On our way to Nashville this weekend, my friend Katie & I had no idea what we would exactly be doing, who we would meet, or where we would be going. We just knew that we both needed a getaway weekend from our hectic lives. We’re both high school teachers, and the added stress of taking our work home with us when it doesn’t get finished at work was piling up on both of us in different ways. It doesn’t matter how, what matters is that we both recognized a break from our daily routine and lives would give us a chance to reconnect with ourselves and just be ourselves. Not Mrs. McD or Ms. H, or even mom and wife in her case. Just Katie & Megan out on the road.
That’s when the idea of Nashville came to us.
A few nights before we left, we made hotel reservations and determined that we would figure out the trip as we went.
I’m so glad we did because we didn’t fall into tourist traps nor did we have any real expectations. Instead, we went in with open minds and open hearts and let the moment take us to wherever we wound up. Live music, however, was a must.
We got into Nashville late in the evening. We dropped off our luggage in the room and headed to the lobby to figure out a place to eat. While we were waiting, we began to notice women walking by us wearing tight jean skirts, tight yoga pants or jeans, and on a few rare occasions tight cut-off jean shorts. What they all had in common was that they were all wearing over-the-top decorated cowboy boots. They. Were. Horrible. Yet, I immediately became fascinated by them and we both asked, “Why? Why in the world would people wear those things?” We knew the answers: for attention and for their own idea of sex appeal. The prettier and more decorated the peacock, the more chances he has at attracting a mate. Same base mentality applies to us humans. But seriously, turquoise, hot pink and purple colors may blend together nicely on a peacock; but when they are applied to expensive snake skin and leather and bedazzled with rhinestones and passed off as fashion footwear, a person’s attention seeking ways have gone from normal to extreme.
We rode in the shuttle with 4 middle-aged men our fathers’ age. They decided to relive their youth and flirt with us and begged us to go to a bar called “The Rebar” with them. We politely declined, and laughed when we heard them say “Hubba, Hubba,” as we closed the shuttle van door behind us.
After eating at a nice meal at a nice restaurant with a nice cover band, we headed back to the hotel. Once in the room, I grabbed a pen and paper and started making tally marks. When Katie asked what I was doing, I mentioned that I was going to start a “Boot Count” tally and check off the number of times I saw women clomping around in these obnoxious things and I was writing down my count from earlier that evening. And the weekend theme began.
We noticed them while driving down the 2 lane streets back to the hotel after visiting Andrew Jackson’s homestead “The Hermitage.” We noticed them in our hotel lobby and at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. As we bit the bullet and walked into and back out of the “Juke Joints,” “Honky Tonks,” and souvenir shops on Music Row, our eyes lit up and we began a fast count of all the pedestrians walking towards us at the crosswalk. Katie’s pretty blue eyes lit up and she nodded her head ever so slightly and said, “Get out your pen and paper, ‘cuz here they come.” I pulled out my tally sheet on the corner of Broadway and 2nd and ticked off the 8 college girls walking our way. They all were wearing black tights, gray sweater dresses, and hideously expensive cowboy boots in chartreuse, red, turquoise, brown-fringed, or pink and purple pointy-toed cowboy boots. Yes! Score!
In one souvenir shop, I spotted a hideous Elvis jumpsuit that I tried to persuade Katie to buy for a Halloween costume. All I got was this picture of the mannequin wearing it instead.
I spotted an Elvis fortune telling machine when I was at the checkout machine. I pressed my luck, and put in my 50 cents. Elvis gave me some sound advice and my fortune card told me, “Recently you’ve had to make some judgements. . .The more we judge, the less we love.” I worried that the all-knowing Elvis was chastising me for being so critical of my fellow females, and so I did a “Mea Culpa” and went into 3 boot stores and took pictures of the boots and pretended to like them. When approached by the salesclerk and asked to try a pair on, I told her “Thank you,” but they were “too expensive” for my taste. I made my attempt to fit in, and my reward was meeting an Elvis-impersonator and getting advised to go to “Boot Time” store so I could buy 1 pair and get 2 pairs free.
Later in the evening, we knew that we had to go listen to live music. So, we took a local’s advice and wound up going to “The Commodore Lounge” in the Holiday Inn across town. We were both very glad that we did. When we walked in, 4 women were on stage. Each one had a mic and their guitars. It was “Songwriter’s Night.” Each set of 2 – 4 people got a total of approximately 1 hour to perform their songs they had written and crafted. It was amazing. The 1st woman had so much emotional depth to her lyrics and voice that she gave us goosebumps. The 2nd woman was so polished in her singing and playing, and her song “No Neighbors,” made me feel melancholy and realize the truth that in our culture we don’t sit on our porches and visit with neighbors, but instead we rush home and shut down the garage door and seal off the world. The 3rd woman sang with a lot of grit and made you take the “Whisky Queen,” seriously and incensed you when you learned she was cheated on by her man. And the 4th woman sang a tender song about her daughter, and her face glowed when she looked out in the audience and saw her daughter sitting in the front.
Each set brought an interesting grouping of songwriters – some who have known each other for awhile, and others who had just met each other while on stage. The beauty of it was that the universe was working in the artists’ and audience’s favor that night because all the songs and styles blended so well with one another. One man sang a honky-tonk, bluesy song, and the 2nd round he sang a country song called “Real Men Wear Pink.” It started off funny, and then turned when the character’s wife had developed and then overcome breast cancer and he put on his pink ribbon to show his support of her. It was a very well crafted and surprising song.
In between the sets, Katie and I struck up a conversation with a young man by the name of Mike Everett. I usually don’t post people’s full names on this blog, but in his case I’m making an exception. He is a songwriter with substance. He’s shy and unassuming, but very observant. Throughout the evening, we learned that he has been playing since he was 14 (he’s now 22), and he moved to Nashville a few months ago. We thought it was just to focus on his music career, but he later revealed to us that he graduated from a military school and is working as a Mechanical Engineer at a company in town. He only started writing music a year ago, but he’s known that music is part of his life and that he really does want to make it his life’s focus and passion. If we stayed for his late set, we would miss our shuttle back to the hotel and have to take a cab late at night. We decided that since he was all alone (his roommate was out touring with his band, and he has no relatives in the state) we would be his support system. Feeling like his big sisters, we told him to leave his jacket and go get his guitar and get ready. We wished him well, and then we sat back and waited.
Once the soundcheck was over for him and the 2 other men (both in their 60s), he volunteered to go first. His scrawny physique immediately changed, and the lighting hit his sharp, angular cheekbones and nose just right that his demeanor changed the minute he hit his first chord. With his dark, curly brown hair and black t-shirt he looked like a cross between a young Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. His voice was strong and his rhythm was tight. He brought a range of emotions to his song called “Words,” and he even got the attention of a woman in the crowd who clapped and said, “Whoo hoo!” as he was playing. The 2 other men on stage sat in their chairs and smiled and grinned as he continued. His second song, “On the Fence,” was about trying to break up with someone, but being afraid to lose her forever. His voice was gritty and the vocals were raw and straight from the heart. It was obvious that this song was fresh and new, not because he just wrote it, but because he was connecting into those emotions that he obviously went through to write that song. It was pretty great to watch and listen to him. We wound up visiting with him the rest of the evening and shutting down The Commodore Lounge.
High school students even got up there and performed as well. The youngest one was a 14 year old girl who played the keyboard and sang songs about being in touch with nature, and finding herself while trying to work out the chaos of life as a teenager. They even had great lines. The 16 year old girl played a waltz-rhytm on her guitar and sang, “Next time I’ll let my heart speak through my mouth.” The 17 year old boy told a story about falling in love with a girl and referencing It’s A Wonderful Life and says he’ll “. . .be like George Bailey and lasso the moon for you.” It was fun to watch these 3 kids have a chance to speak their hearts and minds and share their talents in this small, off the beaten path, venue.
Oh, and how can I forget Ken & Jeannie Veltz? A husband and wife duo. They performed 2 songs, one called “You Like Me,” and “Before You Take Me Home.” I’m actually listening to the latter one as I’m typing this just to try and recapture the feelings I felt as I listened to them sing in this intimate venue. They have been married 38 years and have children and grandchildren. Their songs have such a lovely, positive overtone and such soul and depth in them. There’s humor, love and passion and compassion in their lyrics and melody and harmony. Katie and I both got teary-eyed listening to them and very uplifted and grounded at the same time. Katie leaned over to me during the second song and said, “Could you imagine having them as grandparents? I mean, you would get to experience this every time you were with them. How cool is that?” I agreed. They’re something special. I encourage you to check out their website: http://www.veltzmusic.com/Adventures_Veltz.html You won’t regret it.
And there you have it: Nashville Uncovered. Though it has its tourist traps, silly styles and its own culture and way of doing things, like every city, the real Nashville lies in the people who bring Music City to life. Those unsung heroes of singing and songwriting. Those who know that it’s more important to work on your craft and put your vulnerability, heart, and soul on the line. Those who will never make it on the radio or get a wide range of attention (unless maybe if they buy some of those boots). Those who create because they know it’s about the process of creating and sharing that process in the form of art. Those who connect to us out there in the audience for a brief moment and share a part of their lives for 3 – 5 minutes at a time.