Thursday, April 18, 2013

On Our Way to Nashville

Just outside of Birmingham, Oak Mountain State Park was a convenient place to stop for the night. Since we didn't leave Florence Marina until late in the day, we appreciated the short drive to Oak Mountain because it left us with enough time to enjoy a 4 mile hike that afternoon. The GPS and Google Maps got us to the campground with no problem. After unhitching and getting leveled, and connecting water and electricity we needed to go to town to buy food for our cat, Dot. This time Google Maps directed us to another entrance to the park that required us to ford fairly deep water at a causeway. It was no problem for the truck, but it would have not been possible to take the trailer across. Just happy it didn't do that on the way in.

I have a colleague who worked with me for a few years who is now living just north of Birmingham. Despite the short notice, she invited us to her home for dinner the next evening and offered to let us park in her driveway. After doing laundry Sarah and I drove into downtown Birmingham with the Mary Joan in tow. Since it was Sunday, we had no problem negotiating the city streets and even finding a place to park just a block from the art museum. I'm glad we didn't have to plug the parking meters because we occupied four parking spaces.

We arrived at Brian and Nicole's home early in the evening. Their beautiful home sits high on a mountain with spectacular views of the tree covered Alabama hills to the north. We shared stories, caught up on family happenings and enjoyed a wonderful dinner. When Brian and Nicole offered us the guest bedroom, we retorted that we were the perfect house guests because we brought our house with us. We saw Nicole and Brian's two delightful young girls off to school said our goodbyes and continued on our northward journey.
Nicole, Brian, Sarah and Abigail
On our way south in January we passed through Nashville, but in late January it was too risky to spend much time and the weather, while better than Massachusetts, was not free from winter hazards. This time we could stop and enjoy the city. 

Conveniently located just 25 minutes from downtown Nashville, we set up camp at the Army Corps of Engineers campground at Seven Points. Besides being in the perfect location, the price could not be beat. With our National Parks Golden Years pass we enjoyed a 50% discount that resulted in our paying just $12 per night for a waterfront campsite with water and electricity. 
Beautiful campsite at Seven Points Campground on J. Percy Priest Lake near Nashville, TN

There are so many venues offering live music in Nashville on any given day making choices difficult. We turned to the internet to peruse the booking calendars of the clubs and theaters, determined who was playing then used Youtube to listen to a sample of the music each performer plays. We love technology.

For our first evening out, we went to The Station Inn where we enjoyed the bluegrass and old time music of "New Monday". The atmosphere of the Station Inn is very relaxed, with performers sitting at nearby tables or at the bar. A guest mandolin player sat at the table in front of us (sorry I can't remember his name) and Ashley Campbell, daughter of Glenn Campbell, sat at the bar. The Station Inn serves good pizza, but its adult beverage menu is limited to beer.
Old Time Music at The Station Inn
Ashley Campbell with New Monday

A little to the northeast of Seven Points Campground is The Hermitage, the home of General Andrew Jackson and seventh President of the United States. The story of his life is told well at this beautifully restored and preserved historic landmark. 

Visiting the many homes of former presidents, like we have done, has greatly increased my determination to read a well researched and documented biography of each of our presidents. The history most  my generation learned in grammar and high school does not tell the complex stories that are the true lives of these men and the women that shared their lives. Discovering the manifold aspects of their personalities and the times in which they lived helps put modern social and political difficulties that our current politicians deal with in a perspective that helps me understand them better. The truth be told, however, it is difficult to refrain from becoming a cynic when comparing today's leaders with those of our past. 
Andrew Jackson's Home, The Hermitage

Rachel and Andrew Jackson's Tomb
Most of Jackson's enslaved people chose freedom. George, Jackson's personal attendant stayed and was "rewarded" with a grave next to Jackson's tomb. 

It happened that a major fund raising concert to benefit the Country Hall of Fame was happening during our stay. We were able to get tickets online the day we arrived. Prior to the show we ate at The Silly Goose. Sarah had the Grouper and I had the chicken with red lentils. Great food. 

The concert, All For The Hall, was held at the Bridgestone Arena. I was a little concerned about the size of the arena and being too far from the stage. My fears were unjustified. Our seats were on the first mezzanine just to the right of the stage. We had wonderful views and the acoustics were better than I would have expected for such a large space. Keith Urban, along with Vince Gill,  hosted a three hour plus concert with both contemporary and classic country musicians such as Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson  Sheryl Crowe, Roseanne Cash and Hank Williams, Jr. among many others. It was non-stop energetic music.

Host Kith Urban. We couldn't see his wife, Nicole Kidman, but we knew she was behind and above us because he frequently gestured to her when he was playing accompaniment to the main act.
The indomitable Hank Williams, Jr.
Willie being Willie

The next morning we drove to Franklin. It is a small town about 20 miles south of Nashville. I heard it was a pretty town with lots of antique shops and boutiques. It was also the site of what was described as the most important battle of the Civil War "about which nobody knows".That piqued my interest and certainly described my knowledge, so off to Franklin we went. 

Having visited Gettysburg and Andersonville, I anticipated that the visit to the Battle of Franklin historic site would take a couple hours, leaving us time to browse a few of the many antique shops in town. Sarah and I could not have been more amazingly mistaken. There are visitor's centers associated with each of the three sites that comprise the current historical site that tells the history of the Battle of Franklin. 

In our travels, we have enjoyed many fine tour guides at parks and historic sites who were supremely knowledgeable and caring about their given territory. But we have never experienced any group as passionate as the people here. They not only gave the who, what when, where and why, but also the emotional and lasting effects of the compelling stories they recounted. 
Carnton Plantation
Offered by the owner to be used as a hospital for Confederate casualties. Blood stains on the floors are a vivid reminder of the horrors of the Civil War. 

The main story is of the Confederate Army winning a battle but losing the war. That grandscale irony was juxtaposed with small scale personal ironies and life altering experiences of the families affected. How the name Carnton Plantation forebode one of today's functions of the place. How a young man left his home to fight and survive numerous battles, only to lay injured and dying on the battlefield yards from his home and die his father's arms in that home. How a six year old girl witnessed the most horrific sights and smells of war and death and dying yet went on to become a strong independant woman and an accomplished artist. 
Built in 1826 by Randall McGavock a first generation Irish immigrant, Carnton comes from the Scottish word "cairn" which means pile of stones, usually used to mark a sepulchre.  Now it is the burial ground for thousands of dead soldiers.

After visiting the Carnton Plantation, we had a nice lunch at the Franklin Mercantile Deli then visited the Carter House and finally the Lotz house. If you visit, I recommend that you start at the Carnton Plantation then procede tothe  Carter house and finish at the Lotz house in that order. The Carter and Lotz houses are just a half mile from Franklin center and would be a pleasant walk. 

The Carter House.
Numerous bullet holes in several buildings tell the story of the horrible battle that occurred here.

J.T. our guide of the Lotz House.
Our heads were "full" when we left Franklin. We drove north into Nashville to the only Trader Joe's in the Nashville area.  Along the way on the Hillsboro Pike we passed many mansions that would challenge those of Newport, RI in their grandiosity. I could only presume they were the homes of music celebrities and recording studio executives. 

The next show was at the Belcourt Theater to see Billy Bragg. The venue was small and intimate. Once more, we were treated to fine music. Billy played some old hits and many songs from his newest title. With Woody Guthrie as a major influence, those who are not of a liberal mindset might not appreciate his on stage political comments. For us, however, he was preaching to the choir. We bought a couple CDs that Billy graciously autographed for us.
Billy Bragg

We are now facing the next difficult decision of where to spend our last evening in Nashville before moving on to visit our son and daughter-in-law in Kentucky. Stay tuned.

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