“Niche marketing” touted by Tennessee tourism chief

July 20, 2007

Today’s Chattanooga Times Free Press contains a piece overing a speech by Tennessee Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker in which she mentions that $250,o00 was allocated for “niche marketing” of the state. “The state had been targeting such niche events as hunting, fishing, cultural events and music, Ms. Whitaker said, but this year is adding baby boomers, weddings and honeymoons, reunions and sporting events.”

I’m not sure if I’d call hunting and fishing “niche events,” but the idea of targeting marketing at particular groups of potential visitors is a good idea. Tennessee could begin with jerky lovers, as seen from this billboard on I-40:

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Dollywood visitors to shoot each other in 2008

July 19, 2007

Dollywood announced today that the new ride for the 2008 season will enable guests to shoot each other and passersby with “powerful soaker guns.” The ride–River Battle by name–consists of nine rafts holding eight persons, each of whom has a water gun that can be used to hit more than 100 targets along a 500-foot channel. Some of the targets are large-scale talking animals such as beavers, skunks, otters, and bears, and some of the targets shoot back.

But wait, it gets better. According to the Dollywood news release, “while rafters are soaking each other in raft-to-raft sparring, they also can ‘shoot’ observers along the way in ‘raft-to-shore’ fun.”

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Loving the Loveless Cafe and Motel

July 19, 2007

If someone in Hollywood set out to create the perfect Southern eatery, they would conjure up the Loveless Cafe. This place used to be a mom-and-pop hotel southwest of Nashville on Highway 100 back in the days before the mom-and-pop hotel owners were named Patel.

The Loveless family shifted from the motel business to serving meals, and they gained fame as a good place out in the country to eat down home food. It didn’t hurt that country music stars were known to come there for cholesterol-heaped breakfasts, which were served all day and fit the lifestyles of people for whom wasted days and wasted nights was more than a song title.

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Extreme Driving in Tennessee

July 18, 2007

I drove on Tennessee highways for several hundred miles in June and July, and experienced the entire range of the motoring experience, from I-40 to the Natchez Trace Parkway.

The worst interstate highway driving experience in the state has to be I-40 in East Tennessee east and west of Knoxville. I-81 terminates into I-40 east of town in Jefferson County, and I-75 joins I-40 in Knoxville and runs with it for several miles before peeling off and heading southwest to Chattanooga. Throw in the most popular exit (I-40’s 407) for the most visited national park in the country and thousands of semis roaring alongside cautious flatlanders pulling travel trailers, and you have a hellish mix even when traffic is running. God help you if there is a wreck.

Even if drivers could ignore the traffic, the trees that have grown up along the interstate highways all over Tennessee have resulted what can only be called tunnel vision. Here’s a look at I-40 west of Knoxville:

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Memphis Magazine hits a home run

July 18, 2007

Glossy city magazines have an almost impossible task: producing good prose while simultaneously sucking up to companies who cotton to rich folks–and who, incidentally pay for the ads. That’s why you see those issues with lame stories such as “this year’s movers and shakers” and “the physician directory” with glowing little box profiles of doctors within an IV drip of an ad from their practices.

The July issue of Memphis magazine is about the best issue of this publication I’ve seen. The cover story is a 30-year look back at how the magazine covered Elvis, from their literally stop-the-presses September, 1977 issue–Memphis would have come out the month after the most momentous death in Memphis history with a cover on Dutch Elm disease and no mention of the King–complete with covers from all the issues during that time. Good stuff.

There is also a Chris Herrington article on the various out-of-town artists who recorded in Memphis. These include the Yardbirds, Neil Diamond, John Prine, Sonic Youth, Stevie Ray Vaughn, R.E.M, and Three Doors Down. Herrington then makes his case for what he thinks are four of the most significant albums recorded in Memphis by artists who did not live there: Dusty Springfield’s 1968 Dusty in Memphis, ZZ Top’s 1983 Eliminator, The Replacements’ 1987 Pleased to Meet Me, and the White Stripes’ 2001 White Blood Cells.

Memphis magazine costs a mere $15 per year for 12 issues, a bargain.

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This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.


Bill Monroe homeplace and resting place

July 17, 2007

Allow me one more trip into Kentucky and then I’ll get back to Tennessee.

Bill Monroe is one of the few people who created a musical genre, and visitors to Rosine, Kentucky can see his birthplace and his grave. The 1994 documentary, High Lonesome, depicted him walking around the house in which he was born and reminiscing about Uncle Pen and family life on Jerusalem Ridge. The house at that time was an abandoned wreck. Monroe died in 1996, and the Bill Monroe Foundation has restored the house and opened it for visitors.

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The perfect Christmas gift: your own copper moonshine still

July 17, 2007

It’s not too early to make plans for Christmas, and here’s the item for the person who wants to celebrate Tennessee heritage and culture–or just celebrate: a copper moonshine still.

I called Colonel Vaughn Wilson in Mulberry, Arkansas, to chat about his unusual products. They are fully functional, 99.9 percent pure copper vessels capable of distilling alcohol in amounts from 10 gallons on up. The Colonel says he shipped one 60-gallon model to a customer in Tennessee, but his best customers (in descending order) live in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee. He claims to have shipped his wares to every state in the country.

Even if you never intend to fire up one of his products, they are works of art. Prices? The 20-gallon model pictured below is $1,200. There is a 16-week waiting list, which means if you order one today, you could plan on a very merry Christmas for everyone on your list this year.

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This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.


Believe it or not: shrunken heads attract shrunken minds

July 16, 2007

Today’s words of wisdom come from the manager at the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! museum in Gatlinburg.  The subject is shrunken heads.  “The more hair they have, the more valuable they are,” says the guy who should know.

The Knoxville News Sentinel has a good article on the extensive holdings of Ripley’s Entertainment in Sevier County. According to the piece, Ripley’s has an “investment in Sevier County of $80 to $90 million and employs about 400 people.” A trip to the Ripley website informs the cyber visitor that “our advanced odditiorium research will allow you to find a Ripley location near you.” Odd, indeed. Ripleys has locations from coast to coast, but the most fertile ground for this cash-vacuuming operation is Gatlinburg.

In this charming town, the company operates Ripley’s Believe it or Not(!) Museum, Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, Ripley’s Moving Theater, Ripley’s Davy Crockett Mini Golf, Ripley’s Super Fun Zone, and the Guinness World Records Museum. Nearby Sevierville hosts Ripley’s Old MacDonald’s Farm Mini Golf and another Ripley’s Super Fun Zone.

The flagship operation in Gatlinburg, however, is Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, which offers perhaps the most sensationalist view of underwater life on the planet. Billboards on I-40 and the website trumpet SHARKS! complete with scary-looking photos of those undersea creatures. The aquarium itself, compared to the far better Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, is a featureless tank in which bored sharks circle aimlessly while human visitors stand on a moving walkway that slowly transports them through a tunnel beneath the tank.

As H. K. Mencken put it so well, no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public, and Gatlinburg and the talented Mr. Ripley’s company have every right to separate visitors from their dollars. Nonetheless, I think there is a direct correlation between the overall stupidity that so characterizes Gatlinburg and the “odditoriums” of shrunken heads that characterizes Ripley’s.

Believe it or not.

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This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.


Blackberries and the invasion of the flesh suckers

July 15, 2007

Blackberries are in season in Tennessee: abundant clusters of sweet globules filled with flavor. Seed catalogues offer several variety of blackberries, but they grow wild in so many places in Tennessee that you don’t have to cultivate them. Just find a patch and pick. My cousins and I used to pick buckets of blackberries with my grandmother, and I did so recently on the Garden Inn property in Monterey and on the shores of Norris Lake.

That’s where the chiggers attacked.

Chiggers are six-legged tormentors so small that they cannot be seen. They climb onto people and march to places where clothing is tight and skin is soft. That’s right–backs of knees, under the arms, and the nether regions. Once in place chiggers find a hair follicle or pore and settle down for a meal. What they do next is best described by an Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet:

“They pierce the skin and inject into the host a salivary secretion containing powerful, digestive enzymes that break down skin cells that are ingested (tissues become liquefied and sucked up). Also, this digestive fluid causes surrounding tissues to harden, forming a straw-like feeding tube of hardened flesh (stylostome) from which further, partially-digested skin cells may be sucked out. After a larva is fully fed in four days, it drops from the host, leaving a red welt with a white, hard central area on the skin that itches severely and may later develop into dermatitis. Any welts, swelling, itching, or fever will usually develop three to six hours after exposure and may continue a week or longer. If nothing is done to relieve itching, symptoms may continue a week or more. Scratching a bite may break the skin, resulting in secondary infections. However, chiggers are not known to transmit any disease in this country.”

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Illustration from Ohio State University

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Moonlite Bar-B-Q

July 13, 2007

Anyplace outside of Memphis calling itself “The Barbecue Capital of the World” is going to get raised eyebrows from me. Owensboro, Kentucky makes that claim, so I headed there to check it out. My destination was the Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn, the most celebrated barbecue pit in town.

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Moonlite smokes the usual: pork–ribs, shoulder and ham–chicken, and beef. The unusual item coming off the pit is mutton. Why mutton? According to a booklet published by the Bosley family. who owns the Moonlite, one possibility is that Welsh farmers who settled the area were partial to mutton, while another theory holds that Catholic immigrants from Europe would serve mutton at their picnics. However it got here, mutton is a big presence on the Moonlite menu: the place smokes some 10,000 pounds of mutton a week.

I still prefer pork, but the mutton was interesting to try. Moonlite serves everything but ribs in their buffet. which costs $9 at lunch, $12.15 for dinner Monday through Thursday, and $14.75 on weekends.  They also offer “fiddlers,” a term you hear in West Tennessee, which means an entire catfish minus the head.

Here’s a photo of Pat Bosley, a third generation member of the family that owns Moonlite. You can see quartered mutton on the top rack and pork shoulders down below.

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Moonlite justifies a trip to Owensboro, which also hold a big barbecue festival every year. But Barbecue Capital of the World? No way!

This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.