A few weeks ago, the boys with Folk Soul Revival invited me on a road trip to play a gig in Nashville at The Loveless Barn. It’s hard to turn down an adventure like this because it has been years since I rode Interstate 40 back to the place I used to call “home.”

My family moved from East Tennessee to Music City back in the mid-60s and we lived there up until 1976 before migrating back east to the mountains. In my youth, I soaked in the spirit of this infamous country music town and memorized the landmarks traveling back and forth across the state.

The band was invited to appear on Music City Roots, a weekly radio program on the independent FM channel Lightning 101. The program is aired live every Wednesday night and hosted by Grammy nominated singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale. This week’s show was a promotion for Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion and featured Folk Soul Revival, Uncle Lucious, Sam Lewis and Kenny Vaughn and Louisiana bluesman Christopher Thomas King.

Opportunities like this don’t happen often, so this was worth taking a vacation day.

It was a gorgeous September morning when I arrived in the MeadowView Convention Center parking lot. Daniel Davis was standing outside his car talking on his iPhone and within a few moments, the Folk Soul van arrived so we could all load our gear. With a little more practice for our spatial geometry skills, we closed the doors – me and Charles in the back, Daniel Vanover in the middle and Brandon Sturgill shotgun with Davis at the wheel.

We were clocking off the miles before picking up Justin Venable and Dan Witt. They recently moved to Knoxville and we added two more passengers before heading West.

As we crossed over the Cumberland Gap, I couldn’t help but transport back in time to those long trips our family used to make between Jefferson City and Nashville.

When you’re a kid, those distances seem like a cross-country trek and along the way, you memorize the exits, rivers, counties across Tennessee. Even though the guys were telling jokes, debating their Halloween costume for an upcoming gig in October or questioning the origin of certain “aromas,” I watched the signs – Cookeville, Crossville, Caney Fork River, Lebanon, Mount Juliet, Percy Priest Lake and finally Nashville, TN.

The Loveless Motel, Cafe and Barn is located on the outskirts of Nashville along the Natchez Trace near West Meade – not exactly a convenient location and somewhat off the beaten path.

Originally known as the Harper Valley Tea Room, the Loveless Motel opened their doors in 1951 and were famous for their fried chicken and biscuits. Their vintage motel sign gives an impression of old Nashville and over the years they’ve expanded to a country store and a barn for special events, including this evening’s performance of Music City Roots.

When we arrived, one of the first things I noticed was John Cowan mingling around the venue. Certain that he wouldn’t remember me, I had the pleasure of performing with him several years ago at the Mike Mahaffey benefit in Johnson City. Mahaffey used to play in his band Dr. Nick after New Grass Revival broke up and he’s still one of the most powerful vocalists in Nashville.

The staff at the Loveless were helpful as we loaded our gear into the auditorium prepping for our 4pm soundcheck. There were plenty of interns helping us roll gear on to the stage. Within a few minutes we were checking mikes, monitor mixes and ready to play a song or two before the staff who were setting tables, rolling in beer kegs and tweaking camera equipment.

We ran through two songs – ‘China Town’ and ‘Ball and Chain’ and we were ready to settle down to sample that famous fried chicken and relax before the show.

I made my way around with a camera and was determined to pick up some of their famous pancake mix for Keith Wilson – he said it was the best on planet Earth. Guess I’ll try that out later.

The food was something to crow about too. The fried chicken was just like you’d expect down South – served with green beans, mashed potatoes and those flaky biscuits drizzled with big blackberries and jam. The folks at the Lovelace were certainly taking care of the performers with micro-brews and country vittles not to mention a gift bag filled with branded treasures from the Lovelace. Everything was laid back…until that dark gray cloud started to drift over the patio from the Northwest.

Storms in Nashville are different from the ones in East Tennessee – it’s wild and loud. Within a few minutes before showtime, a torrential rainstorm struck. The lightning was cracking across the horizon and the thunder sounded like explosions instead of the rumble we’re familiar with in the foothills of the Smokies. At its peak, the power went off – minutes before the show.

The rain was pouring outside and you could hear it falling rushing off the tin roof to the concrete just outside the venue. There were close to 300 people already seated inside when Jim Lauderdale rushed on to the stage at 7pm. The radio announcer had just introduced the Music City Roots show when the “On Air” sign turned red.

Like the old live radio broadcasts, there was an introduction from a calm radio announcer, a tease for the show’s sponsor and we were live. Lauderdale didn’t have much time to dry out either, he rushed on to the stage drenched from a cold September rain. He was gracious, casual and dedicated the night to Bristol. At a quick pace, he played a new song he had just penned called, “I Lost My Job of Loving You.”

I was amazed at how organized everyone seemed to be. The Music City Roots show was filming two live Internet streams, broadcasting the show on a local FM station and had two announcers keeping the crowd entertained inside the Loveless.

Immediately after his opening song,  Jim introduced Folk Soul Revival. We made our way to the stage and Vinnie walked to the mike and said, “Howdy Friends” followed by Vanover on the harp as ‘DeRailed’ made it’s way from the stage, to the crowd, the camera and the radio audience.

We had a good set too. Drove across the state to play 20 minutes with versions of ‘Midnight,’ ‘Ball and Chain’ and ‘Puppet.’ The crowd seemed to genuinely appreciate the music and just like that – the applause subsided and it was over.

Uncle Luscious was up next.

As soon as the band had exited the stage, Daniel, Vinnie and DV left with Chad Brown to go across town to track backing vocal parts on a project for country singer Tracy Lawrence.

As the lightning streaked ferociously across the night sky, myself, Charles, Dan and Brandon walked back into the Loveless to listen to some other acts on the Bristol bill.

Uncle Lucious had an amazing baritone resonance to his voice and we enjoyed listening to the sweet notes of Kenny Vaughn (Marty Stuart’s guitarist) who shared the stage with Sam Lewis.

The final act of the night was Christian Thomas King , who performed music and a role in the  Coen brothers’ film O Brother, Where Art Thou’ in 2001. King played the role of Tommy Johnson, a true-to-life blues singer from the 1930s.

By 10.00, the show was over at the Lovelace.

We packed all the gear in the van and were using the iPhone GPS to travel cross town to Studio G.

This studio is owned by Patti Griffin and where Chad Brown, the producer of the latest record for Folk Soul, “Prompting the Dapperness” was mixed and produced this Summer.

We made our way down James Robertson Parkway and came to the old home that served as the studio.

Immediately inside the door, I could hear the guys tracking vocals and Vinnie welcomed me pointing me to the Grammy on the mantle awarded to Patti in 2011 for Best Traditional Gospel Album for ‘Downtown Church.’

Weary from the day, I was mesmorized by the vintage keyboards at this studio. One of the guys referenced this collection as a “musician’s garage” belonging to the former keyboardist for Alabama. Some garage too  – there were at least three Hammond B3 organs, multiple Leslie cabinets, a Hohner clavinet and several Rhodes and Wurlitzers just waiting to be played – I was respectful though – not my toys.

The show was exhilerating and the studio was thrilling for the few moments we were there, but one thing lingered – work. We all had to be back in Kingsport the next day and it was 11.00 when we left Nashville – that’s midnight East Tennessee time.

By then, the rain had stopped and dull fog had fallen over the shiny pavement of Interstate 40. Justin was on driving duty and as the cell phones were glowing, we were all packed tightly into the van headed West with live comedy performances playing on Sirrius to keep everyone awake.

I’ll hand it to Vinnie too – he did a great job as the midnight captain and in-between cat naps, DV’s snoring and my own shallow states of sleep, we pulled into the MeadowView Parking Lot right at 5am as the night sky started to warm to the sunlight of another Thursday.

It had been a long day and most of the guys including myself, went home long enough to shave and shower and roll back into the office like any other day – but one thing was different. We had played Nashville the night before and that was a satisfying meal at the Loveless Barn.