On March 3 I went out for a thirteen-day run of shows through the South, passing through North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. Including the show on the night of my return to D.C., I played 12 shows and drove over 3,000 miles. This is not so much a diary as it is a list of places I played, places I ate, places I slept, and places worth pulling off the interstate to see. Enjoy!
Walk from the apartment to the Enterprise location on Georgia Ave. For the next ten days, I will be the caretaker of a blue 2016 Nissan Versa. They aren’t the coolest set of wheels on the lot, but it was only $650 for the ten days I’ll be away. I’m not going to complain. Pulling onto I-95, and heading South toward Fredericksburg, I’m pleasantly surprised by the acceleration and turning. I still wish I were driving something more fun.
Gig: Kenmore Inn
Fredericksburg is an old town. The land on which the Kenmore Inn sits was originally purchased by Colonel John Lewis in 1747. He moved in with his bride, Catherine Washington, first cousin to George. One one hand, it’s nice to play in a place with that kind of history. On the other hand, going to bed in one of the upstairs room in an otherwise empty bed & breakfast is a little unnerving. The tavern in the basement is warm and cozy, complete with a semi-circle bar, which feels a little like an elevated blackjack table, with copper under your elbows instead of felt. I highly recommend the shrimp & grits and a Hardywood Great Return. No need to order a nightcap; Every room at the Kenmore comes complete with a crystal decanter of sherry.
Eat: Hyperion Espresso
Really re-inforcing the age of the town, Hyperion Coffee displays a few photos of when the shop was a general store. The coffee is delicious, and the Marzocco is run by delightful baristas. Good for a coffee before heading to the next gig.
See: Picker’s Supply
Single-location, family-run music shops are becoming a rarity in this country. I can think of two in the District that have closed in the past five years. In spite of the changing tide, Picker’s Supply is going strong. How have they done it? They moved into the vintage instrument market. They keep a strong inventory of newer, more affordable instruments in the front of the shop, but the real treasures are in the back. Even if you don’t play, stopping over at the shop on Caroline St. is worth the visit.
An hour on the interstate, and I’m in Richmond. It’s an old city as well, but has fewer frozen-in-time characteristics than Fredericksburg. The city’s grown and changed with the times in some ways. And in a few ways it hasn’t. My sister could probably tell you more about it. She’s lived there for the past fifteen years, and has worked at the Virginia Historical Society almost as long. I stayed with her and my brother-in-law after the gig.
Simple bar, simple drinks, simple food, and a very patient doorman. March 4 was the Friday VCU went on spring break, and the students who didn’t head home for the week went to the bars instead. The bar was also the first place on tour I experienced the strange alcohol laws of the South. Yes, they’re open until 3 a.m., but all alcohol has to be consumed by 1:30 a.m. That means at 1:25 a.m., the doorman has to walk around and make people finish their drinks, and collect the glasses. I don’t envy this man, but I envy his sense of patience.
Yes, there is a delicious Jewish deli in the heart of Richmond. No, it’s nothing like a New York Deli, and no, it doesn’t need to be. The sandwiches here are massive, and their fries are house-made. Their pickles were not my favorite, but their (also house-made) mustard and horseradish were irresistible. Go on an empty stomach, or ask for a box.
See: The Byrd Theatre
“Opulent” doesn’t quite do it justice, and “lavish” falls short of accuracy. This is a movie palace, and still beautiful. I didn’t have time to see a movie while I was in town, but I still stopped in to just see and smell the lobby. I’ve got a soft spot for old-fashioned theaters. I’m toying with the idea of coming back to see the French Film Festival.
I tried my absolute hardest to snag a date in Blacksburg on the 5th, and it turns out that’s exactly when Virginia Tech goes on spring break. Absolutely none of the bars were interested in having live music. So, what’s one to do if there’s a free date on the calendar? Head out to Asheville early, naturally. I woke up in the Fan, grabbed coffee from the art school students at Lamplighter on Morris, and made my way into the mountains.
Asheville is quickly becoming a tourist attraction. Ask anyone who’s lived there for more than a few years, and they’ll tell you how the place is getting developed at an alarming rate. It’s strange to be hundreds of miles from my beloved District, and hear about a community plagued by the same scourge of widespread development and gentrification. It’s almost as if it’s a nation-wide issue that we should all start thinking about before we lose some of our most-treasured local spots before they’re bulldozed away.
Oh, yeah– Ben’s is a sake brewery which also has a ramen shop and general store on-premises. I played in their back patio. Jack of the Wood is a British-style brewpub with a tiny stage in the corner. I played in between a traditional Irish session and a band from Kentucky called Quiet Hollers, who were quite good.
Eat: Stoney Knob Café
Greek diner? Sure. That’s a readily accessible concept. Greek diner in the mountains? Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch, but I can still picture it. Greek diner in the mountains that serves locally-sourced food, in ridiculously eclectic setting? Color me intrigued. They’re eccentric without being ostentatious, and delicious without peacocking about it. Eat here and be happy.
After the double-header, I headed out toward Knoxville. I-40W is the most direct route, and takes you straight through the Great Smoky Mountains. I pulled off into the Cataloochee region of the trails, and went on a brief jaunt into the woods. It’s difficult to make out in the blue haze of the horizon, but a few of the trees on the crests were beginning to bud. The skyline was dotted with flecks of purple and mottled green. The descent is a little nerve-wracking, but the brakes on the Nissan held up fine.