Today is March 24, a little over a month after learning that corona was more than a beer, and a couple of weeks into all of our educations on the skill of social distancing. I’ve realized I have gone through some of the stages of grief, mourning my life as it was, but I am steadfastly convinced that I am lucky to be worried about money and travel and that eventually we will be back on the road, meeting fascinating people and exploring this great country again.
I look back on our adventures and let my memories, and our notes and photos, lend inspiration to our future. We find that we tend to do things in patterns. We set out to see every Presidential Library and so far we have hit more than half of them. We didn’t really intend to have a musically themed summer, but in the summer of 2018, that’s exactly what we got!
The summer began with a trip to Wisconsin, to see my sister Betsy and her family. We love early July in Wisconsin as the weather is warm, albeit occasionally stormy, but it is the Summerfest season in Milwaukee. Summerfest, if you haven’t heard of it – and you likely have not, is the worlds largest outdoor music festival. Running over two weeks with a one day closure in the middle to clean the grounds. Holding over a dozen “main” stages and 10 or more small stages for local and garage bands, it is non stop music, food and beer with every variety of each. Here is a list of just some of who we have seen there.
- Blackberry Smoke
- Trace Adkins
- REO speedwagon
- Rick Springfield
- Greta Van Fleet
- Jethro Tull
- Edgar Winter Group
- Alien Ant Farm
- Tom Petty
- Zac Brown Band
- Chris Stapleton
- Steven Tyler
- Here is a link to the lineup in 2018.
For a $20 entry fee, you can wander from stage to stage and enjoy all the music from cool jazz to rap to rock to polka. Sample food from around the world or just be a Milwaukeean and drink Miller and enjoy Usinger brats. Go during the day and you can usually catch a promo – two cans of food for the food bank gets you in free, for example. Now in the interest of disclosure, the biggest names now command an extra fee, but you can see some great music for your one entry ticket!
Before leaving Wisconsin we were lucky enough to catch yet another great music event, Hank Williams Jr and Brad Paisley playing yet another outdoor venue, Alpine Valley. Incidentally, Alpine Valley is the last venue Stevie Ray Vaughn played before his untimely death. My sister Bets and we got lawn seats and sat on a cool summers eve listening to Hank, my favorite, and Brad, Jeanne’s top choice, well into the night. Hank Jr, is not shy to talk about his life and the people in it – regaling us with stories of being taught music by the greatest country, motown and R&B acts from the 50s ,60 and 70’s, he really is much more of an eclectic renaissance man than his redneck image would have you believe.
Alas, we left Wisconsin and worked our way down to Kentucky and Tennessee. An impromptu stop at the Kentucky Country Music Hall of Fame, and their adjoining RV park, gave us an opportunity to see Ricky Skaggs in a barn concert next to the museum. Ricky grew up in those Kentucky hills and this was a homecoming concert that had us digging his bluegrass chops!
Because you never know just what you’re going to run into on the road, we also took in a revival style gospel show and an avante garde presentation of Shakespeare’s Othello in Kentucky, all while we stayed in the Hall of Fame’s RV Park.
We went to Tennessee primarily to go to Dollywood and visit Jeanne’s brother Mark and we figured we’d visit Nashville somewhere along the way. Little did we know we’d be visiting multiple iconic venues, meet members of the Cash family, get a private concert with Johnny’s nephew Mark and see his grandson Thomas Gabriel, kick off his tour on Johnny’s ranch and drive off in his grand dads car!
Jeanne’s brother Mark lives about an hour from Nashville on a property with a cave in the backyard that was once used as a military hospital by both the north and south at different times in the war. You just can’t get away from history down there in Dixie. Speaking of caves, if you’ve ever seen the PBS Show Bluegrass Underground, you know there is a natural cave used as an amphitheater in Grundy County, TN, called The Caverns. You really can’t make this stuff up. Well, thanks to Mark, we had an opportunity to see The Marshall Tucker Band underground, just a few rows from the stage. Its an amazing venue and Doug Gray, founder and remaining member was great! For a geriatric seventies bad – damn those guys still have it!
While in Nashville, we were fortunate enough to grab tickets to both the Opry and the mother church of country music the Ryman Auditorium, just a few days apart. On Sep. 11, 2018 at the Opry we saw Kasey Musgrave, Brad Paisley and The Charlie Daniels Band and were thrilled to see Lee Greenwood walk on stage unannounced and sing “Proud to be an American” with the whole hall on their feet singing along!
A few days later we enjoyed Porter Wagoner, host of the Ryman and essentially the house band, introduce Joe Nicols who talked about his Arkansas home and took us on a musical journey of his life and music. Also on stage that night was Ricky Skaggs, I guess we’re Skaggs groupies now.
Jeanne and I were exploring google one day, looking for something to do, and we discovered The Story Tellers Museum and Hideaway Farm. As the story was told to us by Mark Allen Cash, Johnny’s nephew, once upon a time June Carter Cash wanted to go a shopping and called the bank to check their balances. Obviously pre-Internet. She discovered they were broke! How could that be? We’re John and June??!!! Well, whether or not that actually occurred, the truth is that they were cleaned out at one time by a business manager who bought properties in his own name all over Tennessee with their money. Johnny found them all and forced him to sell them off to repay the money but when he visited this one, in Bon Aqua, TN, he fell in love with the property and the simple house and kept it. It became the location for several of the Johnny Cash Show Christmas Specials and has a stage that is used by local musicians, including his grandson Thomas Gabriel. If you are interested in this location we did previously post about it.
The summer and fall of 2018 was a musical treat for us of the best kind. Unplanned. Unknown. Impromptu and kept us dancing until the winter came.