"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.

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?