Welcome back, dear readers, and a very happy New Year to you all. I’ve been dragging my feet on this post for far too long, and I’m sure you’ve been agonizing day and night since our last installment. My sincerest apologies for keeping you all in suspense for so long.
Certainly you’ll recall that I decided to make a run at one final capitol before the end of 2023, bringing my total to 25, the halfway mark of this journey. Now, I had almost pulled the trigger on an impromptu trip to Nashville several times over the past few years, but it never materialized. My family travelled to Nashville once when I was a kid, on one of our combo family vacations/dad’s work trips. As far as I can recall, we spent the entire trip at the sprawling Opryland Hotel, marveling at the (multiple!) indoor swimming pools with waterfalls and shops and restaurants inside the massive atrium. We saw the legendary Lloyd Lindroth, the “Liberace of the Harp,” who played a regular gig at the resort shortly before his death in 1994.
This year provided the perfect opportunity to return, however, as I decided to travel to see Nick Cave play the Ryman Auditorium. THE Ryman Auditorium. And as luck would have it, my dear friend Simon wanted to tag along.
Simon and I first met at the Hawkeye Music Festival in 1998. He was a friend of a friend, and he went to another school. He had a huge curly blonde lion’s mane of hair and was smoking a clove cigarette when we were introduced. When headliners Everclear finally took the stage he dove into the moshpit like a mad man, so I wasn't too sure about this guy. We reconnected a few months later at the Getta NYE party over our divorced parents and our mutual love of classic rock. Simon played bass and I played guitar, and we started jamming shortly thereafter. Together, with Tony on drums, we would play bass and guitar for the next seven years. We were kinda big in Iowa City. And Serbia.
Fast forward nearly a quarter century and we found ourselves rendezvousing at BNA on an October Monday to see what Nashville had to offer.
We had a few hours before we’d be able to check into our AirBnB and I was feeling confident, so we dropped our bags at the babysitter’s and made our way downtown. The first stop on any Crapitols trip is coffee of course, so we found ourselves at the adorably-branded Pink Hermit.
Next stop was the capitol itself. We passed through security only to be informed by the staff at the visitors desk that it would be an hour before the next tour began. A Google search led us to the nearby Rae's Sandwich Shop, for some Southern charm and superb sandwiches.
We returned in time for the 1:00 tour with Lacey, who sadly, did not have the perfect stereotypical Tennessee accent I was hoping for, and that I've come to expect whenever I take a state capitol tour. She did give an excellent tour, however.
The Tennessee State Capitol was built between 1845 and 1859 by slave and prison laborers, and presumably some regular contractor types. It was designed by master of the Greek Revival style, architect William Strickland, who thought the building to be his greatest work, so much so that upon his death in 1854 he was entombed in the building’s Northeast corner. Not to be outdone, Samuel D. Morgan, the Nashville businessman and president of the commission that selected Strickland to design the building, is also entombed on the building’s southeast corner. Fun fact: the Tennessee capitol is the only state capitol with actual mortal remains of human beings entombed within its walls. (Stay tuned for a bonus surprise tomb!)
Shortly after completion in 1859, the Tennessee capitol found itself occupied by the Union Army for most of the Civil War. It was called Fortress Andrew Johnson, after the Tennessee governor and senator who would soon after become the 17th POTUS. Tennessee was the first former Confederate state to ratify the 14th Amendment, and thus, was the first to be re-admitted to the Union in 1866.
The first stop on the tour was the former Supreme Court room, long-since converted into a press conference room. The Pride of Tennessee painting depicts beloved sons and daughters of the Volunteer state, including frontier/statesman David Crockett, journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells, Cherokee neographer Sequoyah, and Tennessee's three US presidents. Compared to the 24 previous capitols I've seen, Tennessee has relatively few large-scale paintings.
The main hall on the second floor features magnificent marble, towering ceilings, and gorgeous chandeliers. The House of Representatives Chamber is home to the 99 members of the Tennessee legislature, and has a unique place in American history. In 1920 the vote to ratify the 19th Amendment to the constitution was at a deadlock. Representative Harry Burn, a 24-year-old from McMinn County had intended to vote “nay,” under great pressure from his constituents, but was swayed at the last-minute by a letter from his mother. His vote tipped the scale and the “yays” carried the day, making Tennessee the 36th state to ratify the amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote in the United States.
The tour continued on to the much cozier Senate chamber and the room that once housed the Tennessee state library, with top-notch spiral staircases that were apparently order straight out of a catalog.
After the tour I located the men’s room and took care of business. Crapitol number 25.
We did a bit more exploring of the grounds of the capitol before departing. The building sits prominently on a grassy hill looking out to the North. A monument to 7th POTUS Andrew Jackson stands on the East side. One of three castings by sculptor Clark Mills, it is identical to the statues in Washington D.C.’s Lafayette Square and Jackson Square in New Orleans.
Along with Andrew Johnson and Andrew Jackson, Tennessee was home to James K. Polk, the 11th POTUS, and his final resting place is here at the Tennessee capitol. Along with his wife Sarah, he is the only POTUS to be entombed at a US state capitol.
It’s always great to get the capitol out of the way first thing. That way the rest of the trip is icing on the cake. We retrieved our bags and headed over to our AirBnB on music row. It was Dolly Parton-themed.
After settling in we headed out to see some sights. Now, the streets around the capitol downtown were fairly easy to navigate with a basic grid pattern, but outside of that, I could detect no clear layout to the rest of the city. Streets going every which way, and giant glass skyscrapers going up every other block. Nashville is quite the boom town.
After a supper of chicken and waffles we found ourselves on the legendary strip of honky tonks along Broadway. We stopped in at Nudie’s to see the famous bar made of nearly 10,000 silver dollars. They also had a souvenir penny machine!
Despite it being a Monday night in October, Broadway was hopping, with a different live band playing on every floor of every bar. We settled at Tootsie’s for a while to sip $9 Yuenglings as the guitarist onstage no-hands chugged down a bottle of Miller Hi-Life whilst simultaneously playing the solo of Freebird. Amazing musicians abound in Nashville. (Fun fact: Simon and I played Freebird at the talent show junior year of high school). We called it a night before 11:30 because we're old now.
The following day we did some more sightseeing, most notably Nashville’s famous Parthenon. After the capitol, Nashville decided to lean hard into the whole Greek Revival thing, building this full-scale replica of the famous Athens landmark for Tennessee’s Centennial Exposition in 1897. We also had some unexpectedly top-notch chicken wings and brisket at Central BBQ.
The capstone of the trip was the concert later that night. The Ryman Auditorium lived up to the lore. Originally built as a church in 1892, it became the home of the Grand Ole Opry in 1943. The venue hosted everyone from Hank Williams to Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, and Elvis Presley during the Opry years. Everyone who’s anyone plays there these days. The pew seating is pretty uncomfortable, but what it lacks in legroom and ass-padding, the 2,300 seat auditorium more than makes up for in intimacy and history.
Nick Cave played an incredible set of stripped-down piano and bass versions of songs spanning his 40-plus-year career. Most of the great shows I've seen in my life were with Simon. There was our legendary road trip to Chicago to see Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes and the Who on back-to-back nights the year we graduated high school. Freezing our nuts off at Pearl Jam at Alpine Valley, Wisconsin. Radiohead in Grant Park in downtown Chicago. We saw Bela Fleck and the Flecktones in Iowa City on September 11, 2001 (the show must go on). We drove to Kansas City to see Springsteen only to discover Simon's car stereo had been stolen after the show. We had to drive home with a busted out back window and no music. Simon fell asleep at a Tool concert (I don't blame him). We saw Sonic Youth in the front row at an outdoor festival in Belgrade, Serbia. Grinderman in Chicago. Wilco who knows how many times. Angel Olsen at the Burlington with like 26 other people. We met up to see the Replacements play their long-awaited homecoming show in St. Paul, Minnesota.
It sure is nice having beloved friends and family tag along with me on this ridiculous adventure. We'll have to see who shows up in 2024.
Happy New Year.