Today I have to leave my wonderful cosseted world of Pigeon Forge and move on to further adventures. I don’t have a particularly early start, and as I am driving to Nashville I don’t need to pack my fully pack my case, as the top hat and cane can travel on the back seat (a nice treat for them, I am sure).
My first job (and I can hear the collective groan from my regular readers), is to use a hotel laundry room for the first time. I load up all of my costume shirts (eleven of them this year) and set them to wash before going to have breakfast.
My stage and props have gone and the room is no longer a theatre, but just a breakfast room again; however there are plenty of reminders of the fun that took place in here as lots of people come to say good bye and offer congratulations.
Dwight is on breakfast duty and very emotionally tells me, whilst firmly shaking my hand, that he thinks last night’s show was something very special indeed.
After breakfast I put the shirts in the drier and get on with some more administration – I am having my website re-designed and there is some question of how to host it, so I spend quite a bit of time being an intermediary between two hosting companies and my designer Graham (who has done such amazing work on the souvenir programmes for the last two years). I am not sure that we actually resolve anything, but the process is moving forward.
When the shirts are dry and folded (not the work of a moment), I am finally ready to leave, and join the exodus in the lobby. Just getting out of the door takes time as so many people want to say goodbye, and shake hands, and pose for just one more picture, and have just one more book signed .
There is such a sense of joyful community here at the Inn, and it is all achieved with such apparent ease – no corporate ‘suits’ striding off to important meetings as you see in most hotels, just kind people who like making other people happy.
The drive to Nashville will occupy a little over three hours of my Wednesday. The weather is rather grey and dismal, which is sad because I know from experience that this can be a very beautiful drive.
As ever on a long journey (there speaks an Englishman – three hours is almost a holiday in England, whereas to a travelling American it is a neighborhood errand!), I try to look out for quirky items of interest along the route. I am rewarded almost straight away by a little business nestling in amongst the gun shops and the hunting knife shops that line the route: ‘Daily Dentures’! Now I can understand people needing a daily coffee, or a daily newspaper, but daily dentures? That seems like quite a strain on the family budget.
The i40 continues straight west and over the carriageway there are repeated lighted signs informing me that in 2016 there were 27,574 fatalities in Tennessee as a result of ‘Distracted Crashes’ I wonder how many of those were the result of motorists peering up at overhead signs bearing statistics.
This is a road that cruise control was invented for.
Pass Chattanooga, which of course provokes an impromptu karaoke moment, and into the central time zone, which has much better weather than EST.
I am taking the opportunity of a long journey to listen to my whole Christmas playlist for the first time, and there are some great gems on it that I had completely forgotten about. It is somehow apt that the very last track to play (and I had set it to shuffle, so this is a completely random selection) is the Trans Siberian Orchestra’s Sarajevo, which is my opening music for the show.
I am getting closer to Nashville now, and the traffic is beginning to get heavier once more. As many of you will know, I do like to try and recognise those police officers or military folk who have been honoured by the naming of a Highway in their memory, and today I notice a sign to Billie Jean Grinder.
I have attached the link to her story at the end of this post, but Billie Jean was only 25 years old and a pilot with the National Guard when the helicopter she was flying crashed in Mosul, Iran killing her and her co pilot.
I have noticed that on today’s journey a lot of flags are flying at half-mast, I don’t know why, but certainly in my mind they honour the duty and bravery of every serving officer across the globe, and especially today Billie Jean Grinder.
After a slight navigational glitch, arising from the fact that Nashville Airport has two roads called Airport Center Drive, which are nowhere near each other, I end up at the Radisson Hotel, where I am to stay for the next two nights. Unfortunately there is not a room ready for me yet, so I go to the restaurant and order a plate of fish and chips.
I am in Nashville to perform, for the second time, at the home of President Andrew Jackson and whist I can remember the venue very clearly, I can’t quite recall how the show itself went and if there is anything that I should concentrate on. I open my laptop and scroll through all of my past blogs until I find the entry for the corresponding day last year: it seems as if the show was a roaring success! That is good to know.
Eventually a room is available for me and I take my cases to the 5th floor, where I treat myself to a bath with Miss Marple.
I have a little bit of time before I have to drive to the venue, so I start to watch an amazing new documentary about the Ferrari Formula One team. It is an extraordinary collection of archive film, much of which I have never seen before, although some of it is a graphically gruesome document of racing in the 50s and 60s.
At around 5pm I gather my costumes (borrowing two hangers from the hotel) and make the short journey to the Hermitage, the home of ‘Old Hickory’, the seventh President of the United States. It is dark when I arrive and the main visitor centre seems to be deserted. However there is one lady sitting outside, who asks if I am Poe! I explain that I am ‘the other one’ and she apologises profusely and explains that The Hermitage had a Poe event last week.
The show is to be staged in a small stone cabin elsewhere on the property and the kindly volunteer, who is here to collect tickets, gives me directions to it. I walk along gently lit pathways through the dark, with the mansion looming to my left and the expanse of the old plantations all around me in the shadows.
It is quite eerie, but after a ten minute nocturnal stroll I see the glow of firelight flickering through small panes of glass, welcoming me back.
Immediately I am welcomed by the event planner here, Hannah, and her team. The room in which I am to perform is long and narrow, with the stage laid out in front of a roaring wood fire. From my earlier blog reading I know that we had opened two windows to help with cooling on the stage and I suggest we do the same again now.
Although the stage is the width of the room, it is actually not very deep and not very high so there will not be a lot of room to move around, and I will have to be careful not to do too much at ground level as the audience members at the back will have no view.
Having spent a little time arranging the furniture, and just generally considering my surroundings, I go to my dressing room which is a large well-lit kitchen. As the first audience members start to arrive (over an hour before the start of the show), I begin to get into costume. I unroll my black socks and discover that I have packed a rather racy pair, with blue and purple spots all over the foot, which will remain hidden inside my boots. It seems rather naughty to wear such frivolous hose in such an historic venue!
The event is fully sold out and the audience arrive early to avail themselves of the bar that is provided, which promises to make them a happy and receptive crowd.
Just before the advertised start time of 7 I emerge from my stainless steel den and chat to Hannah. Because the entrance to the property is such a distance from the venue, it takes time to ferry the audience in – some walk as I did and others take the large golf cart which shuttles back and forth until everyone is present and correct.
Hannah had told me that having advertised the show for 7 we would expect to start at 7.15, and she is right on the money.
As last year they are a great crowd and laugh at everything. I adapt the script to the surroundings a little during the performance as some bits of business which might work on a large stage, or with a ‘wrap around audience’ will not do so well here. For example Topper’s girl is all very funny for the people at the front, but those at the back have no idea what is going on, so I cut the Blindman’s Buff scene completely.
As I complete the show the embers of the fire are burning down and I feel as if I have well and truly been smoked and roasted. The audience reaction is amazing and they are cheering and clapping and standing as I return to the stage to take my bows.
I rush to the kitchen to change costumes and when I re-emerge there is an amazingly long line of people waiting to chat and have their purchases signed. This is the longest signing line of the tour so far, and it is evident that the folks of Nashville have thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.
Eventually it is just our crew left, and as nobody will be using the cabin tomorrow I can leave all of my costume and belongings locked up in the kitchen in readiness for round two. We all pile on board the golf cart and Hannah drives us (with great verve it must be said) back to the visitor centre, and from where I drive back to the Radisson.
Tomorrow is almost a free day, as I do not have a performance until 7 (make that 7.15), so I will probably take the opportunity to go and explore ‘Music Town’.
In Honour of Billie Jean Grinder: