USA Music Tour Blog 2013

Saturday June 1 2013. Las Vegas

Viva Las Vegas.

Our team of country music enthusiasts met in Vegas fresh from Australia and eager to start our two week USA Music Tour. We found our way to Circus Circus Hotel and Casino, which would be our home for the next four nights. This less than humble abode boasts 3,774 rooms, the Adventure Dome theme park, a wedding chapel and four full-size casinos open 24 hours. The perfect destination for clowning around! Just making our way to the street from our room took a serious map and 10 minutes, were we staying in an indoor city? The saying ‘Everything is bigger in America’ started to form some meaning in our minds.

 Viva Las Vegas

We desperately dodged the overwhelming amount of slot machines that jumped out at every turn (were they following us?) and headed to see Shania Twain at the Colosseum, Ceasars Palace.  The performance began with the country queen flying above the crowd on a Harley Davidson and revving her engine. Line dancing cowboys, campfire sing-a-longs and bareback horse riding helped Shania really kick off our music tour with a Yee Haw! We left Caesars pleased to have invested in the show and not the pokies. Caesars Palace also plays host to world class performers Rod Stewart, Celine Dion and Elton John, we would love to go back and see Rod one day.

Sunday June 2, 2013. Las Vegas.

Splish Splash

Today we decided to see what retail shopping in the states was all about. We walked, not recommended in extreme temperatures, to the Las Vegas premium outlets. After braving the heat we arrived at the mall sticky, wet and thirsty. I am sure the exhaustion contributed to our overspending along with the abundance of big brands at low prices and supportive Aussie dollar. Our team generously contributed to the daily profits of Gap, Crocs, Nautica and Nike. The doting mothers of the group invested in clothing for their children before visiting some strategically placed luggage centres in order to fit their purchases in.

In the evening we went to the Cirque du Soleil show ‘O’ at the Bellagio. There is no doubt that circus tricks are better when the net at the bottom is replaced by a 1.5 million gallon pool of water. Acrobats, synchronized swimmers, divers and clowns performed in, on and around the giant pool. The highlight was when the performers were swinging a pirate ship high in the air and flying in acrobatic flips (technical term) into the water below. It was incredible to watch these artists perform with such impeccable timing and grace mastering an aquatic and acrobatic ensemble. For music related Cirque du Soleil shows in Las Vegas, The Beatles ‘Love’ at the Mirage and Michael Jackson ‘One’ at Mandalay Bay were also well received by our team.

Monday June 3, 2013. Las Vegas.

A Grand Affair

Today we visited the Grand Canyon via the iconic Route 66. Some walked the south rim of the canyon while others took a helicopter flight. All of us agreed that this astonishing site of natural beauty was humbling to experience. The pictures could not capture the magestic feel of the canyon and standing among this massive vast canyon we felt a little spiritual.

 Route 66

To wind down after our fulfilling day we headed out for dinner and drinks. Some went to the Jimmy Buffets Margaritaville while others had booked a scenic dinner at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant. After ordering our mains we discovered that perhaps ‘Everything is bigger in America’ refers to the Volcano Nachos served at Margaritaville. Finishing the nachos with anything less than a hungry NFL team is near impossible. We were astounded once more when we were unable to finish our coke. Had we found a magical bottomless drink? We settled on the more obvious answer that the waiter was sneakily filling it up. We became alarmed because back home this would incur a hefty bill. After inquiring with our waiter we were informed these were complimentary. This was the day we learned about free refils. Cue applause.

Tuesday June 4, 2013. Las Vegas.

What Happens in Vegas

Part of our team did the CSI experience during the day while others explored the Las Vegas strip. The strip was full of bright lights, ridiculous replica’s, drunk tourists, casino’s, bars, restaurants, street performers and pan handlers. There were plenty of opportunities for getting in trouble, indulgence and greed was rampant. Everyone was enticing us to gamble, drink, dance, eat, party, gamble, drink… Of course we denied ourselves the aforementioned activities. Had we partaken, we would have joined countless visitors worldwide who have been happily seduced by what Vegas has to offer.

 What Happens in Vegas

In the evening we went to ‘Vegas, The Show‘. The men in the group appreciated the female costumes and dances while the women soaked up the history and culture of this tribute to sin city.

Wednesday June 5, 2013. Las Vegas and Nashville.

This is Country Music (Brad Paisley)

Good bye Las Vegas, hello Nashvegas.

As we flew into Nashville our anticipation sky rocketed, we had dreamed about coming here for a long time and expectations were high. To our excitement a live band met us at the arrival terminal, oh yeah, and we thought we are going to like it here!

We were welcomed by a friendly team of staff who gave us a bag of goodies including our Country Music Association Festival passes!  We spent the evening studying the line-up, times, meet and greet, signings and exhibitions. With no stone left unturned the Aussies were ready to tackle the festival.

The Opryland Hotel

The Opryland Hotel, our grand Nashville hotel is filled with a botanic garden, a river and river boat, waterfalls and beautiful rooms with terrace balconies. It is located at the site of the Grand Ole Opry, the home of country music, this is the place to stay in Nashville.

Thursday June 6, 2013. Nashville

The Gambler (Kenny Rogers)

We met our limousine driver and guide Tom Sturdivant at the crack of dawn for our Nashville city tour. Starting at the Ryman Auditorium Tom, took us by Broadway, Tootsies Orchid Lounge, Music Row, Parliament House, the Farmers Markets and the Courthouse. We stopped at Centennial Park which houses a full size replica of the Parthenon in Athens, an (essential) addition to the park built in 1897.

After getting the main tourists spots out of the way we were ready for the good stuff, seeing where the country stars live! We excitedly snapped the residences of Kix Brooks, Ronny Dunn, Dierks Bently, Alan Jackson, Patsy Cline and more! To our disappointment we were told Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman keep their abode private, surely we could have a sneak peak...

At the conclusion of the tour we were ready to attack day one of CMA Fest. We went straight to the Chevrolet Riverfront Stage at Riverfront Park on the west bank of the Cumberland River. The Riverfront stage was one of many stages that hosted free daily performances during CMA Fest. Acts at the Riverfront stage included Sara Evans, Joe Nichols, Gloriana, Craig Campbell, Love and Theft, Gretchen Wilson, Casey James and Lonestar. We were pretty happy wasting away the afternoon sitting on the grass overlooking the stage and the river while chatting to friendly folk about country music, travels and life.

Chevrolet Riverfront Stage

In the early evening we walked over the Cumberland River on the iconic Shelby Street bridge toward LP Field where CMA Fest night performances were held. We entered the stadium with some 65, 000 fellow country music lovers and were ecstatic to find our gold passes got us right on the stadium floor. With room for line dancing in the aisles, cold beer brought to our seats, friendly neighbours and a killer line up we were feeling overwhelmingly grateful that we had made it! At that moment the team confirmed together, 'yeah, we love it here!'

CMA Fest

We stood as the anthem played and an anticipatory electricity filled the air. Performers included Tracy Lawrence, Luke Bryan, Taylor Swift, Eric Church, Miranda Lambert and Zac Brown Band. The highlight of the night was a surprise collaborative performance by Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw and Keith Urban of ‘Highway Don’t Care’. Kenny Rogers also appeared with Zac Brown Band for one of our favourite classics ‘The Gambler’. We ended day one full of life from the energising vibe in music city during CMA Fest.

Friday June 7, 2013. Nashville

Pour Me Another Shot of Whiskey (Tick Pony)

After our tour at the Jack Daniels distillery, we sifted through the gift shop collateral from t-shirts to coasters but couldn’t find a drop of Tennessee Whiskey. To our disappointment the distillery is in a dry county, t-shirts it is. After the distillery we headed to the Bud Light stage next to Bridgestone Arena on Broadway. This stage showcased some sweet singers and songwriters throughout the festival including David Lee Murphy, Emerson Drive and Sweet Magnolia.

Bud Light stage next to Bridgestone Arena on Broadway

We headed to the Grand Ole Opry in the early evening to see the show that made country music famous.The radio show, running since 1925 is home to the legends of country music and on this night they were celebrating Carrie Underwood's five years as an Opry member. Charlie Pride, Mel Tillis and Josh Turner were among other Opry members that performed in the hour and a half show, split into three half hour sessions which showcase three acts each. The old style advertisements between sessions upholds the authenticity and history of the show and seeing these legends in their element at the Opry was priceless.

After the show it was straight to LP Field to catch nightly performances from Randy Travis, Kip Moore, Little Big Town, teen heartthrob Hunter Hayes, Lady Antebellum and Blake Shelton. As if they weren't enough, we were then treated with surprise performances by Sheryl Crow and Jason Mraz. The clear crowd favourite though was Lady Antebellum with Hillary (and her baby bump) breaking hearts singing their hit 'Need You Now'.

Saturday June 8, 2013. Nashville.

Aussie Aussie Aussie

We explored the Buckle Exhibitors, Fan Alley and the Fan Fair which was very exciting for the country crazed members of the group. We also headed to Transitions Performance Park Stage to check out the acts. The day went slowly as we were mostly waiting to see Keith perform at LP Field.

Keith perform at LP Field

Another packed house for Saturday night saw the night open with ‘old country’ band Oak Ridge Boys followed by new popular group Florida Georgia Line. Nashville resident Dierks Bently rocked the house before American Idol season one winner Kelly Clarkson. Finally it was time for our Keith. Suddenly Australian flags flooded the crowd along with chants of 'Aussie Aussie Aussie', we were not alone, Australian fans had invaded Nashville. At the end of his set Keith came up the aisle and we were grateful to be near him with our gold passes. The surprise of the night was Lenny Kravitz who turned up for a set that rocked ‘American woman’ but bemused the mostly country audience. After the show we headed Downtown to The Wildhorse Saloon to give ourselves a run around the square dancing scene.

Sunday June 9, 2013. Nashville.

The Thunder Rolls (Garth Brooks)

The Wildhorse Saloon

 

A threatening storm shortened tonights performances but with the sets reduced (some to a single song) we were still able to catch all the scheduled acts. These included Lee Greenwood, Gary Allan, Brad Paisley, The Band Perry, Jake Owen and Carrie Underwood. The surprise performance, rumoured to be Kenny Chesney, did not appear. This didn’t bother us though, CMA Fest had already delivered so many more acts than it had promised so we feel we more than got our moneys worth! We were hastily ushered out of the stadium but not before farewelling our friends in the surrounding seats whom we had shared four days of good times and expert opinions on performances.

Monday 10 June, 2013. Nashville

These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ (Nancy Sinatra)

Waking up this morning with post CMA Fest blues we hit Nashville’s boots stores for some retail therapy. Along with many other tourists we took advantage of the ‘buy one get two pairs free’, supporting the need for further luggage manipulation.

Country Music Hall of Fame

We also visited the Country Music Hall of Fame. No amount of time would be enough to soak up the wonders and history of our favorite genre but many pictures were taken to conserve the experience. The Johnny Cash Museum  was also a popular spot along with the Ryman Auditorium. Ron, a member of our group and a radio host on Australia’s 96.7fm 2GHR recorded a song at the Ryman. This recording is open to all visitors as long as you book in advance. Ensure you do not walk away with a blank CD, we found out the hard way.

Johnny Cash Museum

Tonight we took the opportunity to explore downtown Nashville. Broadway downtown is packed with Honky Tonks and if they’re open, they’re playing live music. Exploring the Honky Tonks and soaking up as much music as possible was paradise. We could do this all day, every day!

Tuesday 11 June, 2013. Nashville.

Honkytonk U (Toby Keith)

Today we headed out to Bluebird cafe, a well renowned listening room. The 100 seat venue was difficult to get into so going early is recommended or you can reserve online. Although we found the Bluebird sitting humbly in a shopping cove it has played host to many talented upcoming singer songwriters including Garth Brooks, LeAnn Rimes and Kathy Mattea. We felt very privileged to get a spot near the front of the stage (after waiting in a three hour line). Other members of the group did a backstage tour of the Grand Ole Opry, sending notes to their favourite stars via Opry mail.

Bluebird cafe

For our evening fix of classic country we went to the world famous Tootsies Orchid Lounge  and heard some great local acts. In this very cosy and overcrowded Honky Tonk half the band was tucked under the window and the singers had to find a spot to stand on the bar. Song requests were taken in $20 bills and were well worth the shout out from the band and the good feeling we got for supporting upcoming artists.

Wednesday June 12, 2013. Nashville and Memphis.

Walking in Memphis (Marc Cohn)

Today we said good bye to our lover, Nashville. We really did fall for the city. We loved the Honky Tonks, we loved the friendly faces, we loved the relaxed but energised vibe and most of all we loved the music. As is the case with any love, it was hard to leave. Promising we would be back soon made things easier, so off to Memphis we went.

We visited Loretta Lynn’s Ranch on the way to Memphis where Loretta still lives today. The ranch sits humbly at the end of a winding track, next to a slow flowing stream among a lush green field, a beautiful spot. We enjoyed her museum which includes a wealth of country music history and personal belongings.

country music history

Once in Memphis we went on a quest for barbecue ribs. We found Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous Charcoal Ribs restaurant just ten metres from our hotel the Holiday Inn. The ribs were delicious and we were not surprised to discover that the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bill Clinton, President Barack Obama, Justin Timberlake and the Rolling Stones had also dined there. If you would like to try the ribs, fear not, they can be sent via FedEx to your door (excludes international customers). The short walk home turned out to be quite convenient as we had eaten ourselves silly.

Thursday June 13, 2013. Memphis

Fools Rush In (Elvis Presley)

We could not wait to explore the history and culture of Memphis and today did not disappoint. The Civil Rights Museum, situated where Martin Luther King was killed, was rich in evidence and conspiracies surrounding the assassination. With details on the struggle for civil rights in the United States this museum was fascinating to explore for history lovers. It was sad, but it was also really interesting. We left with a determination to study more, increase our understanding and recognise and appreciate the issues that continue into modern society.

For the rest of the day we were in Elvis fan heaven. We were taken to Sun Studio where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis recorded in the 1950s. Opened by rock pioneer Sam Phillips, Sun Studio holds the room where the Million Dollar Quartet had their jam session. The session included Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. We were also allowed to caress the same microphone as the King himself, what a treat!

Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis

After this Elvis teaser we headed out to Graceland for the main event. We got the platinum tour which included Graceland mansion and grounds, tour of Elvis’ Automobile museum, tour of Elvis’ two custom airplanes, tour of Elvis: Live from Vegas, tour of Elvis’ Tupelo, tour of Elvis in Hawaii and tour of the 68’ special exhibit. It was impossible not to get caught up in the phenomenon that was Elvis Presley with Graceland showcasing Elvis’ extravagant and indulgent existence. Seeing the endless portraits, photographs, costumes and records of the beautiful man we just couldn't help falling (more) in love with him. Our fun fact of the day was that Elvis sang a massive 600 songs but did not write one. We left Graceland missing Elvis more than ever but appreciated that parts of his life had been shared with us.

Friday June 14, Memphis.

All My Rowdy Friends (Hank Williams Jr)

Our last day was spent frantically appreciating (clapping in time) as much Memphis blues as possible on Beale St. We also took a stroll by the Mississippi River and experienced a Tennessee sunset.

Mississippi River and experienced a Tennessee sunset

As we said our tearful good byes we acknowledged the great companionship, mindblowing performances, empowering experiences and all round good times we would take with us. Thank you Val and Geoff at World Discovery Tours for making this trip possible, we appreciate your hard work and organisation. We are so grateful for the opportunity to have experienced what country music fans around the world dream about, a pilgrimage to CMA Fest. Now that we've done it once, it's locked in for life. Aussie country music fans, we hope you join us next year and in years to come for the ultimate country music fan experience. 

 

Written by:

Mollie Bain

Sharing a love of country music at countrymusicme.com