Archive for September, 2010

As writer Margaret Littman was telling me about her experience at the first post-flood show back at the Grand Ole Opry House, it was clear she had witnessed one of those nights. People will be talking about this one for years, for forever. Margaret, a graduate of Vanderbilt University, moved back to Nashville in 2007. She writes about the city regularly and, as you’ll read below in her piece about the Opry House’s return, with great beauty.


The opening act brought everyone to the stage—and the audience to its feet—with "Will The Circle Be Unbroken."

I made a tactical error last night when getting ready for the marathon evening that welcomed the rebuilt and reborn Grand Ole Opry House after the May 2010 flood: I didn’t wear waterproof mascara.

Charlie Daniels lights up the "Devil Went Down to Georgia."

I knew the evening would be a tearjerker. The flood that hit Nashville five months ago has pulled at the heartstrings of everyone who loves Music City. According to city statistics, 10,940 properties were damaged in the two-day onslaught. Many were private homes. Others were iconic buildings like the Gaylord Opryland hotel, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center and the Grand Ole Opry House. The Opry didn’t miss a single performance, playing at historic venues, churches and elsewhere while the Opry House was rehabbed.

Seeing the Opry House re-open was an emotional milestone for the city. As country crooner Brad Paisley said before the show, “This city did not feel sorry for itself and say, ‘boo hoo,'” after the flood. It’s true: The city pulled itself up by its cowboy bootstraps. Paisley and others note that one of the good things that came from the flood is that the 36-year-old Opry House is now a cutting-edge music venue, with celeb-worthy dressing rooms, backstage space to jam and technological upgrades. Local architects PLAD Studio did the work of transforming this music hall into what Paisley says it always deserved to be.

Dierks Bentley and Del McCoury take the stage, fiddles on fire.

Paisley, Keith Urban and others took the stage playing new guitars paid for with insurance settlements—many musicians lost their instruments in the flood—starting with a moving rendition of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”

Clearly, neither the Opry nor Nashville are easily broken. And the Opry House’s re-opening is a morale booster for the city. But, hard work remains. The city estimates that there may be more than 2,000 abandoned homes—I pass a few while walking my dog every morning. Homeowners are juggling: Waiting for insurance settlements, coping when the settlements are not enough to cover rebuilding, and, in many cases, still looking for jobs to replace those the flood washed away and otherwise dealing with debris left long after the water evaporated. So, as happy as I am to see those lights on at the Opry House, last night left me teary for a number of reasons. With the relief that the tourists will come back, and the local economy will improve, I worry that the locals with the musty basements and underfunded repairs will be forgotten. About that, I think Brad Paisley would say it is okay to say, “boo hoo” for a minute or two. As long as I am wearing waterproof mascara.

Planning a trip to Music City? No better place to start than Margaret’s online guide to the city: VisitSouth Nashville.

And a reopening night video posted by the popcorn counter guy…

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Dom Flemons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops--but not at Bristol. Photo by Jonas Hart via a Creative Commons license.

I was hoping but in no way expecting that Paul Koptak, the winner of our Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion ticket giveaway, would check in after the weekend was over. So I was tickled, pleased, and just genuinely happy when Paul’s wife, Linda, sent a full-on post-festival wrap-up my way. Sounds like it was a perfectly Flyover-esque festival weekend. I’m definitely going to check out the bands the Chicago-based Koptaks recommended. Without more hulabaloo from me, Linda Koptak’s Rhthm & Roots wrap-up…

“Normally, our weekend plans do not include driving 1,200 miles for a getaway, but since we won tickets to the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion from Flyover America [and VisitSouth Nashville], we embraced the adventure. After driving all day and making a brief stop to take pictures at the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Virginia, we arrived at our hotel, jumped on the BRRR shuttle bus, and made it in time to enjoy Missy Raines and The New Hip. Is The New Hip a reference to musical sophistication? No! It really is the new hip that Missy received at the same time she was developing her new group. Inspiration can come from anything!

Attending BRRR required hard work because there was a 48-page festival guide to sort through. With 22 stages and more than 150 performers, we had to make choices as to which groups we wouldn’t get to see. We enjoyed hearing our old favorites like The Del McCoury Band, James Hand, and Blue Highway. Then there were the new discoveries like The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Sarah Jarosz, The Gibson Brothers, Darrell Scott, The Boxcars, Chris Jones & the Night Drivers, Father Richard & the Holy Mountain Bluegrass Band, The Snyder Family Band, Red Molly, and plenty of others.

Strolling down State Street was fun! Lots of good (but hardly healthy) food to choose from (love that yummy BBQ). Fascinating that the north side of State Street is in Virginia but that anything south of the center line is in Tennessee. We were tired when we arrived home on Monday at 3:30 am, but were very happy we made the effort to go.”

Red Molly performing Sweet Carolina at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2010

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Photo by Jenna Schnuer

Fed by glacial ice, the water of Nugget Falls is, if nothing else, cold. But it’s much more than that. Part of the Tongass National Forest, Nugget, pretty on its own, is an nearby neighbor of Mendenhall Glacier. The Falls or, really, a nearby sandbar, is also a good stopping point during a roundtrip paddle across Mendenhall Lake. I needed to stop to take photos and, also, to just kind of stand, for a few minutes, with the thoughts of all I’d seen already. The lake is crowded with icebergs that slid or cracked off of Mendenhall, often taking silt and boulders along for the ride. It was all just so beautiful. Also, it was time for a snack. (Paddling across the chilly lake isn’t very challenging or energy-draining but the mere act of stepping a foot in a kayak requires, at some point, a chocolate break.)

I visited Mendenhall on an earlier trip to Juneau so I thought I knew what I would see when I pulled in on the sandbar: the visitor center above me to the right, the falls in front of me, and the cool blue (and imposing) Mendenhall (and its newest calves) off to the far left. It wouldn’t be boring but…it would be as I, pretty much, expected it to be.

I got out of the kayak, grabbed my camera, and turned to the left to start shooting. Neither the glacier nor the falls themselves were, immediately, the star attraction. Instead, there was a group of six guys in their mid-20s. A few were holding cups of coffee. All looked a little giggly, a little cat-with-the-canary. The looks on their faces reminded me of some of the lovely idiots I knew in college as they filled me in on the climb they had made up to the CITGO sign, high above Kenmore Square.

As I pulled off the gloves I had worn kayaking—those icebergs keep the water chilled like a giant cocktail—two of the canary pack started shedding layers. As I stripped my chocolate bar of its cover, they pulled off their hiking boots and fleeces. As I yelled for my friend to come over for the show, they slipped out of their cargo pants and t-shirts. Both were down to boxers (thus allaying my fear of any bad tighty whitie sightings). The boxers stayed on. And then they went straight into the drink, the cold cold drink.

Their friends stood on the sandbar, laughing and pointing. They held tight to their coffee cups as they turned the bright laughing red that Boston Irish boys go when their friends are carrying out dipwad plans. The two unofficial members of the Nugget Falls Polar Bear Club pushed forward toward the waterfall that was hammering down from 377 feet above. Their body language made one thing completely and totally clear: that shit was cold.

Then they were under the waterfall. Completely.

They were equal parts moron, clown, and adventurer. They did it for a story they’ll tell forever but also, clearly, to make their friends laugh. They’d probably annoyed teachers with their antics since second or third grade but, here, nobody minded. They made everybody’s day just that much more fun (which, I have to admit, is a pretty admirable feat when you’re up against icebergs and glaciers).

Or, as another onlooker summed it up: “Good to know there are still idiots in the world.”


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Highway Art, Texas

I loved Jenna’s photo finish last week so I am going to toss out a picture for the end of this week.

When I first moved to Texas, hadn’t made friends yet, and was still coming to terms with the new landscape that surrounded me, I would sometimes drive to a highway rest area between Dallas and Fort Worth to get out of the city and soak in the bigness that was my new home. The picnic shelters, located on either side of the road, sat atop a hill with with long highway views and prairie every which way. I would sit on the picnic table and just look. I called it taking a rest.

The other day I was rummaging around in the garage and came across a cache of highway-related artwork. Here is a scene from my rest stop. (You can click to enlarge.)

It’s not great art but it makes me happy. I visited the place a couple of years ago and the area is considerably more built up. That makes me a little sad.

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Save the Liberace Museum!

I will treasure my Liberace refrigerator magnet more than ever.

Oh no! Terrible, tragic news out of Las Vegas.

The Liberace Museum is closing.

Closing! Once it was one of the state’s most popular attractions, now it’s facing the end.

Damned economy.

What is the world coming to?

I’ve been to the Liberace Museum more times than I should probably admit. Three? Four? I’m not sure, but I’ve been dazzled every time. What’s more, even though I lived through the Liberace era, I didn’t know until I visited the museum how really huge Liberace was—he sold out the Hollywood Bowl, for Pete’s sake! (Or George’s sake. And if you don’t know what I mean, then you don’t know Liberace.)

Artifacts may tour, some are going into storage. So get there before Oct. 17 if you want to see the world’s largest rhinestone. The fabulous cars. The spectacular costumes. He was Cher before Cher. Only with less exposed skin.

Surely a casino on the Strip can spare some space for one of the most dazzling collections of kitsch in the nation.

Ah, woe is us. First the Roy Rogers Museum, now this. Have young people no appreciation for the pioneers of kitsch?

Maybe if we all rush to see it now, we can save it.

This just in, from a friend: Michael Douglas to play Liberace in a biopic?

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Photo Finish (for the Week)

I’m in the mood to go horseback riding. Don’t have any plans for it at any time soon so, for now, will just dream about returning to Tucson’s Tanque Verde Ranch.

Photo by Jenna Schnuer.

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Hit the Road With Joe

The funniest guy I know, writer Joe Rhodes—a k a Earl Kabong – is hitting the road today. If you’re a regular reader of Flyover America, you might remember Joe’s contribution to Three-fer Friday.

In the last year, Joe sold just about everything he owned, retrofitted a Mercedes van to be a rolling home – a k a the Traipsemobile– and now he’s taking to the road for an indefinite length of time to accomplish whatever he can accomplish, or not. He’s calling the adventure Traipsathon Solutions, Inc. Slogan: We Specialize in What We Do.

I attended Joe’s going-away party in Dallas the other night and got a look at his new home, which is suh-weet! From the outside, it looks cuddly as Darth Vader in a snit, but inside it’s a cozy little home with two beds (that can become one, for when Joe, or Earl, gets lucky), a big TV that swivels out and around for easy viewing anywhere inside or out of the vehicle, captain’s chairs that also swivel around for additional seating in the main room and for comfortable home officing, a small kitchen, storage, and a water closet with toilet and shower, for multitasking.

“What made you decide to do this?” I asked Joe.

“I got bored,” he said.

Yeah, I hear that.

I’m tired of the lousy economy. I’m tired of trying to eke out a living in a struggling industry. I’m tired of going to the supermarket. I’m tired of sitting at my desk. I’m tired of Facebook and I’m tired of Twitter and I’m tired of cleaning the kitchen and I’m tired of cranking out work that doesn’t really interest me in order to earn money so that I can get up every morning to do the same thing all over again.

Am I envious of Joe? Yep. Sure am. I’m also fascinated. And I’m going to be following his travels via Twitter and his website/blog. I recommend you do the same because whatever happens or doesn’t happen, he’s gonna make us laugh.

First stop, Memphis. Probably. Unless it’s not.

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