My objective was the Mountain High Music and BBQ Festival in Franklin, NC on Aug 10 & 11. So in loooking for a hotel, I saw some vacation homes up in the mountains within striking distance and just a little more than the cost of a hotel near the population (like where I have been staying all week.) The Cabins at Long Branch were a welcomed respite from the over-franchised world of the interstate exit. In fact, after I found the little dirt road up the final hill in Topton, NC, I had neither cel coverage nor internet wifi, and the Dish was down, so no TV. As it turned out, this was actually the spiritual center of my travels. I was able to recenter and even write a song on the back porch rockers. (Spoiler alert: I was able to get wifi, at a hot dog stand-cum-Airstream trailer half-way down the mountain.) Check out my back porch:
Then I spent the next two days at Franklin's Mountain High Music and BBQ Festival, which was a combination of carnival (with no rides), battle of the bands (with country and bluegrass) and BBQ RV's and trailers as far as the eye could see, all cooking and a smoking. I have incredible footage that I am having trouble importing at the moment but, trust me, you will see folks from all over the south competing for the cash prizes and serving up their secret recipes for pork butt, ribs and everything else.
A nice (long) video of last year's event:
Saturday afternoon I was back on the highway and heading across NC to Clayton, just south east of Raleigh and Charlie's BBQ and Grille.
The morning started put early...I had to visit Graceland. You know, just to check that box. For those who haven't, it is a theme park: lines, rip off prices and merchandise everywhere. But the good news is that they did a great job with the little headphone players and if you wanted, you can stop in many places to hear more detailed info. The historical exhibits were as good as any museum, with great, never-seen-before pictures and explanations. i guess the hugeness of the man and his career can bee experienced in the "Trophy Room" where every gold record is on the walls. The rest of the mansion was chintzy, nouveau riche excess. And being a recovered alcoholic, I felt a wave of sadness for a great person who missed the lifeboat experience that I got. The King is still very dead.
Then it was lunch at the venerable Rendezvous. I had emailed John Vergos, son of the founder, Charlie, and he was all for me taping in his place. The back alley entrance gave it the feel of a secret speakeasy but once you made it down the stairs, well, you were in a different type of heaven. You see, everywhere I have visited, the usual celebrity pictures were all over the walls. Here, they had Bear Bryant on the wall. John Daly also, but the Bear is in a class all by himself.
Then the staff showed me their southern hospitality. From the manager, Bobby Ellis, to my waiter to the rib master, Henry Morris, it was an experienced not to be missed.
John Vergos gave me a few minutes out of his busy day (he's also on the City Council) to talk how it all started. His Dad saw the beauty in serving ribs years ago when the industry basically tossed them away. His dry rub is world-famous. Says John, "You can slop all the sauce you want on after you tried the dry rub, but I'm betting that you won't." Just off Beale Street and all the hoopla, the Rendezvous is as much a shrine in Memphis as Graceland.
But my trip is not only about BBQ. It is all about that place where music and BBQ intersect. So as I make my way to North Carolina and the weekend's performances, I had to point the car through Mississippi to Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Here you'll find the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. (Listen). With much of the original gear and set up, I am considering recording here in December, where Aretha, Wilson Pickett, the Staples, Bob Seger, the Stones, Paul Simon, Traffic.......and on and on.....have recorded.
This is the control room that you see in "Gimme Shelter" where the band is listening to a playback of "Wild Horses". Now onto Huntsville, NASA and more BBQ.
You know you are getting close when you see signs like this:
From West Virginia, through Kentucky, down to Nashville, I passed Civil War sites, the KY Bourbon Trail (yikes), Daniel Boone's Wilderness, Mammoth Caves, and Lincoln's birthplace. And I sang the Mott The Hoople hit all the way. So after 9+ hours I was ready for dinner. My first choice was Leonard's Pit BBQ (closed on Mondays) but that neon pig will figure into the music video big time. Corky's in Cordova (a Memphis neighborhood) was perfect. Manager Christa Gilliland treated me like royality with stories, good cheer and a special plate of samples (pulled pork, smoked sausage and brisket) as I had the dry rubbed ribs. We don't get food like this anywhere up north or even out west. No sauce just a spicy paprika-based rub and the ribs stay just as succulent. Had a great time there, what with all the 50's music (doo wop, Chuck Berry and Elvis).
Tomorrow: Graceland, the Rendezvous and Cozy Corner before heading to Muscle Shoals Recording Studio.
"Mr Brown" is the dark, almost burnt part of the roast pork butt (shoulder) that is often shaved away so the final roast doesn't get too dark and charred. Ahhh, but BBQ lovers stand in line for "burnt ends" that are chopped and sauced up.
Christa from Corky's
dry rub Memphis style
But I am also partial to John Hiatt (with the AMAZING Sonny Landrreth on slide) and "Memphis In The Meantime" "with a Telecaster through a Vibralux turned up to ten" (h/t Ace La Vida)