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2013 Grateful 28

I’m rapidly eating into my 15 minutes of fame. I made the newspaper in Henderson, KY and was one of the screaming masses in Nashville, TN, for yet another live recording of the Grand Ole Opry. The world’s longest-running  live radio show, it’s been on air for more than 85 years. Some visitors to Nashville may well eschew it as being too cheesy to bother with – yet this, my second time at the Opry, was no less impressive than my first, back in 2001.

IMG_5036 (800x592)It is more than a radio show – it’s an institution. Performers have 12-minute sets (about enough to do three numbers, with a bit of banter), which are followed by a series of radio commercials and this runs for about 3 hours with a short intermission. In a line-up that includes today’s chart-toppers alongside the stalwarts of yesteryear, the Opry is a home from home for so many country artists.

IMG_5114The audience the night we were there included some 3000 nurses who were in Nashville for a conference. Requests from the audience sent birthday greetings to those in their nineties and congratulated one couple on 56 years of marriage. One young lad of 20, who was spending his last night stateside in the Opry before shipping out with the US Marines, got a standing ovation. The Opry is Southern. It’s American. And it’s a source of national pride. When Charlie Daniels took the stage and did The Devil Went Down to Georgia, the place exploded. It was impossible to keep still. He got my No. 3 vote for best song of the evening. To see a man who has come out the other side of middle age give every ounce of what he has to satiate an audience who really appreciated being in the company of one of the all-time greats of country music – well, it brought a tear to my eye.

IMG_5048 (601x800)Jeannie Seely is another old-time favourite who took the stage that night and when I grow up, I want to be just like her. This lady oozes class, charm, and a certain rebelliousness that is evident in how gracefully she is aging. She’s adorable and her rendition of Let it be me had me in tears … I know, I know, I’m a wimp… but there is something magical about the Opry that stirs the depths of my soul and brings the water to the surface of the well. I couldn’t find Let it be me on YouTube but did find her at the Opry in 1966 singing Hank William’s Don’t touch me. I was definitely born into the wrong era. Jeannie got my No. 2 slot that evening.

IMG_5080For me, though, the song of the night went to the Black Lillies, a relatively new band on the scene. Their song The Fall is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard in a long, long time. Front man Cruz Contreras has a voice to die for, one that is perfectly harmonised with that of Trisha Gene Brady. Together they make an amazing sound. This is when I broke out the tissues; I even bought the CD.

The whole Opry experience is nothing short of amazing. Country is probably the only genre of music that has that family thing going – where everyone seems to know everyone else and all call the Opry ‘home’.

This week, having said goodbye to Kentucky and Tennessee, I’m grateful that despite being tone deaf, music – the right kind of music – can still make me cry. In a world where senses are increasingly being deadened by technology, it’s nice to simply, and uncomplicatedly, feel…

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

The best of two seasons

If you’ve ever driven the Richardson Highway between Valdez and Anchorage, Alaska during the couple of weeks when the leaves turn, you will know what I mean when I say that the scenery is like a painter’s palette. I’ve heard of people going to New England for the Fall to see nature’s mesmerizing display and since Alaska, while I’ve seen nice autumns, I’ve not experienced anything quite like the drive through the forests of Tranyslvania.

For a thousand years, up until WWI, Transylvania was associated with Hungary. Back in the 10th century, the Hungarian Székely settled in what is still called Erdély (‘beyond the forest’ – the literal meaning of Transylvania). With two-lane roads wending their way through the mountains, the colours were breathtaking. Passing few cars and seeing no-one but a series of lone, chain-saw wielding men, it was as if we had the place to ourselves. The higher we went, the colder it got and then we crossed over – from autumn to winter – that wonderful moment when it is neither one nor the other but a bit of both.

Given the choice between hot and cold, I’d go for cold any day. There’s a limit to the amount of clothes you can take off and if you’re not near the sea or a substantial body of water, heat is miserable. But cold – especially contintental cold  – that’s more than doable.

We were trying to get to Saint Anna lake but as we dodged fallen, snow-laden branches, pragmatism won out. The lake will have to wait for another day but the legend, and its swans, reminded me of the Children of Lir.

Way back when, even before the 13th century, two brothers lived in the area. One day, a stranger, driving a beautiful chariot with six horses, called to one of the brother’s castles. They had a party and in a gambling game of some sort (probably dice), one of the brothers won the stranger’s chariot and horses. The other brother, not to be outdone, found a better chariot and went to the village to find the 12 most beautiful women, to pull it. [I wonder if this might be the source of that Irish saying – she’s a horse of a woman?] But the chariot was too heavy for them. They couldn’t move it. The brother became angry and started beating them to death. Before she died, the most beautiful of them all, Anna, cursed the castle. A terrible stormed brewed and the castle sank into the earth. A lake appeared in the crater and on it swam 12 swans. When the birds touched land, they changed back into girls and all but one went back to their village. Anna stayed and built a small chapel and stayed there til she died.

Pilgrims still come in their droves and many young people come in the hope of finding a partner. Again, I’m reminded of Ireland and that childhood prayer: Holy St Ann, holy St Ann, send me a man as fast as you can. Definitely worth a trip back in the spring.