1997 Tours | 1998 tours | 1999 Tours | 2000 Tours | 2001 Tours | countrymusic.com.au | Country Music Store | Hillbilly Neil's PhotosFan Fair Tour 2000 Diary Where do you start… the airport of course.
Our departure point was Brisbane, and with a dozen or so intrepid travellers we set forth to find the rest. Our trip to Sydney to meet the other 30 or so others coming in from Tasmania, Victoria and parts of NSW was uneventful (to the best of my recollection at this time), and while everyone idled away the hour or two before the departure in the Duty Free shops, Rosie and I headed "out front" to find the rest, including our illustrious Guest hostess, the Golden Guitar winning Miss Tania Kernaghan. Tania’s roommate Rebecca had been in Fiji the week before and just got out for our tour when things were getting a little sticky (something about a coup).
Sydney, in June 2000, 3 months before the Sydney Olympics are on, is still a work zone. The international terminal in particular, hoardings up all over the place and redirection signs for the unwary traveller just to confuse I’m sure.
Still, we negotiate our way around to the departure gate, only to find a power failure in the new wing, and no refreshments available anywhere, and after leaving home early in the morning to catch our flight around 9 am, we’re all hanging out for a feed, but it was not to be, not till our 747 hit the clouds after its 1pm takeoff.
It’s an endurable flight to LA and for the first time in years, coming in to LAX we get a fabulous view of the Long beachside, flying directly over Catalina Island en route to an ahead-of-time touchdown.
As we made acquaintance with 3 or 4 Victorians, who we hadn’t yet caught up with on the plane, we stretched our legs and awaited the imminent arrival of our last traveller coming in via another flight, before transferring around to the Sheraton Hotel at the airport.
As usual, a number were still up to a half day tour around LA and fearless new escort, Tania, got her first unassisted assignment, to bring them back in one piece… and she did.
Next morning, a good dose of Starbuck’s coffee at the airport and the two groups peeled off. Yep, Our airplane adventures this year include having to split the group for the flight to St Louis. The reasons are long and boring, but sufficient to say that it made those travelling onto New Orleans after Fan Fair a better deal if they travelled on American all the way, and AA had just inaugurated this new flight to St Louis.
So Rosie & I tossed the Nickel in the air and I lost, so my bunch headed off to our old sparing buddies TWA to do battle (with no hassles as it turned out) and Rosie’s dozen or so headed over to AA (the airlines that is) to catch their flight. As it turns out they had a half full plane and got to stretch out across the seats and all the service they could ever wish for.
So St Louis looms on the horizon and my mind is going through the ‘99 experience of extra states and cities to avoid storms, but everything goes swimmingly and we unload to greet Miss Bill, surrounded by return travellers stuck to her like flies to flypaper!.
Out to the Coach, and load ‘em up and coach driver Pat wheels the Grayline Coach out onto the Springfield road. Bill is prowling the coach getting to know the new comers, their names where they’re from and dispensing the peanut butter candy when in what seems like a flash, we hit Lamberts, Home of the Throwed Roll!
Inside, many get their first experience of the Southern way of doin’ things. Hot Rolls are flying left right and every which way, turnip green are ladled onto plates, and the Ribs come on Olympic sized platters. Of course it’s not too often that the good old girls from the South get to mix it with a whole busload of real southerners, like way south! There were some very animated conversations happening, withMiss Bill dashing to and fro interpreting for everyone.
Back on the road to Branson and a short trip till we pull into the Atrium Inn. Couldn’t believe it but Frank and Sue we’re on hand to welcome us and make sure the new owners got everything right for us. We sure do owe them a lot for their kindness over the years we’ve stayed with them in Branson, we’ll miss ‘em now they’ve both moved on, though Frank will always get out Dairy Queen business when we are in town.
A night to settle in, unpack the bags for a few days, and grab an ice-cream and catch up with all Bill and Pat’s gossip about the happenings in Nashville with Fan Fair and all our friends. Next morning we go down to the old town, I get my now traditional haircut at Bob the Hairdressers with the gun rack on the wall. Then we made a swing through the town to make some bookings for this afternoon’s shows.
In the afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting William Golden of the Oak Ridge Boys to interview him about his new CD release covering 30 years as an Oak Ridge Boy. I got to reacquaint myself with Richard Sterban who I had first met when he came to Australia in the early 80’s with a CMA delegation. They were showing at the Grand Palace the same night so didn’t get th e chance to see them in concert, though we have previously in Branson. Others from the group hit Mickey Gilley’s show, and lots of other shows around town.
Wednesday night, and the Mel Tillis Show does not disappoint. The big deal was Pam’s part of the show, especially when she called for volunteers to help her out singing "Don’t Tell Me What To Do". Well, wouldn’t you know it? The quietest one in the group of us, gets singled out when she says "I believe we have a group with us tonight all the way from Australia!" Yep, poor old Sean, who his mum dragged along to the show, didn’t quite know how to handle it when the microphone hit his lips. Top of his voice was the best play he decided and let it all hang out to great applause from our group. Pam payed him with a pair of "Glow In The Dark" "Mi Vida Loca" boxer shorts which he proceeded to wear over his head for most of the rest of the night.
After the show we headed the bus homeward with a diversion via BT Bones for the able bodied to get in a little honky tonkin’ on their first free night in the USA. Tania joined us and we chatted with the locals from the college and enjoyed the cold beers and good country music through till closing time around midnight.
We made the best of our Branson stay as everyone got to know each other better, doing more shows, a little shopping (did I say little) and a lot of eating. Thursday night was farewell time, and Frank made sure they threw our party for us, but it just wasn’t quite the same. We did get a couple of visitors though, Mel Tillis’ brother came down and spent some time, had a few beers and spread around some baseball caps from Mel. Pam apologised for not making it, but she had to hit the road for Fan Fair and was in her bus as we hit the cheese and cracker dips. Once again our good friends PJ and hubby, Milton from Mel’s band came down and Milt brought his accordion and we sang a little,drank a little and generally had a good time.
The farewell in the morning was certainly subdued as it always is, and we hit the black top for Memphis. This year we did lunch a little differently, with Rosie and Sue making up a whole bunch of sandwiches and with some fresh fruit and drinks, we had ourselves a picnic, very welcome after what seemed like a week of buffets!
Onto Memphis and drop the group at Graceland for the platinum tour through the mansion. Rosie and I went with the group who have done Graceland in previous years and took in the exhibit at Mud Island, then headed down town to discover that our usually dependable hotel had double booked our rooms! They did the right thing by us and found us alternate accommodation, across the road… at the Fabulous Peabody Hotel, Memphis’s finest hotel. It was the hotel featured in the Tom Cruise movie "The Firm". It is one of those very expensive hotels with an old world charm. The Peabody is most famous for it’s ducks…each day the live ducks come down from the roof of the hotel in the lift, and stay in the lobby fountain until 5pm when they march to the lifts accompanied by music, and return to the rooftop of the hotel. Well, after ribs at the rendezvous, and a quick stroll, Rosie and I retired to enjoy the grandeur of our accommodation, while others hit Beale Street. In fact, without naming names there was a small group of a half dozen who did not even get the wrinkle the sheets.
So it was again a very subdued group that hit the back roads for Memphis, and by the time we were travelling the picturesque rural areas of Southern Tennessee many were fast asleep as good travellers should be, until Tania took to the aisles, then the jokes started, mainly being fired from the back of the bus I might add. The revellers were awake.
The turn off said "To David Crockett National Park" and we wound around through the weekend day-trippers to the park restaurant where again Punkin and TJ were seated waiting for us to arrive. We enjoyed a lively southern meal with iced tea, southern fried chicken and any vegetable grown within a hundred miles of Lawrenceburg. Punkin again threw open her home for our group to inspect and amid a gaggle of questions, everyone was amazed at her hospitality, and gracious home, even if the local paper didn’t make it this year because of a local emergency.
By the time the midday meal was settling we hit Lynchburg, home of Jack Daniel. The brand new "Welcome Centre" is a treat, no more stairs to climb! We set off on the tour on a hot afternoon, stopping at every water dispenser around the grounds, and this was Jack’s place! Never mind, the coke machine in the Lynchburg town square was cold and close to sold out by the time we freed the hardware store of the souvenir hunters and cruised to the top of the ridge for our sundown party and barbeque.
The steamy weather was lifting from the valley floor as the sunset in a blaze of colour and the lightening bugs came out to play. The boys in the band came out to play too, and it wasn’t long before we got Tania up to do a song. As you probably knowTania’s top selling albums are all original songs and it’s really been a coon’s age since she’s publicly sung other people’s songs, so it took a couple of warm ups to get the band headed in the same direction and off she took, "Walkin the Floor Over You" and a dose of Hank Williams found everyone on common ground. This year, it was Sean and Melissa who joined Rosie in the Birthday celebrations, and the Jack Daniels Cake got a fair work over before the "Back on the Bus" call came and we moved off to Murfreesboro just up the road where our beds were for the night.
After a goodtime Saturday night, you’d think that a bit of a lie in would be warranted wouldn’t you, but no… here they were, the seniors from the suburbs, out driving around the parking lot on the back of the Harley Davidsons that had pulled into the lot the night before as we were checking in. Jill and Gloria, making new American friends again! Anyhow, some good old Shoneys flapjacks a pint or two of coffee and we’re Nashville Bound.
Nashville isMiss Bill’s town, and she had to show it off a trifle for us before we got to check in. She says she likes to hear me call the drive around Music Row, but I think she’s ready for a break by the time we hit 16th avenue. Music row is looking a little the sadder these days… Flash’s hotdog stand is gone, Randy Travis’s Fan club house is gone, but this year, Gilley’s is gone… to make way for Reba’s new Ritz Carlton Hotel she’s building! Boy have they been learning from those Tennessee tornadoes, it’s a mess. We’re sure hoping it’ll be settled down again next year, because with the Hall of Fame about to close and move to the brand new building downtown, there won’t be much to come up here for in future years.
The Hall of Fame site was really well on the way, the building exterior was just about all done, and if you want to check it, here’s the link to the progress website. It’s very exciting, ‘cause in 2001 we’ll be staying right across the road.
We check in with the Opryland Hotel and get our Fan Fair kits, with the armbands and discount coupons and programmes and stuff with the all important tickets to Friday night’s Grand Ole Opry Show and the Thursday night all star TNN Awards Gala. We get all prepared to rescue lost travellers who can’t find their rooms as we head off around to the Delta section trying desperately to explain the shortcuts to a bewildered bunch of travel weary boys and girls.
The next few days are mostly reports, some second hand, of adventures and events happening to everyone in the group as they make their ways around the Fan Fair and the city. We get to see Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Loretta Lynn, Ricky Van Shelton, Sawyer Brown, Brad Paisley, and what seems like hundreds more. Neil got to get up close and personal with Chely Wright, and there was the International showcase on Thursday with Kasey, Jane Saunders, and Troy performing brilliantly. Everyone seemed to have the time of their life.
One, who should have known better, tied one on at Miss Toosie’s Orchid Lounge on Wednesday afternoon listening to the music, and lost his passport in the cab on the way home. Well, it’s not the easiest of things to do, replace a passport when you’re travelling from city to city a thousand miles from the nearest consulate (Washington and Los Angeles for the record). So we spent much of the next couple of days on the phone.
Wednesday night we all had invitations for the unbelievable Keith Urban showcase at the 328 Performance Hall. What a night, special guest appearances from Steve Wariner, Tommy Emmanuel and Richard Marx, and Keith recorded a special video piece for replay at Slim Dusty’s "This Is Your Life" TV show and we all got to say G’day to Slim.
Thursday night we rounded everyone up for the TNN Awards Show. What a great night. Ashley got to accompany MissTania to the sponsors boxes for the top of the line fully serviced experience while we just had to settle on the incredible show, like the rest of the audience, which included Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Kenny Rogers, while enjoying performance from Neal McCoy, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Alabama and a host of other stars. After the show as the bus was preparing to head back to the hotel, we had a surprise visit from Troy Cassar-Daley and wife Laurel Edwards who dropped in to say g’day to everyone and check that we were treating them ok.
Friday ended Fan Fair week and the booths closed up so the group were all over town visiting the Ryman, the just open OpryMills shopping centre with the worlds biggest fishing shop BassPro, Wild Horse Saloon and back to the Hall of Fame for a real good look. Tonight, a special treat, with a bit of rearranging of tickets, we got to witnessTania’s debut on the Opry, the first Kernaghan to be invited to appear. Saturday, a slow start for some, others were up and at ‘em early to catch flights out of town. Some were on later flights, we, well we had the little luxury of easing into the coach for our cruise down to New Orleans. But that’s another story
Below, Gary "Willie" Flanagan, Jill Bonser and Gloria Cochrane enjoy the carriage ride through the French Quarter in New Orleans
1997 Tours | 1998 tours | 1999 Tours | 2000 Tours | 2001 Tours | countrymusic.com.au | Country Music Store | Hillbilly Neil's Photos