Since conference events wouldn’t get under way until 11 AM, I had time to drive down to J. Christopher’s in Franklin for breakfast, and they were just as good there as they have been in their Atlanta locations, and not as crowded as I had feared.
Afterwards, I drove back to the hotel and registered for the conference, which was being held in the ballroom on the top floor. Mr. Serv On was there from Louisiana, Cowboy from Buck Wild Productions, C. Wakeley from Florida who used to manage Bloodraw, a rapper and producer named Blacktime from Cincinnati but now living in Nashville, and many others. I was on the initial panel about the pros and cons of getting a major label deal, and Freddy Hydro arrived from Memphis and joined us during it. I hung around the hotel lobby networking after that until it was time for me to go to the ball game at LP Field.
The stadium was visible from the ballroom of the hotel, so it wasn’t far away at all, but I had not expected the $20 cost of parking when I got there. The Tennessee State Aristocrat of Bands marched into the stadium first, rocking their cadence “Psychotic Funk”, and soon, the Human Jukebox of Southern University was entering the stadium from the other side as well. They proceeded to battle back and forth, but the John Merritt Classic had evidently sold advertising over the scoreboard, so every time there was a time out, they began drowning out the bands with commercials, and we fans couldn’t enjoy the marching bands, which is half the fun of a Black college football game. Tennessee State ended up winning the game, although they had trailed Southern for much of it, and there was then a really good “Fifth Quarter” of band battling afterwards. It was about 10 PM when I left to stadium area, and I still had to run back by the Maxwell House to get my baggage and check out.
Tom Skeemask from Memphis had pulled up in front of the hotel and was just checking in as I was leaving. We talked briefly, and then I headed out to the Mall at Green Hills to eat at the Cheesecake Factory. College football highlights and results were flashing across the TV screen as I waited for my hamburger and french fries, and then I began the three-hour journey back to Memphis, made more difficult by my extreme fatigue, which made me have to stop several times for energy drinks. I arrived home about 3 AM and went straight to bed.
I grabbed a breakfast at Waffle House near Wolfchase Galleria, and then drove up I-40 from Memphis to Nashville for the Tennessee Music Conference and Hip-Hop Awards.
I drove by Grimey’s Records, but for once I didn’t buy anything there, and I didn’t find much at the thrift stores in West Nashville on Charlotte Pike either. I had seen a billboard announcing the Tennessee State vs. Southern University game Saturday, and driving down West End Avenue, I saw the Southern University band members coming out of the Holiday Inn and getting into their buses, so I decided to get a game ticket and go to the game Saturday.
At the Ticketmaster inside Kroger, I learned that there was a Battle of the Bands Friday night on the TSU campus, but apparently it was already sold out, so I purchased a game ticket, and then drove to the Maxwell House Hotel where the conference was taking place and checked in.
The hotel was also home to a gospel music conference of some sort, and also was the headquarters hotel for the John Merritt Classic football game that I had just purchased a ticket to, and the Southern University football team and staff were staying there. The Maxwell House had been considered the nicest hotel in Nashville when my parents and I had stayed there in the 1970’s, but nowdays it was beginning to show its age. Everything looked as it did in the 1970’s, although the hotel was very clean. The whirlpool had evidently been removed, although hotel literature still claimed they had one, and the pool was outside, so with rain beginning, I couldn’t go for a swim. Robski the conference organizer agreed to meet me for dinner, so he came up to the hotel and we decided to go to the Longhorn Steakhouse, but the location on Lyle Avenue was closed, so we ended up having to go to the one in Brentwood, which was fairly good.
When I got back to the hotel, I wanted coffee, but most of the coffee bars I called on my iPhone were either closed or not answering their phone. I decided to go to one called Fido on 21st Avnue South near Vanderbilt, but I couldn’t find it, and ended up going to J & J Cafe and Market on Broadway instead. By then, it was too late to go to the Battle of the Bands, even if I could have gotten a ticket, and it was raining, so I went back to the hotel. Despite the rowdiness of some of the Southern players, I had no trouble falling asleep.
Hurricane Gustav did hit New Orleans head-on, but it proved to be a weaker storm than expected, and though there was damage, the levees, at least in the New Orleans area, held. The storm spawned a number of tornadoes, however, including ones that struck Gulf Breeze, Fort Walton Beach and Destin in Florida. We were beginning to get the rain in Memphis as well, so we cancelled our barbecue plans and decided to go out to Longhorn Steakhouse for dinner, since a new location had opened near Wolfchase Galleria.
Hurricane Gustav was out in the Gulf of Mexico, making a run at New Orleans, and everybody was being forced to evacuate, many of them coming into Dallas. I checked out of the hotel, and headed up to Buzzbrews for a late brunch of salmon and eggs, and then I headed east on Highway 80 through Terrell.
Just beyond Big Sandy, I drove past a sprawling campus that signs announced as the International ALERT Academy, although signs on some of the fencing read “Property of Ambassador University.” I wasn’t sure what the International ALERT Academy was, but it was a big place.
In Longview, I was looking for a place to get coffee, but nothing was open, apparently because it was a Sunday. Driving up to Loop 281 looking for a Starbucks, I came upon a Jucy’s Hamburgers instead, and, seeing that they had won an award for having the best burgers in East Texas, I stopped and ate lunch there. I still wanted coffee, but in Marshall, nothing was open either, so I drove on into Greenwood, Louisiana to the flea market, and bought some records there, but all the vendors were closing early because of the approaching storm and the risk of flooding. Signs along the interstate announced that the shelters were already full in Shreveport and Bossier City, and buses of evacuees were being directed to the Alltel Center in Bossier City. I decided not to eat dinner in Shreveport, but I did stop at the PJ’s Coffee on Youree Drive for a breve latte, and on the TV there, Governor Jindal of Louisiana was warning that “this storm could be the worst one yet.” At Ruston, I began encountering outer bands of the hurricane, with rain and heavy wind in places, and I decided not to eat at Monroe either, but to go on into Jackson, since I felt that I would be fighting sleepiness after eating.
In Jackson, all the storm shelters were full and people were being advised to go further north. I stopped at a Lone Star Steakhouse for dinner, and the restaurant was full of people from Louisiana who were running from the storm. Rain was fairly steady from then on, and traffic was practically bumper-to-bumper on I-55 north as people were fleeing the coast. Periodically we passed cars that had broken down along the side of the road, and I stopped at Batesville for an energy drink, and then drove on into Memphis.
On the internet at home, I learned that the International ALERT Academy I had passed earlier in Texas was affiliated with Christian evangelist Bill Gothard, and was a military-style training camp for young people who were then sent around the world to the scenes of natural disasters to rescue victims. The campus however had formerly been Ambassador University, a college affiliated with Herbert W. Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God cult. It had closed abruptly in 1997 due to financial crises brought on by the church’s gradual drift toward mainstream Christianity. Ironically, as the movement’s new leadership began to remove much of Armstrong’s doctrinal error and bizarre beliefs such as “British-Israelism”, many members broke away to form splinter groups that adhered to Armstrongism. Nowadays, the Worldwide Church of God is considered a mainstream Christian denomination rather than a cult.
Wes had to speak at a morning panel at 10 AM, so I decided not to leave the hotel for breakfast, and Doc and Hood met me down in the lobby and we went to the 619 North bistro in the hotel for breakfast, and soon Wes joined us. The food was good, but overpriced, and Wes’ panel was postponed because nobody got up early enough, since they had been up at clubs until at least 2 AM.
When it finally got underway, Jeremy Miller spoke at length about The Source magazine, and then he headed out to his son’s football game in Oklahoma City. I had been headed to lunch at Goff’s Charcoal Broiled Hamburgers, but Wes talked me into eating lunch at the hotel restaurant instead.
I spent much of the afternoon in bed with a headache, but I felt better later and got back up, and Wes decided to drive out to Houston to meet with Chaney Welch. I got with Doc and Hood, and they decided to ride out with me to Pappadeaux’s on Oak Lawn Avenue, where we ate dinner. I had the shrimp en brochette for the first time, and it was really good.
After stopping by Cafe Brazil for coffee, we headed back to the hotel, and they rode out to the lingerie party downtown. I decided to hang around the hotel since it was too late to ride the Trinity River Express train to Stars Jazz Club in Fort Worth, and a rapper from Waco drove up to meet with me, but he didn’t get there until 2 AM. It was finally 3 AM when I got to bed.
I checked out of the Hyatt Regency since this was the first day of the Texas Summer Music Conference, and I drove up Cedar Springs to Cafe Brazil for breakfast. Then I drove down to the Westin City Center Hotel on Pearl Street to register for the conference, but they had not opened the conference registration yet. So I sat in the lobby networking and talking with labels, and I called the Presidential Trap House people from Oklahoma City who had left posters in the lobby.
Once I did get registered, I learned that the conference had provided a hotel room for me and another hotel room for Wes Phillips, who was driving in from Jackson, Mississippi and had called me from Tallulah, Louisiana. While sitting in the lobby, I ran into Doc and Hood, the rap duo from Oklahoma City that had impressed me so at the Oklahoma Music Conference back in 2006, and I was sorry to learn from them that BJ, the founder of that conference had been killed a couple of months before.
Wes arrived in the early evening, but I got caught by Mike the conference organizer and was corralled into the opening showcase of the music conference, which I wouldn’t have minded except that I was so hungry. The talent was better than average, however, and especially impressive was a little boy from Dallas called Bentley Green, who rapped three songs from his upcoming album, and who had been rapping since he was three years old. I finally left the hotel and drove over to Lower Greenville to Daddy Jack’s, but I was fairly disappointed at the limited menu. I finally chose a broiled lobster tail, and it was very good, but also quite expensive. Then I drove out to Cafe Brazil for coffee and dessert, and then I headed back to the hotel, networking and interacting with the conference attendees.
The hotel was also really neat, sitting on one side of a vast plaza, complete with ice-skating rink, and with the meeting rooms on the opposite side of the plaza. There was no real exhibit hall area, only a few tables set up outside the main ballroom, so people tended to gather and hang out in the lobby, and in the restaurant/bar. I met with the Presidential Trap House label there in the restaurant, and then later the hotel began serving pizzas and sodas in the lobby. There had been some sort of modeling event at a downtown club, but I stayed at the hotel and got to bed around 2 in the morning.
I drove up to Buzzbrews at Central Expressway and Fitzhugh for breakfast, and then headed over to CD Source on Greenville Avenue, where I found a lot of Blue Note CDs in the new arrivals, including one by the pianist Elmo Hope. I also found two Odean Pope Trio recordings there, and then I drove a few blocks over to Half Price Books Records & Music, and there I found a number of African LPs.
Wanting a hamburger, I headed over to Jake’s Hamburgers on Skillman, but there was literally no place to park, so I stopped by Poor Man’s Music & More on the other side of LBJ Freeway, and then drove over to the Galleria.
At Valley View Mall, there were two new record stores, an Xperience Music (which is what the Eargazum chain is becoming), and Nu Era Music and More, which wasn’t on my store list and which I just happened to see as I walked through the mall. From there, I headed out to Oak Cliff and to a store on Cockrell Hill called Da Shop, and then to Rewind Music in the Wynnewood Village. At Top Ten, the owner Mike asked about Gary Bernard, the buyer at Select-O-Hits who he had known for some years, and gave me a cold root beer, and then I headed down to the Eargazum at Southwest Center Mall.
In Grand Prairie, there was a large store called Forever Young Music, and they had a Houston CD I had been looking for called Queen of Hits: The Macy’s Record Story, so I bought that and then drove over to the Irving Mall to leave posters and promos at another Eargazum location.
I had decided to eat at a Texas Land and Cattle Company in Garland near Lake Ray Hubbard, and I didn’t want to fight LBJ expressway traffic at the 6PM time of evening, so I decided to take the new George W. Bush Tollway, little knowing that by the time I reached the end of it in Garland, I would have spent almost $10 and killed nearly an hour. Worse, the tollway abruptly ends at a city street in Garland that doesn’t lead to I-30, so I had to drive down through Rowlett to get to the restaurant. The Dallas Cowboys pre-season game was on the TV screens at the restaurant, and I ordered their signature smoked sirloin, which is unique and very good.
Afterwards, there was supposed to be a jazz group playing at R. L. Griffith’s Blues Palace on Grand in South Dallas, but there wasn’t, and so I drove down to Brooklyn Jazz Cafe again. But the group there had quit playing because of the Barack Obama speech at the Democratic National Convention, which everyone was listening to. I hung around the club for awhile, but ultimately headed back to my hotel.
The Cupboard in West Memphis had started selling breakfast, so I stopped there on my way out of town, and then I continued west on I-40. It was National Truck Drivers Week, and in honor of that, a truckstop in North Little Rock was giving away free lunches, a fact which had created a major traffic jam at Exit 161.
I had miscalculated the start of the Texas Summer Music Conference, and had taken a day off work that I probably hadn’t needed to, but since I had already made my plans, I had gone on Priceline.com and booked a hotel room in Dallas for Wednesday and Thursday nights (they had put me in the Hyatt Regency Reunion), and I reasoned that this would give me a free day in Dallas on Thursday to go around to the record stores with posters and promotional CDs.
Below Little Rock on I-30, I began having a problem with drowsiness, so, at Texarkana, I stopped at a Starbucks, and then I headed on into East Texas, stopping at Greenville to go by a Hastings Music in the hopes of finding CDs by The Southern Sea or Tree With Lights. Unfortunately, they had neither of them there.
I had considered eating dinner at Culpepper Cattle Company in Rockwall, but after checking their menu on my iPhone, I learned they had both remodeled and increased their prices dramatically, so I decided to eat at the Saltgrass Steakhouse there instead, and it was quite good. The sun was beginning to set over Lake Ray Hubbard as I stopped at a Starbucks after dinner, and then I headed on into Dallas.
I headed first to Good Records in Lower Greenville, where I found a couple of Numero Eccentric Soul reissues that I didn’t have, as well as CDs by the Sound In Action Trio and the Papercuts. Then I headed over to South Lamar Street, and stuck my head briefly into Bill’s Records before heading down the street to the Brooklyn Jazz Cafe, where the Dallas Observer had said the Freddie Jones Quartet would be playing. The cafe was large, nearly a block long, and was full of people. Freddie Jones proved to be an excellent trumpeter, and his quartet was exciting, if a little funk-oriented. I am not usually a fan of R & B-influenced jazz, but this group was exciting, particularly the drummer and bass-player. At an intermission, I met the trumpeter, and learned that he was originally from South Memphis-it’s a rather small world after all. During the rest of the night, he used two other drummers, and I tried to buy a Brooklyn Jazz Cafe T-shirt, but the owner had taken the key to the shirt-case with her when she left for the day.
I had worried about finding the Hyatt Regency Hotel, but I had no difficulty finding it once I drove into the Reunion area, and once I got checked in, the pool was closed, so I headed up to my room.
I had never driven across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, and the thought of a 26-mile-long bridge didn’t really appeal to me, but I wanted to try the Broken Egg Cafe in Mandeville, so after I checked out of the Westin Canal Place hotel, I drove into Metairie, and then onto the bridge. I couldn’t recall having ever been on a bridge where the other side wasn’t visible as I headed across, but gradually, the north shore of the lake began to appear, misty and foggy at first and then clearer. Mandeville was old, shaded with oaks and dotted with historic homes, and it reminded me somewhat of Bay St. Louis as I remembered it before Hurricane Katrina. It was a Sunday morning, and very quiet, but there was a crowd of cars and motorcycles around the Broken Egg Cafe, and I had a brief wait for a table. The breakfast was very good indeed, and then I headed out for Memphis, taking I-12 west to Hammond, and then I-55 north. In Jackson, I stopped for coffee at a Starbucks, and then headed all the way on into Memphis.
It had rained all night, but the rain had ended, so I rode the riverfront streetcar down to the French Market, and then walked over to the Clover Grill on Bourbon Street for a breakfast. The place was really crowded, and I had to sit at the bar, but the breakfast was really good.
Back in the French Market, large crowds of tourists were shopping at the various vendor tables, and I found a Tommy Ridgeley CD there. Back on Decatur Street, I stopped at a praline shop and bought my mother a box of pralines (they also had peanut-butter dipped oreos, which were fabulous), and then I walked further up Decatur, but the clouds to the west were black and threatening, and soon, a blast of wind came sweeping down the street, blowing leaves and trash with it, and then the bottom fell out, with rain coming down in buckets. I ducked into the Cafe du Monde for a minute, but there were no empty tables of course, and the rain showed no signs of stopping. I finally grew tired of waiting, and decided to run across Jackson Square to the Jax Brewery, which left me drenched to the bone, and I hadn’t realized that the Jackson Brewery Mall had no awnings over the sidewalk, so even there, I was getting soaked.
I finally made it back to the hotel and conference, and then decided to take my car out of the parking garage and drive to Domilise’s for lunch, since it would be the last day I could. In the Uptown neighborhood, it wasn’t raining, but finding a place to park on Annunciation was difficult, and I soon found it was all because of Domilise’s. There was literally a line out the door as I walked up to the entrance, but once I got inside, things were moving with military precision, as loaves of french bread were cut, shrimp and oysters were fried, roast beef was sliced, condiments were added. The interior of the cafe probably hadn’t changed since the 70’s, with advertisements for Dixie Beer and Jax Beer (Jax had closed in 1972 I think), and they still served the mandatory Barq’s root beer in the brown bottles so familiar to me from childhood summers in Gulfport. (Back then, every grocery or po-boy joint I recall had the familiar blue-and-orange sign with the unassuming slogan “Drink Barq’s-It’sGood.”) Domilise’s po-boys truly were the ultimate, even if the menu prices were starting to reflect their fame a little bit.
After lunch, I drove back to the hotel for the last networking conference opportunities, and then headed out to an event at Tipitina’s that was supposed to feature brass bands, or so I thought. Actually the event turned out to be a festival of high school bands, and as I sat in Professor Longhair Park across the street from the club, the police blocked off the street and neighborhood kids started showing up, with drumsticks in hand, praticing on lightpoles and brick walls, a phenomenon I haven’t seen anywhere else. The bands that came were from Warren Easton, McDonough 35, and St. Augustine high schools, all Black, inner-city bands, but a good crowd of whites and Blacks showed up to support them, and apparently the event was to celebrate the arrival of new instruments that had been given them by the Tipitina’s Foundation. Altogether it was an enjoyable event, but about midway through it, it began to rain, scattered drops at first, then more steady, and finally heavy enough that I retreated to my car and headed back toward the French Quarter. However, I needed gasoline, and finding an Exxon in New Orleans proved to be difficult. I finally found one open across from Lee Circle, just across from a brilliant, rainbow-colored hotel called Le Cirque, which I photographed.
Then, parking in the outdoor lot across from my hotel, I walked to Landry’s Seafood House and ate redfish pontchartrain for dinner. Next door at Peaches Records & Tapes, there had been a rap showcase for the Cutting Edge music conference, but it had already broken up when I got there. I really had wanted to hear a brass band performance, but, aside from the Rebirth playing at Tipitina’s, which I figured would be expensive, there didn’t seem to be much going on. I decided against going to the Cafe du Monde, and headed back to the room instead. New Orleans was playing the Houston Texans at the Superdome, and there was a volley of gunshots outside of the hotel which sent security scrambling, but nobody could ever figure out who was shooting or why. It must not have been very serious, because the police never came.