The chance to see Nicole and Keith at the 2014 CMA Awards in Nashville may have slipped through our fingers given we arrived the weekend after filming but, as luck would have it, the concierge at the hotel secured seats at The Grand Ole Opry in its traditional home at the Ryman!
It seems everywhere you travel across America’s South, there’s always something special to discover: Southern hospitality at its best and, of course, all those Southern sayings!
Forget the twang and the dropped “g” because almost every one of those slow-talkin’ folks know how to charm. It was 94-year-old Little Jimmy Dickens who had the full-house crowd cheering at the Ryman. Guest artists Chase Bryant knew how to impress with guitar riffs, and few will forget the haunting songs performed by Hank William’s granddaughter, Holly. It was left to Opry inductees’ Old Crow Medicine Show to bring the concert home and get everyone up on their feet. And they did.
Of course, there were some highs and lows travelling down South. For the uninitiated to Memphis, Graceland is an “exhibition holding room” where Elvis fans are forced to congregate in long lines beside souvenirs for sale before being driven across the road to the real deal. More fun can be had at BB King’s “original” Blues Club where the regular All Stars Band won’t disappoint.
Elvis may have left that building but further south in a little town outside Georgia, Atlanta, an impersonator was swaying to the beat of the Cloud Springs Gospel and Blues Association monthly meet. This Elvis was a bit worse for wear but rockin’ the same outfit and upstaged by new singer of the year James Spearman. The lunchtime audience swelled to 20, maybe 30 but no one cared, it was what the South does best: seein’, laughin’, singin’, eatin’, meetin’ and partyin’! James travelled close to 145 miles [nearly three hours from Gatlinburg, Tennessee] for a chance to sing at the Georgia event.
If there’s one place not to miss it’s Chattanooga. The historic Tennessee Choo Choo Station is a must-see for every visitor from Australia, especially Novacastrians and Newcastle City Council members who could bring an end to the “rail” debate if only they had the foresight to adopt the same outcome for Newcastle’s historic terminal.
The 1909 terminal was saved from demolition in 1973 by a group of local investors after the trains stopped running in 1970. This year Chattanooga’s Choo Choo is getting a $US8 million makeover. Its magnificent 85-foot free-standing dome is the focal point of the 24-acre historical property, which includes hotel accommodation, dining, tourist shops, family entertainment and soon-to-open comedy venue.
On the ride back to Chicago, Illinois, along Interstate 65 drop into Louisville, Kentucky, not for the fried chicken but to visit all the antique shops. One thing for sure is no matter where you go down South, you’ll find a little piece of Australiana tucked away. It could be that Kangaroo Opal Pin that found its way into a vintage store, or the Nanny Goat Strut Laneway to an Aussie vendor popping up in the least place you’d expect.
Judy Wilkinson is a freelance writer and blogger who has enjoyed all the Southern hospitality to be found travelling through Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia, Indiana and Kentucky.