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Pickers’ dreams are still alive

POSTED: July 24, 2011 1:30 a.m.

There was a pop song in the ’70s that suggested that there were 1,352 guitar pickers in Nashville.

While the most recent census does not measure such things, I think the number is considerably higher.

In the past month, I have had occasion to visit Austin, Texas, and Nashville, two of the cities that lay claim to being music capitals.

Austin calls itself the "Live Music Capital of the World" and it may be correct. Downtown along the Red River, there are all sorts of places that offer live music performances. In a walk through downtown, I saw everything from dueling fiddles to dueling pianos.

This was my first visit to Austin and, quite frankly, I’d like to go back on a day when it isn’t 103 degrees in the shade. It is a fun city and my business trip was too short to give me a full measure of the city’s eclectic side.

This was my first return visit to Nashville in about 30 years.

It has changed a bit, some of it for the better.

When last I visited Nashville, country music stars still wore outfits with sequins and spangles. My mind conjures up a vision of the late Porter Wagoner with a sequined jacket adorned with wagon wheels.

The fancy attire was not limited to stars. Their backup bands also wore matching duds, as well.

I must confess that I once visited a store in Nashville that sold country star clothing. There is something downright magical about a pair of patent leather cowboy boots in the color of those marshmallow circus peanuts ... not that I ever owned a pair.

Austin and Nashville are now the land of jeans. They are either blue or black and many of them look as if they needed replacing about a dozen years ago.

The sequin has been replaced by ink. Austin and Nashville can also lay claim to being the tattoo capitals of the world. I’m not passing judgment on a tattoo, that’s a personal decision. But, the tattoo business is apparently good in both places.

There are a lot of folks that have nearly every exposed surface covered in colorful ink (and some of them leave quite a bit of surface exposed).

Another commonality of the two cities is the number of people who appear to be living on the street.

On almost every corner of downtown Nashville is a person with an open instrument case, either guitar, mandolin or fiddle, seeking a little change from the passers-by.

There was one guy who had resorted to yelling the opening lines of songs with a badly out of tune guitar. He gave panhandling a bad name.

Austin also had a number of homeless people living under bridges. I had to walk from one hotel to another under a highway overpass that was the home of a number of people. I have seen the same thing elsewhere and it makes you sad.

Those are the ones who haven’t made it.

But inside of hotels, restaurants and airports are eager performers who still have the great ambition of becoming a music sensation.

The gleam is still in their eyes, and I sincerely hope they one day lasso their dream.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.



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