DISCLAIMER

"To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield"
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1833

"live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"
- Henry David Thoreau, 1845

"Some guys, they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up,
And go racin' in the streets."
- Bruce Springsteen, 1977

"...to the heart, there's no time for you to waste.
You won't find your precious answers now
by staying in one place."
- Frank Turner, 2009

"The best things in life aren't things.
They're living and breathing."
- Michael Franti , 2011

"I owned every second that this world could give,
I saw so many places, the things that I did"
- Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, 2014

All written content and photos by Rob Fulfer unless otherwise indicated.





Sunday, December 26, 2010

The LonLisBar Trip 2010/2011 - Off to Europe

December 26, 2010 After celebrating Christmas in Chattanooga, we drove to Atlanta today to board a plane bound for Europe. This was our main present to each other this year for Christmas and we call it The LonLisBar Trip since we are visiting London, England then Lisbon, Portugal, and then Barcelona, Spain, in a whirlwind one-week trip. It's a style of vacation that we refer to as guerrilla-travel: a fast-paced agenda that takes in as much as possible in a short amount of time. It can be tiring and it's definitely not for everyone, but we enjoy the results from it. We have gleaned the basic principles of guerrilla-travel from past trips and experiences including our honeymoon where it was first suggested by Iceland Air the concept of "playing over" instead of "laying over" in a city on your way to somewhere else. We took a three-day layover in Reykjavik instead of a three-hour one on our way to Germany. From our several cruises we have taken, we have adapted the style of quick visits to places to get a feel of them to decide if we want to come back for longer stays. From our past travel successes, we found air packages inside Europe where we visited Venice, Italy, then Zurich, Switzerland and spent a night in Paris for the same price as a round-trip ticket would cost, and then in Australia a few years back where Qantas Airlines offered the same price for a ticket from LA to Sydney, then to Adelaide and on to Brisbane and back to LA, as it cost for just a round-trip from LA to Sydney and back. This LonLisBar package we set up through Orbitz.com using their "multiple destinations" search engine. We got flights from Atlanta to London, then London to Lisbon, then Lisbon to Barcelona, then Barcelona back to Atlanta for just a bit more than it would have cost for just a round-trip to London and back.

We were very fortunate to dodge an amazing amount of unseasonable weather both here in Tennessee where we got a very rare white Christmas (5 inches of beautiful slushy snow - photo above) and in our first destination, London, England, which had been besieged by even rarer ice and snow the previous week. So much so, in fact, that it basically shut down busy Heathrow Airport for three days before Christmas causing a huge amount of flight cancellations and stranding thousands of fliers. All our flights were booked on British Air and other than a slight delay on take-off at Atlanta, we had no problems with any of our flights due to weather the entire trip. The roads were in good shape thanks to the temps hovering around freezing and we had a nice drive to Atlanta where our friend, Terry, was kind enough to park our car at his place and take us to the airport. The flight "across the pond" was pleasant and since it was overnight, we were able to sleep fairly well thanks to our two-seat-only row in the back of the plane.

Following is a day-to-day account of the trip.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Big Bang Theory

We had a great time this past weekend sharing time with friends. On Friday night we met our friends, John and Dori, at the Big Bang Dueling Piano Bar in downtown Nashville. We have enjoyed this place a couple of other times with them, so when Rob bought a Groupon for entrance for four people, we knew exactly who we wanted to invite. The place was a ton of fun as usual and we sang along to dozens of great classic songs, some new, popular ones and even a few surprises...who knew Kings of Leon's "Sex on Fire" could sound so good on piano!? Not only are the songs performed by truly gifted musicians and vocalists (photo above), but people watching is a hoot as well with lots of folks getting up and dancing and sometimes basically making fools of themselves...you gotta love the combination of alcohol and democracy! Thanks to John and Dori for coming out. They headed in a little earlier than we did for the drive back to their new house in Hendersonville. Plus, Dori is preggers...shhh, don't tell anyone yet. We grabbed a room at the downtown Hampton Inn to avoid any possible DUI problems and to gain a few more Hilton points for use farther down the line. Saturday night we hosted a holiday cocktail party at our house with a little twist. To attend, all we asked was that you make a donation of at least $10 to the "Save Cummins Falls" project (see earlier blog on this worthy cause) in nearby Jackson County. We had a large turnout despite some inclement weather (heavy rain most of the night and a cold front coming in behind it turning everything to ice). Ashlee had the house looking great with her decorating, and the smoked brisket we ordered from the new Blue Moon Barbecue here in town was a big hit. Thanks again to the following list of friends who attended: Joy, Paige, Brenda, Danny, Jim, Wayne, Chris, Tarryn, John, Monique, Nate, Ginny and Emily. Everyone made it home safe and it was a great way to kick off the holiday season.

Friday, November 19, 2010

You NEEDTOSEE NEEDTOBREATHE

November 18, 2010
We headed out to our beloved Ryman Auditorium tonight for our last scheduled show of 2010 on our calendar that we know of. We have a couple of shows in December that we are looking at, but haven't committed to yet. This time it was NEEDTOBREATHE, a fairly, new rock band out of South Carolina. They have had a couple of hits on the radio airwaves over the last couple of years and are really starting to get noticed. We saw them recently open for Train in Memphis and we missed another show of theirs at Bonnaroo this year thanks to traffic snarls getting in (see previous blogs on both events). The show in Memphis wasn't so great since their sound was a bit off and never really got adjusted in the short opening set. We were hoping for better results now that they were the headliner. Opening for them was a 3-man rock band called The Daylights who were pretty good albeit nothing too memorable overall.
NEEDTOBREATHE (N2B) took to the stage like gangbusters and the Ryman seemed to fill up magically by the time their first song was complete and they thanked the loud, approving crowd for a sold-out show. That's pretty impressive for such a young band. The sound again was not pitch-perfect from the start (sounds like someone needs to hire a new engineer). It steadily improved as the show went on. N2B is an interesting phenomenon in the current music world. They and their music have been rabidly adopted by contemporary Christians thanks to the uplifting messages in their songs. But these same songs are not blatantly reflective in one religion or set of beliefs which also makes them universally popular. There are no sermons given from the five-piece band headed by lead singer, Bear Rinehart, and his brother on lead guitar, Bo, nor any direct indication of their own beliefs at least in their performances that we have seen. They are just a good rock-n-roll band whose positive and inspiring music can be enjoyed by everyone.
They closed the somewhat short show (just over an hour) with a nice acoustic encore that sounded as clear as a bell in the hallowed Ryman. They plugged the amps back in for their last song, "The Outsiders" which is the title track of their third album and their current radio hit on mostly independent stations.
Thanks to our friends Casey and Ryan for attending with us as well to dinner at the always yummy Urban Flats downtown in The Gulch.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Breeders' Cup Weekend

Friday, November 5
We headed north for Louisville this afternoon with our sister- and brother-in-law, Paige and Andy, in preparation for our attendance of the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs racetrack on Saturday. We headed downtown for dinner at Browning's Brewery, a smallish eatery/bar that is built into the side of the city's minor league baseball park. The food was pretty standard pub fare, but decent and the beer was good as well (see Rob's beer blog for more on that). After dinner we headed over to the Tinseltown Theatres to catch the late opening-night showing of Due Date starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Zack Galafinakis (of The Hangover fame). It was a bodacious, over-the-top-at-times comedy that keep us laughing throughout. Afterwards, we headed back over to our ho-hum but dirt-cheap, clean and efficient Best Western hotel to get some sleep before our big day at the races tomorrow. Saturday, November 6
It was Day 2 of the 2010 Breeders' Cup and there were 11 horse races on the slate today, eight of which would crown Breeders' Cup champions in different categories depending on age and track style (dirt or turf). The last race of the day would be the Breeders' Cup Classic and would feature the biggest "rock star" of the horse racing world right now, Zenyatta, whose 19-0 record is unprecedented. This would be her last race before retirement and she was going for 20-0 on one of the biggest stages in horse racing. It was going to be a historic day.
We got to the track bright and early an hour or so before the first race. It was unseasonably cold for early November and Churchill Downs, while historic and lovely, doesn't seem to be very well-equipped for really cold weather. There were very few heated areas to warm up in, but we made the best of it wandering in and out of gift shops and their on-site cafe for lunch to thaw out a bit. We were glad we had all bought gloves and long underwear the night before as the sunny skies never produced highs over the mid 40's. Our betting was as limited as our real knowledge of horse racing. We bet long shots most of the day in hopes of turning $2 or $5 bets into a little decent cash. Our seats were about 15 rows off the track right (photo above is from our seats) as the stretch for the finish line began. Not the best in the house, by far, but close enough to hear and see the action on the outer dirt track as well as the inside turf track.
As the races and the day were winding down with the sun setting, the cold got to us enough that we decided to miss a race or two from our seats (they ran about every 45 minutes) and go out to our car which was nearby, and warm up inside and then come back for the last, historic race. We weren't winning anything up until that point anyway. When we got to the car and felt the wonderful warm air, we remembered that earlier in the day when we got there before the gates opened, we were able to walk right up to the track in a little area the media was using and take some pictures and nobody said anything to stop us. Could we do it again during the races? We sure could! (photo above) We were able to watch the last three races track-side including The Classic with Zenyatta herself walking right past us as she was led to the starting gate in front of the grandstands (photo left). She was an amazing thing of beauty and power to see that up-close and personal. As would have it, Ashlee's bets on the last two races actually won including calling the heart-breaking upset win by a nose of Blame (9 to 1 odds at $5) over Zenyatta. Twenty more yards and "The Queen" would have won, but hey, that's racing. Ashlee ran in quickly and collected her winnings (about $90 in total) and we were able to scoot out of the parking lot and traffic fairly quickly and easily. What a great day and experience!
We went to dinner at a regional chain restaurant called, BJ's. They brew their own beer here as well (guess who found this and guess whose blog you can read more details about the beer on?). The food was excellent as was the beer.
Sunday, November 7
We slept in late this morning while enjoying our extra hour of sleep with the clocks rolling back. We found a great local place for brunch called Wild Eggs. The place was packed and for a good reason. The food was outstanding! Afterwards, we headed south toward home making one pit-stop at our favorite (and the world's oldest according to Guinness) bourbon distillery, Maker's Mark, in the tiny hamlet of Loretto, Kentucky. We have been here before but Paige and Andy had not, plus Ashlee wanted to get a unique birthday present for a friend of hers in California who is a fan of the product. She was able to buy a small bottle and hand-dip it in their famous red wax herself (photo above). Their tour is free and interesting, and our guide, Chase, was funny (and maybe a little tipsy since this was his last tour of the day that all end with samples that he partakes of as well). We were able to sample their newest product, 46, which came out in July. It's a little mellower (and more enjoyable to us) than their regular bourbon when you sip it straight because it's briefly aged in French oak before being bottled.
A great trip and a great first experience with world-class horse racing in the land where it matters the most. The Breeders' Cup is scheduled for Churchill Downs again next year and, of course, the Kentucky Derby is always there. We will be adding those to our possible endeavors for 2011 for sure.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Back-to-Back SOLD OUT Shows

Sunday, October 31, 2010
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals - Live Tonight! - SOLD OUT
We spent Halloween night being treated by the tricks of one of our favorite live bands, the up-and-coming Grace Potter & the Nocturnals at the legendary Exit/In near Vanderbilt University. In honor of the occasion the entire band dressed as Nashville country music legends with Grace herself making a splendid Dolly Parton while the Nocturnals turned themselves into Waylon Jennings, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson and Billy Ray Cyrus. Even going beyond the visual homage, the band also did a song from each star's repertoire throughout their nearly 2-hour set. A rockin' cover of "Jolene" was first, followed by a soulful Patsy Cline number, then it was off to "Luckenbach, Texas" for Waylon and Willie followed with an encore performance of the always-goofy "Achy-Breaky Heart." One other cover of "Take My Breath Away" was allowed in honor of an onstage marriage proposal (she said yes). The rest of the time was filled with great GPN originals. As always, the band gave it their all and we enjoyed it greatly. Thanks to our friend, Sharon, for coming along with us.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Mumford & Sons - Live Tonight! - SOLD OUT
It was back to Nashville again tonight to the downtown venue of the War Memorial Auditorium to catch the quickly sold-out performance of the London folk-rock band, Mumford & Sons. We caught most of a set from these guys at Bonnaroo this past summer and were blown away by their music. This time around was no different. An absolutely amazing show. It easily jumps into our Top 5 performances of all time. The show started with the first of two opening acts: an unusual gent who calls himself King Charles. This guy is truly a gifted musician and vocalist, but unfortunately it was hard to focus on his music given the fact that this obviously well-endowed dude was wearing silk pants and not a sign of underpants! Holy hog-leg, Batman!! We kept feeling like we were in a Saturday Night Live skit or on an episode of Punk'd. Despite the distraction, the guy, again, was a pretty talented musician. His updated version of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" was pretty cool. Next up was Cadillac Sky, an American alt-bluegrass/folk rock band whose current hometown is here in Nashville. These guys were great (and dressed appropriately!) with a lot of enthusiasm on stage and spot-on musicianship. Their music is hard to define since they swing back and forth from amped-up bluegrass to quirky folk rock from song to song and even inside the same tune. A really perfect opener for M&S.

The Brits took the stage around 10 PM and proceeded to play every song off their excellent debut album, Sigh No More. The mixing and sound was pitch perfect and we were once again very impressed with this venue and sure hope they continue to book great music here. The guys mixed in a couple of new songs as well that sounded great. They seemed very humbled and appreciative of the sold-out status of the venue and a much-appreciative audience in a town that is legendary for great music. Their encore was a collaborative effort with King Charles (with dark pants on now...thank goodness) and the members of Cadillac Sky. Just when we thought it was over (and the stage couldn't be anymore crowded) out comes the members of Old Crow Medicine Show (a big influence on M&S) and the crowd went nuts. This newly-formed supergroup finished the show with three songs including OCMS's biggest hit, "Wagon Wheel", and M&S's newest single, "Roll Away Your Stone." A truly amazing evening of music. We feel lucky and privileged to have been a small part of it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

At Last.....Up, Up and Away!!

After several months of waiting through bad-weather postponements including a 3-hour wait on-site earlier this month (previous blog) that led to a last-minute cancellation due to gusty winds, we finally got to take our hot air balloon ride today. It was well worth the wait! The weather was stunningly sunny and mild, visibility was amazing at around 80 miles according to our pilot, Richard, and the fall colors, albeit less than stellar in terms of previous years, were in full process.
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After helping prep the balloon (photo above), we took off around 4 PM from the grounds of The People's Church in Franklin, TN. The launch was smooth and effortless (somewhat blurry video below - sorry about that). We drifted east over I-65 reaching a max altitude of 3,000 feet from which we could see downtown Nashville to the north, Murfreesboro to the southeast and Pilot Mountain due east. Once over the interstate, we descended down to just over tree-top level into a more rural part of Williamson County. The ride was so quiet and smooth we could hear shouts of "Hello" from down below by onlookers. We even crept up on a small herd of deer in a pasture who never knew we were there until Richard hit the propane burners to give us a bit more altitude. After a half-hour or so flight, we landed in a farm field about 15 miles from our launch site. Richard's chase vehicle picked us up and we were delivered back to our car by around 6 PM. Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday afternoon!
We highly recommend trying a flight if you are so inclined. Richard's outfit is Dream Flights Inc. and they serve the Nashville, Memphis and Atlanta areas: http://www.dreamflightsusa.com/ We hope to fly again someday perhaps in a different part of the country such as Las Vegas or Albuquerque.
Afterwards, we had dinner in downtown Franklin at one of our favorite Irish pubs in the area, McCreary's. The food was delicious as usual.
Finally, we headed downtown to meet our friend, Rick, who was driving up from Chattanooga to catch Big Sandy & His Fly-Ryte Boys and Los Straightjackets at one of our favorite music venues in Nashville, The Mercy Lounge. Rick is into rockabilly music and swing-dancing, and although it's not particularly our favorite genre of music, both bands were very entertaining and musically top-notch. Big Sandy, as the name might imply, is a large fella with an Elvis-like crooning voice and a beaming personality. Los Straightjackets is a four-man instrumental group formed in Nashville and led by legendary guitarist, Eddie Angel. Their schtick, besides being great musicians, is that they all wear elaborate Mexican wrestling masks while on-stage and introduce many of their songs with a goofy recording in Spanish. A little strange, but, again, quite enjoyable.
video

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Franti-C at the Ryman

We visited the lovely Ryman Auditorium once again in downtown Nashville tonight to catch a couple of acts we have seen before in different venues who we really enjoyed. Opening was Nashville resident, Mat Kearny, who did a nice acoustic set. We saw him before at The Cannery in Nashville for a plugged-in show that was great. The highlight of this short set was his use of a 1970's Samsonite suitcase as a backing percussion instrument. Very inventive! The headliner was Michael Franti & Spearhead, one of our favorite live bands. They are the band who basically saved Bonnaroo for us this year by putting on an incredible live show including coming out into the crowd on more than one occasion including Franti himself performing one song right beside us. We weren't expecting the same kind of experience at this somewhat buttoned-up, assigned-seat venue. But, Franti & Co. would not stand for that. The show was as good or better than the Bonnaroo experience. He and the band came into the crowd numerous times and had the whole crowd dancing and jumping in their pews and aisles with their upbeat and positive music and message. This included Franti himself coming up into the balcony (see video below - he's in the yellow shirt in the center of the balcony) where we had excellent front row seats overlooking the stage. Thanks to our friend, Sharon, for coming along and being blown away as well by MF&S live and unleashed in The Ryman. video

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bad Guster of a Day, Good Guster of a Band

We have been trying to cross "take a hot-air balloon flight" off our Bucket List for most of this year. And, after missing two previous booked dates to take a ride due to weather, we thought today was our day. Not a cloud in the sky, pleasant temps and a nice, soft breeze....well, not so fast, my friend...it was actually just a bit too breezy to safely take off and land according to our pilot. He and his crew went as far as rolling out the basket and the balloon (photo below) in hopes the winds would die down as sunset approached, but it was to no avail. After about 3 hours of waiting, we were told there would be no flight today. Very disappointing, but we will just have to try again. Our trip west to Franklin for the cancelled flight wasn't a total bust at least. We also had tickets to see the band, Guster (ironic, don't you think?) at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville. We headed on into downtown after the bad news from our pilot and had dinner at one our favorite new places, Urban Flats. The flat-bread pizza and salads were great as usual. We made our way over to the War Memorial Auditorium which we had been to once before several years ago to see comedian, Dave Attell. This was our first time seeing a musical act there. It's a beautiful, general-admission venue with great sight lines to the elevated stage. There is standing room in front of the stage and seats upstairs in a large balcony area as well. We arrived in time to hear a few songs from the opening act, Everest, an up-and-coming band that we have seen at Bonnaroo a couple of times and really like. Unfortunately, their sound here was not real great compared to at Bonnaroo, and we weren't sure if it was the venue or the engineering. We were a little worried it was the venue which wouldn't bode well for Guster, who we've never seen live, plus another Mumford & Sons sold-out show coming there soon that we have tickets to as well. Well, it must have been the engineering because Guster sounded great from start to finish of their hour and a half set. Despite not getting a lot of radio play, these guys have been churning out great, melodic and positive music for over a decade with a strong underground following. The place was pretty full and the crowd knew the words to every song other than a few off a new album they have coming out later this month. It's exciting to know Nashville now has another great venue for live music. Let's hope they keep booking great acts like Guster there.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Save Cummins Falls!!

We took a ride up east toward Cookeville yesterday to check out Cummins Falls in southern Jackson County. There is an effort going on currently to save the beautiful 75' waterfall and 186 surrounding acres from development in hopes of creating a new Tennessee state park there. It was a beautiful sunny day with fall-like temps. A perfect day to get out in the woods for a nice hike to this amazing, fairly-unknown regional gem. The conservation effort is being coordinated by The Tennessee Parks & Greenways Foundation (TPGF) and yesterday was an organized open visitation to the privately-owned property as well as a fundraising effort.
We parked about a half-mile from the falls on the north side of the Blackburn Fork River in a designated parking area. Rob and his best friend, Craig, visited the falls over 20 years ago while they were students at nearby Tennessee Tech University, and this was actually the third waterfall of over 300 that Rob has hiked to and photographed since then, many of which with either Craig or Ashlee. At that time the guys parked on the south side of the river in undesignated pull-offs on side of Cummins Mill Road and scaled down some treacherous cliffs to the falls and excellent swimming hole beneath it (stupid kids). The TPGF has provided better access to the top and bottom of the falls from the north side with rope railings and ladders into the gorge. Of course, if it becomes a state park, permanent steps and railing would be installed for better and safer access.
We were surprised to see a really nice set-up by the TPGF when we got near the falls. They had set up displays with information about the area and their fundraising effort. There were also chairs and tables set up for a complimentary lunch that was provided to all in attendance. We made our way to the the falls overlook nearby and marveled at the amazing site (photo above). The line to the rope ladder to the bottom of the falls was long and somewhat slow since you had to take your time on the tricky apparatus, so we opted for a hike to the top of the falls instead. We were rewarded with great views of the brink of the falls themselves as well as an expansive view of the amazing gorge below the falls that the river has carved out over thousands of years
On the way back out of the gorge, we caught up with a group being led by a Tennessee park ranger who was giving an impromptu hike and offering information on the surrounding flora and fauna in the area. Once back up to the overlook we were offered complimentary Yazoo beer. What a nice surprise after a good little hike! Lunch was served a short time later and it was delicious. After the meal, several guest speakers were introduced including TPGF board members, the president of Tennessee Tech (the university is very involved in the effort to the conserve the area) and a couple of local elected officials. Everyone was enthusiastic about the effort to save Cummins Falls and we were as well. We pledged $100 to the cause which we know isn't a great amount in terms of the over $1 million that they need in total, but, hey, every little bit helps, right?...plus, they did feed us and give us beer whether we gave anything or not. In total over 200 people attended the fundraiser and they are reporting over $40,000 in donations came from it. If you want to learn more about the effort to save Cummins Falls and perhaps give a little yourself, then please check out the link below:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

20 Years Since The Pickle Barrel

20 years and going
We celebrated a pretty amazing anniversary today. It was 20 years ago today the we had our first date. We were both working at the Chattanooga Downtown Library on a Sunday afternoon and decided to go across the street after work and get something to eat at The Pickle Barrel, a little sandwich shop that is still in operation today. (We are already planning on going back there on our next visit to Chattanooga to relive the moment.) The rest, as they say, is history (and blog material).
Until we can make it back to The Pickle Barrel, we had to settle for a date in nearby downtown Nashville instead. Our original plan was to go to one of our favorite restaurants, Watermark, for dinner, but those plans were quickly replaced earlier in the week when we learned that two of our favorite bands, Five for Fighting and Tonic, would be performing at Live on the Green tonight in downtown Nashville. Live on the Green is a six-week series of concerts that are free to the public and sponsored by the local independent radio station, Lightning 100. They are held at Public Square Park, a large grassy area (ala "green") in front of the City Hall Courthouse. Since we would pay to see either of these bands (we did last year for Five for Fighting - see earlier blog entry), we decided to pony up $30 a person for the "VIP experience" which promised complimentary food, beverages and a private up-close viewing area of the stage.
It was money well spent. They actually had real food available and not only soft drinks and water, but beer as well. They also had a nice tent to sit under pre-show. This wasn't as valuable as it could have been since the temps were nice and reasonable since the sun was behind a heavy cloud cover that spit a little rain now and then, but never really opened up thankfully. The viewing was, as promised, right in front of the stage and much less crowded than than "Freebieville" next door where the folks were packed in like sausages. We arrived in time to catch a few songs from a good local East Nashville band called Hightide Blues. Five for Fighting was up next. FFF is basically one very talented guy by the name of John Ondrasik. He was accompanied by another young guitarist, but it was John's show from start to finish as he moved back and forth from the piano to acoustic guitar. He performed all his favorite hits between witty banter with the crowd and charming stories about his family. Well worth seeing again live and we won't miss a chance to see them/him again if we get the chance.
Next up was Tonic, a Grammy-nominated rock-n-roll band that really took off in the early 90's with a couple of well-received albums and a string of popular hits. They took a hiatus around the turn of the century and lead singer, Emerson Hart (a Nashville native), did some solo work that produced some songs that got a lot of radio-play as well. These guys don't seem to have lost a beat over the hiatus. They sounded great from start to finish of their hour-plus set packed with all their old favorites, and the couple of songs they played from their new album were very good as well.
This was a great way to celebrate our first-date 20th anniversary. We plan to come back to Live on the Green in a few weeks and catch, Band of Horses, who we discovered at Bonnaroo a couple of years ago.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Return to the Conch Republic

Friday, September 3, 2010
We drove down to Chattanooga today and picked up our brother- and sister-in-law, Andy and Paige, and continued on to the Atlanta airport to catch a direct flight on Delta to one our all-time favorite vacation spots, Key West, Florida. We have been coming here for many years now and consider it almost like a second home to us. The place is relaxing with a Caribbean-island feel more than just another Florida beach town. The food is spectacular. Some of the best we have ever had has been in Key West. And, there is just a vibe in the Old Town area that is hard to explain unless you've been there. It just makes you happy to be alive when you are there.
The flight was an easy hour and a half trip. We usually stay at a small European hotel called Eden House, but this year we opted for a private house (photo above) experience. We found a moderately-priced tw0-bedroom house online that looked great and divided four ways actually saved us a few dollars not to mention the fact we had a private pool, hot-tub, living area, etc. There is always trepidation when booking a new place online (yep, we've been burned a few times), but the owner, Sullins, is a Tennessee native and couldn't have been nicer or more genuine. The house was everything his ad said it would be and more. We absolutely loved it. Clean, spacious and in a great location in Old Town. We immediately hopped in the pool when we got there that evening and it was heavenly. Here's a link to the house if anyone's interested. We highly recommend it: http://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p267677
 After a dip in the pool and a shower, we walked a couple of blocks over into the Bahamian Village area for a 9 PM reservation at Better Than Sex - a dessert-only restaurant that we had read great reviews about. Those reviews were dead-on. What a cool place! We started out with cocktails which were all served in glasses whose rims had been dipped in chocolate or caramel. Yep, they call this process a "rim-job." The entire menu is clever and funny with "interesting" names for all their drinks and dishes. We split a huge grilled cheese & chocolate sandwich - who knew it was such a great combination! After dinner we met up with some friends, Chris and Shane, over at their timeshare condo complex, The Banyan, which was very nice. This was their last night in Key West after having been there for a week.
Saturday, September 4, 2010
We met up with Chris and Shane again for breakfast before their flight out. We decided on Blue Heaven which is our favorite restaurant in Key West, although we have never actually been there for breakfast. It stormed the night before and some rain was still hanging around this morning with a promise to be out of sight by noon. We have always sat outside in the garden at Blue Heaven, another reason we love the place besides the delicious food, but the raindrops forced us to sit inside which we had also never done before. The food is just as good in the mornings and inside at Blue Heaven. We were absolutely stuffed. The sun did its job and forced the clouds and rain away giving us a great afternoon of total laziness around the pool. While we have always loved the Eden House Hotel, it sure was nice to have a private pool and hot tub where we controlled the tunes and the libations flow.
We decided to take a stroll down to Mallory Square to catch the daily Sunset Celebration (photo below) before dinner. Mother Nature obliged us with a gorgeous sunset and the usually popular area was much less crowded than usual in the past for a Saturday night. We chalked that up to a stuttering economy and the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which had not affected the water of Key West that we know of. The walk back to dinner at a new-to-us place called Nine on Five on Duval Street was a bit long and the air was humid. We were hot when we arrived and happy to sit down for dinner, but wished our table was inside in the a/c, plus the fact we had slow service and so/so food made this place worth crossing off our list to return to again. We have found that restaurants on the famous (and rather tacky and touristy) Duval Street are always hit-or-miss and rarely have much staying power. The great food in Key West is always off the beaten path. After dinner we cooled off in the pool again and just enjoyed the great rental house we had.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
We slept in a bit this morning before ambling over a couple of blocks to the Six-Toed Cat cafe for breakfast. The name comes from the variety of cat that takes up residence at Ernest Hemingway's House next door. The food was delicious and filling. More pool time was in order as the cloudless sky beamed with sunshine. We kept our revelry to a minimum this afternoon since we had a 4:30 PM departure for a Sunset Dolphin Watch and Reef Snorkel with one our favorite Key West outfitters, Sunny Days Catamarans. We have went with these guys several times on short snorkeling jaunts as well as all-day trips out to the Dry Tortugas and the stunning Fort Jefferson. They are always super courteous and professional and give you a real bang for your buck. This trip was no exception as our captain, Ash, and his first mate, Jesse, took great care of us aboard the Dolphin Cat. Our group was small since the craft only accommodates around 20 people. The water was calm as we headed out to an area a few miles out where Ash and Jesse said the local dolphin pod (240 strong) usually hang out. It didn't take us long to find a group of about a dozen brown bottle-nosed Atlantic dolphins cruising around. We got a lot of close-up looks without disturbing them, a process that is taken very seriously in Key West. Afterwards, we headed over to a nearby small uninhabited key and got in the water for some reef snorkeling. We immediately saw two good-sized sand sharks resting on the bottom. Quite a jolt when you first get in the water! They were, of course, harmless and undisturbed by our presence. The water was a bit murkier than usual - probably due to the strong storms the two nights before, but still clear enough to see a good amount of fish and coral. After a good half hour of snorkeling, we cruised back in to the harbor at a leisurely pace as the sun was setting behind us with some Bob Marley on the stereo...this is the good stuff, ladies and gentlemen.
Dinner this evening was going to be later than usual thanks to our little ocean adventure. We settled on Louie's Backyard, a place we had been to before but only for drinks and dessert. We got a great table outside in sight and earshot of the Atlantic waves slapping against the island's eastern shore. The pesky rainstorms creeped in just about the time we got our meals and we had to make a quick dash inside where our great and on-the-ball waitress had us a table waiting. The inside of Louie's is just as great as his "backyard." It's an old rustic mansion that is in pristine condition. Did we mention the food was A++? Well, it sure is. Fresh wild scallops that were huge, lightly smoked salmon and yellow tail snapper were some of what was ordered and devoured rather quickly. The stormy weather kept us out of the pool that evening, but we lazed around the house happy as clams anyway.
Monday, September 6, 2010
Our flight was at noon so it gave us time to lounge the morning away at the house and take another last dip in the pool as the weather was beautiful. The Key West Airport is tiny, so there is no need to get there too early for a flight. We returned our rental car, a nifty little Nissan Versa that was perfect for our long weekend and saved us money on cab fares and such, and boarded the plane for another quick flight back north. After breezing fairly easily and quickly through downtown Atlanta (thank you holiday traffic), we stopped again at the Marietta Diner (see previous blog on Atlanta) for lunch. The food was great and capped off a great weekend of good times, good food and good memories once again from The Conch Republic.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Takin' the TRAIN to Memphis

We took a quick overnight trip to Memphis to once again catch our favorite band, Train, perform. This was our 11th time seeing them which is definitely the most we have seen any performer live. We stayed at the Beale Street Hampton Suites where we could hear live blues music right from hotel room balcony drifting down the famous boulevard. Ashlee stays here a lot for work and it's a great location for downtown Memphis activities. We walked up Beale Street for dinner and settled in to the BB King's Blues Cafe. Dinner was good and our elevated window seats offered a great view of Beale Street as the house band jammed away.
After dinner we ambled on down to the end of Beale Street to the beautiful and historic Orpheum Theatre. This majestic venue is quite large and our "grand tier" seats were a perfect vantage point overlooking the stage. Opening for Train, and another reason for us to want to make the trip, was NeedtoBreathe, a young, new band out of South Carolina that we have been wanting to see for a while. We planned on seeing them on the opening night of Bonnaroo back in June, but the snarled traffic getting into the place (see previous blog) made us miss their show. Their sound engineering was little off at the start of their short set, but improved toward the end. We look forward to seeing them again in November with a headlining show back at The Ryman in Nashville where hopefully the sound will be much improved.
Train took the stage next (photo below) and were amazing as usual. No matter how many times we see them the show is always a little different and surprising. Lead singer, Pat Monahan, never disappoints in terms of onstage energy and soaring vocals. The most humorous and memorable part of the show was Pat explaining that the video of their big hit of the summer "Hey, Soul Sister" is now being played on Country Music Television which was kind of strange to them, but since it was a fact why not finish the song they were currently playing - "She's On Fire"- in a country fashion. So Pat donned a cowboy hat and the band twanged up the number in a corny fashion of bad country music. Funny stuff, but you probably had to be there to really appreciate it. The crowd was enthusiastic and as is similar to the one show we have seen in Austin, Texas, (yep, it was Train) and the dozens of shows in Nashville, you always seem to get a great effort from performers who know they are performing in a "music town" with real music lovers in the audience. We called it a night after the show since it was a Monday and didn't dabble too much in Beale Street tomfoolery. Been there, done that.
Before heading back the next day, we Magellen-ed our way over to Uncle Lou's Famous Fried Chicken for lunch. This Memphis hole-in-the-wall that located in not-the-greatest-part of town has been featured on The Food Network's Diners, Drive-In and Dives and it deserves all the praise it gets. The food was outstanding. Some of the best fried chicken we've ever had. And the "Sweet Spicy Love" sauce makes it even better. The service was beyond good and everyone couldn't have been friendlier. We met Uncle Lou himself, a big bear of a man who was as nice as he could be despite being a Dallas Cowboys fan...BOO!! He made a point to stop by every table and thank his customers for coming by and dining with them. We will definitely be back here when we return next month for another Grace Potter & the Nocturnals show.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Weekend With Big-Hearted Tiff and Big Head Todd

Friday, August 27th, 2010
We headed down to Chattanooga today after work to meet up with our friends, Tiff and Brenda, to spend a couple nights on their beautiful and spacious boat, Chyn Schyn (photo below). Don't ask. We don't know what the name means and neither do they really...that's how they bought it and numerous Internet searches have yet to reveal a clear answer. They were kind enough to bring their boat several miles down the Tennessee River from their marina and through the Chickamauga Dam lock to Ross's Landing in downtown Chattanooga. We had planned this a few months ago in preparation for the 16th Annual Southern Brewers Festival which was happening on Saturday there on the riverfront.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
After staying up to 3 AM (haven't done that in a while!) just relaxing and chatting on Chyn Schyn, we slept in late and walked up from the dock to Blue Plate, one our favorite Chattanooga restaurants, for brunch. The beer festival started at 2 PM and we had secured us all VIP passes to the "Party on the Pier" which was restricted access with unlimited food, beer and other beverages provided by Gordon-Biersch. The food was plentiful and good as was the beer (see Rob's beer blog for more on it). The tickets were limited in number so it was never crowded on the pier and there were short lines if any for the food and drink. There was covered seating as well which gave a nice beer-garden sort of feel to it (photo below). There was live music all day and it got progressively better as the day went on (or maybe that was the beer helping?) with the headliner being Big Head Todd & the Monsters, a great rock band we have wanted to see live for a long time. They did not disappoint turning in a blistering set of all of their past hits and fan favorites. We even had the pleasure of a brief meeting of Todd Park Mohr (photo below) after the show. Yep, he's Big Head Todd, and, no, it looked regular-sized to us.
We were joined throughout the day by several friends including Michelle and Patrick from Chattanooga, as well as Gary and Cary who just happened to be in town from Nashville. We met some nice friends of Tiff and Brenda's as well including Bill, Curtis and Robert (just call him Butter!). It was a great day of fun, food, music and brew. We have been to this festival several times, but this is by far the most memorable thanks to the cozy convenience of Chyn Schyn, a lot of good friends and a guy named Big Head Todd and his band of Monsters.
Sunday, August 29th, 2010
Sunday morning was another late-rising day. Around noon we accompanied Tiff and Brenda as they cruised slowly and leisurely back up the Tennessee River and through the Chickamauga Dam lock, which was a little nerve-wracking as the wind was kicking up inside the big bathtub as we tried to tie up, but it all worked out fine. It was a beautiful ride and a great way to cap off an excellent weekend. Thanks again to Tiff and Brenda for their generosity and friendship.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hangin' Out in The Basement

We headed into Nashville last night for an evening of good food and regional rock-n-roll courtesy of Rumba Restaurant and The Dirty Guv'nahs. Rumba is one of our favorite restaurants in Nashville. It's located on West End Avenue and was already busy when we arrived for our 7:30 PM reservations. Their menu is always one of the most diverse and eclectic in the area and seems to be constantly changing. Their small-plate/tapas style of serving also allows for a lot of variety in flavors at every sitting. Of the four selections we ordered, our hands-down winner was a flat-bread with the interesting (and delicious) combination of bacon, blue cheese. grapes and honey. Thanks to a Groupon (groupon.com) we had, our final bill was extremely reasonable.

After dinner we hooked up with our friend, Emily, and headed over to The Basement on 8th Avenue to catch a set by The Dirty Guv'nahs, an up-and-coming young band out of Knoxville who we recently saw at The Bele Chere Festival in Asheville (see previous blog) that really impressed us. The Basement is a tiny music venue that is literally the basement of a huge 3-story house. The second floor houses Grimey's Used CDs & Records. We had never been here before but have been wanting to check it out since they always seem to have a fairly impressive line-up of new artists gracing their stage. The place is cramped and short of space...hey, it's a basement, but the sight lines and acoustics are actually pretty good...much better than the oft bally-hooed 3rd & Lindsley venue which we despise.

There weren't too many people there when we arrived at the start of the short set of opening act, Patrick Sweany, but by the time he had finished a solid half-hour of good blues and rock, the crowd was thick in anticipation of the Guv'nahs who seem to have a pretty loyal grass-roots following. They were just as good as we remembered them from their Asheville performance. Their energy and musicianship on stage is exhilarating. We were almost as sweat-soaked as they were after an hour in the packed room, but it was well worth the effort. We are already looking for another opportunity to see them perform.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

O|A|R in the A|T|L again

It was a deja vu' for us this weekend as we traveled to Atlanta to see OAR perform again at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre just as we did last August at the same venue (see previous blog for August 23, 2009 ). The show was a few days earlier in August this year and it was on a Sunday night instead of a Friday which meant getting a room in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta near the venue and taking a vacation day on Monday.

We headed down Saturday and arrived in Atlanta early in the afternoon. Our friends, Will and Jenna, invited us to a cookout that evening at their house as well as allowing us to spend the night there. Will and Jenna went with us last year to the OAR show, but couldn't attend this year's show since they have had a big change in the lives since last summer with the arrival of their new baby, Payton. Turns out Jenna was pregnant at the show last August and didn't even know it. Don't be surprised if Payton turns out to be a huge OA\R fan, folks! Jenna is back at work now and didn't get off until 6 PM, so to kill a little time we sought out the nearby Atlanta Brewing Company who offers tours and opens their tasting room on Saturday afternoons.

Atlanta Brewing is a bit smaller than Sweetwater Brewing who we visited during our last trip to Atlanta (see previous blog: April 26, 2010), but their beer is pretty good. We skipped the tour since you can see the small production area from the tasting room and opted to just sit and enjoy our bountiful samples. For more info on the beer itself, check out Rob's beer blog. We had a great time at Will and Jenna's that evening reliving how we all met on a wonderful Mediterranean cruise a few years ago (preblog) and kicking around some ideas for a possible trip together next May when Payton's a little older and can stay with the grandparents. In order on our wish list of places to possibly visit are Tahiti, South America, Hawaii and the Mexican Riviera.

Sunday morning we slept in a bit. Well, we did, Miss Payton did not allow that so much for Will and Jenna. We made arrangements to meet one of Ashlee's childhood friends, Dana, who also lives in the Atlanta area, for lunch. She and her husband, Brad, suggested the West Cobb Diner in Marietta. The place is owned and operated by a neighbor of Dana and Brad's who hails from Louisiana. The food was great and we had a great visit Brad and Dana and their two children. After lunch we headed north toward Alpharetta and checked into our hotel: a nice Hilton Garden Inn in a quiet business park that we got for only $50 for the night - thanks, Travelocity.com! We relaxed in the room for a few hours and made arrangements with our friend, Rex, who was going with us to the OAR show, to meet for dinner in at a local barbecue joint called Smokejack. The food was delicious here as well. It had definitely been a great day of eating in "The Atl!"

Our hotel was only one exit away from the lovely new Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre (photo above). We got in and parked easily with just a short walk to the venue. After securing each of us a Sweetwater 420 Ale, we found a good spot in the general admission pit in front of the stage and caught a few minutes of the opening act, Citizen Cope. They/he were OK, but probably not something we would seek out again. The crowd thickened up somewhat and livened up a whole lot as OAR took the stage. These guys are easily one of our Top 3 favorite acts to see live. They put on another great show tonight despite a smaller crowd than last summer - Sunday night, bad economy, etc..
Monday morning we slept in soundly and got up and out the door just in time for some lunch at the nationally-famous Marietta Diner. It's been locally famous for years and now it is nationally famous thanks to being featured on the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" show hosted by Guy Fiere (where we heard about it). It lived up to its hype with a huge menu, huge portions and a lot of great tastes. We will definitely be back on our next trip to Atlanta to try more of their fare.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Still a Classic

"When I was a child...I understood as a child, I thought as a child..." 1 Corinthians 13:11
Sunday, August 8,2010
We spent the day with our four-year-old niece, Ella, in Chattanooga today, and to do something active with her and yet stay out of the relentless summer heat, we opted to take her to a Chattanooga classic attraction: Ruby Falls - the natural cave and waterfall inside historic Lookout Mountain. We had not been there in decades since we were both kids ourselves. Obviously, this was Ella's first visit and as she informed us it was also "her very first adventure." We weren't super-enthused about going again since neither of us had a great memory of our childhood visits, but we were looking with different eyes then. We were pleasantly surprised how interesting a place it really is and wound up being really glad we came back. Ella enjoyed it as well and was a trooper throughout the visit.

The place has been kept up quite nice over the years and visitation does not seem to have slowed down. Fortunately, we only had to stand in line a few minutes to get our tickets, but then our visit took an unexpected turn as we were told the elevator that usually takes visitors down 260 feet into the mountain to the start of the half-mile cave trail was shut down due to maintenance, and we would be going in the "alternate" entrance after a short bus ride to the bottom of Lookout Mountain next to the Moccasin Bend of the Tennessee River. So already our experience was different from the past visits since neither of us had been in this way or even really knew it existed. Evidently, it was constructed (i.e. blasted out of the rock) back in the 80's by pressure from OSHA after the elevator broke down stranding several visitors in the cave for over 12 hours. It was a ten-minute walk to the bottom of the elevator shaft where the actual tour begins. No big deal, but kind of cool to get to experience the back way in to the place.

We had a great guide named Andy who cracked fairly lame but well-intentioned jokes along the way. We had truly forgotten what an easy and interesting walk it is to Ruby Falls despite a gradual descent of over 900 more feet. The cave is full of amazing formations along the way tastefully lit for easy viewing with cool names like "Dragon's Foot." The 145' falls themselves are truly spectacular. They have now extended the walkway behind the falls. Neither of us remember that from our childhood visits. It's truly inspiring.

We rode back up Lookout Mountain after the tour and took a look at the sweeping vista atop the castle-looking visitor center that included good views of Moccasin Bend and downtown Chattanooga (photo above). On the way home we stopped at the foot of the mountain for some tasty pizza at Crust, a hip little restaurant with a couple of locations now in Chattanooga. We hope Ella retains great memories of her first visit to Ruby Falls, and perhaps go back again years from now and see it again with different eyes and enjoy it all over again just as we did.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Meet-Up & Meet Cap

Friday, August 6, 2010
We had arranged a dinner this evening with our Meet-up.com group, The Nashville Child Free Couples Group. Meet-up.com is a great site that allows people in a certain area of the country (or world) with the same interest (kayaking, wine tasting, hiking, etc.) to "meet up" and do things together. While we are members of several Meet-Up groups in the Nashville area, and have met some great people; most of them are, admittedly, single and looking for more than just socializing. So, we started our own specialized group a year or so ago in hopes of meeting a few other couples without kids who were wanting to socialize in the Nashville area. We thought that surely we weren't the only couple whose other couple friends were either too busy with kids now to go out much, or when they did go out only seemed to want to talk about their kids' lives. There is nothing wrong with busy parents and/or proud parents. It's just not a choice we have made for our lives together.
We were surprised to have gotten a really good response right from the start. In fact, we have over 80 members now. Over the past year or so, we have met some great couples that we now consider good friends, and tonight it was sort of a core group of six of us who originally met the very first time we got together socially, There was Gary and Cary, John and Dorie and ourselves. There were two other new couples that had originally signed up to attend, but dropped out a day or two before for different reasons (fairly common in the Meet-up.com world). Six is a great number for dinner anyway, so no big deal. We met at the City House Restaurant in the Germantown neighborhood of downtown Nashville.
What a cool place! Housed in an old, but impressive structure of exposed brick and high ceilings, City House boasts a very unique menu for Nashville with an emphasis on house-cured meats (their sausage made on site was amazing), fresh pasta and locally-grown produce. Funky and delicious cocktails along with an excellent beer menu just added to the greatness of the place. We plan to come back sometime and sit at the chef's bar that overlooks the kitchen to watch the magic happen first-hand.
After a great time of excellent food, lively conversation and a lot of laughs, we opted to head over to 8th Street and catch the 9:45 show at Zanies Comedy Club starring John Caparulo. "Cap" as he is known, has become one our favorite round-table comics on the late-night celebrity-bashing TV show that we love with a guilty pleasure called "Chelsea Lately." Not only was Cap on fire with his stand-up routine and had us rolling, but both of his openers were great as well including the hilarious Mike Speenburg. It was a perfect way to "cap" off a great evening in Nashville.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Music City Brewers Festival 2010

We attended our first-ever Music City Brewers Festival in downtown Nashville this weekend. This was the festival's 9th year and why we haven't been before is because it usually conflicts with our trip to Asheville to attend the Bele Chere Festival (see previous blog), but the stars (and calendar) were aligned right this year to allow us to do both on consecutive weekends. We opted for the evening session which sold out over a month ago so as to escape some of the brutal summer heat and humidity, and it turned out to be the right choice. It was another hot day in Middle Tennessee as we headed downtown to check in to our hotel, the Hampton Suites, just a few blocks away from the festival which is held in the Walk of Fame Park. But after a light dinner with our friends, Nate and Ginny, at the quirky little downtown restaurant/bar, Past Perfect, the temps starting falling as the sun was setting when we all got in line for the 6 PM entry into the second session of the festival.
The festival itself is great. Tons of microbrewers from across the country showed up and your ticket price got you all wanted to taste of their great products. For more on the beer itself, check out Rob's beer blog. The layout of the tasting tents encircled the park allowing for easy access and very few lines. Limiting the number of tickets also make it an enjoyable, not overcrowded, event. There was live music and good food for sale as well. We had a great time and even though a threatening thunderstorm prompted us to leave a little before the 10 PM close of the festival (believe us, we were done anyway -- did we mention the beer was really flowing?). We ambled back to our room which were very happy to have (did we mention the beer was really flowing at the festival?).
After the brief storm had passed, Rob's poker buddy, Ryan, invited us to over to his new condo in the Encore Development next door to our hotel, and we got to enjoy a spectacular view of downtown and the beer festival as well which was still going on down below. Ryan talked us into going over on Broadway to the "Trailer Park Bar" - it's actual name is the Paradise Park Trailer Resort and it's exactly what you think it would be. Cheesy, loud, overcrowded and steamy. Just as you would expect on a summer Saturday night in downtown Nashville...did we mention the beer was really flowing at the festival? We hung out there for a while until we had enough and headed back to our nice, quiet room.
Our checkout time was noon and we just made it out of the room. Did we mention the beer was really flowing the night before?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound

The fourth weekend in July has only meant one thing to us over the past four years: It's time for Bele Chere! The annual arts and music festival in downtown Asheville, North Carolina, is one of our favorite weekend road trips. It's been going on for over 30 years but we only "discovered" it when our favorite band, Train, performed there back in 2006. Since then we have been going no matter who performs because it's just such a good festival and downtown Asheville is such a great, quirky little place.
This year we got a double-bonus when we found out that one of our favorite new-to-us bands, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, were going to headline on one of the stages on Saturday night. We usually stay a litte away from downtown and ride a bus in to the festival, but this year we were able to snag a decent price on a room at the downtown Renaissance Hotel within walking distance of everything.
Our friend from New Zealand, Mel, tagged along with us as she was preparing for her return "down under" on Sunday. We headed out Saturday morning for the four-hour drive to Asheville. We stopped about half-way for lunch in Knoxville at the Downtown Grill and Brewery. As the name implies, it's located right downtown just a few doors down from the Bijou Theatre which has a lot of great music, and is definitely on our radar screen if an artist we like comes there. This little pub would be a great place to have a pre-show drink because their beer brewed on site is really good. Their food was OK, but a tad disappointing based on their large menu and descriptions.
We continued east after lunch and made good time to Asheville despite a bit of road construction in the mountains on the TN/NC border. We were able to check in a bit early at the hotel and found it to be very nice. Our room on the 8th floor had a good view of downtown Asheville and looked to have been recently renovated. We rested up a bit and then headed out to get our festival on. Another big reason we like Bele Chere is that usually Asheville is a bit cooler in the summer since it is tucked up in the mountains, but that wasn't the case this year as the heat was quite oppressive. Then again, it's been an unusually hot summer in the South this year with extreme heat starting in early June and not letting up much at all yet.
We strolled around and had some water and a few cheap beers (another great thing about Bele Chere - no festival beer price gouging). We found a bar called TallGary's Pub where we could escape the sun and grabbed a window table and watched the sweating festival-goers pass by. After a few more good cold beers, we went down a few doors and into and through the Jack O' the Wood Pub and upstairs to one of our favorite restaurants in Asheville, The Laughing Seed, for dinner. The vegetarian-only dishes were delicious as usual and we finished up just in time to head back downstairs and across the street to the Coxe Avenue Stage where The Dirty Guv'nah's from Knoxville were about to play. These guys were at Bonnaroo this year and we wanted to see them based on a few songs we had heard, but we missed them due to a schedule conflict. Too bad, because they are fantastic live! They are a five-piece Americana/rock band who have a lot of soul and a ton of talent to be so young. Their sophomore album was just released and based on some of the songs we heard, it's gonna be a doozey. We got a chance to buy their first CD after the show, meet the band and get it autographed.

Afterwards, we moved up quite close to the stage as the crowd gathered in quickly in anticipation of Grace Potter & the Nocturnals to close out the night. For a free festival (another thing we love about Bele Chere) it's amazing what good shows and great talent they get here in Asheville. Grace & Co. were dead-on in their performance with amazing energy and crowd appeal. This despite the fact they may be on the brink of becoming huge with recent national appearances on the Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon shows, as well as Jimmy Kimmel coming up the following week of this show at Bele Chere. They played for a solid hour and a half and the huge crowd was very appreciative and receptive.

After the show we made our way through the crowds and found a cool little wine bar called the 5 Walnut where we were able to grab a seat for a rest and a few after-dinner drinks. We were just a few minutes walk to our hotel which was great. No more schlepping out to the bus with the masses. We got up fairly early the next morning and headed back. We usually spend more time in Asheville during our Bele Chere weekends, but with Mel's impending flight out of Nashville late that afternoon, we didn't want to take any chances. We got her there with plenty of time to spare thanks to good traffic on the way back. We want to take this time to thank Mel for coming half-way around the world to visit us and we hope she had a great time while she was here because we sure did!