Nashville – Day-2, Part-2 – Robert’s Western World – Eileen Rose and the Silver Threads…

My second fun-stop on my last day in Nashville was Robert’s Western World, one of the historic honky-tonks on Music Row.  Robert’s Western World and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge have quickly become my favorite stops on Music Row, although my experience on Lower Broadway is still somewhat limited.  I am just drawn to these two venues for the vibe and the music.

Eileen Rose and the Silver Threads was my favorite band from my first visit to Music Row, three years ago, and as it turned out, they were performing a three-and-a-half hour set at  Robert’s that afternoon (they have a long-standing gig there, which is some indication of just how good they are).  So, from Husk, I headed straight for Robert’s with my DSLR camera, because I not only love listening to this band…I love photographing them.

When I arrived, as usual for this band, Robert’s was packed.  The postage-stamp-sized stage at Robert’s is against the front windows.  There is a very small space in front of the stage, where folks can dance, if they’d like…and they do.  Robert’s is narrow and deep, with a very long bar along the left-side wall (if you’re facing the stage), a row of small tables along the length of the right-side wall, and just a few small tables crowded-in between the front door and the stage-end of the bar.

What I’m saying, from a photography-perspective, is that it is nearly impossible to find a good photography vantage point without being in anyone’s way.  So, shoehorning myself into a spot that was out of the way was a gradual process of introducing myself to the people in this cramped area off to the side of the front of the stage near the front door.  I’m explaining this in order to give you some idea of what it takes, just to get yourself into a sliver of a space where you can even begin to hope that you might be able to get some nice photos.  But, as usual, I was determined.

So, there’s the front door.  Then, there was a nice young man manning the door, checking ID’s, and making sure that no one leaving left with a glass beer bottle (only plastic cups are allowed on the sidewalks).  This young man had a barstool.  After introducing myself and beginning to show him some of the images I was getting, he graciously allowed me to sit on this barstool, while photographing, when he was standing.  It was one of only a couple possible, limited vantage points to the stage.

A lot of the time, I was actually crouching down in this little nook, with my back against the wall, shooting away, while people flowed in and out of Robert’s in front of me, practically brushing their knees against my lens.  So, this was a pretty comical scene, but I didn’t mind at all.  I was being polite and considerate to everyone around me, and I was in photo-op heaven.

Just a couple of feet deeper into Robert’s were the first small tables, with seating really only against the wall.  There was a couple, in their seventies I think, sitting at the first table with their backs against the wall.  The gentleman was wearing a cowboy hat.  I asked them if they’d mind if I crouched down in front of their table to take some photos.  They were extremely friendly and accommodating.  They said that they come to Robert’s all the time to see The Threads, and said that I wasn’t in their way at all, so to spend as much time as I wanted crouched in front of them…I could even stand in front of them, if I wanted.  At times, I was even kneeling right on the floor in this spot, with folks brushing back and forth in front of my lens.  But, again, I was perfectly content, totally focused on attempting to get the best images that I could.  So, these extremely tight spaces became my vantage points for this entire shoot.

I also introduced myself to the lead-guitarist/pedal-steel player, Rich Gilbert, who was standing nearest to me on the stage.  Rich was extremely down-to-earth (as was the whole band, which is one of the reasons for their popularity).  I ended up having a few brief conversations with Rich, during pauses between songs, or when they were passing the tip-bucket (for my part, I was very generous.  I couldn’t seem to stop opening my wallet, they were so great).

Turned out Rich had lived in Boston for twenty years, and had lived in Portland, CT, for a while, which is the town adjacent to where I went to high school.  So, we had a nice time chatting.  I was getting what I thought were some really nice photos, and let Rich know that I would figure out how to send them to the band on a flash drive.  So, I’m still working on that.

The Threads play traditional country standards from artists like Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, and many others.  They have a huge repertoire, and take requests.  Check out the bios of The Threads band members.  It’s pretty impressive, and will give you a sense of why they are a Music Row staple.

I just really have a blast listening to them, photographing them, and watching regulars and tourists (like me) respond to their amazing renditions of country standards.  I do want to say this…all of the band members are great.  But, watching Eileen connect with her audience, belting out country classics, and watching Rich…a guitarist’s guitarist…completely blow you away with stunning playing, whether on electric guitar or pedal-steel…are true joys to experience.

Here are a handful of the best images I was able to capture.  At one point, Eileen began to gear the audience up for an amazing, extended guitar-solo by Rich, so the images showing Rich de-tuning a string, playing up beyond the highest frets on the fingerboard, and playing beer-bottle slide guitar, were part of this solo that probably lasted ten minutes.  You really had to be there to appreciate what he was doing.

I stayed at Robert’s engrossed in listening to and photographing the Threads for at least two hours.  They are that good.  So, if you visit Nashville and Music Row, be sure to check Robert’s band schedule for the Threads and try to make one of their shows.

And then, I was off to my final Nashville destination of this trip…The 5 Spot, in East Nashville…

Nashville – Friday Night…Music Row and Dino’s…

From Oxford, Mississippi, my final fun-stop on this trip was two nights in Nashville.  On my way to Nashville, I stopped in Memphis and East Memphis for a few hours, to take the Gibson Guitar Factory tour, and to try “sweetbreads” at Hog and Hominy, as suggested by my new Oxford friends, Josh and Cheryl.  I wrote about these stops in an earlier post, so I won’t repeat myself, here.  Both stops were well-worth the time spent, but as a result, I didn’t arrive in Nashville until early evening, which was totally fine.

On this, only my third visit to Nashville, I had not yet experienced Lower Broadway…Music Row…at night…so, that was my first destination.   This being a Friday, I was bound to see it in full party-glory.

I heard a playful Music Row motto that goes…Get drunk and make bad decisions.  Although I took no photos…that pretty much sums up the scene that you are bombarded with, even just out on the streets at night on Music Row.  You don’t even have to enter a bar.  Actually…allow me to rephrase…  I did not see anyone stumbling around, raving drunk.  Everyone seemed very civil.  It was just very loud…very crowded…and there was no shortage of drinking going on.  But, the night was young.

The sidewalks were jammed with throngs of people…loud music was spilling out from pretty much every doorway…and from many rooftop bars.  Party bicycles (have you seen these?  An elevated mobile party-bar, powered by about ten seated party-revelers surrounding the bar, most revelers equipped with bicycle pedals) were casually pedaling their way down streets packed with people, cars and horse-drawn carriages.  The revelers tend to be loud, playful, getting drunk and interacting with pedestrians as they cheer and sing songs.  I could see how that would be fun.

On Music Row, open-carry of alcoholic drinks is legal, so people can honky-tonk-hop, carrying a drink (limited to plastic cups, I believe).  I know this is not the right term, but there are bouncers at almost every doorway, checking IDs, taking cover charges (if there is one), and generally keeping an eye on things.  Maybe “bouncer” is the right term!

So, whether you are inside a bar, a honky-tonk or out on the street, there is no escape from the party-zone cacophony.  Lower Broadway is loud.  The side streets are loud.  You are immersed in it.  I am not saying that this is a bad thing.  I am only saying that this is what you should be prepared to encounter if you go.

In general terms, I am not a loud, party-person.  Yes…I will still hoot ‘n holler for a great band, but for better or worse, I should not be anyone’s first choice for “designated reveler”.  Come to think of it, I may have only arrived at this revelation as a result of having my senses bombarded from all sides on Music Row, and realized in that moment that, on this particular night, it was a little too much for me.  So, after maybe a half-hour of wandering the streets (I didn’t even dare enter a honky tonk), I was ready for a much quieter scene.  So, I got in my car…pointed my GPS to Dino’s, the oldest dive bar in Nashville (East Nashville, actually)…and headed just across the Cumberland River from Music Row…only minutes away.


This is actually the only photo I took that night, and it’s not particularly good, even for a cellphone snapshot.  But, this is Dino’s.  It was featured on the Nashville episode of Parts Unknown, so it counts as yet another by-product of the Bourdain Effect (I believe this is #5, if we include the Mississippi Delta, itself, for anyone keeping track).

I really liked Dino’s the moment I walked in.  It’s small.  It’s cramped.  It’s a greasy-spoon.  It’s an old diner, dripping with history.  Except for the laid-back, hip crowd and all of the cellphones, you could almost swear you had just walked into a film-noire mystery thriller to hand over the goods to a guy named Jake.

There are only a handful of tables and a similar handful of seats at a short counter, where you should be prepared to sit cozily hip-to-hip with your neighbor.  At the counter, you are so close to the griddle that you could practically help out flipping burgers.  This is where I ended up.  Suffice it to say…this was my kind of place.

Everyone was friendly.  I ended up chatting with a couple of the twenty-something (maybe they were early-thirty-something?  Hard to tell) staff.  I told the young man who took my order, about my trip, and that I was thinking about checking out the Family Wash (nearby) for some live music.  He said the Shepherd’s pie at the Family Wash was amazing, but that I should really check out The 5 Spot for music (also nearby).  So, I tucked those thoughts away.

When I wasn’t chatting, I was enjoying just listening to the staff chat among themselves.  They all seemed so care-free.  I wasn’t jealous, or anything.  It was more a matter of thinking how far back I had to look to remember the last time my life seemed that simple.

At the counter, I had a burger…a great burger…fries and an IPA.  Comfort food.  I was a happy man.  The short, chalkboard menu on the wall also lists more-trendy comfort food selections.  It was just right.

Dino’s is open until 3:00 a.m., and I think, as a result of its closing time, it had/has a reputation of being somewhere that musicians would turn up after their sets…but, you’ll have to fact-check me.

By this point, I had already had a long day, with my tour of the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, my time spent in Memphis, and all of the driving to get to Nashville.   So instead of seeking out some live music, I headed to my hotel, which was maybe fifteen minutes away.

But, if you find yourself in Nashville, I would definitely check out Dino’s.  I’m sure I’ll be back.

Prelude to Nashville…

Okay, so…Prelude to Nashville…a/k/a Music City.  Tomorrow’s destination.

I heard a Nashville joke that goes, “How many Nashville musicians does it take to change a lightbulb?”

Answer:  One to do it…and twenty to stand around saying, “I can do that.”

That’s a good description of the per capita concentration of musicians in Nashville, as well as a reflection of just how competitive it is to be a musician in Nashville.

On the one hand, there is the massive and diverse recording industry…from big-name record companies, recording studios, artists and producers, down to DIY home-recording studios and everything in between.  These music activities happen mostly behind the scenes, away from the casual resident or visitor.

And then there’s the very public, live music scene, that seems to be everywhere you go, which is not confined to night life, as it is in most other cities.  It’s going on all day.

On Lower Broadway…Music Row…where most visitors start to explore Nashville, the bars and honky-tonks begin to open at 10:00am or 11:00am, which also happens to be about when the live music starts…seven days a week.  These bars stay open all day and half the night, some ‘til 2 or 3:00am, featuring live bands playing back-to-back sets.  Most bars are free to get into.  The Stage On Broadway, Robert’s Western World and Legends Corner (all of which I visited on my first trip three years ago) are some of the best-known venues on “The Row”.   Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, a historic venue, is another, and one that I hope to visit tomorrow, or on my return drive home from Texas.

Some of the bands performing on Music Row are purely cover-bands…generally really good, entertaining, cover bands: they have to be…to get…and keep…these coveted gigs for any length of time.  Some bands perform a mix of covers and original material.  I don’t know if there are any bands performing on Music Row that play primarily original material.  I guess I’ll just need to spend more time there to find out.

Eileen Rose and the Silver Threads – Robert’s Western World (by author)

One of the bands that I saw, last time, and was captivated by, was Eileen Rose and the Silver Threads, at Robert’s Western World, which is a venue known for featuring more traditional country music.  This band was so good, I could hardly tear myself away to wander further up the Row.  Eileen Rose and her band support their independent projects in part through performing cover material…really amazingly-performed cover material…on Music Row.  I believe she and the Threads currently have a standing gig at Robert’s Western World.

Music Row bands play for tips, so bring some cash and don’t be shy about contributing.  They will pass a hat or a bucket around.

The live music scene in Nashville is not nearly confined to Music Row.  In addition to some of the large, well-known, historic venues, like the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry House, there are more-intimate live-music clubs, dive bars and restaurants all over the city.  After experiencing some of what Music Row has to offer, it’s a great idea to begin to stray from the Row and explore live music venues in other neighborhoods.

Online searches will quickly yield many other very cool live music venues.  Douglas Corner Café, is literally a hole-in-the-wall, funky dive, just a mile or two from the Row that you’d never even notice, unless you found it online, or if a local told you about it (both of which were what brought me there, in my case).  Douglas Corner is where some big names, like Garth Brooks, performed when they were first starting out, and it still hosts great live shows.  It is where I met, chatted with and bought a drink for Earl Bud Lee, co-writer of Garth Brooks’ hit, “Friends in Low Places”.  So, you just never know where a Nashville music adventure will take you.  Family Wash, in the neighborhood of East Nashville, is another cool venue that is also on my list for this trip.

Oh! So, why am I going on and on about the Nashville music scene…other than for the obvious “Music City” reasons?  Some Nashville venues offer “Writer’s Nights” and “Songwriter Rounds”, which are by audition/invitation, and “Songwriter Open Mics” where anyone can just show up, sign up, and get to perform usually up to three original songs for a mostly quiet, attentive crowd, through a good-quality sound system.  Debi Champion’s Songwriter Rounds and Songwriter Open Mics at the Commodore Grille in the downtown Holiday Inn have been a Nashville fixture for many years.

Three years ago, on the first of my “Texas” road-trips, I had the opportunity to listen to other songwriters and to perform at one of Debi’s shows.  Debi is super-professional and super-nice and accommodating to the musicians.  She creates an extremely supportive, nurturing environment for performers to work on an extremely difficult craft…trying out original material, live, for an appreciative audience.

When I last performed, I brought my camera to the open mic, hoping to find either another musician, or an audience member who might be willing to take a few photos of me as I performed.  When I introduced myself to Debi, she matter-of-factly offered to take photos of me, so I handed her my camera and showed her briefly how to use it.  She got some great shots.  That’s how thoughtful she is.

So, although I have a few daytime plans while in Nashville for this one night I’ll be in town, performing again at Debi’s Songwriter Open Mic, later in the evening, is my main goal.  Wish me luck getting on the list!