Summer 2007 Roadtrip: Peace Dale to Memphis to Austin (Part 1)

This roadtrip was born out of not wanting to help a kid in Texas buy a new car via the long distance route – e-mail, cell phone, etc. The brainstorm was why don’t we just sell him our car and be done with it. It also gave us an excuse for a road trip, the same Peace Dale to Austin, Texas one I had done the previous June (2006) to move him down there. That was a whirlwind haul in his ’93 Mazda Protege’ whcih with fingers crossed, made the entire 2200-mile trek in 48 hours with only a single stopeover in Memphis. That quick taste of Memphis and the Missisiippi Delta on the innaugural trip whet the whistle to want to do it again, but taking time to check stuff out on the way down. With the cancerous death of the Mzda getting worse by the week, we embarked on the Peace Dale to Austin jaunt just after school ended in June.

Day One was all about going as far as we can to allow more visiting time in Memphis. Leaving at 6 in the AM, it was pretty depressing hitting heavy traffic only 2 hours into the trip. Heck, we hit traffic all the way to Harrisburg. Once past there, we cruised making it to Knoxville, TN by late that night.

We got a real early start on Day Two of our journey. Those in the know about country music star Marty Stuart may be aware that he has a monstrous collection of C&W collectibles, from Nudie suits to instruments to records to letters. I’d heard he was exhibiting pieces from his collection at the Tennessee State Museum, a free show called “Sparkle & Twang”. What with Nashville being on the path to Memphis and only a few hours or so (including the hour we’d gain with the time zone change) from Knoxville, we set our sights on some Sparkle and Twang. We hit Music City about 10 AM, just in time to check out the exhibit. Boy, was it worth it. There had to be almost 100 Nudie suits on display, an amazing array of colors and stones and sparkles. It’s probably comes as no surprise but the showstoppers were by far those from the wardrobe of Porter Wagoner. Favorite item in the collection? A soul from the shoe of A.P. Carter which Marty dubbed “The soul of country music.” Clever, and very cool. After the exhibit, we made sure to make a stop at Hatch Show Print. One of the premier printers of posters, et al and still using the wood block method, it is a must-do stop on any visit to Nashville.

We departed Nashville all primed for the three-hour run to Memphis and lunch at a BBQ joint recommended by our musciian friend Kevin Gordon. The Cozy Corner isn’t a pretty place, but who cares when they serve up BBQ rib tips and cornish game hens like we had. Tasty stuff. Can’t say the same about the BBQ spaghetti. From there it was over to the Sun Studio where one can arguably say rock & roll began. Another musician pal, Amy LaVere (you need to own her records!) who is a tour guide when in town, told us to drop her name for a free tour. It worked like a charm. This was the 2nd time I’ve had the tour and this one put the 1st one to shame. In other words, a guide into the whole thing sure enhances the experience. Two things that really stood out? The magnificence of Howlin’ Wolf who Sam Phillips claimed was the greatest artist out of there, and the “X” on the floor to mark the spot where the infamous Sun Sessions took place. Dylan supposedly knelt down and kissed it upon his 1st visit to Sun. Out of there around 6 PM, we headed downtown to the Beale Street area to check things out. Memphis is a town which more than one person said has tore down more history than most cities will ever have. It’s a town in transition and one that hopes to revive its downtown via the condo route. No doubt there are some great old buildings and neighborhoods to take advantage of this. One spot which rises high above the Missisiippi (they don’t call it Bluff City for nothing) is the South Main Street area. Dominated by old brick building and boutiques and storefronts starting to spring up, it appears as a neighborhood with loads of potential. As never fails when we’re tripping around, we found a rundown bar called Ernestine & Hazel’s which we could not resist. The place has quite a bit of history, more recently for an impromptu White Stripes performance as well as the home to a scene or two from the films Elizabethtown and Black Snake Moan (which, BTW, has Amy LaVere in the cast). It’s been everything from a drug store to brothel. Being the only people in the joint, bartender Karen took a liking to us and gave the wife and I the grand tour mentioning on multiple occasions that the place was haunted. I have to agree on the creepiness of the upstairs area which featuring a few bars and several rooms for the ladies of the night to satisfy their male customers. While we were still too full from the BBQ earlier to try the notorious “Soul Burger”, the cold beers hit the spot as did the Memphis-music heavy jukebox which I’d rate a solid “A”. A good finish to a great day.