Exploring Savannah’s Gem of a Cathedral

Lafayette Square in SavannahA week would generally be enough time to explore large sections of a city the size of Savannah, Georgia. Time to linger among the live oaks and Spanish moss in the historic squares, eat at the growing list of restaurants, visit the museums, and share stories with friends and strangers in the coffee shops and bars scattered throughout the downtown.

Plenty of time…unless one has a conference to run.

Well, run is actually much too strong a word.  While technically responsible for ensuring that last week’s PastForward 2014 – the National Preservation Conference went off without a hitch, there are many staff members who carry a far heavier load as we worked to reach that goal.  Much of my oversight actually took place over the past 18 months.  Once the week of the conference comes, I just “enjoy the field trip” as Candice – the former elementary school teacher – says at times like these.  At the conference, I often have my day structured by others: be here to welcome this group, then go there to say thank you to the folks who made it all possible, to be followed by a pre-arranged dinner with colleagues and partners.

But it all means that I had  precious little time to really explore Savannah.  That is just the nature of my job, and I am not complaining, as I get to see and experience so many wonderful places.  Candice – who was traveling with me to the conference – took a half-day bicycle tour of the city among other jaunts and still had time for 6-7 of the conference presentations.  Me? I was able to catch glimpses of the city while traveling between sessions and meetings.

So when I found myself with 90 minutes on Friday afternoon, between the closing luncheon and a scheduled tour of historic homes, I decided to stretch my legs and visit the church whose two spires were visible every time I opened the drapes in our hotel room.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The Spires of St. John the Baptist Cathedral

The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is a gem of a building in the historic district and the mother church of the Savannah Roman Catholic Diocese.  It sits on Lafayette Square, and the outside of the building dates from the late 19th century.

The inside was rebuilt following an 1898 fire, and the results are beautiful.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist Interior

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist - Organ

I’ve visited Savannah on multiple occasions since the 1980s, but have somehow missed seeing the interior of this gem of a cathedral.  Earlier in the day, I had the chance to listen to my colleague and friend Tom Mayes speak to a full house about the place of beauty in preservation.  His blog post on the topic is a highly recommended and wonderful read that includes the following:

President Kennedy said, “I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our National past, and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future.”

I’ll take it as a bit of grace that 90 minutes popped open on a very busy schedule during this trip to allow for reflection about the beauty of this space and the beauty of the world I get to work in every day.

More to come.


Is This A Great Country or What?

Vintage Roadside 2009 TourIf you have had it up to here with screaming right-wing talk show hosts or pontificating left-wing bloggers or just three days of rain, I have the perfect antidote:  the Vintage Roadside 2009 Road Trip Slide Show.

Each year Jeff and Kelly from Vintage Roadside travel the back roads from Portland, Oregon to the host city of the National Preservation Conference and take pictures and blog about the experience.  (Vintage Roadside makes great t-shirts that honor the wonderful mom-and-pop roadside attractions, motor courts, motels, tiki lounges, drive-in restaurants, bowling alleys and roller-skating rinks found along America’s back roads.)  This year the trip took them to Nashville, Tennessee.  You will laugh out loud, you will be amazed at the quirky attractions that still remain on America’s roadsides, and you’ll marvel at what a diverse country we live in.  So take my recommendation – visit their slide show and spend a few minutes with this great country.

Thanks Jeff and Kelly.  It was wonderful to spend a bit of time with you in Nashville.  Thanks for what you do to support the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  I’ll see you in March in Portland and next October in Austin.

More to come…


Vintage Roadside Flickr Slide Show

Sitting In With Off the Wagon

With Off The Wagon in NashvilleEarlier this week, fellow preservationist and bluegrass lover David Price came up at the National Preservation Conference and invited me to sit in with his band, Off the Wagon, when they played the Southern Regional Reception on Thursday evening.

I jumped on the wagon!

Off the Wagon is a good young bluegrass band in Nashville (the next night they were playing at the world-famous Station Inn).  So as you can see from the photos, I enjoyed the chance to sing and play Sitting On Top of the World.

Twas in the spring, one sunny day, My good gal left me, Lord, she went away,

And now she’s gone, but I don’t worry, “Cause I’m sitting on top of the world.

The band helped cover my mistakes (and my lapses in memory) and I had a great time.  Lots of friends and colleagues from our Southern Regional Office and beyond had a chance to enjoy it as well.

I’ve inserted a video of Off the Wagon – without the interloper – playing New Camptown Races. Enjoy.

More to come…


With Off The Wagon in Nashville  9 101409

From the Stage of the Ryman Auditorium…

On the Stage at the Ryman

Even for a guy who gets to work with some amazing people and visit some of the country’s most wonderful historic places, yesterday was an extraordinary day.  (And not just because I passed 10,000 visitors to More to Come…the DJB Blog – thank you readers.)

Nope, the picture says it all.  I was privileged to open the National Preservation Conference from the stage of the historic Ryman Auditorium.

For a bluegrass loving preservationist to have a chance to speak from the place where Earl Scruggs came onstage some 60 years ago with Bill Monroe to play White House Blues and give birth to bluegrass music was an honor.  To be able to tell 2,000 conference attendees why this place matters was a thrill.  To be able to hear the bluegrass I’d chosen over the Ryman’s speakers for the 30 minutes before we kicked off the conference was just a rush.  I knew it was going to be a great evening when the Laurie Lewis tune Who Will Watch the Home Place? – with its haunting acappella chorus at the end – was the last song played just before I stepped on stage.  What a perfect bluegrass sentiment for people who work to save – and watch – home places all across the world.

Playing for the Patrons DinnerI also had a little fun later in the evening, when I joined my brother Joe (on bass) and my colleague at the National Trust Brian Turner (on banjo) to play a couple of old-time tunes (Over the Waterfall and Angelina Baker) for the patrons of the conference.  We played at Union Station in a beautiful room with live acoustics.   It was the perfect cap to the afternoon and evening.

More to come…


Sleep is Overrated When You’ve Got Music to Fuel the Soul

Open Back BanjoAt the end of a busy first day at the National Preservation Conference in Nashville, I took off to the Grand Ole Opry House with about 20 close friends for the taping of a PBS special celebrating 40 Years of Rounder Records.  (Look for the show on March 10, 2010.)  While it started late and ended even later, it was an amazing evening of music.

Here’s just a few highlights:

  • Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas playing that great accordion-driven dance music from Louisiana, where the “crawfish got soul and the alligators got the blues.”  My accordion-playing friend Jim Harrington would have loved it.  As my colleague and seatmate  Caroline Barker said, “If I could move my feet like Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas I’d be a dancer instead of a preservationist (perhaps).”
  • Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn singing and playing Keys to the Kingdom.  I heard them do the tune at Merlefest, but it was even better in the controlled setting of the Opry House.  Then Bela and Jerry Douglas played a duet just to prove they are two of the best musicians on the planet.
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter, a relative newcomer to Rounder, singing a great song, Grand Central Station, written just after 9/11.  As my friend and colleague Dolores said, she’s a preservationist.
  • Alison Krauss + Union Station Featuring Jerry Douglas (longest band name ever) were just perfect.  Perfect.  The harmony between Alison and Dan Tyminski is a wonderful thing to hear, and then Jerry Douglas just adds another voice with that heavenly Dobro.  Alison also has the wackiest stage humor ever, which was egged on last night by hostess Minnie Driver.

I knew all those performers and had seen all by Nathan Williams live.  The singer I didn’t know was New Orleans soul queen Irma Thomas.  What a set of pipes!  What a stage presence!  What a band!  If you don’t believe me, just take a listen to the video below where she sings her first big hit (which closed out her show last night) You Can Take My Husband, But Please Don’t Mess With My Man.

Keys to the Kingdom indeed!

More to come…


Union Station: A Personal History and a Preservation Success Story

Union Station NashvilleHaving just arrived in Nashville for the 2009 National Preservation Conference, I find myself in the lobby of the Union Station Hotel waiting for a room and for my meetings to begin.  That left me time to think…which can be dangerous.

Union Station is a Nashville landmark.  It is a beautiful old pile of a building and the lobby (see photo) is stunning.  But I think it is a landmark and was – in the end – saved from the wrecking ball because it has so many personal connections to people in Middle Tennessee.  Take me, for instance.

My parents were part of the post-war (WWII) marriage boom that begat the well-documented baby boom.  Both were from the small town of Franklin, located about 20 miles from Nashville.  My father had just graduated from Vanderbilt and he and my mom were married in the First Baptist Church in Franklin.  Before beginning his life-long career with the Tennessee Valley Authority, my father and his new bride had a honeymoon to take.

Luckily, they had relatives (my father’s sister) in Chicago, so they came to Union Station – like so many honeymooners, soldiers, businessmen (in those days), and families before them – and boarded a train bound for Chicago.  I’ve heard stories my entire life about the plays they saw in the city, visiting Wrigley Field to see the Cubs (that must have been how I got those baseball genes), and so much more.  But the stories always begin with that train ride from Union Station.

That’s why preservation is important.  It helps save the places that matter to people. When I wrote the following in an op-ed in today’s The Tennessean newspaper, this is what I was referring to:

I have fond memories of growing up on Main Street in Murfreesboro, where our town square, library, school, grocery store and church were just a few blocks away. Much like East Nashville today, my hometown was designed in a way that connections between people were reinforced by everyday communications and interactions. It matters how we build our communities and how we preserve them.

Almost every preservation success story like Union Station has a thousand or more personal stories holding them up.  I just happen to be in the lobby of the place that launched my personal history and that of our family.  That’s why they are worth fighting for and saving.

More to come…


Union Station Nashville TPM

On the Trail of Uncle Dave Macon

Uncle Dave Macon Historical MarkerAndrew, Claire, and I spent much of today in Readyville, Tennessee, with my brother Joe, sister-in-law Kerry, and their family (more on our visit in a later post).  Joe is an ornamental blacksmith and fellow lover of bluegrass and old-time music.  So it seemed fitting – after a day of playing Old Joe Clark and other tunes with Joe and his son Joseph – that I take Andrew & Claire on an educational trip by hallowed ground:  the burial place of Uncle Dave Macon.

Affectionately known as the “Dixie Dew Drop,” Uncle Dave was a vaudeville performer and one of the first stars of the Grand Ole Opry.  He came out of a 19th century performing sensibility, but also was one of the first country musicians to take advantage of the new technology of radio.

Uncle Dave Macon TombstoneAfter his death in 1952, Macon was buried between Murfreesboro and Readyville in the Coleman Cemetery.  A new road to Cannon County now bypasses the cemetery, but I turned off the four lane and went over to the Old Woodbury Road to stop by Uncle Dave’s burial place.  The state erected a historical marker (see photo above) to help mark the spot.

Uncle Dave’s legacy continues with the annual Uncle Dave Macon Days celebration in Murfreesboro each summer, with the crowning of the Old Time Banjo championship.  This year’s celebration takes place on July 10th – 12th.

One of the best books on Uncle Dave and the early days of the Grand Ole Opry is entitled A Good Natured Riot: The Birth of the Grand Ole Opry. It was written by my college professor, world-renown old-time music expert Dr. Charles K. Wolfe, and is both an insightful and fun read.  For those coming to Nashville for the fall’s National Preservation Conference, there’s no better work to introduce you to the birth of the commercial country music industry in the city.

There are a few videos taken late in Uncle Dave’s career.  My favorite is the following clip from the Grand Ole Opry Movie, with Uncle Dave and his son Dorris playing Take Me Back to My Old Carolina Home. Enjoy.

More to come…