From Asheville to Nashville - Well Almost

It’s 3am and we’re up and about in the quiet night. The only other person around is the night porter of Greensboro’s Biltmore Hotel, a graduate from Chicago who decided to stay here after college. Last night we had met Jen, another blow-in (as we say) from further afield who had come here and made Greensboro her home. We had met her in The Green Bean Café and struck up a conversation over some locally brewed (Asheville) Gaelic Ale, a sweet hoppy brew emblazoned with a Scots man in a kilt. They always wear those. She too had moved here and decided to make this place her home. There must be something about the easy North Carolina ways that draw people to these pretty, neatly ordered streets and towns.

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“You might find what you’re looking for from Nashville in Asheville”, she tells us. We’re met with universal approval to date every time we tell people we’re staying in Asheville for the week. There seems to be a sense that this is the place where it’s all happening. But this morning we’re heading for Knoxville, two to three hours the other side of Asheville, to play The Blue Plate Special – a live radio show broadcast by WDVX 89.9fm and hosted by the wonderful Red Hickey.

We’re setting off early as estimates from locals to the time of our journey range from 4 (conservative) to 9 hours (surely not!). We had eaten earlier in a local diner just hours before, Fincastles in Downtown. The girls had had two of the best burgers I’ve seen and the chef had whipped me up some Seafood Gumbo; prawns and oysters fried in a pan, thrown in with some beef sauce (there were mumblings of a secret recipe when I enquired) and mixed through with sticky rice – a sort of working class fisherman’s risotto – fantastic! So at 4am we hit the road and say goodbye to Greensboro, get onto route 40 and we’re off into the West.

Two or so hours into our journey and the road begins to rise steadily. It’s still dark, the roads are quiet apart from a steady slew of trucks moving in the opposite direction to us, but we’re certainly moving up in the world. We’re ahead of schedule as within no time we hit Asheville.  A quick pit-stop a McDonalds – it’s the only place open – and we stretch our legs. I’m standing at the side of a railway track that runs across the road and in the distance a huge train lumbers forward. It’s not moving particularly fast, but the sheer mass of the thing gives it an imposing grace. I stand transfixed as it moves within feet of me. It’s moving so slowly that you could just stretch out an arm, grab hold, and off you’ld go. Woody Guthrie is ringing in my ears. Next time!

Pretty soon we’re West of Asheville and in the mountains. The sun is rising behind us and a beautiful mist if flooding across the highway. The greens of the woods are thick and dark around us as we carve our way upwards through hollow after hollow. We put on a recording of Roscoe Holcomb on the radio made many years ago. His high lonesome singing chimes against the beautifully strident sting of his banjo playing and this world we’re drifting through begins to make sense. The Smoky Mountains billow away as we crest the high point of what seems like a hundred mountains and we’re off, down the other side, into East Tennessee and onto out first outing on The Blue Plate Special…