Bend of Slate: Top of the Bottom

Just outside the Grundy, Virginia, city limits, and not too far upstream along Slate Creek, the highway hugs the base of a small, perfectly rounded mountain, making almost a complete circle before straightening out toward downtown Grundy.

Slate Creek also bends around this small round mountain, and that section of the stream is called “Bend of Slate.”  The neighborhood on the narrow strip of land along the sandy banks at Bend of Slate–between the highway and the creek — is known locally as “the Bottom,” which I always took as “bottom of the mountain,” or “bottom of the holler,” or, for a while (before I could really read or write), some foreign word pronounced “boddum.”

I lived in and visited the Bottom throughout my childhood, and still drive through the old neighborhood whenever I’m in Grundy.  My memories include cousins, creeks, mountains, motorcycles, and walking down to the filling station to get a banana-flavored popsicle.

My fondest memories, however, cluster at the upstream end of Bend of Slate.  It was here, at the “top” of the Bottom, that Granny owned and operated Caudill’s Drive-In, with the creek on one side, a vegetable garden on the other, and a patch of trees out back casting shade over a gigantic natural sandbox, carried there by the creek, grain-by-grain over time.

I have sparse recollections of being inside Granny’s restaurant during its evening hours.  When the sun set and the small parking lot began filling up, I wasn’t allowed at the restaurant, I wasn’t allowed in the road, and sometimes I wasn’t even allowed outside of Granny’s house, which sat within sight of the restaurant a short distance “down” the Bottom.

During the day, and from as early as I can remember, I roamed the Bottom as I pleased. I spent most days chasing my older cousins, John and Jim, on their adventures; I went along on many of their outings, but got ditched on others when I was “too little” or otherwise bothersome (I spent an equal amount of time running swiftly away from John and Jim, but those are stories for a later day).  Another playmate, Harley, was closer to my own age. It seems to me now that everything Harley and I did back then resulted in one or both of us getting chased off the creek bank and switched into the house.

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Granny and 8 of her 13 grandchildren.

So, whenever John and Jim ditched me for the day (or I had escaped them, as the case may be), and poor, slow Harley couldn’t outrun his chasing, switching mother, I found myself alone, still free to roam the Bottom on my own whim and leisure. I invariably found my way to the restaurant, where I knew Granny would be back in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning, getting set for that evening’s crowd.

Granny’s restaurant was a small brick building with a sign hanging on the corner which read “Caudill’s Drive-In.”  I don’t remember whether the sign lit up (I was never there at night, remember?), but I think “Caudill’s” was spelled out vertically from top to bottom, and “Drive-In” was lettered horizontally along the bottom of the sign.

A small door led into the front room; there was a pool table and a countertop bar across the room.  I’m sure there were booths and/or tables, but the front room usually was dark when I visited.  Beyond the front room and counter was a door to the kitchen, with a service window opening up behind the counter.  Somewhere in there was a snack rack, with chips, nuts, candy, and the ever-popular Slim Jim “smoked meat stick” on display.  I loved me some Slim Jims, and Granny knew it.

What I knew was that I stood a much better chance of getting a Slim Jim from Granny if I was alone.  I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this notion, and it only occurred to me years later that she probably didn’t want to hand out whole boxes of Slim Jims to a gaggle of Bottom boys every day.  Thus, on most visits to Granny at the restaurant, I was actually sneaking up there by myself.

Sometimes I’d get straight to the point and ask Granny for a Slim Jim, sometimes I even grabbed one on the way to the kitchen, then asked if I could have it while poised to rip open the package. Most times, however, I hung at the counter and beat around the bush while Granny worked and talked to me from the kitchen; at some point, she would stop what she was doing and come out to the counter, grabbing a Slim Jim on her way. She would open the package and toss the wrapper, and I would eat the whole thing right there while we chatted.

I don’t recall ever discussing with anyone my solo visits to Granny’s restaurant, until many years later, after everybody was all grown up and could go get their own Slim Jims.

Scott Caudill

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The Bend of Slate

The Slate Creek winds down from Bradshaw Mountain along State Route 83 to Grundy, Virginia where it converges with the Levisa River and heads on into Kentucky to become the Big Sandy and then the Ohio River.

Screenshot 2018-04-06 14.33.05Just a few miles east of Grundy, situated along the shallow banks of the Slate Creek is the Bend of Slate, or as it is known to those who are from there, “The Bottom.” Between the 1940s and 1970s my father and his siblings were born and grew up in wide curve between a two-lane state road and the creek.

The curve was lined with small box houses, some of which were built onto and others that were later torn down and replaced with single or double wide trailers. Across the creek from the bottom was a one-lane road dotted with houses of a few families, some of whom you can still find there. At one end of The Bottom was “the restaurant,” official known as the Caudill’s Drive-In. My grandmother ran it for years – best hamburgers in the world I’m told.

The creek was not quite a stream or river. It could easily become swollen and forceful, quickly filling up backyards and basements. But most often it was the site of rock-skipping and swimming. Like the mountains, the river was part of the family.

The Bottom was home to a cast of unforgettable characters and the scene of a number of unbelievable stories of family, friendship, love, nonsense, and survival deep in the mountains of Central Appalachia.

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Martha, W.J., Fred, Omalee, and I.D.

In the last few years, we have lost 2 of the 5 siblings my father’s family, Omalee and Fred. In an effort to hold on to and celebrate those memories I will be posting stories from time to time about the Bend of Slate. I will start with an essay by my first cousin Scott about our Granny. His daddy Fred, who left us last month, once said that Scott and Granny had a “special understanding.” Now I know what Fred meant.

The “Sickest Town In America” Short on Facts, Large on Stereotypes

“What we see depends mainly on what we look for.” Sir John Lubbock

On January 22, 2015, The Atlantic published a feature by Olga Khazan – Life in the Sickest Town in America. Ms. Khazan, who lives in Washington, D.C., subtitles her piece with this sentence: “I drove from one of the healthiest counties in the country to the least healthy, both in the same state.” The town she bills as the sickest town in the country is my hometown – Grundy, Virginia.

When I am asked the question: Where are you from? I give the same answer every time. I am from Grundy, Virginia. Although I now live out-of-state, when I think of my hometown I think of the most beautiful, kind, and loyal place. And when I return to Grundy, as I do frequently, I find exactly that. When we go to Grundy, Ms. Khazan and I, we look for different things, and we both find what we are looking for. I find a place to be proud of and she finds a backward, sad, desperate community that time forgot.

Ms. Khazan attempts to illuminate some important issues that many towns in Appalachia struggle with – health and well-being, health care access, the disability system, and the decline of the coal mining industry. Sadly, though, any positive intent and material she may have had or presented were overwhelmed by her exaggerated, inaccurate, and stereotypical portrayal of Grundy as a poor, sick, and backward Appalachian town.

Ms. Khazan, a staff writer covering health for The Atlantic, isn’t the first reporter who has come to our little town from the big city with her own vision of what is in Appalachia. Perhaps colored by visions from old black and white photographs, it appears these reporters come to town to search for old women in aprons standing by outhouses, long lines of coal miners leaving the mine with picks and shovels over their shoulders, or dirt roads populated by nothing but camp houses and trailers. Some of those things still exist in Appalachia, but those visions and pictures are not the predominant way of life in the region or in Grundy. However, as Ms. Khazan has demonstrated, if you look for it, you will find it. This approach to journalism is a disappointment and a disservice to the people of Grundy and the readers of The Atlantic.

Ms. Khazan, in addition to various statistics on unemployment, receipt of disability checks, and some health statistics, supports her claim that Grundy is the sickest town in America with a visit to the Buchanan County Remote Area Medical (RAM) event. RAM is an annual event where hundreds of people are provided free health care, including general medicine, dental, women’s health, and vision services. The event in Grundy draws people from beyond the local area. You can find people from Eastern Kentucky, Southern West Virginia and other counties in Southwest Virginia at the event. The article does not mention that the patients at the RAM event come from a large area; rather it would have you believe that this event is only for local citizens and the immediate surrounding area. This is a misstatement. But let’s give the benefit of the doubt here and assume that Ms. Khazan simply failed to ask the right questions to elicit this information or to perform a basic Google search on RAM.

But that doesn’t explain the bigger misstatements in her article. Ms. Khazan takes the typical Appalachian stereotype one step further. She states “But if this place has the scenery of the Belgian Ardennes, it has the health statistics of Bangladesh.” With little evidence, she pronounces Grundy to be the equivalent of a third world country. She offers no analysis, only a link to the Buchanan County health statistics. It is a sensational line, but it is a shallow and unfair comparison. Health care access is a universal problem, it is in small towns and big cities and everywhere in between.

The RAM event in Buchanan County is held at a large, modern elementary/middle school that serves around 1000 students from kindergarten to eighth grade. The article describes the building as one of the “few buildings, really” in Grundy. In truth, there are new and old buildings within the town limits, including the three-building Appalachian School of Law campus, a brand new Baptist church, a Masonic temple, two new two-story retail and commercial buildings, a two-story parking garage with a Wal-Mart atop it, a movie theatre, a bank building, a historic courthouse, and numerous other buildings.

In order to reach Riverview Elementary Ms. Khazan had to drive past all these buildings.[1] Additionally, outside the town limits, but within the county and on her route into Grundy, she had to drive past the two-building Appalachian College of Pharmacy campus, a 50,000+ SF Food City grocery store, various restaurants, retail stores, and churches. So, for Ms. Khazan’s article to state that the school is one of the few buildings in town is completely and totally inaccurate. However, it does support her vision of an Appalachia that is a desolate, sad, and empty place.

To Ms. Khazan’s credit, the article fairly addresses some of the economic and social issues in the area related to health and the decline of the coal industry. However, the article completely misses an opportunity to explore local efforts to improve this economic situation. For example, the article never mentions the local government efforts to revitalize the economy through higher education, which has produced both a fully accredited pharmacy school and law school, or other efforts, which are numerous. If Ms. Khazan had approached this article, and Grundy, with an open mind, she may have gotten a better story – one that showcased ideas that are innovative, progressive, and that showed the enterprising spirit of an unexpected area of the country. The truth is, Grundy is a place that is trying to improve, to change, to survive, in spite of the economic and social issues that Ms. Khazan mentions. But that truth doesn’t fit within the Appalachian stereotype of ignorance and helplessness that she was looking for.

Ms. Khazan is nothing if not committed to impressing her stereotypical beliefs upon The Atlantic readers, even if that proves a difficult task. Relying on Martin Wegbreit, the director of a legal aid society in Richmond, VA (350 miles away), she states, “there are only a few paved roads in the county.” When I contacted the Buchanan County Highway Engineer he reported that 93% (421 miles out of approximately 450 total miles) of the state maintained primary and secondary roads in the county are paved. Ms. Khazan’s route to Riverview Elementary/Middle School for RAM, and assuming she actually went to the law school and social services to conduct her interviews, would have taken her on Routes 83 and 460. Both roads are state maintained paved roads. I confirmed with the county engineer that there are no dirt roads that intersect with Route 460 or Route 83. It is hard to imagine that Ms. Khazan encountered a dirt road while in Grundy, and if she did it was one that she went looking for because they are very hard to find. Instead of relying upon local sources or her own experience she choose to report as fact the remarks of someone sitting behind a desk 350 miles away.

What’s not hard to find in Grundy? Grocery stores. Ms. Khazan relied again on Martin Wegbreit, when he told her that Grundy did not have a grocery store until recently. This is laughable. The chain of Food City grocery stores, which includes 96 locations through Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee, is owned by a family from Grundy who opened their first store in Grundy in 1955. Grundy currently has three large grocery stores, including Wal-Mart. Ms. Khazan drove by all three of these grocery stores during her visit to Grundy. Yet, she reported totally inaccurate information.

I was not present at the interview with Martin Wegbreit so I am not sure what he said but if he indeed said what he is quoted as saying, I will simply state that Martin Wegbreit lives in Richmond, and is not a journalist purporting to report fact.

In this feature, Ms. Khazan picked few named sources, but instead relies upon generalizations like “the majority of the people I talked to were missing some of their teeth.” She picked her subjects at a free clinic that provides dental services. So, I imagine that was true. But she doesn’t explain that; she would rather imply that Grundy is full of people with no teeth. That is the image she wants to sell.

The bottom line is that the picture Ms. Khazan attempted to paint is not true. It is not true that most people do not have teeth. It is not true that most homes are trailers. It is not true that the only restaurants are Dairy Queen, Long John Silvers, and Pizza Hut. It is not true that everyone has an immediate family member injured in the mines. It is not true that all the women are obese. It is not true that the county started in farming; it was logging. It is not true that the county is devoid of highly educated professionals. It not true that all the people are sad, poor, and trapped. So much of what she said and implied is not true.

I have only mentioned a few of the gross inaccuracies reported by Ms. Khazan, but the unmentioned are no less offensive and untrue.

These misrepresentations are hurtful. It hurts her credibility; what little good she may have been trying to do is overcome by her need to prop up the stereotypes of Appalachia. But Ms. Khazan will move on, she will write more and better pieces, and her career will continue to advance. She will be fine. So, the real pain inflicted by this kind of journalism is inflicted, once again, on the good people of Appalachia, the good people from Grundy.

Yes, the area has problems; it struggles in some ways, like many cities and towns in the U.S. But it is a unique, beautiful, and good place filled with good people. It is a place driven by honor (read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, chapter six) and family. It is a place that for many is inescapable, not because they are trapped there, but because the love and connection to place and family is too strong to leave or stay gone. The pain is that we cannot make people look at Appalachia and see beyond the negative image and antiquated stereotypes. We cannot make people see what they refuse to look for to find what we know is there.

[1] Grundy is indeed a small town. Three state roads serve as the primary routes in and out of the county (Routes 460, 80 and 83). Routes 460 and 83 are the primary routes into the town of Grundy. The route Ms. Khazan could have taken to reach her Grundy destination is therefore limited and obvious.

I no longer live in Grundy, VA. However, I lived in Appalachia for 30 years and 25 of those years were in Grundy. While I left most recently in 2011 for a career opportunity in the Midwest I return at least 5 times a year to visit my immediate family. The mountains of Southwest Virginia are part of my identity. The love, loyalty, respect, and hard work that those mountains taught my parents and grandparents lives on in me. In the words of Hazel Dickens “can’t you feel those hills around you, can’t you feel that touch of home, don’t you wish you’d never gone, there are some things memories can’t bring home.” I miss Southwest Virginia everyday. There’s nowhere else like it.

Whitney Caudill

App-uh-latch-uh

Appalachia is more than a place. The Appalachian Mountains are rich with customs, food and dialect that is not found anywhere else. Those mountains are at the core of the people who were raised there or have adopted it as home. The mountains become part of who we are, why we are, and how we go about what we do.

Great Smokey MountainsOne of the things that many Appalachia natives are particular about is how we say our name. This is also something that many people from elsewhere do not understand. In Central Appalachia, where I am from, it is app-uh-LATCH-uh, not app-uh-LAY-sha. I am told that there are people in Appalachia who were taught to use the latter pronunciation. Fair enough, I obviously get regional dialect. Please understand, when you say App-uh-LAY-sha in much of Appalachia people, in addition to knowing immediately that you are not a local, may think you are trying to be fancy or worse. How you say the word Appalachia matters.

As you can tell, I and many others feel strongly about this word. So, when stumbling around on the internet I found a company called Pronunciation Tees I was super excited. What do these people do? Well, they get me and my people. Pronunciation Tees produces t-shirts that proudly display the proper pronunciation of Appalachia – [app-uh-latch-uh].

App-uh-latch-uh

The moment I saw this shirt I had to have it. Oh, and it gets better, the mission statement of the company is to

Help raise awareness about the infection known as [app-a-lay-sha].

I encourage everyone to support these brave and creative folks. It’s cool, it’s fun, and it’s just plain right.

Southern Sayings That Never Get Old

I arrived in my hometown for the holidays and it took only moments for me to feel completely at home. I went directly to an event and heard a family friend declare, in that precious Appalachian twang, “I swanny.” If you do not know, “I swanny” is a Southern exclamation  akin to “I do declare” or “I swear.” My Grandmommy was partial to the term and it always reminds me of her when I hear it. She had a way with words and her favorite sayings have been adopted by my Mommy, Sister, and me. Grandmommy was funny, direct, and very-southern. We buried her 12 years ago tomorrow: December 31, 2000.

Grandmommy holding me on Easter Sunday long ago.

Grandmommy holding me on Easter Sunday long ago.

In her honor, I give you twenty of my favorite Southern sayings that I hear when I am around home (I’ve included a little context for fun).

Wishing your evil boss would take a hike? Grandmommy might say, “well, old devils never die.”

If you find out that they sent your redneck cousin to finishing school, then you’ll probably hear “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

Upon seeing so-and-so’s new toy-sized dog Dad would say it is “ugly as a mud fence.”

At my house if you are a smart aleck you will be told to “hush or I’ll box your jaws.”

I’ve lost some weight and my mother, who was walking behind me through a public parking lot said, “your daddy must be a coal miner, cause you have some slack in your britches.”

The Bible says “you reap what you sow,” but my Mommy says that “the mill stone grinds slow, but it is always grinding.”

When you tell my Mommy about your dad, brother, husband, or boyfriend getting up at 3:00 a.m. to sit in a tree stand for hours in the cold, she might say that “men lose their minds when hunting season starts.”

My father constantly teases my mother about buying him a truck; she now responds without fail or hesitation “I tried to get you to buy a truck.” Who knows if this is true.

Got an ex-boyfriend who won’t work? Grandmommy would say that “he’s about as useful as a tit on a boar hog.”

Beware entering the presence of an older Southern woman when looking tired, unkept, or sick, else you are likely to hear “I swanny, you look rode hard and put away wet.”

My Auntie O was always extremely thin and she used to complain that my Daddy would tell her that she was “so skinny she could use a clothes-line as an umbrella.”

If you threw away Daddy’s plate before he was finished with it he’ll be “as mad as a wet hen.”

My mother buys groceries as though the store will disappear tomorrow; so, when you find a rotten cucumber (the worst) in the back of the fridge it will “gag a maggot off a gut wagon.”

The next two are not particularly kind, but often used regarding someone’s boyfriend, kid, neighbor, or husband. Lord forgive us. “That baby looks like someone beat it with an ugly stick” or “He looks like he fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch.”

Remember the aforementioned boyfriend who would not work? Well, it might be because “he’s as dumb as a box of rocks.”

Everybody likes fine things. Not everyone can afford them. Around here that is having “champagne taste on a beer budget.”

In my Southern home laziness was shameful and you never wanted to be accused of sitting “there like a bump on a log.” I had a high school algebra teacher who was missing two fingers on one hand. She used to pound that fist on her book and tell us not to sit there like a “bump on a pickle.” She, too, was not a fan of laziness.

Long engagement? Taking too long to make a decision? If so, then Mommy would say that “it is time to fish or cut bait.”

The most Southern phrase of all: “Bless your heart.” This phrase, or the just as effective variation of “Love your/his/her heart,” can and often precedes a compliment, criticism, or tall tale. Other times it is an exclamation, a thank you, or a sincere prayer.

What phrases or euphemisms remind you of your family?

Bless your hearts for reading and have a happy and safe new year!

A Hunter’s Daughter: Common Sense and Guns

One Christmas my Daddy’s big gift was a new rifle. Another year it was a fancy scope. When I was 9 I learned to shoot skeet with small shotgun. I was 13 when I completed the Hunter’s Safety Course taught as part of my physical education class in junior high school. I am not sure how old I was when Grandmommy let me clean out her revolver off the back porch, but she made sure to remind me not to hit the cats. A mounted deer head hangs from the wall in my parents’ family room. A trophy from years of hunting. Eight points. Daddy likes to say it was “harvested” not killed. It made several great dinners. I was 32 when I bought my own gun, a small attractive five-shot revolver.

Where I am from hunting is a serious hobby for most men, young and old, and guns are points of pride and collectibles. In November you see many truck tailgates down displaying the morning’s “harvest.”

My father, a sharp-shooter in the Army during Vietnam and an avid (this may be an understatement since he owns enough hunting camouflage to dress an entire brigade) hunter since he was a kid. He is a serious hunter and by serious I mean tree stands, hours of preparation, deer urine, and hours spent sitting quietly in the freezing cold. The guns that came into our home were for utility – what he needed for hunting and what the house needed for protection. Nothing automatic or with a clip. Daddy would probably say to that – “why would I need a magazine, it only takes me one bullet.”

A typical scene in my Daddy's vehicle. Turkey calls - never leave home without them.

A typical scene in my Daddy’s vehicle. Turkey calls – never leave home without them.

He treats his guns with caution and respect. They are neither toys nor trophies. He taught us, even before my state school system provided training, how to hold, clean, and store guns. He used the often quoted common sense approach – “you do not point a gun at anything that you do not intend to shoot.” If we wanted (I did, Sister not so much) he let us shoot them so we would know the proper way to do it. He did not want us to be scared of a gun, but respect its potential power. He did not say this but it was evident in his attitude and instruction.

I grew up with guns. I am not scared of guns. I believe I have the right to legally possess my gun.

However, in the wake of last week’s tragic shooting in Connecticut and the intensifying debate on gun control, I find myself thinking a lot about guns, freedom, and my life and where those things intersect. This is not the first time I have considered this issue. A school shooting occurred in my hometown and three people, who I knew or had met, were killed. I grew up in Virginia, only a couple of hours away from Virginia Tech where over 30 innocent people were murdered with guns. I work in higher education and have had to address this issue as an administrator considering the safety of students and employees.

I find that my thoughts and opinions are not new or revolutionary. In fact, they seem like common sense to me. In the words of West Virginia (can you say hunting state) Senator Joe Manchin, who has an NRA “A” rating, “I don’t know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle. I don’t know anyone that needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting.” I would add to that, I don’t know anyone who needs an semi-automatic weapon to defend their home from an intruder. Common sense.

Yet, so many people believe that the right to own a gun is somehow an unlimited right. I am a lawyer, but certainly no Constitutional scholar, and I am pretty sure that is not what the Second Amendment says or was intended to mean. Apparently, some people think it means arming civilians (teachers, principals, employees, etc.) to stop gunmen that enter schools and businesses. As I type this I don’t understand how that makes sense. Really? Do we want our schools and workplaces to become the wild west? It makes me angry.

It makes me angry because so many families from so many senseless tragedies will never be the same. That little boy on Friday who so bravely and innocently told his teacher “I know karate, so it’s OK; I’ll lead the way out” will never be the same. That little boy will never forget that day, the sounds of the bullets, the sobs of his classmates, the terror on the faces of adults, and the inexplicable loss of his friends. Senseless.

I am not naive enough to believe that semiautomatic weapons ban will stop these attacks, it may not have stopped the attack in Connecticut knowing what we know now. There are so many facets to this problem – weapons already in the stream of commerce, illegal sales, and a broken mental health system, to name a few. We must, however, start somewhere and start now.

Why not start with common sense?

If you are not a soldier then you don’t need anything resembling semi-automatic weapon and a high volume clip.

This post was featured on The Huffington Post. You can read it here.

Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion: An Epic Friday Night

“Can’t you feel those hills around you, Can’t you feel that touch of home, And don’t you wish you’d never gone, There are some things memories can’t bring home.” Hazel Dickens

There is one weekend every year when State Street in Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee turns into a haven for Americana, folk, and bluegrass musicians. It is the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion (“BRRR”). I headed south into the mountains from the flatlands of Indiana for a visit with my precious family and Friday night at BRRR.

I have not missed a BRRR since 2003 (I think), back when it was just a couple thousand people and I was living in walking distance (if you had to walk). Now, it is becoming a top-notch festival. While I am biased, I would recommend BRRR to anyone. You can’t beat great bands, both new an old, kind people, and a fun atmosphere.

Sunshine and her hubby were my partners in crime for the evening. Sunshine’s man is an organizer extraordinaire, so our itinerary was well-researched and set. We started with dinner at 620 State with a prime view of State Street and the tunes of J.P. Parsons in the background. Bless the hearts of those folks at 620, they carefully helped me have a nice gluten-free dinner on a crazy busy night with a limited menu. From our dinner table I happily spotted friends and acquaintances from my former life. Oh, and former Governor and candidate for the Virginia Senate Tim Kaine.

Our line up for the rest of night was Whiskey Gentry, Lydia Loveless, Folk Soul Revival, The Black Lillies, Billy Joe Shaver, and City and Colour. All were good, if not exceptional. However, for me the night was epic because it was a delightful combination of some of my all time favorite tunes and one of my all time favorite people.

Folk Soul Revival not only played Sweet Virginia (I like to think it is what the Commonwealth is singing to me), but they covered Tom Petty’s Don’t Do Me Like That and Prince’s Purple Rain. Yes, Purple Rain. It was awesome. Also, Tim Kaine played the harmonica on a number with Folk Soul for Tennessee Shines, an excellent radio program for WDVX out of Knoxville, Tennessee. Folk Soul Revival laid it down, big time.

Speaking of Knoxville, Tennessee, The Black Lillies (based in my law school stomping grounds of Knoxville) played like their hair was on fire at the Paramount Theatre. I adore this band. Their music is independent, personal, and high order entertaining. As an additional bonus, they are nice people and Cruz Contreras and the boys in the band are all easy on the eyes. However, the lone lady in the band stole the show on Friday night. Trisha Gene Brady gave a moving (she was brought to tears herself) a cappella performance of Hazel Dickens’s Hills of Home. It was amazing. Sunshine looked at me afterward and said “that had to be worth the trip” and, indeed, it was. I would happily drive again from FW to Bristol to hear it. They also did one of my all time favorites – There’s Only One – which made me smile. If you haven’t bought the music of The Black Lillies, please do yourself a favor and do it now.

The cherry on my Friday night at BRRR sundae came from a music veteran. This guy was writing songs for the Outlaws . . . hello, Waylon. I have been listening to Billy Joe Shaver for years. He is a lovely man. Once a hell raiser and now a Jesus advocate. I met him twice, once in Houston and then in Knoxville, and he is just a joy (I like to think he was telling the truth when he said he remembered me). I wandered down to the State Street stage after The Black Lillies just in time to hear Billy Joe Shaver belt out I’m Gonna Live Forever. No one does this tune like him. And for the frat-boy next to me who thinks that is a Robert Earl Keen song, puh-lease. Billy Joe was writing those kinds of tunes when REK was knee-high to a grasshopper. Billy Joe wrote that song with his son Eddie, a talented guitarist who died too young. Hearing it live is almost a religious experience.

It was a perfect end to a perfect evening. Heck, even the weather was perfect. This was the best Friday night at BRRR in my memory. The music was epic and the company was perfect.

Thanks to Sunshine, her man, and Bristol for making it a beautiful night.