Saturday night and I was alone on lower Broadway Street in Nashville. The street jumps with the sound of bands performing inside the many honky-tonks that line the way. Their music is country, a sound that plays to the heart and that totally relates to being alone on a Saturday night –– especially in Nashville.
     

Not that we don’t have our own water-based crises to contend with, but the news of the tragic flooding of the Cumberland River and the damage done to Nashville reminds me of what a great experience the South’s other culturally important city can be.
        

Some honky-tonks are too crowded to enter, but that night I squeezed myself into Robert’s past the band at the entrance and then weaved near the tables and alongside the bar. My strategy was to hope that a bar stool would open, claim it, order a cheeseburger and a longneck (always a long-neck on Broadway) and then hope that the service would be slow so that I could have more time to hear the band.
        

Honky-tonk bands play for tips, but a band passing the hat on Broadway in Nashville is better than headline groups elsewhere. For dreamers, Broadway in Nashville is like the other Broadway: If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
        

Through pure luck, I was in Nashville, and in Robert’s, for the second time in five months. The first, a quick weekend tour of the city offered by a friend of a friend, had been just enough for me to fall in love with the city. The second visit, a hurried one- night stay to attend a conference, would give me a chance to see if the love was real.
        

My strategy was working: A bar stool cleared, and I had ordered a cheeseburger and a Bud longneck; now if only the counter lady, who was working several orders across the crowded bar, could take her time.
        

Across the street is the Ernest Tubb record shop, where on my first visit, the guy behind the counter had been from Shreveport. The town was once the home of the Louisiana Hayride, like the Grand Ole Opry, a Saturday night radio broadcast where the careers of Elvis and Hank Williams were boosted before they became stars in Nashville.
        

Down the street and around the corner is Printer’s Alley, a strip known for its more avant-garde nightclubs, including a place called the Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar. It was there that a waitress named Gretchen Wilson was urged to sing a few songs. She was so good that she was encouraged to get a recording contract by two of the bar’s customers, song writers/singers Big Kenney and John Rich. The three would become part of Nashville’s hottest movement, the MUZIK MAFIA. In 2004 the MAFIA had three super hits, Wilson’s “Redneck Woman” and “Here for the Party” and an unbelievable country/rap number by Big and Rich called “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.” Incredibly, the words Bourbon Street and mafia remain linked, sometimes even in a positive way.
        

Nashville is not just about country music. Ask locals about the music, and they will likely say the same thing that New Orleanians say about jazz: They like it but appreciate other styles, too. The town itself is like a music form, redefining what it is while maintaining its classical strains.  Anchoring a revived downtown Nashville is the high-tech Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, an ingenious facility that chronicles American rural and folk music. Within walking distance of Broadway are the Hall of Fame; Gaylord Entertainment Center, where the Predators, Nashville’s National Hockey League team, play; and, via a pedestrian bridge that crosses the Cumberland River, Adelphia Coliseum, home of the NFL’s Titans. A new symphony hall stands nearby. In music, football, hockey and urban redevelopment, Nashville has become big league.
       

(On the outskirts are the Hermitage, where Andrew Jackson lived and where he could reminisce about defending New Orleans, and Lynchburg, a dry county where, nevertheless, Jack Daniel’s whiskey is made.)
       

I nursed my longneck while waiting for the cheeseburger that, as I had hoped, had been backlogged by the other orders. The interior decorating motif at Robert’s is basic boots with pairs on display from the walls. For the price of a burger and a beer, plus a few dollars in the tip jar, I had an hour’s worth of entertainment. Now, like in a good country music song, it was time for the heartbreak. I had to leave. Outside, Broadway had become even busier, and the beat spilling from the nightclubs had grown louder. The night was in full motion, a perfect setting for being lonely again.

Krewe: The Early New Orleans Carnival – Comus to Zulu by Errol Laborde is available at all area bookstores. Books can also be ordered via email at gdkrewe@aol.com or (504) 895-2266.

 



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