I learned about an event in the backyard of one of my favorite writers a couple months ago and decided we’d go to Nashville for Memorial Day weekend. The problem was that I had to spend a week at Camp Bullis outside San Antonio (Air Force training) and half a week in Washington DC (National Leadership Summit for Anti-Defamation League) earlier in May, so Memorial Day weekend sort of sneaked up on us, and we didn’t really start planning our trip until a few days before we left.
We exited our driveway a couple hours later than planned, thanks to a speeding ticket after getting the dog washed and a pushy sales guy for a basement moisture remediation system. Traffic was bad, so we arrived after 5 hours at my friend Natalie’s house in Franklin about 15 minutes before we were supposed to be in Donald Miller’s backyard for a party for benefactors of The Mentoring Project. We were a bit late.
The event was great. I got to see my friends Angus and Samantha Nelson again, hear great music from (and meet) Brandon Heath and Jill & Kate, and meet Donald Miller, one of my favorite writers for over 10 years. We met other fine folks, too, and learned about the great things The Mentoring Project has been doing and continues to do. We also had some pretty awesome BBQ and got to meet Don’s dog, Lucy, after reading about her in books and seeing her on Instagram.
We were the last to leave (along with the Nelsons), as is my custom.
The next morning, my son woke us up at 5am local time. A few hours and several mugs of coffee later, we visited The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s home. We toured the house, the grounds, and rode on a horse drawn wagon.
Then, we had more awesome BBQ at Peg Leg Porker before visiting the Opryland Hotel (since rain was forecast for the afternoon). No one in the family was all that excited about the latter excursion, until we walked inside, and neither the children nor my bride could believe just how pretty and enormous it is. Or how awesome the dancing fountains and waterfalls are, or how cool an indoor river with boat rides is. We loved the exploration.
We eventually got back into the car and started to head back to Natalie’s house when I had a thought: we should go to Cooter’s Place. And so we turned around and went, despite the protests from my youngest.
I love Cooter’s Place. I even changed my Facebook profile picture for the first time since joining the website in 2008–from me sitting in the General Lee, to me sitting in the General Lee with my children:
Then we walked next door to the Willie Nelson museum, where my youngest got a Willie Nelson doll and referred to him by his first and last name for the rest of the trip, as if he’d done something to get in trouble. Only after insisting on having the doll did she ask if Willie Nelson was “on the ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ or a former President” (a reasonable question given the other places we’d gone that day). I told her who he was, that he is still alive, and that I saw him play at Chastain (which included a a rendition of “Amazing Grace” with President Carter and the former First Lady) the previous weekend.
I knew the magic was with us when we got back in the car and “On the Road Again” came on the radio.
The next morning, we visited a local church with Natalie and her 4 children before having brunch at Gray’s on Main in Franklin and visiting Centennial Park and the Parthenon.
Sunday was a lot hotter (> 10 degrees) than was Saturday, so we opted not to stand in a long line to enter the structure and let the children enjoy the shaded playground instead. Then, we headed downtown to see the sights on 2nd Avenue and Broadway, which I had thought would be a lot of fun, but turned out to be a lot of crowded.
We spent a few minutes inside the Wildhorse Saloon, the Ryman, and a few other places, but it was too hot and crowded to really enjoy the area very much, so we headed off to the Bluebird Cafe an hour before doors opened at 5pm for the 6pm songwriters’ show, but we were 116th in line for a show that generally allows about 75 persons at most, so we left the back of the line and instead went to get BBQ at Martin’s. It was delicious.
I was still really disappointed about our time downtown and even more disappointed about not getting into the Bluebird Cafe. Apparently, Nashville has grown tremendously in popularity since I last spent any time there, and from what I hear, huge crowds are commonplace. More advanced planning would have made the Bluebird possible another night, but one apparently has to get there much earlier than an hour before doors open to get into the “no reservations” Sunday night performances.
Determined to do something everyone would like before heading back to the house, I took us atop Love Circle after dinner. My boy asked if there were any geocaches around, and there was one–we found a box placed by a local 5th grade class and signed the log book, which the kids loved.
We went back to the house; the kids went to bed; the grownups sat outside and talked until nearly 10pm. We were just about to go to bed when my phone indicated my friend from my 2003 Iraq deployment, Shane, was back in town and wanted to see if I’d meet his wife and him for a beverage. So, I did. I officiated their wedding 2.5 years ago but haven’t seen them since.
The next morning, our family visited Carnton Plantation, site of the above wedding picture. We got a great tour of the house, learned about the Battle of Franklin, and saw the McGavock family cemetery and the 1500 graves for Confederate (and a few Union) soldiers at the Battle of Franklin. Fitting, given that it was Memorial Day.
Afterward, we met Shane and his wife at Franklin Mercantile for lunch, where my children were as poorly behaved as they have ever been in public their entire lives. That was fun.
Despite the couple of setbacks, this was a great trip. I love visiting Nashville, not only because of its history, its music scene, its “vibe,” and the like, but because of all the wonderful people who are there whom I’ve known since childhood or my 10 years of service in the Tennessee Air National Guard. We’ll clearly need to go back sometime when we can secure reservations at the Bluebird and spend some time in Hendersonville, where I grew up and where several friends (and parents of friends) live. It’s a fairly easy drive (or short flight) from Atlanta. Y’all should go.