Friday, March 28, 2008

025-King of Country-Western Troubadors

INCREDIBLE show. Unknown Hinson is the gonzo guitar player every singer wants to be, writes awesome hellbilly songs, and looks like some unholy cross between Eddie Munster and Brian Setzer. He absolutely tore it up. Ron said he'd have been happy to drive the whole way here just to see this show. And talk about stage presence, at one point, Hinson encouraged people to sing along but not too loudly because, "Womens need to hear the golden larynx of Unknown Hinson." Hank III actually has a tattoo of Unknown Hinson--how cool is that?

024-The Fox Hunt

Saw The Fox Hunt at the Blue Plate Special and liked them so much we decided to go check out their gig tonight. Where else but Knoxville could you go to a Japanese restaurant to see a bluegrass band? They played an awesome acoustic show.

023-Appalachian Museum

The Metro Pulse (Knoxville's equivalent of the ArtVoice) had an article on the Appalachian Museum and its incredible founder who has committed his life to preserving the artifacts of everyday life among regular people living in this area from about 1850s to 1950s. It's an incredible assemblage of buildings, furnishings, documents, tools, and much more. One of the highlights is the cabin of Mark Twain's parents, see above.

022-Our last Blue Plate . . .

Gonna miss these Blue Plate Specials--what a great way to start the day. Today we saw 80+ year-old, left-hand fiddler Charlie Acuff, a string band from North Carolina called The Fox Hunt (which started out as a punk band and still have that attitude), and The Bearded (seen above). The Bearded are led by the usual host of the Blue Plate Specials, Matt Morelock, who is seen here rocking out on the banjo.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


After a nice walk around downtown Knoxville and lunch at the Tomato Head restaurant (Barbara--Yes, it's as good as we'd imagined!), we headed out for Cookeville, TN, for a concert we've been really looking forward to: The Everybodyfields. Saw them last year at Grassroots in Shakori Hills and fell in love. We've been listening to their albums all year. The show was on the campus of the Tennessee Technical University and turned out to be free! The opening band, Danger and the Steel Cut Oats were fine, but The Everybodyfields were wonderful and played for about two hours. Had about a two hour drive back from the show and are just turning in now, at about 2:30am.

020-Another Blue Plate Special

Another great Blue Plate Special today--Jennifer Nicley, Kevin Gordon, and David Olney. All were wonderful, but David Olney (see above, right) really tore the place up. Had to buy a CD from him.

"...part Baptist PREACHER, part caustic COMEDIAN, and part existential BLUESMAN...Olney shouted, moaned and howled his SHARPLY OBSERVED HARD-LUCK TALES and quirky character studies." - MTV's

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

019--Forgot the Blue Plate!

Forgot to mention that we finally got to check out a Blue Plate special live at the WDVX studios--a one-hour live music show they do every weekday at noon. We listen to them on Internet radio all the time, so it was pretty surreal to be sitting there in person, listening to Matt Morelock and Red Hickey (seen in the photo with the WDVX logo) introducing the band (today, the Red Stick Ramblers). Planning to go back tomorrow and Friday. The studio is half a block from our hotel and there's a nice little lunch shop adjacent to the stage area, so it's a good start to the day.

018--Flying Pigs

Okay, we totally got suckered into the whole Pigeon Forge thing and stopped to play some mini-golf. The course was litter with strange talking/singing/trash-talking animatronic farm animals, including the flying pigs above. Ron won the first game by two strokes, but I hit a hole-in-one on the 18th for a free game--which Ron also won, but only by one stroke. I'll get even later with some Yahtzee wins.

017--Great Smoky Mountains National Park

We were a little ahead of the foliage on this trip--the trees were just budded out--but the park was beautiful nonetheless. Stopped to check out some wonderful vistas and the rocky stream that runs through the park. Icy cold, crystal clear.

016-Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg

Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg . . . imagine being surrounded by incredible mountains, rocky streams, gorgeous trees--and then crashing into a G-rated mini-Las Vegas. It's packed with people, hotels, go-carts, arcades, mini-golf, stores, ice-cream shops, old-time photo studios, enormous dinner theaters, celebrity impersonators, 3-D film places, and so much more (including a Bible-themed special effects show). There are even wedding chapels. We stopped at a place called the Hillbilly Village, which was the saddest gift shop I've ever seen. It was "hillbilly" not in the ironic sense, but in the "we're selling our toaster to pay the rent" sense (there was literally a used toaster for sale--as well as used shoes, a coffee maker, etc. all amongst the dusty, low-quality souvenirs).

015-The Show

Preservation Pub was great--it's a bar in an old part of town (walking distance to our hotel), on a pedestrian-only square with a lot of other little shops, restaurants, etc. Kind of like the commons in Ithaca.

As promised, Eric had us on the guest list. The show was terrific and had a chance to meet and chat with both bands throughout the evening. Nice folks. Also met a very interesting homeless guy named either Tim or Anthony (that changed from minute to minute) who decided that Ron looked just like some DJ from Ohio named Daddy Wags and proceeded to call him that all night. Met a guy who works as a river guide, too--interesting stories from working all over the US and South America. Also attending were some of our favorite DJs from WDVX (which Barbara and I listen too all day at work)--Red Hickey, Tony Lawson, and Matt Morelock. Had a chance to meet all of them as well.

After the show, which ended around midnight, everything on the square was closed. We were starving--hadn't eaten since leaving Memphis that morning. Came back to the hotel, but valet service was closed, so we could get our car only if we could find it, basically. Ended up getting delivery from a local Italian place, which turned out to be really good and a lot less hassle than wandering around a parking ramp trying to track down the car. A few games of Yahtzee later, it was nite-nite for us.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Arrived in Knoxville and checked into our hotel, which is right across the street from the WDVX studios, where we're planning to check out the live music every day at noon. Tonight, we're headed over to the Preservation Pub to see Christabel and the Jons--a great local band--and the Red Stick Ramblers.

Monday, March 24, 2008

013-Sun Records

Sun Studios--there's another site I never expected to be so moving. Everything that's rock-n-roll started right here. We watch I Walk the Line pretty regularly, so it was hard not to imagine the scene where Johnny Cash nervously walks into Sun with a few dollars in his hand to cut his first record. A few years before, an 18-year-old Elvis Presley walked in the same way--as did all the off-the-street rock and blues legends (like B.B. King, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, etc.) who were discovered there. The studio is exactly as it was when they were there--in fact, there's an X on the floor marking where Elvis Presley stood when he cut his first Sun record (he was so nervous, he had to stand with his back to the engineering room). The microphone that Elvis, Johnny, and all the others used is still there--and available for photo ops, as seen in the photo of Ron.

012-Mississippi 4 Lunch

The Mississippi border in on the southern outskirts of Memphis, so Ron decided we should head there fore lunch (to get some "decent" food, he says). Came across this little dive and decided to give it a try. Turned out to be an excellent choice. Lunch special was two grilled cheese sandwiches, fries, and a soda for $3.00! Ron went with the corn dogs (three for $5) and we split the fried dill pickles (yum). Heart attack on a plate, but what else would you expect of a backwater Mississippi drive-through?


Graceland is a crazy operation--they have 700,000 visitors per year and they move you through in a highly organized fashion (but never faster than you want to go). I guess we both went into the adventure, at least to some degree, for the kitsch . . . but it was actually a pretty incredible experience. They did a wonderful job of giving you a sense of Elvis as a person (friend, son, husband, etc.) and as an artist (did you know he produced all his own records?). By the time we got to his grave site at the end of the tour, it was genuinely moving to be standing there.

010-Beale Street Blues

Arrived in Memphis late Sunday night and checked into Elvis Presley's Heartbreak Hotel (yes, it's actually at the end of Lonely Street). Had a couple of drinks at the bar and headed out for Beale Street--assured by the bartender that there would definitely be live music, even on Easter Sunday. She was right--lots of incredible bands to choose from. We watched a few, then settled at the Rum Boogie Cafe to watch Elmo and the Shades, with members from Isaac Hayes' band (including three who played on the original Grammy-Award winning recording of "Shaft") and the drummer from The Blues Brothers. A _great_ show.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

009-Rambling Change-o-Plans

Red Stick Ramblers at the Royal Theater in Danville, IN--incredible. They get better every time we see them. Which is apparently a lot; ran into the bass player, Eric Frey, outside the theater. We've met him a couple of times (including last August, when we hung out with him a bit at his neighborhood bar and our favorite Lafayette, LA, spot the Blue Moon Saloon). He was impressed we'd driven down from Buffalo for the show. Ron mentioned we were also planning to check them out again later this week in Knoxville for the WDVX Blue Plate Special, and Eric put us on the guest list for the show the night before. So now we're headed straight from Memphis (tomorrow and Monday) to Knoxville for the RSR show on Tuesday night. Too good an offer to pass up!


Arrived in Indianapolis and, thanks to Hotwire (I'm now a believer), have an insane suite at the Hilton for $50. It's at least as big as the first floor of our house and much more lavishly appointed. We're at the center of downtown near an incredible memorial (shown in the photo). All around are brick streets, beautiful old buildings, and some great looking shops and cafes. We're headed out shortly for dinner and a Red Stick Ramblers concert, but hopefully will have some time to walk around tomorrow morning before we head out for Memphis. (Note: Ron is playing accordion in the next room, making this suite extra sweet.)

007-Rock Hounding

Came across this place on the way to Indianapolis. Incredible store full of every mineral, fossil, and whatnot you can imagine. Michelle's grandparents were avid rockhounds and traveled around the country to spots like this. Hard to imagine they missed this one, so it was kind of bittersweet to walk around and imagine them there. Bought a big ol' rock to put in the garden this spring as a little keepsake. It will probably cost us only $500 in extra gas to haul it home . . . c'est la vie.

006-Jim Dandy

Lunch at a little central Indiana diner called Jim Dandy's--started as a drive-through in 1950. If you squint and discount the blond hair, this photo of the Jim Dandy Boy looks pretty much like Ron did when the waitress brought him his bacon double cheeseburger basket.


A side road today took us to an unexpected treasure: the home town of our illustrious former Vice President Dan Quayle. Huntington is also the site of the world's best tribute to "the other guy"; the United States Vice Presidential Museum. As DQ himself once said, "Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things," so I'll leave it at that.

Friday, March 21, 2008

004-Big Fun in Little Markle

Markle, IN, (population 1200) is home to Ron's aunt Chris and uncle Steve. Ron's cousins Paula and Chris (and toddler Olivia) were also visiting for Easter, so we had a fun crew for Heineken, tequila, and highly competitive ping-pong play. Steve also has an enviable setup in a second garage where he works on his go-cart and we got to see their newly remodeled kitchen. Called it a night around 11pm and headed to the hotel.

003-He's Got Our Back

As always, the trusty rooster, talisman of all our road journeys, is at his post on the dashboard.

002-Grandpa's Cheese Barn

Despite its obvious kitsch appeal as a roadside cheese attraction, the cheese barn was a more than adequate respite from the trials of the road. Culinary highlights included cucumber wasabi dip and whiskey cheese--with sweets and meats in between.

001-Waffle House!

Started out from Buffalo at 10am, determined to make our first stop a highly anticipated Waffle House visit. It appeared on the horizon just as Ron was about to faint from hunger. As the song says, "Don't matter where you go, they all got that special atmosphere." Turns out the one in PA we stopped at also starts employees at $9.50/hr. Ron suggest this for anyone of you who might be looking for some gainful employment. One word: GRITS!