Tennessee: My vacation hot spot

“You’re from California, and you came to Nashville for vacation???”

Why, yes. Yes, I did. The cashier at the coffee shop asked that with a note of disbelief. But it’s true. This year vacation took me to Tennessee, namely Nashville, Memphis and whatever towns happened to separate the two (I do remember seeing a sign to turn off for Oakland, and wondered momentarily whether it was all just a dream).

First stop was Music City. Nashville. Which more than lived up to its name, with live music everywhere, in bars and on streetcorners, and tons of music history, too. Mandatory stops were the Country Music Hall of Fame, RCA Studio B and the Ryman Auditorium (the original location of the Grand Ole Opry). I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of country, but the history would fascinate any music lover. The small, unassuming Studio B holds such history. So many people got their start and recorded so many well-known songs there. Elvis exclusively recorded there when in Nashville (more about him later). For me, the most remarkable thing about the studio was the way they recorded compared to modern studios: live musicians actually playing together, at the same time, in one room. So much more pure and simple. At the Ryman, we got treated to some unexpected live music as bands practiced for that evening’s International Bluegrass Awards. And all I can say to them is, I hope you all won; you did a great job, even at practice.

Hatch Show Print was a must-see. Being part of the print production section here at Duncan/Channon meant I couldn’t pass up the chance to see the oldest operating letterpress in the United States. These folks are keeping the ancient craft alive and continuing to make a name for themselves in the modern design world. And I must say, based on a browse through their poster portfolio, they deserve that name. We were lucky enough to get an impromptu tour from an employee, who showed us all around their printing presses, ink, blocks, stacks of in-progress posters and two resident cats. A stuffed poster tube then travelled home with me through three states and three modes of transportation, car, plane and BART.

While in Nashville, we also found out that hard-to-find places are often very worth the effort of finding, one seemingly leading to the next. These are places you feel cool just going to, like you’re on a VIP list. There seem to be lots of them in Nashville, a city being revitalized by people setting up shop in old buildings and producing unique and well-crafted, well, stuff. Just ask a local. Everyone seemed willing to point us towards something good. We had the best coffee, bbq, cupcakes, pizza, beer and cocktails that I could have ever wanted. (Thank you Crema, Dee’s Q, Cupcake Connection, City House, Yazoo and The Patterson House.)

Back to Elvis. Graceland. What else to say, except that I am a fan. So I had to see it at least once. The man and his music are the stuff of legend. And the amount of work he produced in his short life, between music and films, is really astounding. But so are his home, cars and airplanes — let’s just say Elvis had eclectic taste. In a nice coincidence, I also saw his trademark lightning logo everywhere at Graceland, which I had just finished retouching for our Hard Rock client.

Memphis also included trips to the Peabody Hotel and a tour at the Gibson Factory. Why the Peabody? They have marching ducks, of course. I’d heard of the place, and then, suddenly, there it was, directly in our path. Sure enough, there were ducks, there was a crowd, and they (the ducks) successfully found their way into the fountain, a Peabody ritual that’s been repeated daily for decades. The Gibson Factory tour was another eye-opener. I couldn’t believe the number of unassembled guitar pieces and the craftmanship that goes into every single instrument. It made me want to pick up my own set of strings again at home.

All in all, I’d go back again to see the things we missed and catch a favorite band playing at the Ryman. And who knows, maybe next time I’ll meet the King himself.