Music, history, spirits blend well in tour
By Ronald Dean Johnson
It was September and warm, wonderful weather when our tour of Tennessee began.
Our first visit was historic Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg, Tenn., a town of 306 residents in a dry county.
Jack Daniels was a teenager when Dan Call, a minister who was best known for being the best whiskey distiller in Tennessee, mentored Daniels on his secret distilling process using charcoal for filtering his brand.
Call decided he wanted to become a minister full-time, so he sold his whiskey distilling business to Daniels, and it became the Jack Daniels Distilling Co.
Registered by the U.S. government in 1866, Jack Daniels is the oldest registered whiskey distiller in the country.
In 1904, Daniels entered his Jack Daniels Old Number Seven brand in the World’s Fair whiskey contest in St. Louis. Competing against 20 other top whiskeys from around the world, Jack Daniels Old Number Seven won the gold medal.
Jack Daniels Distillery makes that World’s Fair winner as well as Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey and Jack Daniels Single Barrel Tennessee whiskey.
Jack Daniels was the favorite drink of Frank Sinatra, whose daughter reportedly put a tiny flask of it in his pocket before he was buried at the cemetery.
We had a complete tour of the Jack Daniels distillery. It was excellent and ended with the guide introducing us to Jack Daniels with a taste of the three products.
Leper’s Fork, our next stop, is another small, mid-Tennessee town. It is known for cooking contests, a Wild West show and good Tennessee art.
We stopped at Green’s Grocery, a very different type of store. It is also a restaurant, and we had a delicious steak dinner. After dinner came a rousing concert of country-blues music played by the Homer Dever band. It was wonderful, and most of the band plays as session members of bands, recording hits in Nashville studios.
We then headed for Franklin, a city of some 50,000 persons, with spacious homes, fine restaurants and an array of good shops and boutiques.
In the 1860s, Franklin was another small, mid-Tennessee town. Then the Civil War hit Franklin. On Nov. 30, 1864, the final and worst battle of the Civil War occurred, with nearly 10,000 Union and Confederate troops killed. It was the last great battle of the war, and the Union Army defeated the Confederates. Five months later, the war ended.
We toured the historic Carnton Plantation, built in 1826 by former Nashville Mayor Randal McGavock. It was visited by leaders shaping Tennessee and American history, such as James K. Polk and Andrew Jackson.
After the raging battle ended on Nov. 30, the plantation served as the hospital for both Union and Confederate troops. Those troops who did not recover were buried with other fallen troops in the cemetery near the plantation.
Some brighter moments followed our plantation visit when we visited Arrington Vineyards, near Franklin. We tasted the wines in the vineyard owned by Kix Brooks of the Nashville country singing duo, Brooks and Dunn. A highlight was the excellent Red Fox wine at Arrington.
We toured three other wineries before our spirits toured ended. We tasted wines at Beachaven, Sumner Crest and Long Hollow, owned by another musician, Stu Phillips, a Grand Ole Opry star. The wines were excellent at these vineyards.
The tour’s headliner
Our final stop was not another small, mid-Tennessee town; it was Nashville. Nashville calls itself "Music City of the USA" and tries to live up to that name and may be correct.
We stopped first at historic RCA Studio B, opened in 1957 and for 20 years the recording studio in Nashville and possible the country. Not only country music stars, but also Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers and many other big music stars recorded there. The same old 1957 piano used by Presley and the Everlys still sits in the middle of the studio.
Ryman Auditorium, which hosted Grand Ole Opry for decades and still has Opry shows in the winter, should be seen. It still has shows most days and a tour of Ryman is worthwhile. Another must is the Country Music Hall of Fame, which is worth a half-day tour. Another stop might be Wild Horse Saloon, which features many shows before 4,000 persons.
Two places not to be missed are Tootsie’s and Blue Bird Cafe. Both have excellent cuisine and Tootsie’s has a constant flow of country-western artists playing at many hours. The Bluebird Cafe is another restaurant-bar that features mostly original songwriters. Most of the music occurs on Sunday and Monday nights.
Our final night in Nashville was at Gaylord’s Opryland complex near the city. It features the Grand Ole Opry. Two shows are held on Saturday night — a 6:30 p.m. performance and a 9:30 p.m. show. We attended the 9:30 p.m. performance. It featured Porter Wagoner, who recently died, Marty Stuart, Connie Smith and Chris Young, plus many more top recording country artists.
The Opry was a grand and glorious show and an ideal ending to our mid-Tennessee tour.