October 27 – November 30
We followed up our first two concerts with a third, this one a late addition and out of town again, Steve Earle and the Dukes at the Paramount Theater in Bristol, Tennessee the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend. Our last visit to this area was in August when we met Bev and Jed in Wytheville (https://wordpress.com/post/3jmann.com/10557) so that they could take in the NASCAR race at the track in Bristol.
We booked a room at the Budget Host Inn Bristol, an old school motor court within walking distance of the venue and again, although we thought about taking our bikes and riding a portion of the Virginia Creeper Trail, foul weather made that idea a moot point. Instead, we ran errands in the morning and took off for the three-hour drive.
We checked in and spent a drink’s worth of time in the room before heading towards the venue to stop for dinner at Cootie Brown’s, a local joint with two locations and were seated promptly. After perusing the drinks menu, Joanna ordered what would be a very good cucumber jalapeño margarita and I a Bells Two-Hearted, then we would go on to split the chicken tortilla soup, a couple of tamales (one carnitas and one chicken in Verde sauce), a Jamaican beef pocket and a side of beans and rice, finished off with a local double IPA.
From there a short walk took us to the Paramount, which upon entering knocked our socks off. Opened in 1931 as a multi-purpose venue it featured movies, live vaudeville, Big Bands and Country Western, but like many older theaters of that era, it fell into disrepair and its last movie showing occurred in 1979. After that ownership changed hands a couple of times until local organizers banded together to save the venue.
First off, in 1985 they had it recognized on the National Register of Historic Places. Next a challenge grant was obtained from the State of Tennessee for $1 million which required matching local funds. More than 1,000 contributors rose to the State’s challenge and restoration work was begun, concluding in 1991.
We’ve had the good fortune in the last few years to witness concerts in many restored venues such as this (the Wiltern in Los Angeles, the National in Richmond, the R.J. Reynolds in Winston Salem, to name a few) and they enhance the quality of the performance in a way that can’t be adequately described, the ambience leaking into your sub-conscious like a stealth presence.
As with the last time we saw Steve Earle, the opening act was the Mastersons, a husband and wife team that comprise two fifths of the Dukes. This 75-date tour was nearing its end, and honored the 30th anniversary of one of Earles’ best known works, Copperhead Road, which was played from beginning to end during the first half of the show followed by a second half of a host of his other recordings.
Which was all good as the Paramount offers normal drink service so we could indulge in our usual concert ritual of allowing a high-quality adult beverage to provide a warm backdrop to the sounds we were enjoying. The walk back to the motel was pleasant and we slept in a bit before heading a couple of blocks down the street to MeMe’s Diner, a simple storefront with good quality breakfast staples that fit the morning perfectly.
On the way out of town we stopped for an hour or two at Bristol’s very own Birthplace of Country Music Museum. An affiliate of the Smithsonian, it opened in 2014 and its 24,000 sq. ft. on two levels, contains the Museum, a large space for special exhibits, a performance theater, a radio station, a learning center and The Museum Store.
It’s exhibits celebrate the historic 1927 Bristol Sessions, which recorded some of earliest country music in America when the Carter Family, Jimmie Rogers and several other musicians recorded for the first time before gaining prominence. Everything here is well done and informative, the downside being that relatively few performers were involved in the initial recordings and honestly, many of the exhibits were duplicates of others already viewed.
One of the more unique displays allowed you to track the development of a particular song, or style of music, comparing later versions to those down earlier. We finished our stay with the special exhibit, “For All the World To See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights”, which examined the role that visual culture played in shaping and transforming the struggle for racial equality in America from the late 1940s to the mid-1970s.
It contained dozens of visual images, including photographs from influential magazines, such as Life, Jet, and Ebony; CBS news footage; and TV clips from The Ed Sullivan Show. Also included were civil rights-era objects that exemplify the range of negative and positive imagery—from Aunt Jemima syrup dispensers and 1930s produce advertisements to Jackie Robinson baseball ephemera and 1960s children’s toys with African American portraiture.
We decided to forgo the interstate for the drive home, instead driving down the mountain through the Cherokee National Forest. About halfway we stopped in Morganton, last visited during September’s Cycle North Carolina bike tour when I spent an afternoon drying out all of my wet belongings.
This time we made a visit to Fonta Flora Brewery for a refreshing adult beverage. We spent some time here a few years back when we met Sarah and Hans and their two girls at South Mountain State Park for the day (they were camping out Thanksgiving weekend) and drove into town for beers and dinner.
The brewery leans towards Belgians and English style beers with an emphasis on wild ingredients, so some of their selections can seem a little odd. We got a couple that we knew we’d enjoy, and it made for the perfect stop on the scenic drive home.
Our last concert of the fall was Richard Thompson and Band at the Knight Theater, on the other side of downtown from the McGlohon. We’ve seen Richard a number of times in Charlotte and each time was a solo acoustic performance. This one would be enhanced by two other musicians, rounding out the sound. Having eaten out recently, we instead had a late lunch at home and then made our way to the venue, parking next door at a conveniently located garage.
It would be another night of good music; this guy is an amazing guitarist, song writer and witty entertainer. He has an impressive number of songs to draw on from his 18 solo studio albums, three live albums and 16 singles, and yet tonight, as hard as this is to believe, he didn’t play any one song I would cite as one of my favorites.
This is the way it goes sometimes with performers; it’s not always guaranteed you’re going to hear the hits or the exact songs you want and yet, to not get one was just plain odd. So, it was an unusual way to end a run of good music, the strategy of driving to nearby cities for an overnight stay a good one, allowing for a chance to be a tourist as well as a music fan. And except for that odd night in Greenville with its off-key signing, lack of adult beverages and that woman, lord that woman, we couldn’t have asked for a better run of shows.
Steve Earle and the Dukes: http://www.steveearle.com/
The Paramount Theater: https://www.paramountbristol.org/
Budget Host Inn: http://www.budgethost.com/hotels/Budget_Host_Inn_Bristol_VA.aspx
Cootie Brown’s: https://www.cootiebrowns.com/
The Mastersons: http://www.themastersonsmusic.com/
Copperhead Road: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copperhead_Road
MeMe’s Diner: https://www.facebook.com/rubylamb65/
Birthplace of Country Music Museum: https://www.birthplaceofcountrymusic.org/
Fonta Flora Brewery: https://fontaflora.com/
Richard Thompson: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Thompson_(musician)