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The Power of a Hat

IMG_3274We’d only recently developed a crush on Nashville because of the television show on ABC. We have devoutly followed Rayna James, queen of country music and the cast of characters since the show first aired. Neither of us was ever a big country music fan before, though I did have a stint of boot-wearing, country line dancing 20 years ago. But one of the draws to the show is definitely the music and we’ve even made some purchases of those songs on iTunes, though I still wouldn’t call us “fans” per say. Let’s just say we don’t change the station now if we turn on the radio and it happens to be playing country music.

So Allison’s most heart-felt desire for our week in Nashville was to hear as much live music as we could. We even had a mission to find the Bluebird Cafe, a place featured in the show often, because they hold “open mic” for up and coming musicians.

As for me, I was just excited to wear my cowgirl hat everywhere. I’ve never really been a hat person. I’ve never loved a hat until this hat. A baseball cap is really the only thing I’ve worn often in my life, which I generally wear for a purpose, to shade my eyes from sun or to keep my hair from blowing all crazy in the wind. I don’t necessarily like the way I look in them and even though I stick my long pony tail out the back they can kinda “mark” me as a lesbian or at least a tom boy. Not my cowgirl hat. My cowgirl hat says somethin’ else and it makes me feel a certain way.

Other hats I’ve tried along the way.

Pizza Hat?  Mmm - not sure I like what that says.

Pizza Hat? Says I like pepperoni?

Biker Babe Hat?  Well, that's definitely a statement.

Biker Babe Hat? Says I’m someone’s old lady?

We were in Nashville early in the week, so we had to wait a few nights until the Bluebird Cafe was having an open mic night, but we had a very full set of plans to keep us busy until then. One day we spent 3 hours riding our bikes along the Music City Bikeway in Shelby Park, 1,000 acres of green space with a looping gravel trail that runs along the Cumberland River. Afterwards we managed to find one of Nashville’s famous food trucks, a weenery called “I Dream of Weenie”. They only sell hot dogs out of their converted VW Bus, but they have so many topping choices you have to spend 10 minutes looking at the menu and they sell t-shirts that say “I dream of weenie”. What’s not to love?!

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Our KOA campground was literally a 5 minute drive to the Grand Ole Opry Resort, so we visited for happy hour one evening at their atrium bar under the enormous glass roof. It’s very reminiscent of a Vegas Casino, opulent, 10 or more restaurants and bars, countless hallways and pathways so long and twisting you can easily get lost, but you don’t care because you’re entertained by indoor fountains and gardens along the way. It’s like a mini-city, but it’s all indoors.

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Everyone knows that hats don’t have to be simply functional, there’s definitely a fashion to them, at least the hats with power. We’ve been watching the TV series Mad Men on Netflix lately, about the advertising agency set in the 60’s. Now that was a time when people did hats in a big way. Like I said it’s not just about how you look, but how you feel about yourself when you wear them. There’s a confidence I feel in my cowgirl hat and a femininity. But not the pretty, soft, frail, “don’t shake it” kind of feminine, I don’t think I’ve ever felt that. It’s more the sassy, “I could make a mud puddle smile if I tried” kind.

More hats I’ve tried…

Coonskin?  Says I'm makin' moonshine in my spare time?

Coonskin? Says I make moonshine on the side?

Snow Hat?  Says I'm related to a white buffalo?

Snow Hat? Says I’m related to a white buffalo?

Speaking of moonshine, even if we hadn’t been completely wooed over to the country music scene yet, we were certainly ardent fans of whiskey. So guess what? The Jack Daniel Distillery was located just an hour plus from us in Lynchburg, TN. Surely that warranted a day trip – yes, sir. The town of Lynchburg is nothing much, mostly a handful of small shops and eateries that cater to the tourists coming to visit the distillery. The townfolk refer to it as “the holler”, which is southern for hollow, a small rising valley region between two hills or mountains often containing a creek. Cave Spring runs through this particular holler making it the absolute perfect place to set up a still, which is exactly what Jack did in 1866 at the ripe age of 16.

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It was a powerfully hot day, even though it was October 1st. We managed to make it through the hour and a half long tour that first walked us up a steep hill to see where they set the 10 foot stacks of sugar maple wood on fire to create the charcoal they drip their whiskey through, then down passed the famous Cave Spring, then by the towering stills to see it actually dripping into the charcoal and finally through the barrel house. We made it through all of this because at the end of the tour, we were treated to 4 tastes of the best whiskey Jack Daniel has to offer. YUM! Funny enough though, Lynchburg is in a dry county so you can’t buy a bottle of whiskey there and they only allow tasting at the distillery. Harumph!

Finally it was Bluebird night. It’s an unassuming little place in a strip mall. It’s not even downtown, but it sure has a reputation which has been made only larger by the television show I’m sure. We were going to head out at 3:30pm so that we could be in line by 4pm to hopefully make it into the very small cafe that only seats 110 people at 5pm. Half the people in line would be the musicians that wanted to perform that night and the word was that we should get there early if we wanted a chance to get in. Well.

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There were already 100 people in line when we got there. Ali even dropped me off and I ran across the street to get a place in line while she found a parking spot. We crossed our fingers and chatted with the people ahead of us and behind us in line while we waited patiently for an hour. Eventually a couple of staff members came out to start giving us all the scoop on how the line would work. They explained their seating policy; musicians that had waited in line on any other night, but hadn’t been able to perform were given first priority no mater where they were in line. The rest of us, singers and audience members alike, would be allowed entrance in the order we were in line right up until they hit their maximum capacity.

A fellow line-mate and I went out together to take a count of the people in line ahead of us. We counted 107. We had hope. First they called up all the “rain check” performers and then the line started to move. We rounded the first turn in the line, then the second turn, then we were on the covered walkway in front of the furniture store one door down from the Bluebird, then we inched forward just one more time and then stopped. It took them about 5 minutes to come out and tell us that they were full for the night. There were exactly 10 people in front of us – we had been that close!

Oh well. It was Nashville for pete’s sake. Music Row downtown was full of bars with live music just waiting for the two of us.

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After wandering up the street a block or two checking out all the bars, we followed our ears to the only place that had music going on that early in the evening. Rippy’s BBQ had an open-air bar upstairs above their restaurant and a trio of wrangler-wearin’ young men were singing a mix of their own songs and covers of other well-known favorites. We grabbed two seats at the bar, ordered a couple of drinks and an appetizer to share for dinner and settled in for an hour.

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Night fell around us and all of the neon signs had answered their cue down on Music Row. It was time to find another venue and more music. We had just come out of Rippy’s and were waiting at the corner to cross the street to head back to The Stage when a car pulled up to the curb in front of us. The woman in the passenger seat rolled down her window and yelled something to Allison about “blondie”. Thinking she was asking for directions, I tuned her out and Allison shrugged and answered that we were not from Nashville.

“No,” the woman said, “do you know the band and the singer Blondie? We have two extra tickets for her concert tonight. Our friends couldn’t go at the last minute and they’re really great seats. Do you want them?” I was standing a few feet back, so I missed this revelation, but when Allison turned to me and said, “They have two extra tickets for a Blondie concert for tonight at 8pm. Do we want them?”

My brain stuttered for a few seconds and then I hurried up to the car next to Allison and smiled as big as I could at the woman and said, “Hell yes we do!” We quickly got the run down on the details from her husband. The concert was at the famous Ryman Auditorium just a couple blocks away, the former home of the Grand Ole Opry, the “Mother Church of Country Music”. And for this night, a place for me to worship at the feet of an 80’s icon, Blondie.

We made it to the Ryman before our seatmates and suffered through the opener, a punk rock group called “X”, while we took in the fabulousness of the beautiful auditorium from our 10th row seats. Soon enough the couple arrived, the punk rock stopped and we were able to formally introduce ourselves during the break between bands. I offered to run out and get everyone a round of drinks so while I stood in the long line, Allison told them all about us and learned all about them. By the time I got back we were the best of friends. Then Blondie came out onto the stage and one of the best nights of my life began and didn’t stop for 2 hours.

Before, when we were walking up to the Ryman, Allison had asked me to name some Blondie songs. “Heart of Glass” was the only one I could come up with right then. She saved that one for her encore, but during the night she sang all of my favorites, “The Tide is High”, “Dreaming”, “Rapture”, “One Way or Another” and “Call Me”. I remembered almost all of the lyrics to these beloved songs of my youth, but they popped into my head in that creepy “just as my lips needed them way”. And so I spent the night bouncing, cheering, clapping and singing at the top of my lungs with the other one thousand Blondie-lovers, including our new best friends.

There is power in a great hat I tell you. There is absolutely power in my thirty-six dollar, Wyoming Cowgirl hat, not just because I felt sassy in Nashville that night, but because of what it said about me.

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My hat told someone that even though I’m a stranger, I am safe to sit close to for 2 hours. My hat said that I am someone who deserves free Bondie tickets and that I adore 80’s music and that I need to sing my face off.

Oh how I love that hat!