Music City rolls out the red carpet and the rock and roll standards for David Szmidt
“Welcome to Nashville, son!”
These were the words that confirmed what I had suspected for a while. Nashville is a friendly place. Despite being a musician, it was never a city I’d considered visiting. I had never been a fan of country music, and that was precisely what I thought would be the focus of the city.
Well, I got that wrong.
I should probably jump back a day, to when we arrived. We’d just rolled into Nashville from Atlanta, after a gentle and scenic four hours driving through the forests of Georgia and into Tennessee. We had arranged to stay with the parents of one of Joe’s friends. Joe was off to study his doctorate in Denver so, coupled with the fact this was my first time in the US, we had decided to road-trip it.
We found ourselves bustled inside by a whirlwind of southern hospitality
We arrived in a suburb of Nashville, a newly-built housing complex of the sort where front doors are flanked by Grecian-style pillars and every driveway has at least two cars in it. We found the correct house, rang the doorbell and, when it opened, found ourselves bustled inside by a whirlwind of southern hospitality.
Joe’s friend Zach had told us his parents were lovely, and they would be more than happy for us to stay. It seemed that, for Zach’s mother at least, her entire life had been building to our visit.
“Oh Lord, look at you two! So nice to meet you both! How was the journey? Are you tired? Thirsty? Hungry? I’ve got sandwiches ready! Would y’all like cake? I can make a cake if you’d like?”
With a bemused nodding of heads, we accepted the vast amount of food thrust our way before being told to “take anything y’all like” from the fridge or cupboards. Being English, this goes against every instinct in my body. I can’t just take something in someone else’s house. It has to be offered, and even then I have to refuse at least once. It’s like a ritual. It turned out, however, that the constant supply of food meant it was never necessary to raid the kitchen myself.
Now, before we go any further, I have to admit that, to my lasting shame, I can no longer remember the name of this saintly woman, or that of her husband, who we shall also meet shortly. So, for the purposes of this story, I’m going to call them Blanche and Hank. They just seem like the sort of names they’d have.
He welcomed us with the words: “So. You’re the Brit, huh?”
We went into the living room, in which a large man was watching baseball on TV. Without taking his eyes off the game, he welcomed us with the words: “So. You’re the Brit, huh?”
At this, I sort of stammered out a: “Yes… yes, sir. That’s me”. I’d never called another adult “sir” before in my life – and haven’t since – but for some reason it felt like the right thing to do.
“First time in Nashville?” he asked.
“First time in America, in fact.”
“Huh! How’d you like it?”
“Well, it’s… wonderful! I started up in New York, stayed for a week, then flew down to Atlanta. Been staying with Joe here. I see you’re watching the baseball… actually, Joe and I went to see a Braves game down in Atlanta… um…”
“Ah, the Braves, huh? Enjoy it?”
“Yeah, very much so, it was great. That’s… St. Louis you’re watching there? The… Cardinals, right?”
“That’s right. I see you’re learning! Hahaha! Sit down, son! Blanche, get this man a beer!”
So down I sat. The beer was indeed forthcoming, and a very pleasant evening ensued.
The next day, we set out to explore the city. Joe decided to go and visit the Country Music Hall of Fame, which I considered doing too. I was interested, but then I decided I wasn’t $20-worth of interested.
I discovered that just walking through the city is an education in itself. Music is everywhere
This proved to be a good decision, as I discovered that just walking through the city is an education in itself. Music is everywhere. The record shops are many and huge – stocked not just with country music, but folk, bluegrass, rock and roll and blues. Even during the day, every bar seemed to have a live band playing, and fine musicians they all were.
It was in one of these bars that I heard the words that opened this article. Called Tin Roof, I had ambled in to have a cheeky lunchtime beer, and the place was kind-of empty. It was a big place, but there were maybe 10 or so people in there, half-listening to the band on the stage, who were working their way through a set of rock and roll standards. I stood at the bar, ordered my beer and, when the song ended, I applauded along with the others.
At least, that’s what I thought would happen. After only a couple of seconds, I realised I was the only one clapping. The singer peered in my direction from the stage.
“Well hey there!” He held his hand out in my direction. “Who was that? The clapper?”
I indicated myself.
“Well thank you! How you doing today? First time in Nashville?”
“First time in the US.”
“Well how ’bout that? Where y’all from?”
“England?! Well that’s just great! Welcome to Nashville, son! We’re gonna play a song just for you, England!”
And they launched into On the Road Again by Willie Nelson, all smiles and enthusiasm. After a couple of songs, they took a break and the singer bounded down off the stage, bought me another beer and we chatted.
It turned out that all the other people in the bar were friends and family. They’d seen the band countless times, and had got past the stage where they were expected to clap after every number, so my applause had been an unexpected fillip.
As the bar filled up later in the afternoon, I would be referenced between every few songs – “That there’s my English cousin David. Go and say hi, he’s new here in town!” – and after some time, I appeared to have taken on a sort of novelty status. It was all rather delightful.
Eventually, Joe turned up, and appeared as bemused by my new celebrity status as I was. No matter though – we stayed late into the evening and danced along madly to all the bands that followed.
What a superb city.