Nov 24, 2012

Weekend in Nashville

A few weeks ago, Mary Ann asked me if I'd be interested in going to Nashville to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular at the Gaylord Opryhouse Theater.  This is something we had discussed in the past and not ever done.  I said I'd love to go.  So Mary Ann got on line and bought tickets for the 8:00 PM show on Saturday, November 17th.  We also decided we'd stay in the Opryland Hotel, something we'd never done before.  I can now report that it turned into a wonderful adventure.

We left home around noon and headed north.  I wanted to stop in Franlin briefly on the way to Nashville.  I was in the market for a replacement bandsaw for my shop, and the Woodcraft store in Franklin had the model I was interested in.  We stopped there, the price was right, we loaded up the saw, and we continued to the hotel without incident.

The Opryland Hotel is beyond belief.  It is the largest non-casino hotel in the Continental United States outside of Las Vegas A few statistics are in order:
  • 2,881 Guest Rooms
  • 109,465 square feet (10,170 m²) of ballroom space
  • 319,000 square feet (30,000 m²) of exhibit space
  • 6 full-service restaurants which include The Old Hickory Steakhouse, Cascades American Cafe, Solario, Ravello, and Findley's Irish Pub.
  • 3 lounges including The Falls, The Jack Daniel's Saloon, and The Library at Old Hickory
  • 8 eateries which include STAX Hamburgers, Paisano's Pizza, Häagen-Dazs, Christie Cookies, Conservatory Café, Wasabi's Sushi, and Coca Bean.
  • 14 retail stores including Amelia's, Savannah's and Miss Scarlet's, the three of which are women's fashions stores, Alexzander Kalifano's, a jewelry shop, the Magnolia, and Delta Necessities Stores, Signature, Cowboys and Angels, Delta Gifts and Decor, Bushels and Baskets, The Opry Shop, Bookmark, Sunny G Children's Boutique, and Johnston & Murphy.
  • Fuse Nashville Nightclub which specializes in an assortment of gourmet food and cocktails, including the signature "Cotton Candy Martini".
  • Relâche Spa and Salon which offers a variety of massages and upscale services featuring a full-service salon, sauna, shopping boutique, as well as a fitness center which is open 24 hours. Relâche also houses the hotel's indoor pool and one of the outdoor pools.
  • The Arcade which features many games and prizes.
We got to our room and cleaned up, then walked around the property for a while to figure out the lay of the land.  We also wanted to find out where the theater was in relationship to the hotel, and whether there was a shuttle bus to take us to it.

We dined at the Cascades American Cafe, and had some of the best prime rib we have ever enjoyed.  It was a terrific dining experience.  Then we went to our room to change into theater-going duds.  We were excited.  We found the bus stop with no trouble, loaded up immediately, and in about three minutes we were walking toward the entrance of the theater.  One surprise was that as we entered the theater, we were given a pair of 3-D glasses and told, "Now don't lose these, and put them on when Santa tells you to."  We entered the theater and found our seats.
The Opryland Theater evokes memories of the Ryman -- wide and shallow, with pews instead of theater seats, and having extensive balcony seating.  It is, however, much larger than the Ryman Auditorium.  In just a few ninutes, the show began.

Everything about this show was better than I could have imagined.  The lighting, sound, choreography, and costumes were all as good as one can ever see or hear.  The talent of the performers was terrific.  The level of energy and enthusiasm was superb.  I can't say enough.  Needless to say, we both really enjoyed the evening.  I highly recommend the experience.

After we returned to the hotel, we wandered around the vast interior, window shopping, people watching, and taking lots of pictures.  We got a good night's rest and had an uneventful trip home on Sunday.  It turned out to be a nice way to kick off the Christmas season.

Nov 22, 2012

Banjo Boys...

Some readers may remember my foray into the world of cigar box guitars.  That effort resulted in the instrument shown above.  Now, there's a new adventure in the works.  It all started one day when my friend Clint Rankin mentioned that his wife, Sarah, wanted to learn to play the banjo.  I said, "You ought to build her one."  That started the ball rolling.

Jenes Cottrell in the 1970s with
one of his turbine ring banjos
An internet search for various terms like "home built banjo" and "building a banjo" led us to a little-known character from the 1970s named Jenes Cottrell.  According to the West Virginia encyclopedia, "Traditional musician and craftsman Jenes Cottrell (September 14, 1901-December 7, 1980) was descended from the earliest settlers of Clay County. Known for their farming and trading, the Cottrells also worked with wood. During the arts and crafts revival beginning in the 1960s, Jenes Cottrell became one of the best-known practitioners of the old ways. He made toys, rolling pins, chairs, and canes, and he put in chair bottoms of woven wood splits. He had a fine foot-powered, spring-pole lathe which he used to demonstrate his skill at festivals throughout West Virginia and beyond. He drew people as flies swarm to sugar. Somewhere along the way Cottrell had begun to make banjo rims using aluminum torque converter rings from 1956 Buick transmissions. He quickly became known for making and playing banjos."  
The turbine ring

We then found a Website of a young man named Chris Dean who had researched Cottrell's banjos and built one of his own "Dynaflow banjos."  Then we ran across some YouTube videos of a fellow who had built such a banjo and had recorded the construction sequence and some of his playing.  Clint and I were intrigued.  If we could find the transmission part - the "turbine ring" from a 1953-1958 Buick Dynaflow (no easy task) - it might be fun to try building one of these instruments.  Then Monty Love joined the crowd.

Chris Dean's finished banjo

Clint is a Pit Bull in an internet quest.  Within a day, he located a junkyard in New Jersey that had a pile of Dynaflow transmissions.  Within a couple more days, there were three turbine rings on their way to Huntsville.  Watch for progress reports over the next few weeks.

We are officially the "Banjo Boys."

Thanksgiving Breakfast Treat

This morning, Mary Ann surprised me with a baked French Toast dish done somewhat like an upside down cake.  The glaze forms in the bottom of the baking pan as the toast is cooking.  Absolutely wonderful!!!

Nov 3, 2012

Ron Thomason's "Arithmetic"

Ron Thomason is a great performer.  He is the lead vocalist and mandolin player in a band called the "Dry Branch Fire Squad."  Periodically, Ron writes in a blog-like way on a Web page he calls "Installments."  And he is, in my humble opinion, a very, very good writer -- incisive and analytic but always eloquent.  He recently posted an article titled simply "Arithmetic."  Highly recommended reading...