And it left me asking one thing: Why the heck didn't I do this sooner?
Let's take a step back for a second . . . I agonized over this trip. I went back and forth on whether I should spend the money (I worried I was being wasteful), whether I should take the time off work, whether I was safe traveling alone, whether I would be seen as selfish by my family, and a whole host of other ridiculous worries.
I debated between going to Nashville and Sanibel Island. Nashville had the distinction that I'd only been there once about seven years ago for a Mary Kay retreat and only left the hotel long enough for a quick concert at the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium. I love country music and each time I drove through it on my way to Crystal Beach last year, I kept thinking I should go back for a weekend. Sanibel Island had the beach as its big "pro." We lived in Ft. Myers when I was little and my Gardner Grandparents lived on Sanibel Island until I was in college. I'd been there a million times, but not in almost 20 years. I remember loving Sanibel, but I've spent far too much time on the Gulf side of Florida over the past 13 years and I swore I'd never go back. It's going to take some time to be able to love Florida again.
Nashville won out. (Experience #3)
Immediately, I started planning every moment I'd be in town. I had a little over three days to spend in Nashville and I was going to make the most of every single second. Let's just say I had an itinerary any professional travel agent or tour operator would be proud of.
My first night in town, I had dinner with my dear friend Kalee at Chuy's at Opry Mills. If you go, get the Steak Burrito with the chorizo sauce. Trust me. The food was amazing. The only thing better than the food was hanging out with Kalee. Kalee was my first boss after college, when I interned at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington, D.C., and she quickly became my friend because we're the same age, we have similar backgrounds, and we both love politics. As an intern, I worked in her office. I remember we had the best conversations that sometimes had nothing to do with work. Now Kalee lives in Nashville with her wonderful husband Jack.
Until my first night in Nashville, we hadn't seen each other in almost 15 years. And trust me, after just a couple of seconds, it was like time had stood still. You know how there are times in life when you don't realize how much you missed something until you have the opportunity to experience it again and then suddenly you can't imagine it being gone from your life again? That's how hanging out with Kalee was. Fortunately, we were able to make plans to get together again on Sunday for brunch.
Kalee and Me.
I'm not going to wait another 15 years before hanging out with Kalee again.
Friday morning, I got up early and headed into downtown Nashville for a tour of the Country Music Hall of Fame and RCA Studio B, known as the Home of 1000 Hits. Studio B was built for Elvis and he recorded over 200 of his songs there. Many legends recorded at Studio B, including The Everly Brothers, Dottie West, Dolly Parton, Elvis, Roy Orbison, and many more. Elvis was famous for recording late at night and into the wee hours of the morning.
The best part of the Studio B tour was being able to sit at and play the piano Elvis loved and played. He once tried to buy the piano he loved so much, but was told by Chet Atkins he didn't have enough money to buy it. I haven't played the piano in many years, but sitting at that piano and playing just a few keys was magical. I could feel Elvis in the room.
Me tickling the ivories of Elvis's favorite piano. (Experience #6)
One interesting note about Studio B is that it closed on August 17, 1977. If that date sounds sort of familiar, it's the day after Elvis died. That's just a coincidence though. The closure of Studio B had been planned for awhile.
After an inspirational tour of the Country Music Hall of Fame and RCA Studio B, I stumbled into the Dukes of Hazzard Museum, run by Cooter, of course, which it turned out, was around the corner from my hotel. If you're a child of the 80s, you may have had a crush on one of the Duke brothers or Daisy Duke. I liked Bo Duke. If you're too young to remember the Dukes of Hazzard, you may be impressed to know that Daisy Duke was the inspiration for Daisy Dukes.
Who's sitting in the General Lee? ME!
Friday night found me at the Grand Ole Opry for a taping of the 88-year-old radio show and post-show backstage tour. I had 5th row seats for one of the best shows I've ever seen. It opened with the Queen of Country Comedy, Minnie Pearl (well, an impersonator). Bill Anderson (member since 1961), Kristen Kelly, Riders in the Sky (members since 1982), Jesse McReynolds (member since 1964), Shelley Skidmore, Jim Ed Brown (member since 1963), Mike Snider (member since 1990), Chuck Wicks, Crystal Gayle, surprise appearances by Lone Star and Little Jimmy Dickens (member since 1948), The Whites (members since 1984), and The Isaacs.
One of the great things about the Opry is that they encourage you to come up close to the stage to take pictures of your favorite artists. When I took the picture of Crystal Gayle below, I was kneeling just in front of the stage.
If you're going to attend the Grand Ole Opry, you must take the backstage tour. You can take this tour in the afternoon, which I guess is fine, but if you have any desire to meet the stars, do it after the show. As we were on our tour, Crystal Gayle walked up, signed autographs for everyone, and took some pictures. She signed my show poster, listing her as one of the performers, and I got the picture below showing her famous floor-length hair.
Crystal Gayle and her famous floor-length locks.
At the end of the tour, I was able to stand in the center of the Grand Ole Opry stage where 1000s of performers have stood before me. What I loved about the center of the stage was that when the Opry moved to the new location in 1974 from the Ryman Auditorium, they cut a circle of the flooring from the entrance of the Ryman stage and placed it in the center of the new stage. The thinking was that every artist to ever perform at the Ryman had walked across that piece of Ryman flooring, so they'd all now be part of the new Opry stage as well.
6-foot circle of oak from the Ryman Auditorium. I stood there. (Experience #5)
When I finally crawled into bed on Friday night, I slept better than I've slept in ages. I was exhausted, but happy and filled with wonderful memories.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Nashville adventure, including exploring the honky tonks, a tour of the Ryman Auditorium, more Kalee time, the rest of my pictures, and much more. Coming later this week.