On February 4th, 2011 m’lady and I were just starting to dig into the America-crossing music-icon treasure hunt I had dubbed the Rock & Roll Field Trip. We had awoken in Louisville, Kentucky and spent the morning at the hallowed Muhammad Ali Museum before driving a bit further south to Nashville for the night.
We were booked into the Millennium Maxwell House for the night, the city’s only music-themed hotel. The entranceway was embossed with guitars and sheet music, the lobby lined with instruments autographed by the greats of country music, and a display case by the elevators housed a bass signed by Mick Jagger and Ron Wood, one of Bob Dylan’s harmonicas and some of his hand-written lyrics, among other treasures.
We spent an hour in our Hatch Show Print-decorated room enjoying a few prevening beers before setting out for the early show at the famous Bluebird Cafe. Established in 1981, this small unassuming pub is in a strip mall away from the much more famous Nashville strip, and apparently it is the place for up-and-coming singer/songwriters. The early show charged no cover, just a $7 per person table minimum.
We sat along the wall a few feet from the musicians, who were set up in a circle facing each other in the middle of the small room. There were four singer/songwriters plus an extra guitar player doing the song-circle thing. The host wrote good generic new country stuff, the only guy in the group sounded like a young James Taylor, and the youngest singer with the biggest voice wrote and sang songs that could easily be on every country station in the world. That said, neither of us was overly impressed with any of them – it just wasn’t our cup o’ tea – though the fourth performer, a lady from Texas named Mimms wrote really great songs. She had one called Gettin’ There that I wish I had written. I was shocked to notice that none of them were over-the-top great players, even (especially?) the extra guitarist. At one point the host asked him to play a solo in her next song (I-IV-V in A) and he couldn’t do it. I was amazed, and buoyed somewhat. Maybe if I landed in this town someday with a guitar and an empty belly I could get a little work after all.
After the show we went back to the hotel for more Bud’s before hopping the free shuttle down to Legend’s Corner, Nashville’s main strip on Broadway. We bar hopped for the rest of the night (down there they call it Honky-Tonkin’) and I got re-humbled in a hurry. Every bar had great, great live music. We saw standard classic rock, a couple of really good rockabilly bands, a great straight up old-time country band with a devastating guitar player, a metal-ish band that was doing all requests, and, well things get a little hard to remember by then. I do recall we were on our way out and decided to stop in on just one more bar when we happened upon the best player of the night, a guitarist who was just flying through astounding solo after astounding solo. It was another rockabilly band, and their bass player was pretty hot too, taking more solos than a bass player is usually allowed and every one tastier than the last.
And the whole strip plays for tips. Tough town for musicians I suspect, this Music City.
After a long, fantastic day we stumbled onto the rainy street and found a cab back to the hotel, where the wind whipping against the windows battled with the remarkably comfy beds to keep us in a constant state of sleep/wake/sleep.