Date: 4 June
Location: the couch, Nashville Downtown Hostel, Music City, Tennessee.
Notable sightings: country music; the pre-CMA Fest buzz.
When we were initially sketching out our US roadtrip (using those ancient tools of the navigators of old: a world map on my iPad mini and Google), we decided we’d be in Nashville around 3 June. Google told us that 5 June was the start of the ‘CMA Fest’ and our uneducated reaction was ‘oh perfect, let’s get out of town before that, before hostel prices go up and the town is flooded with hillbillies’.
Wrong, wrong so wrong.
First, we’d failed to take into account that we’d become deeply enamoured with country music, that we’d adore the South and all it’s hillbillies, that we’d seriously love kicking up our cowboy boot heels on a wooden saloon dance floor, that honkytonks are heaven, that we’d learn about and crush on Luke Bryan, that cowboys are amazing, that Nashville is amazing.
Second, we’d neglected to factor in that the CMA festival is a huge deal and that this city is simply electric around this time of year.
So we’re on a bus out of here tonight and it’s a cryin’ shame. Tassels is fearful the three and a half hour bus ride to Georgia will be painfully long. An India-by-bus survivor, I scoff at her idea of ‘long’.
We have had two great nights here, though. From Austin we flew in the tiniest tin can of a ‘plane’ to Houston, Texas then connected to Nashville, Tennessee. And we’ve loved it here to from the moment at the airport we noticed that the emergency heart first aid machine on the wall was sponsored by the Billy Ray Cryrus Foundation and labelled with a plaque stating that it was ‘For all your achy breachy heart needs’. We’ve loved the live music enthusiastically flooding out from each bar down Broadway. We’ve loved the m’am-ing valet Gus (‘Goose’) at our West End Hotel. We’ve — ok, I’ve — loved the fried chicken (Bunks and Tass bring those odd creatures,vegetarians).
Due to a minor miscalculation with dates we realised that we had nowhere to stay on our first night in Nashville so I used my favourite trick, Hotwire.com, to book a mystery hotel in the trendy West End. You never know where you might end up, but it’s super cheap and I’ve had more Hiltons than holes so far. This time we got an Aloft, the startlingly trendy little sister version of the W Hotel, all soft-lit neon signs, blue toiletries, hipster staff and Fat Boy beanbags. That goest night, while nosing and noshing around the West End — the part of Nashville closest to the prestigious Vanderbilt University, a Southern university initially funded by a Northerner in a gesture he hoped would go towards ameliorating Civil War wounds — we found a strip of rowdy college bars. Rebar was our first dalliance and introduced us to Bushwhackers, an icecreamy Floridian cocktail that’s weirdly popular in Nashville. Naturally.
Further down, a huge crowd was spilling out of Winner’s Bar into its parking lot and towards a huge stage. We nosed on in. Apparently we’d walked straight into the Whiskey Jam, an unofficial kickoff concert party for the CMA Fest. Amongst a sea of cowboy hats and trucker caps, we grooved to a country band called Blackjack Billy and a truly terrible southern DJ, DJ Silver, whose speciality seemed to be cutting ‘Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy’ into totally unrelated songs. Meanwhile, we’re becoming huge Big & Rich fans. Just after midnight Blackjack Billy begun its encore and we took ourselves home. It was, after all, a Monday night.