Plus, Bach having worked in stages, finishing it all in his final year or so, it's a summation of his earlier compositions and musical styles which influenced him or European music's development. The program told that there were also elements of the just-emerging true Classical style in the work. ("Classical music" in general usage covers genres from Baroque or earlier to Romantic or later, but the strict term is for that European music composed and performed in the later 1700s, between Baroque and Romantic.)

And do you know, dear reader, there were certain praise portions of the Mass that the master composer put me in a heart-felt mood of praise and worship of the Heavenly Master who inspired Bach's creativity!

Overall, it was a very musically lovely evening! And then, having gone home and to bed for the night, I arose early this morning (Friday) to go back downtown, to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, for another session of WSM-AM 650's "Coffee Country and Cody" wake-up show, in the Ford Theater. Keep in mind that the CMHoFaM is cater-corner across the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Demonbreun Street from the Schermerhorn, where I'd been the evening before.

This morning the show featured added excitement. The staff had several newly-made WSM coffee cups, courtesy of Brentwood Jewelry (which advertises on the station), with three packets of instant coffee from Starbuck, to give away. The first question offered was about something I remembered had come up the day before; Bill had announced that it was the anniversary of the marriage of George and Nancy Jones, in Jasper, Texas. The question was where they went for the reception, and I remembered at once that the answer was Burger King. So I won the first cup given away! Yippee!

Well, Bill Cody hosted another stellar set of Guests, who more than made up for the absence of Bill's sidekick Charlie Mattos (away in Georgia to cover the Vanderbilt women at the SEC Women's Basketball tourney). First "on stage" was songwriter Roger Murrah, a 2005 inductee into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The long list of his songs, become hits for Country singers includes "Don't Rock the Jukebox" (Alan Jackson), "Ozark Mountain Jubilee" (Oak Ridge Boys), "High Cotton" (Alabama) and "Life's Highway" (Steve Wariner) for starts.

Played near the end of Murrah's session with Bill was the recording of Sammy Kershaw's hit, "National Working Woman's Holiday". Nice segue, since Kershaw was next up. I've always liked Sammy and his songs, and listening to him speak with Bill was hence a great delight. I'd have loved it if the staff had played his hit "Vidalia"; don't know if it's also a Murrah song but it's my favorite Kershaw hit and one of my favorite country-music videos. Well, it wasn't played, even tho' others in the audience besides me suggested playing it.

The staff DID play "Queen of My Double Wide Trailer", and that one has personal significance too. When it was a hit heard often on the country-music airwaves we Grahams were living in a trailer in Devine, Texas. I took pleasure in slightly altering the chorus' lyrics to fit our home:

. She is the queen of my single wide trailer
. with the leveller (sp?) blinds and the pinewood porch. . . .

After his session I mentioned this alteration to Sammy and why, but only after commending him for insisting in reply to a Bill Cody question, that he NEVER changes lyrics on a song pitched to him by a songwriter. He has too much respect for their labor to do so. He also had respect for his listeners this morning, because he left autographed copies of his new song "Better Than I Used to Be". That one is a very, very good song! Love its lyrics!

Final Guests were Del McCoury and the Del McCoury Band. Having never seen these guys but nattily attired in suits and ties, I was a bit disappointed that they appeared sans suit and sans tie. However, it didn't affect the sound of their live bluegrass performance. They commenced with a good portion from a song as sound check, before performing a couple songs off their most recent album. In between, there was much humorous banter between Bill and Del.

So it was that I enjoyed Baroque/Classical music live Thursday evening and Bluegrass/Country music the very next morning. Only in Nashville, Tennessee, can such happen of a fellow of the eclectic musical tastes of yours truly! I think I love this town!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Nashville Sit-Ins (50th Anniversary)

Sunday the 28th of February A.D. 2010, was the closing day for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. Even tho' I have little if any interest in ice hockey I was nevertheless aware that the USA hockey team was doing well, had beaten Canada in the first round and was about to play the same for the gold medal. All on top of it being the 30th anniversary of the historic victory over the Soviets in the Lake Placid Olympics! So, once Worship was done at Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples) and I was planning activities for the rest of the day, seeking out a TV to watch the hockey game was one option considered.

However, Sunday was also the final day of Black History Month. So once I had eaten dinner at the Green Hills Kroger while observing an NBA game between my San Antonio Spurs and visiting Phoenix (S.A. went on to win it, I discovered next day), I chose to forgo watching a televised game in favor of visiting a museum with a special exhibit. The Tennessee State Museum (in downtown Nashville in the TPAC Building) is commemorating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Nashville Sit-Ins.

From my first residence in the State, I was vaguely aware of the sit-ins to integrate lunch counters in downtown stores. I was aware of a few of the leaders involved, such as Kelly Miller Smith (who has a residential tower named after him where I'd delivered many prescriptions for Bradley on the bank of the Cumberland River opposite MetroCenter) and defense attorney Z. Alexander Looby (whose home was bombed and who has a branch library named after him in MetroCenter).

The extensive and well-designed exhibit provides plenty of information to enrich the observer's understanding of the historic event and its centrality to the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.

To keep it brief, Kelly Miller Smith, James Lawson (a VU Divinity School student who got expelled for his involvement in the sit-ins) and Diane Nash led Nashvillians of African heritage in the organization of the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference (later the SCLC). They sparked a movement to open the downtown lunch counters to people regardless of race. Toward the end of 1959 and into 1960 they did extensive training in non-violent protest tactics. One of the first displays in the exhibit lists sort of a "ten commandments" for how to conduct oneself as a peaceful sit-in protester. Training was based on teachings of Christ, Gandhi and a young preacher already becoming famous: Martin Luther King, Jr. Training was held in First Baptist Church -- not the large "white" church on Broadway at Seventh Ave. but rather the "colored" church on Capitol Hill. Most participants were students at the historic Afro-American higher-ed campuses: Tennessee State University (then Tenn. A & I), Fisk University and Meharry Medical College. In February 1960 they started entering downtown stores and sitting down at the lunch counters. Tensions built to a climax on the 27th, which saw violence and arrests. BUT those arrested were the peaceful sitters and not the bigoted and violent whites who attacked them!

Many of the details I learned thru the exhibit impressed me. But two in particular leapt out. One is that Martin Luther King Jr. himself came to Nashville and addressed an audience at Fisk. He confessed that he had come not to teach but to LEARN from the demonstrators. The other salient factor is that the day after attorney Looby's house was bombed, a group of about 4000 silently marched from TSU past Meharry and Fisk to the public square and the steps of Metro Courthouse. There then-mayor Ben West met with the marchers. Diane Nash asked him point-blank if he believed the downtown counters should be desegregated. He replied in the affirmative and added that he "appealed to all citizens to end discrimination."

Next day the Tennessean ran the big headline: "Integrate Counters--Mayor". Store owners, who were being hurt financially by boycotting and the sit-ins (especially during the days before Resurrection Sunday which had lacked their usual rush to buy spring finery), readily complied.

The successful Nashville sit-ins served as model and inspiration for similar efforts to bring about desegregation, first thru'out the State of Tennessee and then in other States. Diane Nash and others involved in the sit-ins went to other localities to assist with other civil rights events and efforts, including voter registration and the famous Selma March.

This pivotal event that took place right here in Nashville is something I believe that residents of every race can be proud. Some details might make us hang our heads in shame -- the arrests of peaceful victims of violence and not their attackers, or the bombing of the Looby home -- but that the young people inspired by Christ, Gandhi and King succeeded in their effort is very praiseworthy. I'm so glad that the State Museum has this exhibit and will display it into April!