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Appalachia & Bluegrass Country: First Conversations

Like Mondays and hot tubs, crisscrossing the Appalachians on a 100-pound bicycle is something best eased into. That’s one reason the forgiving West Tennessee Delta was the perfect place to begin CWU’s latest 1,800 mile, 6-week trek through America. While warming-up the legs along those flat cotton-field highways, though, I realized that it wasn’t just my physical conditioning that was benefiting. Chatting with the uniformly friendly and helpful West Tennessee locals also buttressed my optimism about the next few weeks, such that encountering those first hills around Nashville and into Southern Kentucky only left me wondering what incredible experiences might lie on the other side. So far, I haven't been disappointed--the folks I've met in Kentucky have been as warm as that first sip of bourbon.

Attorney Maureen Holland moved to Memphis, TN years ago to start her own law practice, which is based in a classic Southern home surrounded by dogwoods and azaleas that were in their full spring glory on the day of my visit. Maureen was part of a team of lawyers who represented folks fighting for equal marriage rights for gay couples in states, like Tennessee, that had chosen not to recognize same-sex marriages. The Supreme Court agreed with Maureen and her team, thereby codifying a change in the way America views relationships and matrimony.

Mary Hines of Brownsville, TN can show you the one-room schoolhouse where Tina Turner learned to read and write, take you through a collection of different instruments and outfits worn by famous West Tennessee musicians, and introduce you to the flora and fauna of the region’s wild places. She can also tell you how to avoid getting burned when using a MIG welder to liquefy and fuse metal parts.

Most folks don’t know that West Tennessee was partially settled by groups of Irish workers back in the mid-19th century. Bobby and Sue Bates, who live near the Natchez Trace State Forest, have explored their roots and have found that Celtic music brings them closer to their ancestors and to each other.

Dr. Walter Butler of Huntingdon, TN has served in many leadership and service roles at the state and local level. He attributes his interest in public service, in part, to the mentoring he received when he was a young man. He hopes that today’s community leaders are similarly thinking about those who will follow them.

When I met George Gruhn in his well-known vintage guitar shop in Nashville, TN, I expected an earful about this and that type of wood, famous owners and pickers, and the types of sounds one can expect from Fenders vs. Gibsons vs. Martins. While we certainly talked Music City shop, George was at least as interested in discussing macroeconomics, human psychology, modern medicine, and evolutionary biology…and how they all were interwoven with his business.

One of the most popular Bluegrass bands of the 50’s and 60’s was based in Westmoreland, TN, back when Bluegrass and Country music was one and the same, often called….Bluegrass Country. Gerald McCormick was among the youngest of the well-known McCormick Brothers band. He regrets that we seem to be moving towards an "iWorld", where we think of ourselves first, and others second.

Like with George Gruhn back in Nashville, my conversation with Doug Phillips of New Hope, KY was a multi-dimensional journey covering myriad interesting topics. I sought out Doug because of his famed palate for good Kentucky bourbon and encyclopedic knowledge of the true American spirit. Here, Doug describes why one can “squeeze” a respectable amount of good (and strong) bourbon from a used oak barrel. We may or may not have sampled a table-full of bottles thereafter.

I met Laura Wallace at the Garage Bar on Louisville’s Market Street after vising the famous Churchill Downs racetrack. Laura loves Louisville so much that she opened a business serving as a private concierge for those wanting to get the most out of their visit to the growing city. I can vouch for Laura’s effectiveness; she introduced me to some great folks and helped convince me to take an extra rest day so that I could experience the awesome Derby-week fireworks show Thunder Over Louisville. Here, Laura describes the different ways she gets involved in shaping Louisville’s direction.

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