COUNTRY AS: Alan Jackson was my highlight of the last CMA Fest concert at LP Field – during a night of highlights. Photo: Anna Rose
WHEN you’re in Nashville, you really should learn about the beginnings of that magic city of music, so on our last morning, Marie and I headed down to the Ryman Theatre, the “mother church”.
For many years, the Ryman was the home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Nashville radio show that, like 2TM Tamworth’s Hoedown, put the city on the map due to a freakish signal that carried great distances, attracting a large listening audience.
It’s an amazing feeling to stand on that stage and imagine all the people who’ve performed there over the years. Looking at the glass cases lining the back walls of the place, you can see and hear stories and view the clothing and memorabilia from all those big stars like Johnny Cash, June Carter, Patsy Cline, Marty Stuart, Connie Smith and so many more.
Sunday night the final concert at LP Field was one not be missed. Opening the night’s proceedings were The Mavericks, then
pioneer Bill Anderson did an acoustic set before American Idol winner, 17-year-old Scotty McCreery, took the stage.
Dierks Bentley proved why he has such a strong fan base worldwide, at one point bringing out Karen Fairchild from Little Big Town to join him in a duet. When the lead singer of Rascal Flatts found a microphone that worked, he joined his band members in a strong, six-song set.
One of my favourite artists, Georgia-born Alan Jackson, just lit up the stage singing all his big hits – Drive, Good Time, Five O’Clock Somewhere (minus Jimmy Buffett) and a new song, Dixie Highway.
After Steel Magnolia’s acoustic songs came the tiniest big star of the night – Martina McBride. The place went off ...
Later, I couldn’t help but note the irony as I listened to Damian Howard and the Ploughboys’ rousing rendition of Wild Colonial Boy on my iPod, thinking of home and how far away I was.
Leaving Nashville was a wrench. We’d made so many great memories here over the past 10 days, but we were ready for a new adventure – meeting friends of Marie and Gordon’s at Gatlinburg, the gateway to the Smoky Mountains.
We’d booked a cabin for four days and the Nashville crew – Jason Roller, Kalii Palmer, Sonya Wood and Barbara Wilkinson – were staying for two. Three of the four had played a key role in Marie’s album – Jason produced it and Sonya and Barbara wrote several of the songs.
Driving into Gatlinburg was a bit like wandering through an amusement park. There were so many quaint little German-style buildings and attractions everywhere – from the Hollywood House of Wax, where Godzilla climbs the skyscraper, and the Mount Rushmore-like figures of John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Charlie Chaplin welcoming you into the city limits.
No time to stop and admire the views (too many); we dropped off our bags at the cabin and drove into Pigeon Forge for the Dixie Stampede, a dinner and arena show similar to the Australian Outback Spectacular on the Gold Coast. The horses and their riders were amazing.
It’s owned by Dolly Parton, as is quite a lot of Pigeon Forge, a beautiful little place where I was to do quite a bit of retail therapy.
That night we returned to the cabin and nobody was ready for sleep; Kalii had a song idea floating around in her head, so took the opportunity of having Barbara, Sonya and Jason around to help her progress with it.
It was really interesting watching the different writers’ styles of coming up with a line, a phrase or a melody.
The next day we were excited to be going to Dollywood and my Tennessean friend, singer-songwriter Jason Lee Wilson, was meeting us in Pigeon Forge at Flap Jack’s
Pancake Cabin for breakfast.
Dollywood – talk about an amusement park! Holy cow. I haven’t seen so many rides in my life. Jason and I even joined Gordon and Barbara on The Wild Eagle, a new ride that’s the only one of its type in America. You really do feel like you’re soaring on wings – I haven’t screamed and laughed so much in years. I think sheer terror does that to you.
Jason just closed his eyes tightly for the whole thing and turned a lovely shade of green after the two minutes of thrill-filled fun ended.
There was so much to see. I know why people buy season passes. You just can’t take it all in in one day.
Jason had to be up at six the next morning so he left us at Dollywood and we all went in to Pigeon Forge for a game of hillbilly golf. I’m no Greg Norman, but it was a ton of fun.
We headed to the Texas Roadhouse for the best steaks in town before winding back up the mountain for one of the funniest nights of our trip.
The combination of good friends, red wine and a board game called Quelf were the ingredients for that hysterical evening. After Quelf, we played charades before crawling into bed about 3am, our sides sore with laughing.
Jason, Kalii, Barbara and Sonya were leaving the next day and we realised it would be a very quiet cabin in the mountains without their fine company.