NASHVILLE–You can’t swing a hockey stick without hitting a Canadian in Nashville.
That was one of the big surprises on my first visit to this Music City, where a modern skyline blends with old fashioned southern hospitality.
The reason I was down in Tennessee was to interview Kortney and Dave Wilson (Meet the Wilsons), the ambitious Canadian couple behind the new series Masters of Flip (premiering May 12 on W Network).
Kortney grew up in Kitchener, Ont., and Dave over near Ottawa. Both got into country music and both migrated to Nashville. They met, married and, thanks to their three kids, have a yard full of tiny hockey sticks around their spacious Nashville home.
The Predators are big here and there were plenty of blurry-eyed Nashvillians after Tues/Wed’s three overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Kortney and Dave walked a few reporters through a couple of homes they are in the process of renovating. Unlike Toronto, there are still bargain neighbourhoods in Nashville, with homes in the hundred thousand dollar range. The couple are in the middle of buying, renovation and flipping a dozen homes and it will all play out over the first season of their series. The two blend their design plans, Dave hustles the work crews and Kortney closes each deal as a real estate agent.
Kortney and Dave are way too nice to be on television. They’re so busy with their day jobs they seemed relieved to tag along for the press junket, taking part in tours of such Nashville shrines as the Ryman Auditorium and the home–since 1974–of the Grande Ole Opry. The country music shrine is the centre piece of one big-ass mall that’s basically the size of Disneyland.
Those other Canadians? Diane Krall was playing the Ryman Tuesday night. As a few of us were leaving that historic ventue, a burly fella with a guitar was walking in. “That was Vince Gill!” said Kortney.
Canadians are well represented at the massive and impressive Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. You can’t miss the place from the outside with its sweeping piano keys motif. Inside it is SkyDome-big, three floors of exhibits. Head to the second floor for a salute to, of all people, Bob Dylan. In the mid-’60s, Dylan hooked up with Johnny Cash and recorded his “Blonde on Blonde” album in Nashviille, touching off a stampede to Music City of rock stars looking to jam with the best sidemen and side-women.
Besides Dylan there are several Canadian music stars showcased as part of the 2nd floor display, including Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young, who all recorded in Nashville. Paul McCartney and Wings recorded “Junior’s Farm” and several other songs in Music City. George Harrison recruited Nashville musicians to help with “All Things Must Pass.”
A fella from Nova Scotia named Hank Snow also gets a fair bit of play. Pretty much missing, however, is Shania Twain. There’s a hate on for Shania in Nashville, according to one or two locals. I couldn’t find Anne Murray represented, either.
Tuesday evening our group was treated to the Grande Ole Opry, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary. I got a big kick out of what is essentially a live radio taping with two thousand people watching. Announcer Eddie Stubbs sails through the live ads for Dollar General and other retailers. Performers (we caught Diamond Rio and The Steeldrivers, who were tremendous) rip through three-song sets. There’s a very old fashioned, variety show feel to the Opry, which works for me.
The visit included a backstage tour. You can see the dressing room where Johnny Cash used to chase June Carter. There’s a photo of Minnie Pearl, complete with hat tag, on the wall near a light box. A young woman rehearsed a shimmering version of “Crazy” while we shuffled out backstage.
I even ran into another Canadian–Winnipeg-based Sunnyside publicist and travel writer RoseAnna Schick–during the backstage tour.
Among the other surprises in Nashville is a full-size replica of the Parthenon in Centennial Park. Whaaa? When Nashville does Greektown they don’t fool around.