Thursday, March 25, 2010

Running From Idaho

I termed it “Running from Idaho” (my birthplace) during conversations with friends 40 years ago.  But thanks to country-rock music I never got far.

The chronology all came back to mind as a detour took me through Tennessee countryside on my way to Nashville recently for a speaking engagement at a conference.

The rock group, The Byrds always had enough country as did the Rolling Stones and the Animals and Neil Young and even the Beatles that even before I reached 20, I was being tugged back to my roots. gram-parsons

But Bob Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay, bookended by Gram Parsons (shown on the motorcycle) both as part of The Byrds and then on his own with Emmylou Harris set the hook as the 60’s came to an end, then Kris Kristofferson, followed by The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and Willie, Waylon and the boys reeled me back in the early ‘70’s.

I could in particular identify with Kristofferson who had been a Rhodes Scholar, US Army Ranger and Helicopter Pilot before becoming one of the most significant country music songwriters.

People who know me know how eclectic my tastes in music can be but it is country-rock that resonates most deeply.

That all came back as I recalled my first and last trip to Nashville, back in 1976, again for a conference.  I was so disappointed to find Ryman auditorium deserted (shown below) and Tootsie’s and Printer’s Alley fading fast.TN_ryman

Lured by developers, the owners of Grand Ole Opry had run from their own roots to a huge, if not generic 4,400 seat theater 10 miles out of town adjacent to a “theme park (since replaced by a shopping mall.” Everyone was ga ga.

But it took no time at all to grasp that Grand Ole Opry’s owners has deserted Nashville’s unique sense of place.  It was too late by the time they clued in that those “long-hairs” were much closer to country music’s roots than their then-mainstream audience, which by the way were similar to folks from whom I was “running from Idaho.”

Some of it has come back.  Tootsie’s and the later famous Blue Bird Cafe are thriving if not a bit over-commercial and touristy.  Ryman is a very active concert venue now and even Grand Ole Opry comes back to its roots for a winter run there.

Nashville is doing its very best to build on its place based assets.  Communities could learn a great deal by looking at the details. But I still wonder how much more authentic it would all be had Grand Ole Opry stayed put.

Durham is fortunate to have some developers with a great appreciation for sense of place…but we’re not immune from making the very same mistakes Nashville did.

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