It has been another busy but wonderful week out here on the road. I curled my way up into the far northeast of Tennessee to visit the Tri-Cities of Johnson City, Bristol and Kingsport. From there I traveled across the north of the state to Big South Fork National Recreation Area and then headed south to the cute little town of Dayton. I've gotten to see some really cool and interesting sites, heard some great music and have done a lot of writing and research for my next podcast. The weather continues to get warmer and the flowers are really starting to come out in force. Unfortunately, with them have come my allergies, but I'm not letting them get me down. There is just too much to see and do in Tennessee to worry about a little pollen.
After writing last week, I went out and caught up with one of my best friend's cousin, who lives in Knoxville, and her husband and friends. It was really nice to have some people to hang out with and just go along for the ride. We ended up at a place in South Knoxville playing "Singo", a musical variation on the game Bingo. It was fun to go out with a group and just relax for the evening. Seeing as they all had regular jobs though, they took off at a reasonable hour. I, on the other hand, wanted to go check out one of the local bars I had driven past a few times called The Orange Bee. It turned out to be a good decision. It was super local and very divey, but the bartender was wonderfully friendly and it was a good atmosphere. Except for the smoke - I really hate that Tennessee still allows smoking in bars. It really is time to give up the ghost on that one, guys.
The next morning, at the recommendation of my new friends from the night before, I headed out to explore some of the marble quarries around town which had give Knoxville the nickname "The Marble City". Apparently, Knoxville marble (actually a crystalline form of limestone) has been used in the construction of buildings like the Lincoln Memorial and Grand Central Station. One of these quarries was at Fort Dickerson, an old Civil War Fort just south of downtown. There was a lot of interesting Civil War information around about the defenses of Knoxville, and the quarry was really cool too. Now filled in with water and used as a giant outdoor pool, this looked like an amazing place to cool off in the summer. There were half a dozen people or so lounging on innertubes when I was there. From Fort Dickerson, I headed over to check out Mead's Quarry in the Ijams Nature Center area. I took a short walk past a cool high ropes course to the quarry which seemed like another great swimming hole in South Knoxville.
I headed downtown for a quick stroll and finally made it up into the iconic Sunsphere - the most recognizable feature in the Knoxville skyline. After that, I stopped for some ribs at Brothers Johnson and Sister Barbecue on University Avenue before heading out of town.
My next stop was at Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville. I've done some reading on Andrew Johnson over the last few months. Born in poverty in North Carolina, he became a tailor and learned to read and write from his wife. His interest in politics took him from local office all the way to the U.S. Senate. He led the opposition faction to Tennessee secession and remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War. When Lincoln ran for re-election, he chose Johnson as his running mate. With the assassination of Lincoln just a few weeks after his second inauguration, Johnson became president and had to lead the charge on Reconstruction. I have often thought of Johnson as one of the nation's worst presidents, mostly due to the massive failure of Reconstruction. I have also thought that Lincoln's first Vice President, Hannibal Hamlin, would have done a better job. This wonderful National Historic Site presented a more complete representation of Johnson and a long conversation with the ranger left me more sympathetic to him. There are still many things I disagree with him about, but I really enjoyed my time at this site and getting a better understanding of Johnson and his legacy.
From there, I went to see the birthplace of Tennessee legend and King of the Wild Frontier, Davy Crockett. Crockett obviously came from humble beginnings and amazingly also made his way to the United States Congress serving in the House of Representatives. He was staunchly opposed to the policies of then-President Andrew Jackson, especially when it came to the removal of the Indian tribes of Tennessee to west of the Mississippi River (which would later be called the Trail of Tears). After running into much opposition in congress, Davy famously said "you may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas". He did, and died as notoriously as he had lived in the fight for Texas independence at the Alamo.
After all of that history, I was in the mood for a few Friday beers. I headed on into Johnson City and dipped into the Yee Haw Brewery there. Their 80 shilling Scottish Export, called simply "eighty", is excellent. They also have a regional favorite of mine, White Duck Taco Company, attached. After some beers and tacos, I headed over to Numan's for a couple of beers. Numan's is a cavernous place with a really cool central bar. I probably would have stayed there longer if it weren't for the smoke, but it became intolerable so I headed a few doors down to the Hideaway. The Hideaway had some good bands playing and it was a cool place. I haven't seen that many men with long hair since I last watched Dazed and Confused, but they were a good crowd. There was one guy working there who was somehow running the door, bartending and running the soundboard. I was impressed. It was a fun night, but after a really long day I was glad to call it a night sometime just after midnight.
The next morning I headed out to Jonesborough, the oldest town in Tennessee (founded in 1779), and what a cute little town it was. The Main Street through town is clean and vibrant and very walkable. The people I met there were incredibly friendly and very proud of their town. I stopped by the historic Chester Inn, which has hosted three presidents, and had some lovely restored rooms to show off and a great little museum at street level. I also stopped by the International Storytelling Center, also right there on Main Street. While it was a Saturday so their show for the day was sold out, I ended up talking with the lady in the bookstore for a while. She had lived in Washington D.C. when she was younger, not far from where I grew up. Soon, another lady who had also lived in D.C. joined the conversation and we all had a nice time chatting and talking about the city. Before I left, the second lady bought me a postcard of Main Street. It was such a simple gesture, but also really wonderful. I will treasure it and my time in Jonesborough.
From there, I headed back into Johnson City. I just wanted a few minutes to wander around and see it in the daytime. It was still very cool and seems to be on the upswing. While downtown still holds onto its industrial past, businesses seem to be popping up all over. I liked the overall feel of Johnson City, but I definitely enjoyed my evening there the previous night.
From Johnson City, I drove north to Bristol and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Way back in 1927, Bristol was chosen by Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company to host a remote recording session for local Appalachian musicians. The people that showed up to these sessions, including Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family, provided such a depth and variety of new sounds, or new takes on old sounds, that music historians have labeled these sessions as the "Big Bang of Country Music". The museum is really interesting and well laid out. I loved the fact that they had listening stations where you could sit and listen to every single song that came out of the sessions. While some I was very familiar with, many others I had never heard before and once I did, it all started to make a lot more sense. There was such a diverse collection of voices, styles and instrumentation that it was a fascinating look inside this era and this area. A lot of these musicians came from families with musical backgrounds, but lived in relative isolation, so many came in with very different interpretations of music. I was there for about two and a half hours, and it wasn't enough time. I really enjoyed it though, and would definitely recommend a visit.
Since I was so close, I cheated on Tennessee a little bit and popped over the line into Virginia. Heading down the Crooked Road, southern Virginia's musical heritage trail, I headed out to The Carter Family Fold. The Carter Family Fold is an 800 seat music venue that sits on The Carter Family property, right next to A.P. Carter's old country store. I got to hear some great bluegrass music from Ralph Stanley II and the Clinch Mountain Boys. After the intermission, some of the Carter Family descendants came out and did a few songs as well. It was awesome to hear Ring of Fire introduced as "a song first done by my mother [Anita Carter], but y'all probably know the version by my uncle, Johnny Cash". They then dropped into Can the Circle be Unbroken, a very old hymn popularized by The Carter Family. Although this song always sends chills up my spine, being there in that space was really emotional. I loved it.
I headed back into Tennessee for the night, staying over in Kingsport. The next day I took it easy, trying to catch up on a few things and clean up my van a little bit. I headed out to Cumberland Gap National Historic Site in the afternoon though, and then continued on to Oneida, just outside of Big South Fork National Recreation Area.
On Monday, I headed into the park and did some great hikes. The first was a pretty short 1.5 mile loop hike out to the Twin Arches. I have seen a lot of arches in my life, but most were way out west in the desert. It was really cool to see these two massive arches in the middle of an eastern forest. They were huge and really cool. The hike was a good one, but you do have to go up and down some pretty steep stairways, so it's probably not great for those uncomfortable with heights. From there, I headed back and did the Middle Creek Nature Trail. This 3.5 mile trail has no real "highlights", it's just a really pretty and straightforward walk in the woods. I enjoyed it, though, and only ran into one other group when I was out there. The mountain laurels were just coming into bloom, and they are the prettiest little flowers. I enjoyed both of my hikes in Big South Fork, and headed out in late afternoon.
After quick stops in the cool old Victorian town of Rugby and at the Obed Wild and Scenic River Visitors Center, I continued on down to Dayton. Dayton is a really quaint and cute town not too far northeast of Chattanooga. It is also home of one of the most famous trials in American history: the Scopes Trial. The Scopes Trial pitted famed orator and noted fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan against Clarence Darrow over the question of evolution being taught in public schools. It was a fascinating trial which I have been researching for my next podcast at the wonderful public library here in town. While here, I also met a nice young guy who goes by "Chuckles the Clown". He is here as a performer for the annual Strawberry Festival which is coming up this weekend. I got to do an interview with him yesterday and take some photos and I will wrote about him HERE. While here, I've been hanging out at the Monkey Town Brewery, which I think is a fabulous tongue-in-cheek name for a brewery in this town. The people here have been nothing but kind and welcoming to me and I'm really glad I've been able to stick around for a while.
This afternoon, I am headed out towards Falls Creek Falls State Park. Since arriving in East Tennessee, it seems everyone I have met has recommended this park, so I have to go and see it. I hope to photograph a few waterfalls and then get to work planning out my next week. It's time for me to start finishing up my next podcast, too. I like the stories I've been working on, so it should be a good one. Now it's just time to finish up the research and start writing. I hope to have it done before this time next week. Other than that, I will be slowly making my way towards Nashville, trying to catch some good music and barbecue as I go. It should be a good week out here, and I am excited to get out into it.
It's spring out there y'all. I hope you can get out and enjoy it too. Find a local park and go for a walk and a picnic. Hit up a local brewery or find a new restaurant to try. It's time to get out of that winter rut and start planning for summer, so why not start now before it gets too hot?
That's it for this week everyone. Thanks for reading and I'll catch up with you next week.