Nashville – Day-2, Part-3 – The 5 Spot…

My final stop on my last day in Nashville was the intimate East Nashville music venue, The 5 Spot, which was on my pre-trip short-list, and had been recommended to me the night before, by my server at Dino’s, which is only blocks away.  I honestly didn’t know anything about The 5 Spot, other than that it kept coming up in Google searches for best music venues in Nashville.  And even after visiting, I feel like I’m only beginning to understand what it is, and its place in the East Nashville community.

As I’m thinking about it, it might be easier to explain if I sort of back into this story.  Until about ten years ago, about all I knew of Nashville was its reputation for country music.  Then, around that time, I was introduced to the music of an Americana duo called Gillian Welch, whose music I fell in love with.  As I researched more about Gillian Welch, I found out that they lived in East Nashville, renovating an old movie theatre into a recording studio, primarily for themselves.  And from what I was reading, it sounded like East Nashville had previously fallen on hard times, but was gradually coming out of that, evolving into a mecca for all sorts of indie musicians, DIY recording studios and artists.

In more recent years, I had heard about an innovative indie alt-blues/rock band called Alabama Shakes that also turned out to be based in East Nashville.  And so, the neighborhood of East Nashville, was gradually seeping into my consciousness over time.  I’ve been curious about it and have wanted to start exploring this area, so that’s partly how Dino’s, Family Wash (which I didn’t get to) and The 5 Spot made it onto my short-list for this trip.

As I started working on this post, I bumped into this article, an obituary for the recently deceased co-founder and co-owner of The 5 Spot, that will explain more than I can about what The 5 Spot and East Nashville are about: Nashville Scene – 5 Spot Owner, Diane Carrier.

The night I went to The 5 Spot there was a four-act bill, four music acts that started at 6:00, an early show.  I may have gotten there as early as 5:00, not knowing when they actually opened.  The young man who answered the door said I was right on time, that they were just setting up.  I was, in fact, the first person there.

I don’t have photos of the interior, other than the performers on stage that I’ll show you later, but The 5 Spot is very bare-bones.  The room was fairly dark.  There is a long bar along one wall, that seemed old and nicely worn.  There were a handful of small tables with chairs.  They seemed old and worn, as well.  The walls seemed nearly bare.  The overall décor seemed to be no-décor.  And there was a very plain stage with a red-drape backdrop and spotlights.  The room had a nice, neighborhood bar sort of divey feel.

The bartender, who turned out to be the young man who let me in, was friendly and talkative, so we immediately struck up a conversation.  I mentioned the Family Wash, and his immediate response was, “Yeah, their Shepherd’s Pie is amazing.”  Where have I heard that before?

Gradually, it was the musicians who were scheduled to perform that started trickling in next.  And they were all friendly…particularly this woman…Lindsey…who sat right next to me and started chatting right away.

Oh, and I had my DSLR camera with me, so that always gets attention, just sitting on the bar.  A gentleman with silver hair, who had been chatting with the musicians, got on stage with an acoustic guitar and played through a couple of songs, conversing through the microphone with the sound-tech, who was in a little corner behind the bar at the opposite end of the room.  This was the sound-check.

A short while later, this same gentleman took the stage again, performing the opening set of the night, a mix of original and cover songs, but not country.  Here are a couple of photos I was able to capture during his set.

I later introduced myself, asking if he was the owner, and in fact, he was…introducing himself as Beau.  So, before I knew who Diane Carrier was, I had met her recently-widowed husband, William “Bones” Verhiede, who is mentioned in Ms. Carrier’s obituary.

Beau was very laid back, seeming almost to not want any attention, despite sort of quietly chatting among the musicians.  In hindsight, I would not be surprised if his quiet demeanor was at least in part due to the grief I can only imagine he is still working through.

I commented to Beau about how great the sound system was, and he began to explain how he had it custom-designed for this room.  He also explained how the stage, itself, was designed to contribute to the quality of the sound.  So, now I was beginning to understand that this was no ordinary neighborhood bar.

The next performer was…I think I have this right…Bob Lewis, who had accompanied Beau on his set.  It seemed that all of the musicians knew each other well, had performed at The 5 Spot regularly, and so conversed with each other between the stage and the audience, which was easy because the audience was very light.

The next performers were an acoustic duo who called themselves simply, Jesse and Noah.  As they played, Lindsey told me that they were the sons of the singer who sang the pop hit Let Your Love Flow, in the 1970’s.  Anyone who was in high school during the 70’s, as I was, knew this song, since it received enormous airplay.

So, as I started writing this post, I researched Let Your Love Flow online, and sure enough, it was sung by a duo, The Bellamy Brothers, and Jesse and Noah are the sons of David Bellamy, one of the Bellamy Brothers.

Last up were Lindsey and her niece, whose name escapes me.  Lindsey’s niece sang harmony to Lindsey’s mostly-original songs.  Here are a few photos from their set.

I had no idea what to expect at The 5 Spot, but on this night, it seemed mostly like a venue where musicians could get on stage to try out some original material, although Jesse and Noah’s set was very polished.  It was a much mellower scene than Robert’s Western World from just a couple of hours earlier, and without my knowing, just what I needed to complete my last night in Nashville.

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 – Day-2, Part-1 – Husk Restaurant…

My final day in Nashville before my two-day drive home to Connecticut began uneventfully enough.  Turned out, that I had underestimated how many miles I’d be driving on this trip, and was actually nearly due for a second oil change (every 3,000 miles!).  So, first thing in the morning, I headed to a nearby Toyota dealership, not only to get my oil changed, but to have my already-tattered, plastic skid-plate completely removed, because it had begun to drag on the pavement the night before, on Music Row.  It took a couple of hours to get this done, because the service department was already booked up.  But, the folks at the dealership were really great, and somehow squeezed me in.

Now, remember my Oxford, Mississippi friends, Josh and Chelsey, and the must do list they gave me?  Well, on that list under Nashville is Husk – Sean Brock.  I had heard of Sean Brock, a good chef-friend of Anthony Bourdain’s, and Sean Brock’s restaurant, Husk, which I remember, from another Parts Unknown episode, as being in South Carolina.  But, I didn’t realize that Mr. Brock had also opened a second Husk restaurant, right here in Nashville.  So, guess where I was heading for lunch?  For anyone still counting, this would be #6 on the Bourdain Effect list.

By the time my car was ready at the dealership, it was already 12:30, lunchtime.  And in my foodie naiveté, it had only occurred to me at that moment that I should probably call ahead to see if I could even get into such a trendy, highly sought-after restaurant, until I was setting my GPS for the address.  And good thing I did, for two reasons.  First, when I called, the very nice hostess informed me that Husk was only open until 2:00 for lunch, and I was still at least a half-hour away.  And second, she also informed me that all of their tables were in fact completely booked in advance…but…that there was first-come, first-served availability at their bar.  So, I made a bee-line for Husk.

Husk is known for being an upscale, trendy, locally-sourced, heirloom and farm-to-market sort of restaurant.  Sean Brock is a James Beard Award-winning chef.  Needless to say, I was straying a ways from my down-home comfort-food roots on this excursion.  And I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was not expecting to find Husk in a stately, somewhat unassuming, nineteenth-century brick home, in a quiet neighborhood, a bit off the beaten path.  First, if you are not a resident of Nashville, you pretty much need GPS just to find it.  Husk blends in so well with its neighborhood, that you are just as likely to drive right past it, as to notice its inconspicuous sign near the sidewalk.  Here is the exterior and sign:


Husk’s historic home is built near the top of a hill overlooking downtown Nashville, and into the side of a steep slope.  The interior is divided into a few cozy dining rooms, including a lower-level dining room with floor to ceiling windows.  The bar, where I had lunch, is also on the lower level.  The hostess and wait-staff were all extremely friendly, even as you would pass them in the hallways, if in a semi-formal sort of way.  This was not hanging out with the waitresses at Champy’s Fried Chicken in Muscle Shoals.

I had not looked at the menu before going.  I just assumed that this is the kind of restaurant where, if you need to ask what anything costs, you might want to reconsider.  It wasn’t anything outrageous, but I did make the conscious decision to treat myself to whatever was recommended, with no second thoughts.  You only live once.

When I got to the bar, there were only a couple of other people there, so it was easy to get a seat.  In my trademark fashion, I explained to the bartender that I had heard about Sean Brock and his South Carolina Husk restaurant on Parts Unknown, but didn’t realize there was also one in Nashville.  I also volunteered that I could use some help in ordering.

The bartender started by explaining that Husk’s bar is primarily a whiskey bar.

I knew that Sean Brock is a bourbon connoisseur, but I again volunteered my ignorance about whiskey (I didn’t even know that bourbon is a kind of whiskey.  I thought bourbon is bourbon.  Whiskey is whiskey), and would be happy to go with whatever the bartender recommended.  So, he began by bringing out this bottle, and explained what it was.

As the tag and bottle indicate, this bottle is from a keg of bourbon hand-picked by Sean Brock and the distiller.  As the bartender informed me, they only make five of these bottles available at Husk each month.  So, there was no question.  This is where I started my lunch.

Next, the bartender recommended the Husk Burger, a large, locally-sourced beef, two-patty burger with caramelized onions, cheese…and I stopped listening after that.  So, here’s my lunch (remind me to not bite into my lunch before photographing it, next time.  I didn’t have the presence of mind to just cut it in half to show what’s inside.  My apologies).

As I was leaving the bar, I noticed this:

This is Husk’s cured-hams and bourbon display vault.  My thought was, any restaurant that had a ham and bourbon vault, was serious about what it was serving.

So, this was my Husk treat.  The bourbon and burger were amazing.  Anthony Bourdain strikes again.  If you ever find yourself in Nashville, Husk is definitely a restaurant that you should consider treating yourself to.

And now, a return visit to Music Row…

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!

Packed and Ready…

As usual…despite rigorously planning this trip for the past six months…getting pretty much everything in place at least a couple of months ago (or so I thought)…I’ve still been spending the past few weeks going seemingly non-stop to tie up all of the loose ends.  Most of this has been technology-related…setting up this blog…buying a very cool new lens for my camera (a last-minute decision) and spending time beginning to get used to what it can do…and re-learning how to use my camcorder.  And then there are the last-minute errands.  Ay yay yay!

So…word to the wise…little adventures that have a lot of moving parts, take a lot more time than you would think to plan and prepare for…so…start as early as you can, and keep working the problems until you get everything in place, as best as possible.  Once you are on your way…you’ll be glad you did.

It’s Friday, and about 9pm here.  I’m basically all packed and ready to hit the hay, before my 4am start tomorrow.  I’ll be in Roanoke, VA, tomorrow night, with no plan other than to get an early start on Sunday, with the hope of getting to Nashville by early afternoon.

So, without further adieu, I’m going to leave you with this great Toni Price tune…Get The Hell Out Of Dodge .

Catch up with y’all on the trail!