Honky Tonk Confessions
It might have been the rousing vodka soaked night of dancing on the sticky floor, or it could have been the spirit of Hank Williams sitting in a dark corner in the back of the bar below faded autographed snapshots of county legends. Most likely it was the neon sign of a pinup girl straddling a guitar that lured me into the boot shop where I laid down a good sum of money for a pair of embroidered cowboy boots. I’ve only worn them once – and that was the day I bought them in Nashville.
Broadway, along Nashville’s famed Music Row, is crowded with lines of people teetering down the sidewalks. The wait is never long to get into the bars as the groups of tiara-crowned bachelorettes and trailing entourage of boys quickly do the rounds and move from one bar to the next, making their way through the succession of country music at the other end of town. A couple of the regulars at Robert’s Western World reminisce about the fact that no one seems to be dancing anymore– the bar hoppers preferring to yell over the musicians and slosh their PBRs on the dance floor in front of the stage.
As the night progresses, the crowds of people making the rounds settles on a bar, perhaps in spite of their best intentions, and the country swing dancers take over the floor one centrifugal spin at a time. I join an older gentleman who is clearly a great dancer and I try to call up variations of disco moves long relegated to the orange shag carpet of my childhood suburban basement. I lose my partner on the last spin to my friend who clearly has a better grasp of the moves.
Nashville is synonymous for all things country music; record studios, radio stations and numerous bars attract aspiring musicians from around the country where they bust their ass for their big break. The musicians at Robert’s pays tribute to honky tonk, and like most musicians on the strip, they play for tips.
I have to confess; in the past I have expressed great disdain for the genre. Living in the ‘South’ you can’t spin the radio dial without hitting a country music station of one sort or another spanning the gamut from bluegrass to Christian gospel and new country. I rarely linger for more than a few seconds, enough time to decipher the manufactured lyrics. Maybe it was the earnest live performance, or the kick-ass cowboy boots, but I found myself being drawn into the raw and jagged sound set to a syncopated beat that defines an American mythology.
“You sure this is the place?” Asks the cab driver as he pulls up to an unlit house. All signs indicate it’s closed.
“No, but we’ll get out anyway.”
We walk up the steps to what appears to be a law firm. The door is open and behind heavy velvet curtains is the well-stocked bar at The Patterson House, dimly lit with chandeliers reflecting off a stamped tinned ceiling. The menu reads like song titles – “Maisy Makes a Sling” and “Shanty Town Jewel”. These aren’t the same bar tenders wearing tank tops and straw hats, but Gatsby-esque mixologists complete with newsboy caps, satin ties tucked into vests, sleeves rolled up.
This tops our 48-hour extravaganza in Nashville. From the well-worn honky tonks to the boutique-crammed neighborhood of Hillsboro, there is no doubt that Nashville is more than a collection of boot shops and museums constructing an edifice of Americana.
The next morning, I pack my boots into the trunk of my car, the leather soles scuffed from a night of dancing. We eat lunch at Hattie B’s – famous, like everything else in the South, for exceptionally crisp fried chicken. We also stop at Antique Archeology of American Pickers fame to browse some unique and bizarre junk – but that’s a story for another time. As for the boots – they stand stiff at the back of my closet. Yes, its time to take them on another road trip.