|This is the true story of how a little band from Texas headed to Nashville and picked up a vagabond from London at Graceland.|
Several months back, Modern Day Drifters had the opportunity to schedule some meetings and a showcase in Nashville. We figured, why not go kick the tires so to speak and set out to make it a cool vacation/roadtrip/business meeting set-up. Reservations were made and the trip was booked. Everyone was excited as many had not been to Nashville ever, and while my wife was born there, she left at the age of 2 and doesn’t exactly remember much.
So, there it was, after a weekend of gigging around DFW, we set out. 7 of us packed tightly into a Ford 350 Econoline van pulling a trailer full of gear and luggage. Lance, our jedi ninja of a driver drove us through all kinds of horrid weather conditions and worse drivers than you’d find on your local go-kart track full of nine year olds. We pulled into Memphis on a Sunday night, and after unloading we headed downtown to Beale Street to soak up some culture and vibes.
Our first stop was the Blues City Café for some grub and brew. Our waitress was named Honey, and she looked like one of the Staple Singers. She was amazing, and awfully funny. Derrick, the veteran of blues bands had a good time wrapping with her and she was impressed with our non-touristy aura. She told us the story of the British couple dining across from us that had just complained to her about their tamales. Seems they wanted to send their food back due to the waxy taste…they had not removed the covering and chewed right through all of it. Leaving them unimpressed with their first taste of food in the States.
Leave it to my wife to top the British couple. While we were tabbing out, we asked Honey what we should do aside from Graceland and the usual stuff. Give us some out of the way spots that tourists wouldn’t normally encounter. After she rand down her list, she said…”and the Rock ‘N Soul Museum is pretty groovy.” To which my wife at the other end of the table heard “The Rock and Salt Museum” and proceeded to ask Honey why we’d want to go to a museum about ice cream makers…and was serious. We were mortified…but it makes a good story and Honey told us she now had something to share with her customers the rest of the week aside from the tamales incident.
Upon bidding Honey adieu, we headed down Beale Street to hear some real live blues. The genuine stuff. And, we found it with the Dr. Feelgood Blues Band. Four old cats picking their hands off that resembled the opening to the Chappelle’s Show. After some time there, we headed down to a corner spot and saw a band named Mercury Boulevard. They were amazing and led by a Coby Wier look-alike. After they finished we gurmed them out a bit and found out that another cool band was starting down the street where we’d just come from in about five minutes. So, we high-tailed it up that way in time to see a big blues/jazz band complemented by a Jeremy Bryant (Stoney LaRue’s drummer) look-alike on guitar. He was wearing a worn Nirvana shirt and had his guitar strapped up really high. To which Josh pointed out that only a legitimate guitar player would wear his instrument up that high. And, Josh was 100% correct. We watched “Jeremy” jam for well over an hour with his band, and I left thinking that he was one of the best players I’d ever seen in person.
We had an early check-out so we were up and at ‘em early as we headed over to Cracker Barrel for some breakfast. No matter where you are, CB brings it’s A game with breakfast. Here, our waitress was named Sugar. I wish I was making this up. As we debated our plan of action, we decided to try Rock ‘N Soul/Rock and Salt first then play it by ear.
I am so glad we toured this museum. Being the music snob I am, I was aware of the influence that Memphis has had on all forms of American music, but it didn’t hit home until I took a trip through this place. Ike Turner’s piano, the handwritten lyrics to “Suspicious Minds”, and finding out that “I Can’t Stand the Rain” was not a Missy Eliot original, but rather a sample from Ann Peebles who Tina Turner ripped off for her image was mind boggling. Every sound on this track was made by a human playing an actual instrument. What a novel concept modern music makers! Hearing this track blaring through a video screen at me, stopped me in my tracks. Holy Musical Moment Batman!
From there, we hopped aboard a shuttle to Graceland that several in our party were not too enthused about. They weren’t stoked about paying $30 to walk around a house. But, I looked at it as an experience you had to take part in while in Memphis. After a half-hour everyone was smiling and saying things like “I’m so glad we came here!” It was while on the tour that we noticed a girl walking around by herself and dressed a bit different. Definitely a European we thought.
When the time came to depart on the shuttle back to our car, the girl got on board with us. We were loud and carrying on like we’d just been picked up off the Guadalupe and were riding in a beer-soaked yellow bus down River Road. When, Josh turned around and told her “I’m sorry, we’re obnoxious Texans.” To which she replied…”Oh, it’s quite alright ya bloke, talley ho.” Or what might as well have been that once we heard the first drop of her accent. Soon, we’d invited her to dinner with us and got her whole story.
Her name was Georgie, she was a stewardness on luxury yachts in Europe by trade, but was on holiday in the States for the summer. She started in New Orleans, Memphis was her second stop and she was heading to Nashville in the morning for the next leg of her journey. Well, over oysters and beer we convinced her to change her plans, ditch that Greyhound ticket and hop in our van tonight as we headed to Nashvegas. For some reason, she agreed. And, next thing I know we have 8 people crammed in the van and three of us are in the backseat with 2 guitars writing a song called “Waitin’ on Georgie”.
After checking into our hotel and taking advantage of Tennessee’s 3AM liquor cutoff time, we hung out on the front porch of our hotel getting to know Georgie better. During this conversation, she excused herself to go type a text/e-mail back home. When she came back she read it to us…and it sounded like the start of a horror film. It was hilarious. “Hi everyone, I’ve met a country band from Texas at Graceland and they are really nice. They’ve picked me up and taken me to Nashville…”
Morning came too soon and we headed out for our meetings. After the meetings were over we headed downtown for some lunch and people watching. Fan Fair aka CMA Fan Fest aka Iowa Trailer Park Relocation week was sliding into gear and this was like the people watching Olympics. Sadly upon seeing only three mullets in two hours we decided it was nap time before the gig. That night, MDD played at Edgehill Café. A really cool venue right in the middle of Music Row. After load out, we headed back downtown to go honky-tonking down on Broadway.
The town was really busting at the seams now and everywhere we went was crowded. We must’ve stood out from the crowd, because at one bar the band, an all-female outfit named BroadBand called us out from the stage and said “Y’all aren’t tourists are you…you’re a band…I can tell by the way you dress.” They were very gracious and even offered to let us get up and do a couple. We thanked them and headed down the street where we continued to run into thousands of tourists and CMT celebrities. Pretty soon we’d had enough and headed back for more hotel porch hangtime.
It was up early for another round of meetings and another Texas reunion. We ran into Blu Sanders, Rob Baird and an intern from Baylor. Then, it was back downtown for lunch and more festivities. Unbeknownst to us, they were having a FanFair parade down Broadway. Luckily, we got to watch this from our restaurant window in the air-conditioning. Our snark was on high as we watched a cavalcade of has beens and never weres parade down the street like it was Pasadena on January 1st. Sunny Sweeney was our only highlight and we yelled loud and proud for her. The rest was a joke full of guys and gals that looked like they were straight from central casting “Country Star 2009”. Exhibit A: One Flew South.
Next, we hit up the Hall of Fame, which is a must if you’ve never been. Then, it was over to Randy and Wade’s bus to introduce them to Georgie. Georgie was overwhelmed as she was greeted like a longtime friend and given autographed schwag from two guys she’d never even heard of. After a trip through the Ryman and some dinner down on Broadway we decided to skip the start of the Randy/Wade show and hit up Will Hoge and Friends at 12th and Porter. Will’s been a longtime favorite and we were all bummed when he got in a bad motorcycle accident last summer and had to cancel his Whitewater date.
We made the 8 block walk down to the venue and got there 45 minutes early, which allowed us to stake out a killer front row spot. Will sported a limp from the motorcycle wreck, but that was the only evidence he would show. His intensity and charisma were Springsteen-esque. From the way the veins popped out of his neck, to the way he violently strummed his guitar…it was an all-encompassing musical experience that moved many to tears and 90 minutes of goosebumps. The stage was rounded out by two full-figured soulful female back-up singers, and the “friends” part of the bill were Will’s brother Josh Hoge and Dan Baird of Georgia Satellites’ fame. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, anywhere.
After our face got rocked off, we trudged back 8 blocks to the Rutledge for another Texas reunion and the end of Randy and Wade’s set. Randy was in fine comedic form as he took the piss out of Nashville. Wade played along fantastically, and it was cool to see the guys play hardball just as tough in Nashville as they would in Austin.
We had another early wake-up call as MDD was playing for the kids and parents at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital the next morning. It is odd to say, and I didn’t quite understand it when the welcoming committee told us, but it really was one of the happiest places on Earth. The entire place has an infectious optimism and enthusiasm that cannot be contained. After MDD’s set, we got a tour of the whole facility and were able to meet some really cool kids, parents, nurses, doctors and staff members. As I tweeted, the next time I feel jaded or frustrated I will just remember this experience. Wow is all I can say. The art made by the patients was moving and beautiful. Our tour guide even related that many high-profile managers in Nashville and LA send their clients to visit St. Jude anytime they notice an ego running wild. I can think of many people who need to do this trip. Life-changing.
Next it was the long ride back to Texas. By now, we’d convinced Georgie to hang around Texas for a while and postpone her other plans. Soon she was at Sake of the Song Fest signing more autographs than Randy and taking in a county fair in Navasota. She also has plans to take in a Rangers game and the Alamo among other things before picking up her own itinerary again. She was even on the radio this morning being interviewed about her crazy trip!
A lot of times I hear people question whether there is a higher power out there in the universe, then I experience something like this trip. Whether it was us saving Georgie from God knows what on that Greyhound, Will Hoge moving people to tears through music, or the magic we saw at St. Jude…something’s going on. And, who’d a thunk a rogue band from Texas picking up a drifter at Graceland would kickstart so much.