Tag Archives: Bonnaroo


A Spot of Hillbilly Tea

June 2012

The weekend had been a Bonnaroo whirlwind, but the Sunday morning raindrops over Manchester, Tennessee fields, put us on the road earlier than we intended.  We may have missed some Bonnaroo shows as a result, but foregoing rainy concerts meant more time for lunch along the way.  Thanks to Nicole, we decided upon a quaint patch of Louisville, Kentucky called Hillbilly Tea.

“At its core Hillbilly Tea is an Appalachian themed “Tea Café”, which offers a variety of fresh organic whole leaf teas and boast a full menu of wholesome mountain inspired comfort foods.”

From my first peek through the door, I knew we had made the right decision.  There was an abundance of brick, rustic wood, old metal and mason jars.  On top of the visual welcome, our waiter was brimming with positivity and personality.  We all exchanged Bonnaroo stories and a few traveling tales before even discussing the menu.  I told the waiter I was ready to move into the space, and his enthusiasm for the place just beamed.  It was so apparent he genuinely adored the cafe, and it made an amazing cafe all the more memorable!

pork & pone
w/ garlic mayo red cabbage chow chow & choice of side

Sweet, tangy, tender chunks of pork atop slightly sweet and spongey corn pone…

…very quickly became a picked over plate!

Duck Burger
w/ house bacon, caramelized onions, greens & cheese

Additionally there was a cakey biscuit with local honey, smokey greens that taught me how proper southern greens can really steal the show, sweet potatoes and endless mason jars of Nettle tea from the Hillbilly farm outside of town.

Our charismatic waiter said “dessert,” and I was going to pass, but he kept talking, and when he did, he uttered the words “bourbon bread pudding.”  We ordered it without hesitation.  We did it for us, and we did it for Nicole, knowing she would surely be on her way to some celestial paradise if she could have taken just one bight of the warm caramel-topped bread chunks with a meringue topping and BURSTS of bourbon flavor!  Our charismatic waiter also suggested a hot tea pairing similar to a chai but made with a smoky black tea, milk and sorghum syrup.  It was the type of tea that conjures views of bluish-green hills shrouded in low, dewey clouds, when time is timeless and the quiet is invigorating.  It was an entire scene of calming respite in a sip of smokey tea.

I could have stayed there all day, just sipping tea and enjoying the waiter entertain each table with his happy attitude, wild gingery beard and blonde hair.  I could have, but alas I, for some reason, continued on the journey toward home.


En Route [From] Bonnaroo: Home Again, Home Again

The Southern SojournConcluded
June 2011

Aside from the general desire to share my wanderings, the flavors and the general feel of the South inspired me in ways that will be evident and bear a background story.  Accordingly, I presented the city-by-city recap of my Southern Sojourn.

Then I had to return home…

…but I want to include one more Bonnaroo memory!

Sandra, Heather and I were sitting rather indifferently on the outskirts of the Iron & Wine concert (I just don’t think he is meant to be heard in a venue that large) when I caught a few notes from the one song I wanted to hear most from the Cold War Kids.  I quickly told Heather and Sandra to stay put, and then I bolted!  I ran past the mosaic wood-fired pizza oven, past the tent of amateur rappers and DJs, past the sweet potato source that had run out of plates, past the fountain and into the dust!  I made it!

Ok, maybe more than just one more memory.  I also danced my heart out to the entire Scissor Sisters show whilst craning my neck to attempt to see the singer’s hairstyle.  I led two guys into a Gogol Bordello mosh pit after I impressed them with my crowd maneuvering skills.  I danced to Girl Talk as we made our way to our tent.

I went, I saw, I looooooved it all!

Then I returned to the Steel City.  On the Bonnaroo map, the Pittsburgh mark is the point that made me the saddest (because I wanted the journey to continue), it only seemed right to show some of the city.

Is it?

Black and yellow.  Black and yellow…. blllllaaaaaaah

Not quite the Fin.  There will be nostalgia.

Lynn's 04

En Route [From] Bonnaroo: Louisville

The Southern Sojourn
June 2011

Aside from the general desire to share my wanderings, the flavors and the general feel of the South inspired me in ways that will be evident and bear a background story.  Accordingly, I present the city-by-city recap of my Southern Sojourn.

Now for Louisville [dinnertime]…

I have been known to complain about facebook and social media, but I’ll never swear it off because with a dose of self restraint, these are the useful tools of our era.  Way back in the wintry months when I posted a comment on facebook to see who was interested in a Bonnaroo excursions, Paul Q. responded he would be drumming on stage and then dancing on the festival grounds.   Full disclosure?  With a last name like Quattrone, Paul counts as one of the few gents out there who could persuade this Lady Q to ever change her last name.  Juuuuust saying.  He also said he would be driving home from Bonnaroo, to Pittsburgh, with Alexei, another hometown hero.  Fortunately, they had some space in between a drum, a keyboard and general Bonnaroo goods to squeeze in this baker!

The Drumming Bit…

The Driving Bit…

Look at the above map.  Do you see how Louisville is closer to Nashville than Pittsburgh?  The omnipotent Google maps will tell you it’s about a three hour drive from Nashville to Louisville and then a six hour drive from Louisville to Pittsburgh.  What none of us knew (including Big Brother Google) however, was that Kentucky had this ulterior motive to thwart the influx of traffic so obviously northern bound from Bonnaroo.  Kentucky’s plan was this:  a continuous pattern of merging two lanes into one.  This sent drivers into a panic, causing them to merge ever so prematurely.  We craaaaaaawled from Nashville to Louisville, but at least there was a light at the end of the merging tunnel.  It was more than a light, in fact, it was quite the sparkle:  dinner time!

Alexei’s was no newbie to Louisville, and he guided us to a very unique dining experience:   Lynn’s Paradise Cafe.  The cafe has been described as Salvador Dali (my favorite Dali antics) meets Dolly Parton (my favorite Dolly song).  I wouldn’t know where to begin if I were sitting with two of them at the same table, but I imagine it’d be a bit of heaven…

Heaven being this burger…

Kentucky grass-fed beef with bourbon bacon, cheese and a slew of fried onions on a whole-wheat bun, accompanied by sweet ‘tater fries.  The menu had lots of options that toyed with my deciding forces, but once I saw the bourbon BACON + burger + sweet potato combination, my choice was clear as the ice in a bourbon drink.  I savored this meal as the last of my Southern Sojourn, and damn if it wasn’t delicious!  I wish I had time to digest properly and leave room for one of the pies or bourbon milkshakes.  As it was, I only really had time for some outdoor antics and the road.

The Q per capita shot through the roof!

Oh that?  He’s just holding hands with AN ELVIS BEAR!!!!  No big deal.  This was all a really brilliant decision Alexei!  Well done, sir, well done!

En Route to [and from] Bonnaroo: Nashville, Part Deux

The Southern Sojourn
June 2011

Aside from the general desire to share my wanderings, the flavors and the general feel of the South inspired me in ways that will be evident and bear a background story.  Accordingly, I present the city-by-city recap of my Southern Sojourn.

Now for Nashville, Round Two…

After Beirut played Nantes, I was content.  There were a few more acts on the mellower Sunday evening, but I was content to end this Bonnaroo experience on those notes.  The three of us were all very content with the idea of showering and using a non-portable toilet before our return to the real world, so we returned to Nashville.

I knew I was dirty, but I didn’t know how dirty I was until I was sitting against the clean backdrop of the hotel.  EVERYTHING was covered in dust!  Once we all scrubbed away the layers of Bonnaroo, we had one place on our mind; conveniently enough, our hotel and The Patterson House were neighbors!

(For one more look at my full set of Nashville photos, click the image above)

Our Patterson Part Deux lacked the social aspect of our first trip, as most of our new friends were off duty for the night, but the cocktails did not disappoint.  This time, we left more room for dessert, which was a fancy s’more, complete with homemade marshmallows with a hint of bourbon.  Yummmmy!  It was almost as if we were still camping?  (Not at all).

After the truly restful sleep of a clean bed, we took one more foray into Nashville.  Mostly, we ate deliciously authentic French pastries at Provence bakery, spilled a bunch of coffee, people watched, tried to cling to some shade and listened to a troubadour of sorts.  So concluded my Nashville stint part deux, for it was time to meet with my  Pittsburgh pals for my ride home.

Dear Nashville,

I say wholeheartedly, I NEED to return soon!

Very Sincerely,

Quelcy T. Kogel

En Route to Bonnaroo: We Made It!

June 2011

Aside from the general desire to share my wanderings, the flavors and the general feel of the South inspired me in ways that will be evident and bear a background story.  Accordingly, I present the city-by-city recap of my Southern Sojourn.  Sit back, put on some headphones and relax because this is going to be a long one.

We made it to Bonnaroo!

The Lay of the Land

We drove to Nashville on Wednesday, Wednesday being a full twenty-four hours before the start of the festival.  As we passed Manchester, TN, the cars were already forming lines on both sides of the highway for at least a mile (?).  What could the day of the festival possibly hold traffic wise?  We mentally prepared for lots of bonding with the rental car, but lo and behold, our later evening arrival worked highly to our favor.  The lines were ever so slight, and by that point, the remaining campsites, though farther from “Centeroo,” were quieter, less sardine-like, and most importantly, their porta potties experienced much lower traffic.

While the sun set beautifully over a farm field’s low horizon, we pitched our tent and befriended our new neighbors.  Our first night was all about exploring, taking in this temporary, pop up city and its 85,000 inhabitants!

It really is a city.  Someday some urban thought tank will fund me to research the festival from a city planning perspective (don’t steal that idea or my funding).  Centeroo is like the medieval castle or the symbolic cathedral or central government building; it is the livelihood and backbone of the “city.”  An ornate entry, fences/walls, security, and as the festival progressed, the occasional puddle moat protected Centeroo.  Beyond the music “village” walls, the divisions form the various classes of Bonnaroo society.

The inhabitants of Tent City pay for the amenities and hassle free packing of the rented tent options:  cots or air mattresses, bedding, a lock, a weatherproof tent, proximity to Centeroo (ie:  prime real estate) and an attentive staff.  These are the hotel dwellers for all intents and purposes, surpassed in comfort only by RV City.  The RV dwellers are the real upper crust of this festival society.  The inhabitants are either performers or people willing to pay for the real luxuries of “camping”:  AIR CONDITIONING, water and waste pumping, bedding, a kitchenette and the real golden ticket in the Bonnaroo world:  a cleanish toilet.

The middle classes sprawl from there.  The family camping area (yes, people bring children?!?!) is frighteningly uniform, much like a suburban cul-de-sac.  Our neighbors told us how they finally jumped a barbed-wire fence after finding themselves hopelessly lost amongst the monotony of the Bonnaroo ‘burbs.  The rest of the fields were comprised of the gamut of campsites displaying the skill levels and creativity of the campers.  There were elaborate grills, tarp forts, lawn furniture, camper rooftop decks, temporary showers, etc.  We were quite modest with our simple Coleman tent purchased at the closest super center the day of the festival.  Just past our tent and the remaining field was the road, and from there, as I understood it, were the commuters.

(Click on the above image to see the full set of my Bonnaroo pictures)

The standard urban amenities existed as well:  water, sanitation, refuse, recycling and like the more progressive cities of America, composting.  I did not envy the volunteers who bent over plastic bottles, separating the recyclable from the chaff, in exchange for free entry.  Perhaps this was my “tent city” moment, but I’d rather suck up the expense of a festival pass than spend days in the hot sun separating plastics in exchange for a few shows.  Call me what you will, but don’t call me to the recycling heaps.  That being said, thank you to those who did make the festival a greener place to live, especially the volunteer who jammed to My Morning Jacket while monitoring the trash/recycling/composting station (I can’t say with 100% certainty, but I think he may have also been eating the salvageable compost finds.  The salute stands).

What does the Bonnaroo village known as Centeroo contain?  Anything and everything and way more than I could even take advantage of!  First of all, it has landmarks, which are useful when orientation disorients- a large cuckoo clock, a Ferris wheel, sculptures and structures such as the Victory Garden.  There are “roads” lined with food vendors, and I’m not talking about the average festival fares [ie:  shitty hotdogs and funnel cakes].  There were wood-fired pizza ovens, artisan beers, an array of ethnic foods and meals containing vegetables that were still recognizable as vegetables!  I even consumed brown rice.  BROWN rice!  Additionally, there was the “Food Truck Oasis,” offering an array of trendy, mobile, gourmet foods.

Most of the Centeroo roads lead to the 20-foot, lit, central fountain.  The ability to drench oneself prior to a stretch of concerts, or in the least, drench a bandana to wrap around the neck, was invaluable.  This cooling method was a brilliant idea until day three or four when the water distinctly smelled like urine.  Heat, sweat and dust became all the more tolerable at that point.

Speaking of urine, because how often does that transition arise, Centeroo had its share of porta potty stations, and as far as porta potties go, I’d say these were just fine but maybe too few in number.  There was still what I will call “The Bonnaroo Cunundrum”- needing to hydrate while simultaneously not wanting to pee.  Heather made the most amusing, “I can’t touch anything until I touch hand sanitizer” departure from every porta potty she used.  Sandra also hypothesized we would all find solace in the first grimy gas station bathroom we’d find post Bonnaroo.

Confirmation came on my drive home in an especially creepy Ohio bathroom situation (who sends a lone female to the bathroom in the back exterior of the gas station only to find some man awkwardly waiting for her to finish using the facility?  Who?!?).  Lastly, there was the “Bonnaroo Mirage.”  One morning, we trekked through an empty field to a row of relatively untouched port potties beyond our campsite.  The next morning, we made the same trek only to arrive at an empty field.  The porta potties were gone.  Had we imagined them all along?

The Bonnaroo planners either were inebriated themselves or thought they were playing a funny joke on the soon-to-be inebriated festival goers when they named the stages:  What Stage, Which Stage, This Tent, That Tent and The Other Tent.  The cuteness of this gimmick lasted about 30 minutes, with only a fraction of that thirty minutes actually spent thinking about stages.  The stages!  Our Bonnaroo raison d’etre!

It’s Not Just Music, It’s More!

Between the confusing stage names, the overwhelming number of bands and the carefully calculated concert combinations, our repeated consultations to the dense schedule left the paper nearly in tatters.  Inevitably, there were some amazing shows that had to be sacrificed, some that had to be cut short and others I will remember forever.  Forever!

I could give a snarky, self-important review of the shows I saw, but it’s not my music review style (despite my typical abundance of snark).  Instead, I offer why I really found Bonnaroo to be about much more than music.  The music recalled so many phases of my life over the past ten years:  the ridiculous, the bad, the good and the sleep deprived.  These were the soundtracks to significant portions of my personal development.  There I was in a Tennessee field, singing along to those significant songs, with the other thousands of sweaty, dusty, dehydrated festival goers.  I have known nothing like it.

Highlights According to the Chronology of my Life…
The Ridiculous, The Sleep Deprived, The Bad, The Good

Eminem:  My Ridiculous Days

The last I really recall of Eminem was dancing in my friend’s car as “Slim Shady” went round the outside, and we went to homeroom.  Then I fell off the bandwagon.  However, he’s Eminem!  You have to see Eminem if he’s right there.  By “right there,” I mean distance made him about the size of my pinky finger.  Thousands of people separated the Marshall Mathers from me, which was comforting when his soundtrack opened with an all too realistic gunshot sound jolting the audience to attention.

The Eminem crowd must have emerged from the woodwork, if there is woodwork at Bonnaroo; the demographic had shifted so drastically.  We had to push our way through a lot of white trash to get to a reasonable viewing point, and I’m not talking about [ready for it?  Bad joke in 5, 4, 3, 2…] the white colored debris on the ground (ok, so maybe some snark in this review).  The Bonnaroo website put the total attendance count at 85,000, and it felt like allllllll 85,000 Bonnaroo wristbands were waving in the air at that show.  Were all those 85,000 wristbands waving because they truly related to the lyrics?  Doubtful, but it was entertaining when I was passing a girl singing along to the following lyrics while waving her hand (and booty?) at her (presumably) boyfriend…

“.. I said you don’t, wanna fuck with Shady (cause why?)
Cause Shady, will fuckin kill you (ah-haha)”

How romantic.

This is part of the fun (?) of the Eminem show?  Of course, we don’t all relate to a crazed fan or a crazed mother or a crazed girlfriend.  Eminem didn’t capture and express a deep sentiment of mine.  Instead, he reminded me of my own ridiculousness when his music was more a part of my life:  the dancing in the car, the drive to some silly homecoming game, the “debates” with our tennis coach over “good” music (boy, were we so generally mistaken then), the initial shock of something so crude to me at the time, etc.

Eminem’s show came at the late night, midpoint of a heavy line up of concerts, and about half way through his show, I thought, “this is it.  I’m done.  I can’t make it.” Right about then, at that moment of intense fatigue, he unleashed a medley that led me right to high school again and reinvigorated me.  In an instant, my tired, inner grumblings were dancing around with two of my best friends and quite possibly,every single Bonnaroo attendee.    Thank you for that Marshall Mathers, thank you for that!

The Arcade Fire:  My Sleep Deprived Days

Tall, skinny Tommy, the painter.  He was the first boy to truly break my heart, and incidentally, the first to introduce me to The Arcade Fire.  He gave me Funeral as a Christmas present, and I listened to it over and over and over again for two reasons:

1.  He gave it to me and
2.  It was a perfect album.
3.  It had been a while since I had owned an album, and I was drawn to the tangible, art of the entire package.

At the time of my obsessive listening, I was in architecture school.  To this day, I count it as one of the most difficult challenges I have faced; both because of the actual pressures and because of the intense pressures I put on myself.  There were many sleepless nights spent in studio, some fun, some stressful, some seemingly never ending, some racing against deadlines, some so insanely exhausting.  In that time, I broke myself down so thoroughly and slowly saw who I really was, where I came from and how I needed to change.  It was impossible and necessary and doable and negative and positive and … sleepless.  It was in those moments when the song “Rebellion (Lies)” really resonated.

Sleeping is giving in,
no matter what the time is.
Sleeping is giving in,
so lift those heavy eyelids.

People say that you’ll die
faster than without water.
But we know it’s just a lie,
scare your son, scare your daughter.

People say that your dreams
are the only things that save ya.
Come on baby in our dreams,
we can live on misbehavior.

Every time you close your eyes
Lies, lies!

If I had to pick one solitary experience from Bonnaroo and one solitary experience only, it would be the finale of the Arcade Fire show.  We were in an immense crowd, but their devotion and true dedication to each and every one of us in the audience compressed the crowd into what felt like a small room of friends.  As the lead singer pressed his palms together and closed his eyes so tightly, I knew we were both attempting to stay in that moment as long as possible.

Maybe because the one who left me hadn’t bestowed the subsequent two albums upon me, but Funeral impacted me far more than the others.  I hadn’t connected at all to Neon Bible, and I was only half-heartedly appreciating Suburbs prior to the festival.  However, the show breathed new life into everything I had ever heard from them, changing how I would listen to them after the festival.  Nonetheless, I still felt more connected to the show during the Funeral songs.

When the familiar notes of “Rebellion (Lies)” emerged from “Power Out,” my festival was complete.  I looked at Sandra, and she was in disbelief as well.  Apparently, we had both found comfort in that song during our sleepless nights.  As the notes played, the three of us counted amongst the tens of thousands who were arguably part of one of the most memorable finales of the festival!  I hadn’t expected my “if I had to pick only one” moment to come during this show, but as that “last song” became even one more encore performance, the music, the moment and the hands waving in the air felt nearly spiritual.  We were connected to such sincerity, such honest intention, and it truly felt like more than music.  It continues to give me chills.

Mumford & Sons:  The Bad

Reasons 4, 5, 6, 8 for going to Bonnaroo were Mumford & Sons.  I recently realized what I would have described as my “passionate” side is actually a strong indication of an “addictive” personality.  Part of that realization stemmed from the number of times I listened to the Mumford & Sons album.  I am not exaggerating when I say that I was only listening to them, or only intentionally listening to them (I can’t, after all, control all the ambient music around me) with a few minor exceptions when I tried to prove I was a normal human being with normal music inclinations.  Unfortunately, I have to doubt that to be the case.

I first came to M&S via my obsessive listening of Laura Marling.  I was so caught in her precocious wisdom, I nearly missed what M&S had to offer to my playlists.  It was when Heather first began mentioning Bonnaroo and listed M&S as one of the bands she wanted to see that I finally, truly listened to them.  It probably took one attentive listening before I was hooked, and oh how hard I was hooked.

I couldn’t argue against the passion they gave to each and every song, each and every time they performed them (at that point, I was combing through youTube for any and all videos).  I am a big believer in experience and honesty coupled with questioning/curiosity as the basis of strong artistic expression (without entering into a full fledged “what is art” or “what is ‘good’ art?” debate).  In that arena, Mumford and Sons appeared experienced beyond their years.

The time I found them coincided with a time when I was questioning a lot about love and my connection to another human being.  I literally shed tears listening to the album.  Probably by my fortieth listen of Sigh No More, I knew I had to make a change, as romanticized as that may sound.

Love it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be
There is a design, an alignment, a cry
Of my heart to see,
The beauty of love as it was made to be

I wasn’t feeling free, nor was I feeling like the person I was meant to be.  I wasn’t feeling like he was free or the man he was meant to be.  It wasn’t the song that pushed me to make a final decision, but it made me take a cold, hard look at myself.  Subsequently, I felt more of the lyrics from Little Lion Man.  Two sides had been at fault for a while, but I realized I had inadvertently and cruelly crushed someone.

But it was not your fault but mine
And it was your heart on the line
I really fucked it up this time
Didn’t I, my dear?
Didn’t I, my…

I had turned a page in my life, and the questions of White Blank Page became more relevant.  Would these words be true of the next person to hold my heart and hand?

Can you lie next to her and give her your heart, your heart?
As well as your body, and can you lie next to her and confess your love, your love?
As well as your folly and can you kneel before the king and say ‘I’m clean’, ‘I’m Clean’?

I found so much personal meaning in each song, and I also respected how much meaning the band brought to their work.  Their show was a top priority, and it was no small feat that we made it as close as we did, and as a bonus, had our little blip on the big screen.

Dear Mumford & Sons,

Singing along with you made my Bonnaroo experience complete.  Your finale rendition of “Amazing Grace” with various musicians including Old Crow Medicine Show exemplified what a live show should be:  fun, passionate, beautiful, energizing, so on and so forth.  I aspire to Country Winston’s wild faux hawk/mullet, and Ben Lovett exuded more zeal for his accordion playing than I have ever seen pressed into bellows and keys.  Also, it was a bit surprising that Ron Jeremy counted among the fans on your stage, but why not?!?

Thank you!

Florence and the Machine:  The Good

For all the sad transitions Mumford & Sons may have represented or recalled in my life prior to Bonnaroo, Florence and the Machine fully captured the happiness I unexpectedly found shortly thereafter.

Happiness, hit her like a train on a track
Coming towards her, stuck still no turning back
She hid around corners and she hid under beds
She killed it with kisses and from it she fled
With every bubble she sank with a drink
And washed it away down the kitchen sink

The dog days are over
The dog days are done
The horses are coming
So you better run

As my happiness bordered on bursting, my heart nearly beat out of my body, forming a nearly audible percussion accompaniment to the developing chapter of my life.

There’s a drumming noise inside my head
That starts when you’re around
I swear that you could hear it
It makes such an all mighty sound

There’s a drumming noise inside my head
That throws me to the ground
I swear that you should hear it
It makes such an all mighty sound

Louder than sirens
Louder than bells
Sweeter than heaven
And hotter than hell

I ran to the tower where the church bells chime
I hoped that they would clear my mind
They left a ringing in my ear
But that drum’s still beating loud and clear

The firery Florence describes music as this, “It’s something overwhelming and all-encompassing that fills you up, and you’re either going to explode with it, or you’re just going to disappear.”  While standing on the sand pit surrounding her stage, tipping on my toes and straining to see the wing like, black, Gothic ensemble take flight in song, I venture I was closer to the disappearance side of the spectrum.  Her voice belongs in an abandoned, stone ruin in which her ever-growing vocals would fill the caverns and reverberate as her body took rhythmic flight.  She could float above the gray stones of an old cemetery in which the names have been etched away by the years and neglect.  She could be the dewy morning of a sun kissed meadow.  She is otherworldly and magical.


There was so much more:  blue lights floating from paragliders (?) parachuters (?) in the sky, crowds spontaneously singing together while herding between shows, the intense, sweltering heat of a tent at 8am, the Harikrishnah chants, the giant hula hoop, the overall people watching extravaganza….  There was so much more, but I conclude with this.  Bonnaroo was the best it could have possibly been (aside from an all access pass to every stage?!?!), but I will leave it on this high note.  With all the festivals of this world, I doubt I will return to that field in Manchester, but someone else should definitely go in my stead.

En Route to Bonnaroo: Nashville (Part I)

The Southern Sojourn
June 2011

Aside from the general desire to share my wanderings, the flavors and the general feel of the South inspired me in ways that will be evident and bear a background story.  Accordingly, I present the city-by-city recap of my Southern Sojourn.

Now for Nashville, Round One…

I could preface all of the “En Route to Bonnaroo” posts with “our stay in ____ was way too short,” but our stay in Nashville was definitely too short.  It was one evening, one night and then a trip to a strip mall to properly prepare for our Bonnaroo experience. That being prefaced, within the short windows of time we had, Sandra and I managed to fall in love with one place in particular and find a few other favorable acquaintances along the way.

My friend Nicole mentioned visiting Nashville and was very excited for my first time in the music city.  I asked for her recommendations, bearing in mind our time was very limited.  Nicole gave me a gift called The Patterson House, and I owe her!   Before I get too far ahead of myself, let me at least mention dinner.

The meal in Athens, the sprawl of Atlanta traffic spilling way beyond city limits and my misjudgment of a “close” hotel location put us in Nashville proper pretty late in the grand scheme of the evening.  As we walked Broadway Street trying to determine a worthy, late dining option by appearance alone, a thought dawned on me- Matt may live here!

Matt and I met at an American Institute of Architecture Students leadership conference in Washington DC.  We reconnected at a similar conference in New Orleans, after which I took a  beautiful train ride to Wynn, Arkansas to visit him on his small town, home front.  Every now and then, I’d call Matt to keep our communication more personal and to keep us connected.  Granted, I hadn’t done such a great job recently, but I did think of him often.  I knew he was living in Tennessee, but I couldn’t recall if he had chosen Memphis or Nashville as his post college locale. Only one way to find out…

Moi:  “Hey Matt!  Where is it you live again?”

Matt:  “Nashville.”

Moi:  “Oh!  Guess where I am!”

Matt:  “Uhhh… Nashville?”

(Click the above image for the full set of Nashville pictures)

As I walked and talked, Matt confirmed The Tavern as an acceptable dining choice and said he’d meet us there in a bit.  Sandra and I passed the time with whiskey drinks while waiting for both a table and Matt.  Before I had really heard the bartender speak, I prefaced my newness to the expansive world of bar drinks and my preference for something authentically “southern.” Then he opened his mouth, and a New Zealand accent flowed…probably not the bartender to fulfill my request (not that a foreigner couldn’t master a regional drink, but his confidence in that department was low).  He sought back up, and the result resembled a whiskey sour.  Passable.

Our meal was notably more southern than my drink:  cornmeal-fried organic catfish, whole-citrus tartar sauce, jalapeño cornbread and “Tennessee sweet potato fries.”  It was good, but it was nothing really to ramble on a blog about.  The more impressive aspect of the meal was the reconnection and another crossing of friendship circles.  The world is a very pleasantly small place sometimes.  Matt, Sandra and I left the restaurant, united in our Toms shoes, Tavern experience and the new friendships formed.  Then we parted ways, Matt for home; we for The Patterson House!

The Patterson House literally is in an historical house.  Without the assurance of friends who have previously braved the entry, courage could easily be lost around the dark and unassuming porch, on the nondescript corner, when the feeling of “this can’t be it,” starts to dominate.  Once the assurance (or in our case, the background information) enables you to risk opening the front door, you find yourself in a dimly lit library with a curtain dividing you and a moment recreated from drinking history.  The physical division might be pretentious, but as Nicole said when recommending the place, “damn if it doesn’t work!”  You wait anxiously until the moment when they tell you it’s your turn to cross the curtain and see what it reveals.

The bar takes center stage, and the light hits the warm wooden surface and tiers of fancy alcohols romantically.  There are strategically placed stations, or palettes rather, of fresh mint and various colorful fruits that vary far beyond the typical lemon and lime offerings:  brilliant blackberries, red raspberries, strawberries and so on.  The feel is that of an old library or the exclusive parlor, where men would have adjourned in the era when I would have been stuck in a kitchen (whereas now, I am liberated and have the choice of both).  Even the ceilings are aesthetic and enviable with their antique tin tiles.  I could live in this room.  The aggressive shaking of cocktails interrupts the long staring and mind wandering.  The artists are at work, and it’s time to decide.  What to ask of them?

The unassuming corner house takes its name from former Tennessee Governor Malcolm R. Patterson, who vetoed the return of statewide prohibition in 1909. The governor contended prohibition should be decided at the local level rather than by the state. The Legislature overruled Patterson’s veto, and the resulting modern homage is a multi-paged menu of tantalizing cocktail options.  If the artisans didn’t do their job so well, those pages could paralyze a patron with indecision, but the lads and ladies in Prohibition style attire are there not only to aid in deciding but to delight.

Judge me as you will- hipster, elitist, pretentious, whatever, but I’ll be damned, this is how I could drink forever!  I had visions of touring the nation, finding the dimly lit but carefully designed, secret spots of major cities all over the U.S. and developing my new whiskey habit.  For the moment, I reveled in the Nashville night.  It began with a cherry smoked cola and whiskey in a tall glass with perfect ice for even the ice here is highly intentional.  The night continued with a frothy strawberry drink in a delicate glass, followed by a custom lavender, citrus, whiskey drink and a new camaraderie.

The mixology was magical, and our charming magician, Christian, saved us from the extremes of our bar neighbors:  two gents who were quite our senior and not in a “I’m Robert Redford, I can still attract young ladies” way and a more age appropriate “musician” who lost me when he told me, “Oh, if you love Mumford and Sons, you’d love my band.”  My love of Mumford and Sons runs deep, and I’m not about to let any old gent with an old timey vest purport to be the local version of their greatness.  End of conversation, you crossed the line arrogant one.

We found far more in common with our attentive artisan and with the folk at the end of the bar who used to number amongst the staff.  Our new kinship resulted in a slice of the beautiful bread pudding from the staff dinner and a samplin’ of the southern style beignets courtesy of Christian.  Oh why, oh why was I so full on catfish and sweet potato fries when these desserts had so much more flavor to offer?!?!

The Patterson House felt so removed from time, but the hours did indeed catch up with us.  Alas, the bar was due to close, and we were due to return to our very average hotel.  As it turned out, we’d return to the dimly lit parlor before we knew it, but I do declare (because that seems the southern thing to do), the first time was the charm.  In the meantime, we had to sleep.

The following morning allowed for one more dose of Nashville.  First, my friendship circles crossed when Heather arrived at our hotel door.  She barely made it after several flight issues, but there we were, all together, ready for a Nashville breakfast and not quite ready for a musical experience like nothing any of us had experienced to date.  First, breakfast.

The Pancake Pantry.  It was another hit on Nicole’s list, and judging by the size of the line late on a Thursday morning, it was a hit on a number of lists.  Much as internet menu perusing had me ready to order at Farm 255, I was set with my pancake preference by the time we were seated:  sweet potato pancakes with homemade whipped cream and pure maple syrup, please!

Despite wanting to sample various flavors from the extensive pancake menu, Sandra and I couldn’t help but order the same option.  Though I only tasted one other pancake variety via Heather’s selection, I dare say, we made the optimal choice:  a not too thin, not too thick pancake with the extra fluffiness and flavor of sweet potato, with a kick of cinnamon and spice and the melting cream, which tasted like pure butter in the best way that whipped cream can taste like butter melting over a pancake (ok, maybe it was just whipped butter?).  It was a very difficult endeavor not to eat the entire plate, and regardless of my valiant attempts at modest restraint, the inevitable pancake coma still hit by the time we were in a local vintage shop and strolling the eclectic street.

The rest of the day was an adventure to a strip mall to fill a car with all things Bonnaroo, so this, Nashville Part One, pauses with a plate of pancake leftovers and puddles of maple syrup.

The Southern Sojourn continued!  Stay tuned…

En Route to Bonnaroo: Athens

The Southern Sojourn
June 2011

Aside from the general desire to share my wanderings, the flavors and the general feel of the South inspired me in ways that will be evident and bear a background story.  Accordingly, I present the city-by-city recap of my Southern Sojourn.

Now for Athens…

I met Jake about one year ago when he was visiting our mutual friend.  He came to Pittsburgh via Athens, Georgia, bearing beef from the farm-to-table restaurant, where he worked as both a farmer and a sous chef.  Ever since that outdoor meal we all shared, I had been dreaming of eating at Farm 255.  Fast forward to the Southern Sojourn, and I was en route to Athens with menu items swirling in my head.

What I knew of Athens, Georgia was this:  despite the name implication, Of Montreal was from there, Jake worked on a farm there, and the farm supplied an amazing restaurant.  That about summarizes what I knew of Athens and incidentally, indicates the lack of research surrounding the whirlwind trip (what we are calling “spontaneity”).  Sandra and I were picturing a smaller, dustier, southern city.  We neglected the University of Georgia in our calculations, so the scale and the general happenings surrounding our arrival pleasantly surprised us.

(Click on the above image to see the full set of Athens photos)

Appropriately enough, our first stop was the restaurant, where Jake and his father, who was also visiting, joined us shortly thereafter.  We only had a few moments to explore the interior, but everything I saw from the old wood, the brickwork and the chipping paints of cupboards, to the long curve of the bar, I liked.  However, on a summer evening, the patio was the place to be.

A little bit more about Farm 255 from the folks who know it best:

Farm 255 is a restaurant that seeks to reconnect food to its roots & people to their food. We serve local, seasonal, & sustainable food sourced from our own farms. In addition to the Farm we operate full moon farms and moonshine meats, a cooperative of small farms that cultivate a diversity of fruits, vegetables, and meat in and around the Athens area. We are the folks sowing turnip seeds in the morning and cooking turnip greens in the evening. We supplement our own harvests with those of other local family farmers and ranchers that avoid harmful chemicals and practice sustainable agriculture.

Our menu, based on the seasonal shifts in the field, changes as often as the weather. We raise our own livestock, and utilize whole animals & all the various cuts of meat throughout our menu. We serve lunch on our patio out of farm cart, our moveable feast, offering an economical and everyday option for eating locally and sustainably. We are as committed to good community as we are to our cuisine. We have an open kitchen so that dinner is a dialogue, where the farmer-chefs and diner-neighbors can have a meaningful exchange. 

Based on that description, why wouldn’t I spend a year pining after a meal at Farm 255?  Finally, the long awaited dining moment was upon me.

“I would suggest you start with a ‘pop pop’ to drink,” Jake recommended as we began taking our first glances at the menus.

“What’s a ‘pop pop?’”  I asked so very unnecessarily, for after Jake said, “Bombay dry gin, sweet tea and mint,” I was sold!  One sip into the drink, and I learned to shut up and accept Jake’s drink suggestions wholeheartedly.

The meal began with the most extensive butcher board I have ever received, fitting for a restaurant linked to a place called “Pork Chop Hill.”  Jake walked us through the long wooden board of names I knew well- pork sausage, chicken liver mousse, country ham, bresaola, pastrami, pork belly confit, hard boiled egg, housemade sauerkraut, pickles, radishes, Dijon and bread- but their flavors came to life in a very different way.

I quickly forgot which name linked to which portion of the extensive board, but in the moments of mouth watering first tastes, the names were highly inconsequential.  Whereas I previously associated pastrami with deli sandwiches I avoid (probably because I mainly see pastrami on Pittsburgh menus where the slices usually come between pieces of flavorless white bread, mysterious cream condiments and most likely French fries), this pastrami became a new favorite.  The vibrant red chunks of pastrami were cut thicker than the average deli spread, and the tender strips of meat melted in my mouth.  The pork belly confit was another favorite, and the house-pickled sides complimented all of it.  It was heaven on a wooden board.  How could any religion ban these foods from its followers?

As if we needed more proof of the merits of the farm-to-table movement, our next course arrived at the table.  I had already decided, while mentally preparing in Savannah, I would eat the pork chop for two main reasons:

1.  The pork chop came with peaches, and when in Georgia, eat a peach!
2.  If the chops come from the same town, eat the pork!

Sandra ordered the coq au vin, and Jake’s dad decided upon shrimp and grits.  There were plenty of flavors to be sampled all around the table, but barely enough tabletop to contain our feast.  The perk of having the sous chef attend our meal came tucked under my peach porkchop:  the “secret ribs!”  What a bonus!

We sat and stared at our picked over plates for a while.  There was no room for dessert, but there was time to enjoy the night, the remains of “pop pop” number two and the company of new friends.

Susannah and her husband, Tad, were Athenians making their rounds to places they appreciated the most, which brought them to Farm 255 for late night drinks and to our table to hang with Jake.  Their upcoming trip to the Gambia had inspired their Athens rounds.  I was really intrigued by, and slightly envious of, their upcoming journey to study agriculture for months in Africa.  What an opportunity!  In the meantime, I vicariously enjoyed their plans and reminded myself of the travel adventures that had brought me to the table.

The evening in Athens ended at Chez Jake with a Georgian nightcap- whiskey, sweet tea and muddled peach- proving once again that Jake was not to be doubted in the cocktail department.

The next morning, we went from the table to the farm to visit the source of our meal:  Pork Chop Hill.  Accompanied by the canine friends, June Bug and Bustie (short for Le Bustier?), Jake’s truck was farm bound.  The end of a dusty road revealed Berkshire/Tamworth pigs wallowing in vibrant, rust colored soil.  These were massive pigs, and they were eager to soak up the hose water Jake splashed their way.  These were the massive pigs behind our meal (or future meals rather), and seeing these pigs in their environment went a long way to explain the quality of our dinner.  We left the pigs wallowing and went on our respective Athens ways, Jake to the restaurant and we girls to the shower.

While we packed our bags, and while I tried to find a way to take June Bug home with me, we could hear the tinkering sounds of the neighbors through the shared wall of Jake’s lofted home.  Remember how I said I knew Of Montreal was from Athens, despite the implication of the name?  What I didn’t know was the band members lived right next to Jake!  These were the tinkerings of the band who can make me dance with the words “Suffer for Fashion.”

Alas, I left June Bug to her owner, locked the loft door, and we went into Athens for the last time for this round.  After a quick stroll around the main drag and the score of a pearl-buttoned plaid shirt from the local vintage supply, it was time for lunch.  We asked the store clerk for suggestions, but in the end, we couldn’t risk a meal below the par of Farm 255, knowing that such a high standard of food was available.

We took the safe and delicious route with a slight variation- lunch from the Farm Cart, the mobile version of the restaurant.  As we approached the window to order, we heard our names, and there was a new friend Susannah.  We weren’t the only ones back again, so we all had a lovely, farm cart lunch in the sunshine of a Georgian afternoon.  Burgers and banh mis!

Our last taste of Athens came from 1000 Faces Coffee, the coffee spot near Farm 255, and I have been craving my chosen coffee beverage ever since.  Upon requesting an iced latte to sip on the patio, the barrista suggested I try the New Orleans style iced coffee.  Once he described the drink, I agreed quite readily:  cold brewed coffee and chicory with a little bit of cream.  The iced nutty and smooth flavor was the perfect finale for the city, and it may be the very craving that brings me back again very soon.

The Southern Sojourn continued!  Stay tuned…