Last December, I traveled to Nashville with my dad, and during the drive, he regaled me with great stories of his time working for the legendary guitar expert George Gruhn, experiencing downtown Nashville when he was younger, and odd adventures regarding George’s other interest, reptiles. (These stories will be shared in an entry soon to come.) After hearing those stories, I had been so excited to experience this same energy and see the places he spoke of.
Unfortunately, the trip did not quite live up to my expectations, so I left feeling a bit frustrated with the situation and the trip in general, despite the incredible hospitality and kindness from Christie and Walter Carter, owners of Carter Vintage Guitars, their employees, and of course my best good friend Mac Wiggins. Ask me about it sometime, I will try to explain what upset me in a bit more detail. But after that trip, I vowed to come back to Nashville and have an absolutely amazing time. Last week I did exactly that, and I absolutely cannot wait to tell you about it.
Nick and I loaded up my Subaru with ukulele and guitar cases and headed west on I-40 with Nick Offerman's book Paddle Your Own Canoe blaring from the speakers. Come on, everyone needs a little advice from Ron Swanson, no? I was a bit apprehensive heading to Country Music Central without my dad this time, but during that last visit I hadn’t been able to show my work to George, and when we visited his shop in December George had requested that I do so. The day before Nick and I left Asheville, I had apprehensively called George to ask if he would like to see a couple of guitars if I brought them. The anxiety was there because with the exception of my dad, no one I know has had particularly positive things to say about George Gruhn. Luckily, he was very friendly and at least seemed excited for me to bring my guitars by, so I made an appointment for the next day. The story of how that meeting went can wait for another entry as well since I don’t want to overwhelm you with a ridiculously long post right out of the gate.
The evening we arrived in Nashville Nick and I went to dinner with Clay Cook. Clay, if you don't know already, is an incredible guitar player whom I had met few weeks prior to our trip. He randomly walked into the shop saying, “Zac Brown sent me with a gun for you dad. Where should I put it?” Since this was the Friday during Merlefest, I was alone in the shop, trying to glue a neck into a 0-41 sunburst guitar, which is a tedious and important maneuver that I hadn't yet done by myself. I was a bit nervous to be completely unsupervised during the process, but as my dad left that morning he called over his shoulder, “You’ll be fine, just remember to measure twice, cut once.”
I recognized Clay from pictures Christie Carter posted via her facebook page, as when he comes to check out the amazing guitars at her shop, it is definitely an event worth documenting. If you hadn't already deduced, Clay plays guitar in the Zac Brown Band, and is seriously one of the most amazing musicians I have heard in a while. He is also good friends with John Mayer, and was the catalyst behind my opportunity to meet him, which as you know, was a super huge deal for me. I tried so hard not to sound crazy and ask him a thousand questions about John Mayer...tried and failed maybe. He might think I am insane.
Anyway, I am so glad I got to meet Clay that quiet afternoon in my dad’s shop, because I had the opportunity to find out that he is a super friendly, great guy, who says nice things about my guitars. He happened to be in Nashville the week I was visiting, so we planned to meet up for dinner when Nick and I arrived.
After we went to dinner at an awesome sushi restaurant Clay recommended, we stopped to see Zac Brown’s new Southern Ground Studios. Now, I will try not to bore you with what interested me the most during that visit, but I will tell you, the floors in that place are insane. Every square foot of that recording studio is covered with the most beautiful flamed koa, maple, and mahogany planks I have ever seen. Apparently Bob Taylor provided boards that were too small to make guitars, so they were used as flooring. I kind of cried a little bit with each step I took. The pristine equipment and the cozy wood-paneled sound booths, smelling faintly similar to my dad’s shop, were all incredible, but I had a difficult time getting over that floor. Think of the beautiful ukuleles that will never come to fruition….Luckily, the events that followed were a tiny bit cooler than the floor.
As we were concluding our tour, we ended up in the kitchen having a beer with Rebecca Wood, the wife of Oliver Wood (of the awesome band, The Wood Brothers) and a film crew who were following Dave Grohl, the drummer for Nirvana and lead singer and guitar player for The Foo Fighters. "Hey! You guys want to come hang out a while? Dave is coming by with some chicken," Rebecca said to us as we walked into the kitchen. "Dave who?" we wondered...After a few minutes of chatting with the other folks in the room, Dave Grohl walks into the small space with several huge bags filled to the brim with Hattie B's fried chicken. After everybody started passing around the styrofoam meal packages, he mentioned feeling a little bad for buying so much because there was no line when he arrived, but as he took the chicken, he noticed a line forming as the kitchen tried to catch back up to their demand. I am not much for fried chicken, but I guess when Dave Grohl brings it to you, you can’t really say no. I will admit it was some of the best chicken I have had in quite some time.
The next evening, Dave told us, he was playing an unadvertised show at the Blue Bird Café and Clay graciously invited us to join him. Now, just so you know, Dave Grohl is Nick’s John Mayer, so I think he was just too excited to say much to him. I understand the feeling of meeting someone you think is so talented you don’t really know what to do in their presence, but I am really excited for Nick that he got to shake Dave's hand and hang out with him a little bit. I personally don’t know too much about Dave’s music, but apparently Nick had to replace his Nirvana CDs several times due to wear. The significance of Dave’s kind invitation really hit me when Nick said he could get out of a work gathering to attend the next night’s show and Dave replied, “Well, as we used to say in Nirvana, you can always work later.” Oh right, he is kind of a big deal...
The show at the Blue Bird was better than I expected, seeing as I had no idea what to expect really. The cozy atmosphere of the tiny cafe, set in a strip mall between a massage therapist office and a dry cleaner, that really set the mood for a great, no frills, real show. It was an amazing balance of Dave’s music with my affinity for acoustic guitar. I enjoyed the humanity he brought with his performance, it felt as though he was speaking to each of the audience members individually, as his tone and manner was just the same as when we were eating chicken with him the previous evening. I found it kind of odd but exhilarating to hear songs I had heard on the radio, such as Learn to Fly, Everlong, and Times Like These. My favorite song he did though was called Friend of a Friend, which Dave wrote for Kurt Cobain. The story that led to the song was sad, but so endearing. Also, I very much appreciate his talent and dexterity as he learned that song on Kurt’s left-handed guitar.
I would say those first few days really highlighted our trip, but we also explored downtown, experienced a show at the Ryman Theater, found some beautiful historic buildings, walked down Broadway with its multitude of retina-burning neon signs, and judged the unappealing outfit of choice for young ladies: super short denim shorts with cowboy boots. It became a game for us to find evidence of this unfortunate fashion statement, typically preferred by girls running in hoards trailing a tiara-veiled bachelorette. All in all, we had a great time, Nashville was a kind place, full of super folks. Can't wait to go back and hang out with my new friends!
|Me with Clay Cook at the Blue Bird Cafe|