Friends in Low Places

Nashville, Part Deux

Many months ago, we began planning to visit some good friends in Nashville. We were looking forward to it like hostages creeping out into the light of day after more than a year spent underground in the bunker of COVID-19. But just as the hatch slid open and our eyes had begun to adjust to the proverbial sun again as the corona virus had receded somewhat, in came the Delta variant, and the rise of cases in the south of the United States. And Tennessee was smack dab in the cross hairs of zones in the country where more people avoided inoculations than got them. 

A gigantic sunflower grows in my friend’s garden in Nashville, Tennessee.

So, the visit was in jeopardy. We were coming in hot from Florida, a peninsula the overly dramatic news reports had already painted red with variant cases. And our friends had already been dealing with some complex health concerns even before COVID was a thing. But hope was still alive, and virology. So, we got a quick swab up the nose at a rural drugstore, and that came out clean, so we headed over for a sweet time of meeting my friend’s newest family addition and watching him toddle around in the backyard while we talked and caught up. 

We ate brunch, picked tomatoes from the garden, remarked over the giant sunflowers, and talked about kids, Jesus, and Scotland.

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” —Marcel Proust

It was simple and good and now I am praying that the Delta variant goes out again as quickly as it arrived and my sweet friend can have a hospital bed to deliver the next addition to her family, coming soon to a COVID-infested mess. Ugh.

Our Sunday night in Nashville, we checked out the bluegrass jam at The Station Inn—a place with the ambiance of a 1970s single-wide trailer, but the best bluegrass in town. Among other fiddlers and pickers, we heard a 12-year-old strumming a massive guitar that dwarfed him behind it but did not dampen his high tenor voice from belting out “When the Saints Go Marching In”.

Two other friends of ours drove down and the next day we hung out on the rooftop at Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk and Rock-n-Roll Steakhouse with us. (That’s a real name.) This is quintessential Broadway in Nashville, the gritty honky tonk area of town where the beer is mediocre, the music is loud, and the people watching is better than on the bus. For example, this guy hangs out at Kid Rock’s:

We sauntered down the crowded street after a while and found another honky tonk where the band included a middle-aged, leggy blonde playing a flute. We checked out Printer’s Alley and then heard a busker under a concrete overhang whose voice reverberated beautifully in the urban acoustics. 

Once we got hungry, we found a multiple-level food court with everything from poke bowls and pad thai, to nachos, cotton candy and boozy ice cream. We saved the southern BBQ for another place, another day—and it did not disappoint. As a recovering vegetarian (though it has been several decades) the sides were my favorite: banana pudding, potato salad, green beans, and macaroni and cheese. 

And we sampled some Tennessee Whiskey—I’m capitalizing because that’s the brand name at Nelson’s Green Briar Distillery. We sipped tastings and heard the history of this spirit, including the shipwreck that sent the German immigrant family’s original fortune to the bottom of the sea—gold bars sewn into the patriarch’s jacket.  

Then, we stumbled into the American Pickers store and priced what appeared to be the world’s first gas pump and other oddities. We drove to Franklin, Tennessee, and breezed in and out of historic houses, plantations, and Civil War battlegrounds and cemeteries. Then, back in Nashville, we got to hear the music at The Listening Room. And that music was amazing. (See the other blog about that.) 

Our friends Jared and Lauren joined us in Nashville.

But there is also a certain kind of music in the rekindling of friendships. The long overdue visit spent relaxing in the sun with my friend and her family, and baby giggles bursting randomly into the air like soap bubbles sounded as good to my ears as the bluegrass ballads we heard at The Station. And reuniting with our other friends elevated even ordinary moments in Nashville. So, while I still find Nashville to be a magical city, I recommend being there with magical people as well. 

Friends make barbecue sauce taste sweeter.

Nashville delivers musical magic

A middle-aged man in a cowboy hat, jeans and sneakers started plucking out a few notes on his guitar and then sang out lyrics that seemed like an old favorite for him:

“You may think that I’m talkin’ foolish
You’ve heard that I’m wild and I’m free …”

A Nashville moment hearing singers and songwriters, including Paul Overstreet, second from right.

My jaw dropped. It was a random August weeknight in Nashville, Tennessee, and we had chanced upon a small event at a place called The Listening Room. Just six people sitting on stools on a bare stage, four guitar players, a harmonica. But when the verse gave way to the chorus, everyone at my table realized we had hit on something incredible:

“I’m gonna love you forever
Forever and ever amen …”

At that point my friend J. turned around with his mouth open in amazement, too. At that point Ron recognized the familiar song as one that happens to be a tune that Ron and I sort of claim as “our song.” I patted his arm across our table, and we exchanged a look. Probably everyone in the room who was old enough had heard this one at a wedding. Nashville is a magical spot. 

It was Paul Overstreet, a singer and songwriter who has had an illustrious and industrious career, strumming up hits for multiple big-name stars and penning lyrics that stay etched in people’s minds and make lists of favorites. 

“It’s amazing how you can speak right to my heart
Without saying a word, you can light up the dark
Try as I may I can never explain
What I hear when you don’t say a thing

The smile on your face lets me know that you need me
There’s a truth in your eyes saying you’ll never leave me
The touch of your hand says you’ll catch me wherever I fall
You say it best, when you say nothing at all …”

I’m gonna love you forever …

Use some of these lines in your next love note and its sure to be a hit! A version of this song ended up on the soundtrack of one of my favorite romantic comedy films, Notting Hill. Also old, I know, however, Overstreet has also penned newer hits that include more of his sense of humor and delight with being crass. “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” made Kenny Chesney a hit. 

And Overstreet’s daughter Summer has taken up the family baton of clever and trashy lyrics with new songs of her own, including a hilarious ditty about dodging a mullet.

We also heard from Jenna Paulette, a fantastic lyricist from Texas, and Heidi Newfield, who has a notable career of her own. For about $20 not only did we stumble onto this treasure trove of artists, but we also got to hear them tell us the stories of how their songs were created. I found myself as enthralled as I had been spotting sea birds in Florida. 

I was so thankful that instead of heading straight back to Colorado, we had decided to stopover in Nashville for a few days with good friends, good music, and a city that never misses a beat.

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