For years, Betty & I have been reading ads in the Winnipeg Free Press for bus tours to Branson, Missouri, which bills itself as the “Live Music Entertainment Capitol of the World”. No hyperbole here…LOL. Since this southwestern Missouri city was more-or-less on our route home from Memphis, we thought we’d make it the 4th and last stop on our musical ride.
Most of our travel time was through the cotton fields of Arkansas and the Ozark Mountains that surround Branson. At $24./night for a full service campsite, we booked into site 124 at nearby Table Rock State Park, with the intent of cleaning
and preparing our motorhome for a brief storage period back in Manitoba. Being at Branson for 4 days, we thought we’d also check out a few of the many attractions listed, and maybe catch one of those live shows.
Truth be told, we found Branson to be a major disappointment, although maybe we didn’t give it a full chance to impress. It turned out that Elvis Presley himself was not at Presley’s Jubilee. Apparently he had already left the building! While Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and many other music legends were also being promoted, it appeared that none of them were there in person! What a let down!! LOL
The Branson entertainment guide had a picture of Michael Jackson on the cover, and you could get up close and personal with him, Taylor Swift, Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, and others – or at least wax images of them – at the Hollywood Wax Museum Entertainment Center: “One of the biggest attractions in Branson”. Everywhere we looked we saw imitations of this, tributes to that, copies of something else, including, for some reason, a replica of the Titanic hitting an iceberg on Route 76, their main drag. What’s that about? We didn’t check it out…
It may very well be that Betty & I are too harsh on Branson. It rained quite a bit during our visit, and we were more focused on the road home, rather than the musical ride. Will we ever go back to the “Live Music Entertainment Capitol of the World”? Maybe, or maybe we’ll just go to an imitation of Branson next year, in a place out west called Las Vegas, Nevada. LOL.
For the last few days, Marc Cohn’s song “Walking In Memphis” has echoed in my head wherever Betty & I have travelled in Memphis, Tennessee. (I guess the fact that it echoed suggests my noggin is otherwise hollow, but that’s another story. LOL) The autobiographical song recounts Cohn’s spiritual experience of walking in a city steeped in music history. And this week we joined him on that walk.
On a previous visit with our kids (Ok, they’re not kids anymore, so it was a while ago…) Betty & I visited Elvis’ Jungle Room in Graceland, and stood by his tomb with security guards near by. We have now toured a number of recording studios, so chose to forego a visit to Sun Records on Union Avenue, where Presley laid down a lot of vinyl. When planning this trip last year, I
was reminded that we had stopped at a restaurant on Beale Street for the best bbq ribs ever, so that was a point of interest not to be missed. The taste alone put our feet 10 feet off of Beale, as we passed the statue of the father of the blues, W.C. Handy, at Handy Park.
While not part of our musical journey, Betty & I wanted to pay homage to the great Martin Luther King, who was assassinated in 1968 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The motel has now been converted into a National Civil Rights Museum, and our extended visit there was a powerfully moving experience.
The next day –Sunday – combined our experience at the Civil Rights Museum with our musical ride and Cohn’s song. While we didn’t hear a sermon from singer/songwriter/ producer Rev. Al Green, Betty & I did attend “Memphis’ First Congregation of Color” – Collins Chapel, founded in 1841. Just as Cohn experienced, this was a tremendously moving experience,
with the black choir swaying together and clapping in unison as they sang gospel songs. (There was one white woman in the choir who didn’t ever seem to get the rhythm, but she was introduced later as a visitor from Minnesota. LOL)
Guest preacher, Dr. Clifford L. Harris of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, challenged the congregation to live in the eye of the hurricane, as the storm raged around them. Without directly referring to the current administration, he encouraged parishioners to get out and vote, reminding listeners of the day’s responsive reading “… O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” “For we must never forget that the only thing evil needs to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”
In recounting how he came to write the song, Cohn tells of his inspirational encounter at the Hollywood cafe, just south of Memphis, with singer Muriel Wilkins. He was asked to perform on stage with her, and didn’t know the words to many of the songs. But as a finale they sang “Amazing Grace” together and, even though Cohn is Jewish, he felt the spiritual connection with Christianity that night.
Our visit to Memphis has shown Betty & me the worst and best of the human experience, from the assassination of MLK and the lynchings of blacks and their supporters during civil rights marches, to the inspiring and uplifting music that encourages us all to love and care for one another.
Put on my blue suede shoes And I boarded the plane Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues In the middle of the pouring rain
W.C. Handy, won’t you look down over me Yeah, I got a first class ticket But I’m as blue as a boy can be.
Then I’m walking in Memphis Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale Walking in Memphis But do I really feel the way I feel?
Saw the ghost of Elvis On Union Avenue Followed him up to the gates of Graceland Then I watched him walk right through Now security they did not see him They just hovered ’round his tomb But there’s a pretty little thing Waiting for the King Down in the Jungle Room.
When I was walking in Memphis I was walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale Walking in Memphis But do I really feel the way I feel?
They’ve got catfish on the table They’ve got gospel in the air And Reverend Green be glad to see you When you haven’t got a prayer But, boy, you’ve got a prayer in Memphis.
Now Muriel plays piano Every Friday at the Hollywood And they brought me down to see her And they asked me if I would Do a little number And I sang with all my might She said “Tell me are you a Christian child?” And I said “Ma’am, I am tonight”.
Walking in Memphis (Walking in Memphis) Was walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale Walking in Memphis (Walking in Memphis) But do I really feel the way I feel?
Walking in Memphis (Walking in Memphis) I was walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale Walking in Memphis (Walking in Memphis) But do I really feel the way I feel?
Put on my blue suede shoes And I boarded the plane Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues In the middle of the pouring rain Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues In the middle of the pouring rain.
Truth be told, I don’t remember hearing about Muscle Shoals back in the day. While it was referenced in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1974 hit song “Sweet Home Alabama” (“…Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers/ And they’ve been known to pick a song or two…”) most of us remember this southern band dissing Winnipeg’s own Neil Young in that song…
But then PBS released a documentary called “Muscle Shoals” in mid-April, 2014, that opened my eyes and ears –and those of many others – to the significance of this otherwise insignificant small Alabama town. (BTW, prior to the documentary, school kids in Muscle Shoals couldn’t wait to move out of the backwoods hick town. Once they
learned of the influential rolls of two small music studios, they became proud to tell others where they lived.)
The two now-famous recording studios in Muscle Shoals are Fame (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) at 603 East Avalon Ave. and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio at 3614 Jackson Highway.
The Fame Studio was started by Rick Hall in the 1950’s and operated by him until his death in 2018. It is still an active studio, and Rick’s wife, Linda Hall, told us about her husband and the studio when Betty & I went for a tour. Music
producer Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records, who coined the term “rhythm & blues”, brought many young artists to Fame, including Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. Many attribute their success to the Muscle Shoals sound emanating from Hall’s studio.
But in 1969, Rick Hall signed an exclusive contract with Capitol Records, and expected his session musicians, known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, to go along with him as salaried staff. Instead, the studio musicians, nicknamed “the Swampers” by Leon Russell’s producer because of their swampy sound, took the bold step of establishing their own studio, called Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.
To record in a studio owned and operated by the session musicians was a unique experience and, with the assistance of Jerry Wexler, many famous musicians chose to make music in this little space, which had originally been a coffin shop, supplying the cemetery across the street. Of the two visits, the tour of this space was by far the best. Our young tour guide was extremely knowledgeable, and used
a combination of videos and musical clips from his iPad and external speaker to recreate special moments – too many to repeat in this short post.
Ok, let me see if I can give a short version of one longer story: The Rolling Stones had played in Miami and were on their way to perform in Los Angeles. They had never heard of Muscle Shoals, but Jerry Wexler convinced them to fly in on their way, in order to put down maybe one track for their Sticky Fingers album. Among others, they ended up recording Brown Sugar and Wild Horses at Muscle Shoals, with Keith Richards writing the final 2 verses of Wild Horses while sitting on the toilet in the small bathroom that was in the studio. When they went outside in this very rural Alabama hick town, no one recognized
them, and they were happy with that! The documentary has much more input from Mick Jagger & Keith Richards, so I’ll leave the reader to explore there.
Ok, just one more: Many black artists got their start, and continued recording at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. On separate occasions, both Paul Simon and Rod Stewart requested the same black backup musicians that they had heard on albums produced in Muscle Shoals, and were both surprised that the studio musicians were actually white! Linda Hall told us that, while colour was a major issue in southern Alabama, it
never was in Muscle Shoals, and black & white together worked to create this amazing sound. As I write this, many more stories come to mind, but I have passed the 600 word limit I set for myself on these posts, so I will again encourage all readers to WATCH THE DOCUMENTARY!
For music lovers, there are a number of places in the southern U.S. that claim to be the birthplace of rock & roll, the home of the blues, the heart of country, and all that jazz. Like trying to find the original source of a large river by following the many tributaries that flow into it, the starting place for any genre of music can be elusive. But our search for some good ole fashioned music did take us to some magical places that definitely contributed to inspired melodic outcomes. We were privileged to visit a number of those places this month, as chronicled by the following posts.
As mentioned in our last missive, Betty & I arrived in Nashville, Tennessee just ahead of torrential rains. But that didn’t dampen our spirits. We were there to soak up some music and experience some of the iconic venues in this country music mecca, along with Betty’s brother Jack, his wife Christine, and our old friends from Ontario, Penny & Rick.
We began with a Music City tour,
taking us to Music Row, lined with recording studios where many of the current and former hits were born. We passed the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum, the Ryman Auditorium, the Johnny Cash Museum, the George Jones Museum, and the Musicians Hall of Fame Museum, among other attractions. Downtown Nashville’s Broadway is considered the city’s“Honky Tonk Highway”, with music playing 365 days of the year. Everywhere we went – from restaurants to street buskers – we saw ample evidence of the vibrant music culture.
Best known as the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974, the downtown Ryman Auditorium was by far the star attraction. Opened in 1892 as the Union Gospel Tabernacle, the Ryman gave performers and their audiences a warm, intimate space with great acoustics. While it fell on hard times for a while after the Opry moved to their new location, the Ryman has been lovingly restored both for
tours and for regular use as a venue. I noticed that Canada’s k.d. lang performed there just a few weeks prior to our arrival. Betty & I enjoyed seeing her live in Winnipeg– especially her moving rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. It would have been a fitting song for this former grand tabernacle!
Of course, no visit to Nashville is complete without a visit to the
Grand Ole Opry. Opened at its much larger current suburban location in 1974, the Opry has continued the tradition of introducing upcoming country musicians, while highlighting many of the old faithful. When they moved from the Ryman, a circle of centre stage was cut out and installed in the centre of the new stage. New and old experiencing the stage lights at that spot express the feeling that they are standing on hallowed country music ground. For our visit, we had
excellent seats at the front of the auditorium for a show consisting of Bill Anderson, Luke Combs, Charlie Daniels Band, Jon Pardi, Craig Morgan and Kelsea Ballerini.
Whether or not you are a fan of country music, it is well worth the experience to immerse yourself in the flood of sounds and sights at this southern city. Just don’t forget your raincoat and wellingtons!
Betty & I have enjoyed the hospitality of hosts and guests in the campgrounds of the 24 states and 5 provinces visited so far. But on two separate occasions last week we were told to leave – and we did!
While we dodged a bullet with hurricane Florence on Cape Hatteras National Seashore, hurricane Michael wasn’t far behind. On our last night at Oregon Inlet campground on the Outer Banks, park rangers came around warning that they might announce a mandatory evacuation at 10:00 a.m. the next morning. Michael was approaching up the coast from the Florida panhandle, and a great deal of destruction had already been caused.
Similar to the Florida Keys, there is only one road down North Carolina’s coast along Cape Hatteras. Betty & I knew that if this spit of sand was to be evacuated, that road would become very congested in no time at all. Instead of waiting, we pulled in our slides and raised our levelers at midnight and hit the road to Tennessee. While we passed through torrential rains and watched rivers and streams begin to overflow their banks, we made it out safely! Yeah!
In Nashville, Tennessee we checked into the Grand Ole RV Resort & Market at Goodlettsville, with our old friends Rick & Penny from Ontario. We were there to meet Betty’s brother Jack, and his wife Christine, for a grand ole time at the Opry.
But then it began to rain. It rained all day and all night, and by 8:00 a.m. – guess what – staff were coming around telling us they didn’t know when the rain would stop, so we’d better leave, just in case. In came the slides, up came the levelers, and off we went with Rick & Penny to an abandoned K-Mart parking lot, on higher ground. Fortunately, Jack and Christine had a hotel room nearby, and we were all able to get dried off and cleaned up until the all-clear was sounded.
Another post will chronicle our musical ride, but this little epistle is simply to tell the tale of the inhospitable weather that chased us last week from otherwise very hospitable campgrounds.
In my December 8/17 post “On The Road To Memory Lane”, I highlighted 3 campgrounds that carried special childhood memories. Each has come to mind again whenever I think about “camping”, although travels in our class A motorhome don’t look much like holidays in our old canvas umbrella tent. LOL. Maine’s “Camden Hills State Park” was visited and described again on Sept. 11/18, and North Carolina’s Outer Banks became “Home Again – At Cape Hatteras National Seashore” on Oct. 8/18. Today’s post picks up the third in my trifecta, which is defined as a run on 3 grand events.
Now into mid-October, we didn’t expect to need a reservation at Tennessee’s Cove Lake State Park. As it turned out, the park continues to be popular late in the season, and we were lucky to find one available pull-through site for one night only. As a result, the visit wasn’t long, but long enough to confirm some benchmarks: The pool and overlooking pavilion where Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire would blast on the jukebox were still there. The adjacent ranch with the horses we used to ride is still there, and the park restaurant is also still open, although it is now a bbq joint with live blues singers on the weekend.
Somehow the campsites seem to be configured
differently than I remember, but maybe that was necessary to add the water, sewer and electricity that can be found on many, if not all sites. While the “pitch & net” golf course is no longer there, and there is no record of the property previously serving as a golf course, it is still a well-manicured spot with a backdrop of low mountains behind the undulating lawns and gardens.
As Betty & I reach the end of our first year in our overlandish odyssey, we have now visited 24, or half of the 48 states we hoped to visit in 5 years. Plus, in addition to our home province, we have toured 5 other provinces during this adventure. With this trifecta behind us, now maybe we can take it easy for the next while. Only time and health will tell…
Our boot-scraped door mat announces that “home is where the welcome mat is!”. Wherever we are parked, Betty & I have our living room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, etc. with us. This is our home, and wherever we find ourselves becomes our home community for a while. Missing of course, and sorely missed, are our family and friends. But with the marvels of modern technology, we can share some of our adventures with them, while they share their lives the same way with us.
There are places on our travels where we feel very much apart, like fish out of water. There are also those special spots that allow us to relax, unwind, breath deeply. For a variety of reasons, coming to Cape Hatteras feels like coming home. The fresh, salty sea air, the rolling waves and the pounding surf on the fine-grained sand, the fresh-caught seafood, the blue skies and warm sun – all the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and emotions embrace us and welcome us back.
It has been over 40 years since Betty & I last camped on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and 60 years since my parents, brother & I made it a regular summer destination. Two weeks ago, when hurricane Florence was threatening the coast, Betty & I feared that this portion of our overlandish odyssey would be lost. We watched with sadness and grief as the high winds and water took their toll on coastal communities, wondering about the fate of this memorable spit of land, jutting out into the Atlantic.
While hurricane Florence apparently caused tremendous damage to South Carolina, and parts of southern North Carolina, we were surprised to find no evidence that such a ferocious storm had passed this way only a couple of weeks ago. Kitty Hawk – home of the Wright Brothers’ first flight – Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, and all the other coastal
communities that lead to and make up the Outer Banks, have grown in size significantly since our last visit, and are all active, bustling communities, with all of their windows and signage intact. Either they were quick to fully restore everything, or the storm was merciful in missing this magical place.
Yesterday we took a drive down the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and guided our Smart car onto a free ferry to Ocracoke Island, at the southern end of the Seashore. We expected a quick, maybe 10 minute ride, as the islands are not that far apart. But after an hour at sea, we began to wonder if the Minnow would be lost, and we would be stranded again with Gilligan and his
crew. LOL. In the end, the ship arrived and we had a chance to visit the Ocracoke campground (for future reference) and grab an ice cream cone before heading back across Hatteras Inlet at Pamlico Sound. Today is a beach day, and mighty waves are calling our names.
The sign on the wall of our bedroom challenges us to love to the beach and back, and as I write this, Betty is texting me from said beach, reminding me that it’s a beautiful day to be alive in this part of paradise. It’s time to accept the welcome home!
As we celebrate this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, Betty & I acknowledge that we have much to be thankful for! Our eldest son, Andrew, turned 37 yesterday (can’t believe he could be so old when his parents are so young! LOL), and our twins celebrated their 32nd birthdays this week – although Luke will be forever 8 minutes older than his younger sister, Lisa… All of our family are a real blessing, and we look forward to FaceTiming with them later today as they gather at Andrew’s for a traditional? Thanksgiving dinner.
In our last post, we referenced being stranded at Horseneck Beach State Reservation in Massachusetts, and are extremely thankful that Bobby & his pit crew at Warren Auto Repair in Fall River got our Smart car back on the road again. That
was immediately followed by a return to Major’s RV in Bourne, where they tackled some further electrical problems with our coach. If there was a silver lining in those delays, it was that we were able to see the beginnings of New England fall colours before we left.
Our plans for a quick trip down Interstate 95 through New York City came to a screeching halt as we experienced a big city traffic snarl that lasted a full six hours! Before we pulled into a Walmart parking lot in Old Bridge, New Jersey for the night, I had been behind the wheel for a grueling 10 hours that day. But we are thankful that we survived and are able to tell
the tale, and that we don’t have to put up with that kind of traffic on a daily basis! Yikes!
The next day’s drive was far more pleasant as we worked our way down the Jersey Shore – through Atlantic City and Ocean City – until we reached the tip of the peninsula at Cape May, New Jersey. We found
a site at The Depot Travel Park in West Cape May, and spent a delightful day and evening exploring the picturesque beachfront town. For dinner we chose an Italian restaurant that served my favourite – Saltimbocca. But when I asked to see the wine
list, the serving staff informed that they didn’t have one. I was directed to go to the liquor store next door, purchase whatever we wanted, and bring it back to enjoy with our meals. A much more reasonable approach than a limited wine menu at highly marked up prices. Again, we were thankful for that!
From Cape May we boarded a ferry to Lewes, Delaware, and camped for the night at the nearby Rehoboth Beach. The full service campground, Delaware Seashore State Park, was nothing like I remember from childhood visits, and we were thankful that we were not staying for more than one night.
After Delaware we passed through
a number of states that border the coast, and with the assistance of Gavin and Betty Boop we added stickers for Delaware, Maryland and Virginia to our travel map. Arriving at Cape Hatteras a day early (or 3 days late, depending how you count it. LOL), Betty & I were thankful that the Oregon Inlet campground of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore was able to accommodate us with an electrical and water site near the beach.
Betty & I remain thankful that we have the opportunity to enjoy this great adventure, and hope that we can share some of our journey, either directly or vicariously, with our dear family and friends in future. Happy Thanksgiving!