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To Midtown and Beyond (CMA Fest 2019 Part 1)

Well well well, here we are again! It took me 32 years to get me ass over to this “drinking town with a music problem” and since I boarded my flight back to London in June last year the plans for this year’s repeat trip have been well under way! There is just this magical feeling about this place that you really can’t understand or appreciate until you experience it for yourself!

When heading out this year there were a couple of differences firstly I was flying direct from Heathrow to BNA also I was staying over in the States a week longer than in 2018 and more significantly I was having the consideration of providing coverage for the site. It wasn’t until my last night being #BasicOnBroadway in 2018 that Annette had messaged when I was wasted enough to agree to write a piece for her (you can read last year’s effort HERE) that I had thought about writing and reporting again so things like this hadn’t crossed my mind last year. Bearing in mind that this was my holiday and all of our American contributors would also be at CMA Fest the intention was not to have coverage dictate my trip and would just do a similar review piece like last year. However Annette and I had a little think and we decided that to allow my creative juices to flow a bit more we could try creating more of a diary or a couple of journal entries as I was staying in 2 different parts of Nashville, heading out on the road down to Clarksdale in Mississippi then on through Alabama on the way to Gatlinburg and had a couple of really exciting surprises lined up too. This will be a mixture of CMA Fest type stage reviews, general observations and things that we encountered that we thought were pretty cool to pass on so here begins the first encounter of 2019’s US journey:

Not having to change planes getting to and from Nashville from the UK is a massive game changer and getting in around quarter to six local time pretty much sets you up for easily being able to head straight out to a bar wherever you are staying. They are still working on the new international terminal which I understand is a couple of years away from being finished but the current system of a dedicated immigration and customs area with an individual baggage area for the London flights works really quick and its smooth getting through.

Spending time in Nashville yes correlates with CMA Fest but for me primarily it is an opportunity to spend time with my friend Emma as she moved back home from London to Australia just under 3 years ago as just before she left the UK we got absolutely #WhiteGirlWasted at a Ward Thomas gig at Bush Hall and we made a drunken vow that Nashville would be a great idea for us meeting up again. That happened last year and we had a blast so her flight from Perth via Melbourne and Los Angeles arrived just before my flight from Heathrow.

Both of us in a state of jetlag induced fatigue grabbed an Uber to take us to our apartment we were renting for the first two nights – 1st Observation / Area for improvement needed for Nashville: Cars in TN do NOT have a number plate on the front of the vehicle! This does make it quite hard to work out which car you are looking for when a lot of people are waiting to be picked up!

After a quick freshen up we headed out to a bar fairly close to where we were staying. After spending pretty much our entire trip in 2018 on Broadway, we decided that as we had a couple of days in town just the two of us staying together that it would be cool to explore a different part of town. So we had two nights staying in Midtown! From all the guys and girls I had spoken to making music in Nashville they all had stories about time spent in Losers Bar & Grill so naturally that was where we were headed.

I genuinely would say this has to be my favourite drinking establishment I have ever been to. We spent the evening catching up knocking back Michelob Ultra on the roof and stuck to our golden rule about drinking in Tennesse #NoSpiritsBeforeSundown then headed back inside when the band started playing. It has a great college feel to it and is not as touristy as Broadway and it just felt like our kind of place and the temperature outside was just perfect for cold beers after flying into town. It has the dive bar feel you imagine but it isn’t dirty or overly cliche and pretty much good times are guaranteed.

The following morning was not the torrential hangover I anticipated from my first trip to Losers but the more savage beast that is jetlag decided to toy with us both early doors. This actually proved a blessing in disguise as both of us being wide awake at 730 meant we could head out to Centennial Park before the temperature got too hot for us. The Parthenon which is the focal point of the park is a full scale replica of the Greek Acropolis in Athens is a cool site and the lake sat in front of it is stunning and would not be out of place in our own Royal Parks back home. On heading back we walked through the Vanderbilt University and hospital grounds which again blew our minds how pretty it was and reiterated how we would love to live in this area.

From here we had the first official team Think Country rendezvous of the CMA Fest experience. Collectively we really hope to provide really intensive coverage on a much larger scale than a lot of other sites will be able to provide as we have 7 of us in Nashville for the festival: Katie and myself are over from the UK along with the 4 and a half Americans. The half is of course Amy Peterson (née Westney) who after numerous years of constant irritation I have finally managed to be rid of her as she moved over to the States and got married earlier in May.

Amy and her housemate took us for lunch at Cafe Coco on Louise Avenue just behind EXIT/IN which is a really cool coffee shop that is open 24 hours with a large outside patio that does great burgers with tater tots and is really reasonably priced. Side note: first time trying tater tots and a genuine life changing discovery! Basically like small slightly spicy hash browns and just pure heaven on a plate. Then as Losers had become our new happy place it was where we decided was fitting to start day drinking and even more appropriate considering the soccer we had to work our plans for the day around. Anyway reliving the Champions League Final is an experience that I don’t wish to dwell on too much however I do want to shout out to the staff at Losers for being so accommodating and getting in on the TV specifically for us. This was particularly good of them considering the amount of people coming in and out of the bar on a Saturday afternoon. This was when I first appreciated the level of hen parties (bachelorette’) along with the pedal taverns and party buses that you encounter in Nashville at weekends as we didn’t really see it last year being so festival focused. I get that it is good for the businesses and an awesome place for people to come to but you do ultimately feel the volume of them particularly on Broadway in Downtown begins to take over.

Downtown was where we headed for the evening as Emma had some friends from Perth losing their Nashville virginity so we jumped in a Uber as that walk would be too much as it is a lot further than it looks especially when you consider how hot it is. Saturday nights in Nashville are really busy and the proximity of the bars to each other does create this great party town vibe. The array of party buses had also made their way downtown and also was a large volume of something new to Nashville since our last visit that I really am not keen on at all!  – 2nd Observation / Area for improvement needed: PLEASE GET RID OF THE SCOOTERS!!!!!!! Through ride share platforms there are a ridiculous amount of scooters that can be picked up and rented to be riden by anyone! They are dangerous to vehicles, pedestrians and the riders who use them without any level of protection like a helmet in the way people use them particularly when combined with alcohol as you see them being weaved in and out of traffic! I really hope they NEVER EVER EVER EVER come anywhere near London.

Anyway we fancied more of a snack to eat than rather another full nosh so headed to the George Jones on 2nd Avenue because we had grabbed food there a few times before that had been good and pretty quick. This was also where you forget the level of how good people are that are playing in bars in this town. Up on the roof there was a girl called Lexi Lew playing who we both thought had a really nice voice. I love seeing Ed Sheeran play so I am always fascinated by people playing with a loop pedal that do it really well and she has a really cool surfer type vibe going on so was nice to sit and listen to her for a while.

Redneck Riviera was our main base for the evening sat up on the roof as it was really pleasant by this time in the evening. This was a bar that we didn’t venture to last year but somewhere that we actually really liked. This is John Rich’s bar which has draft beer and 3 floors of madness going on. The roof is astroturfed, has corn hole and a giant Jenga for your entertainment or as we found was a great place to chill out and people watch on Broadway. Around 1030 we headed downstairs and to use a Tottenham reference (in a positive way for the day we lost the biggest game in my lifetime) we got to see “one of our own” playing on stage.

I think the last time I spoke to or saw Sasha McVeigh play was at Fort San Antone near Preston before it shut down or doing some shows with Sonia Leigh so it must have been over three years ago. Sasha lives over in the States now and always had a really strong voice compared to the other girls trying to make country music from the UK but I was really impressed how powerful and natural it was sounding. Her stage prowess has always been strong but she really had the place absolutely buzzing. She has a new single “Rock Bottom” up for pre-order from June 7th and is playing in Redneck Riviera, Margaritaville and The Valentine during the course of CMA week. She is not shy on her socials (that was never going to change when she moved over here) so check her out on Twitter and Instagram as I definitely won’t be an arse and leave it another 3 years before seeing her again!

After the beers kept flowing and the (regrettable) decision to have some Fireball which never ends well, we headed to The Stage so the Australians could see a more old school bar on Broadway but (I’m blaming this on the devil juice) I don’t really remember too much about that part of the night so I’m going to assume it was as much fun as our wild night in there last year (I don’t remember much about that night either) as I decided that trying chicken and waffles for the first time (I don’t get it as the 2 of them shouldn’t go together and it’s a really bizarre taste combination so I’m really not sold on it at all) during a 230am trip to the IHOP around the corner from our apartment was a good idea to end the first Nashville leg of the trip before hitting the road the next morning.

TO BE CONTINUED………

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Jamie Gardam
Without trying to write something that belongs in a Tinder profile, I’m Jamie: sometimes seen as a bit of a rogue potentially even notorious but all in all I am just an Essex boy that loves iced latte’s and colourful hair accessories with a tendency to continually cause disappointment to my mother and a worry to my therapist as I drink too much! It took me far too long to visit and fall in love with the world’s ultimate pub crawl that is Nashville, TN but prior to my next visit I make the most of the sights and sounds of London’s emerging country music scene.
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