The Westin had a self-service breakfast cafe called Ingredients, which really was quite good and not as expensive as most hotel breakfasts. Then I checked out and headed south into Kentucky to make the long drive through the mountains and into Knoxville.
Arriving fairly late in the afternoon, I went first to JK’s Records on Western Avenue, and then drove out to Hamp’s Music in Oak Ridge. Then I went and checked into my hotel at Alcoa, before heading back up to the Cat’s Music on Kingston Pike. The manager there let me put an Alex King poster display on one of the hanging boards on the wall, and after that, I headed downtown to Calhoun’s on the River for dinner. Knoxville had apparently been hosting the US Wakeboarding Championships, and the event was just winding down for the day as I ate dinner from a table overlooking the Tennessee River.
Afterwards I called the famous jazz pianist Donald Brown, who arranged to meet up with me so we could go hear one of his sons play at a club in downtown Knoxville. I picked up a late from a coffee bar near the UT campus on the way out to Donald’s house, and then he, his brother Graylon and I rode downtown. The group playing was more of a smooth jazz/R & B type group, but it was still fun, at least until they started playing nothing but Michael Jackson songs, but, given the recent events, that was probably what most of the crowd wanted. Later, back at Donald’s house, we were up until nearly 3 Am discussing music and listening to discs. It was very difficult driving back to my hotel room at Alcoa.
A grey and overcast day, although the sun began to come out later in the morning. The hotel staff had recommended a breakfast place called the Bear-E-Patch, so I ate there before I made the rounds of record stores.
Monster Music and Movies is owned by the same Nashville firm that owns Pop Tunes in Memphis, but this store was nearly a block long and full of music. I noticed a new CD from the Numero group that featured the Young Disciples from East St. Louis, a group that had been formed as part of an anti-poverty program in the 1960’s, so I bought that, a new funk compilation from Soul Patrol and the new Mercury Rev CD. The girl that was working at Monster recommended that I head over to the Cat’s Music on Folly Road, but when I got there, they refused the promotional items and told me that they were closing down the store.
After walking around the harbor and taking pictures, I drove out to Loco Record Shop, and then back downtown to King Street, where there were a couple of stores. 52.5 was mostly a rock store, but there were a few jazz and rock items, and down the street was an old and intriguing store called Honest John’s Records and TV Repair. On the shelves were plenty of old LPs and a handful of old 45s, but I didn’t have time to look through them. Instead, wanting coffee, I used my iPhone to locate a place called Kudu Coffee, which was just across from the campus of the College of Charleston. In keeping with the name, the coffee house was decorated with African artifacts and artwork, and the coffee was very good. Driving further south on King, I ultimately came to the Battery, the wooded park at the tip of the peninsula featuring monuments, cannons, statues and stately mansions. Despite the wind, it was warm enough to walk around, and I took a lot of pictures, but it was much later in the day than I had intended, so at 3 PM, I headed across the Septima Clark Bridge onto Highway 17 for the drive to Wilmington.
I had driven this route in reverse a month before, going from Myrtle Beach to Charleston, but today the trip seemed to take forever, made worse by the traffic signals and endless snarls in Myrtle Beach. Once I crossed into North Carolina, I was still much further away from Wilmington than I had imagined, and by the time I arrived there, it was pitch black.
I approached Wilmington with some foreboding. From my reading, Wilmington had always been a place of riots and racial tension, the scene of the Wilmington Ten incident, so I half expected to see an old and decrepit port city of deteriorating buildings and was quite surprised to see the charming downtown with its restored buildings lit up for Christmas. Christmas choral music was drifting across the chilly night air (whether live or a tape I could never determine), and the threat of rain seemed imminent. After leaving some posters at CD Alley, I decided to walk around the corner to Port City Java for some coffee, but across the street I noticed an antiquarian bookshop, so I ducked in there and ended up buying several books about the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Then I ran back across to the coffee bar for a latte to go, and then drove eastward from downtown. What my iPhone thought was a record store in a Black neighborhood east of downtown was actually a recording studio, but fortunately, that put me closer to Gravity Records, an indie rock store that nonetheless was thrilled to get some Pastor Troy promotional items. In the store they were playing a disc by a British singer named Richard Hawley, whom I had never heard of, but whose mournful, melodic tunefulness seemed to fit the dark, foggy, chilly night.
The guys at the store warned me that the trip to Raleigh on I-40 would take about 2 hours through rural lands of absolutely nothing, and they weren’t far from right. I was ravenously hungry, but the exits along the way either featured nothing or fast food. Raleigh seemed to be a place of feast or famine, with very expensive upscale restaurants and the usual diners and fast food, but little in-between. A promising-sounding steakhouse proved to be out of business, and another proved to be $30 and up for entrees. Finally, I discovered a mall in Durham where there was a Cheesecake Factory, and I stopped there, but, noticing a Champps Americana across the walkway from the Cheesecake Factory, I decided to eat there, thinking that it would be cheaper than Cheesecake Factory. It wasn’t, and the food, while basically good, didn’t stand out.
After a dessert and coffee at the Cheesecake Factory, I drove another few miles into Chapel Hill, and had no problem finding the Sheraton Hotel. My room proved to be very luxurious indeed, and I went straight to bed.
After eating breakfast at the hotel, I checked out and drove out to Columbia, Tennessee to the Sound Shop store there, and then over to Murfreesboro to Century 21 to leave some Haystak promotional items there. Back in Nashville, I had visited the Cat’s Music on Gallatin Road the day before, but nothing else had been open, so I ran by Platinum Bound Records’ new location in Antioch, then over to Key 2 Music, Soundstream Records and Tapes and finally New Life Music and More. I decided not to go to Clarksville, as it was getting late in the day, and after stopping at Cat’s Music in Dickson, I headed out for Memphis on I-40.
My parents had told me that The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge served a delicious breakfast, so I checked out of my hotel in Knoxville and drove out to the restaurant, but I had not expected the traffic jams on the Parkway between Sevierville and Pigeon Forge, and by the time I got to The Old Mill, they had quit serving breakfast. Actually, finding breakfast turned out to be quite difficult, as many restaurants in the area quit serving breakfast at 11 AM. I finally found a pancake house where I had to wait an hour for a table, but the food was quite good, and then I drove back up to I-40 and headed toward Nashville. At Cookeville, I went off the interstate to try to leave some Haystak posters at Compact Discoveries, but they were closed on Sundays. The Sam Goody in Lebanon was open, however, so I left some posters there and then drove on into Nashville, where I checked into the Hilton Suites in Brentwood. I had been disappointed that I didn’t eat dinner at Calhoun’s in Knoxville, so I drove to the Calhoun’s in Nashville and ate dinner there. Then I thought about going to Cafe Coco, but decided against it, and drove over to Bongo Java instead, which was near the Belmont University campus. With no jazz clubs happening, there wasn’t much to do, so I drove back to the hotel and went to bed.
There was a Denny’s just outside the resort gate, so I ate breakfast there and then headed south on I-75 toward Tennessee, stopping once for a breve latte at Starbucks Coffee. Once I was in Tennessee, I headed south into Oak Ridge, where I left some Haystak materials at Hamp’s Records before driving into Knoxville. I spent the remainder of the afternoon visiting JK’s Records and Cat’s Music in Knoxville, but going to the east side of Knoxville proved to be rather difficult because I-40 had been closed downtown. On Magnolia Avenue, I found that Where It’s At Records had closed, so I drove out to Sevierville, and made my last visit of the day at the Cat’s Music there. Further east, near Dandridge, there was a restaurant called Cowboy’s on the shore of a reservoir, and I ate dinner there, although the lake view was better than the food, in my opinion. Down in the little town of Dandridge, there was a crowd gathered at a barbecue and steak restaurant, and I walked around the area, snapping photos of old historic buildings and homes. Across the lake, there was a new motel, with a restaurant called Angelo’s at the Point, but I had already eaten, so I got back in my car and headed back toward Knoxville. On the Tennessee River downtown, there was a gathering of Knoxville-area Parrot Heads, as the fans of Jimmy Buffett are called. They were having a picnic, cook-out and live music concert, and it appeared that they were getting ready for a boat trip as well. I went to the Calhoun’s on the River restaurant there and enjoyed a slice of key lime pie while watching the sun set over the river and listening to music playing outside on the riverfront deck. I had called Memphis jazz pianist Donald Brown to see if he knew of any jazz going on in Knoxville, but he wasn’t playing, and one of his sons was playing in Crossville, Tennessee and the other was playing at a Knoxville brewhouse, but the place was a rock club, and he didn’t expect they would be playing jazz. So I settled for a jazz club called Swanks in Maryville, and found that there was a quartet playing there, although the music was more R & B than jazz. Driving back to Knoxville, I rolled past Baker Peters Jazz Club, but there the music was loud from the outside balcony, and was definitely rock, so I made my way back to my room at the Holiday Inn. The hotel was crowded with Pop Warner football kids in town for some kind of tournament, and they seemed to be running all over the hotel, but I had no trouble falling asleep.