The Tennessee heat was claustrophobic and all I could think was when is this bus going to get here? We all wanted to skip out on the country music history bus tour, but we were standing here for Stacy, my uncle’s bride-to-be and a country music fanatic. We impatiently waited for the bus she’d promised us. She was going to lead a tour of Nashville’s country music history, which interested me more than the rest of my family since at this point in my life I thought I’d make a good songwriter. But it still wasn’t something I wanted to do. The unbearable sun heated my hair and made my scalp sweat uncomfortably. My grandmother had forced her eight grandchildren and Stacy’s three kids into matching t-shirts with big red hearts and “LUKE & STACY” printed across the front. We were all forced to grin and bear it with an eye roll and an, “Oh, well, that’s Martha for you!” Words cannot express the relief I felt as I saw that bus come around that corner.
To my great disappointment, riding the bus was hardly any more restful than standing on the sidewalk. There were about ten more people than there were seats in the vehicle, and I sat crammed between my two cousins, battling carsickness and praying for the AC to come on.
We all tried to put on a brave face for Stacy, who was standing at the front of the bus with the microphone in hand, pointing animatedly at this or that landmark. My father feigned interest; my mother pouted and texted her complaints to her friends back home, paying no heed to Stacy.
“And this,” Stacy pointed excitedly, “that building right there, that’s where Minnie Pearl recorded her first single!”
I didn’t know who Minnie Pearl was. I took a picture of the building anyway. The bus made agonizing progress down Music Row. I hated being in the middle of my cousins; I wound up sitting on that awful crack between the two cushions. Lindsey, my older cousin, tried to pay attention but wound up asleep. Kimberly, three years younger than me, was squabbling with her brother in the seat behind us.
My mother whispered a very audible, “Are you kidding me?” at another of Stacy’s proclamations: “And here’s where Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn recorded one of their duet albums!” My dad leaned over to her across the aisle and said one word, the one she always used when my brother or I pushed back against her decisions:
My dad and my uncle Mike, Lindsey’s father, decided that it would be fun to make us three girls less comfortable than we already were. The two parental figures were like children, my dad gruesomely explaining methods of drawing blood from one’s wrist as a physician. Lindsey was retching. Kimberly reached backwards to slap her brother on the hand. My position was grim.
I was actually relieved to step back into the heat wave, especially as we were quickly ushered through the doors of Historic RCA Studio B and into the air-conditioned recording studio where my uncle Luke worked as a sound engineer.
RCA Studio B has been around seemingly forever. Even today, musicians like Carrie Underwood and Toby Keith record there, a point that triggered jealousy and irritation at the fact that Luke never considered getting an autograph for me despite the celebrities he saw on a daily basis. As Luke and Stacy led the tour through the studio, Luke pulled an old microphone out of a box and stated, “This was the microphone Elvis Presley used when he recorded one of his albums.”
I certainly knew who that was. I was floored.
“…And now we’re going to record all of you on this thing.” I turned around to Kimberly, wondering if she was as happy about it as I was. She seemed indifferent, braiding a strand of her own hair and ignoring Stacy and Luke. I watched as Luke set up the mic, dangling from the ceiling, and entered his studio.
“I hope y’all know Amazing Grace,” Stacy began in her thick Southern accent. My mother’s face was pinched in an expression of immense displeasure. We recorded once; our timing was off. We recorded again. My mother played on her phone and tuned it all out.
The day after next would be Luke and Stacy’s wedding. It was about as far off the beaten path as one could get. They held the ceremony at the Country Music Hall of Fame, in the room in which plaques of awards for artists hung. Stacy’s great uncle, Earl Scruggs, who pioneered “country banjo,” sat among the awarded artists watching over the event.
From there, we meandered the four blocks over to The Stage, the bar at which Stacy performed during daytime hours. Anything but conventional, Stacy climbed up on the stage of The Stage in her wedding dress, booting off the band they’d hired for the event, and sang Rocky Top to her friends and family. As my father and godfather each took another beer, the two of them let loose the loudest “Yee-Haw!” I’d ever heard in my fourteen years. I snuck off to the loft with my cousins Lindsey, Scott, and Kevin and my godfather’s son Wiley, where we got a bird’s eye view of the party.
That afternoon was my initiation into Stacy’s world of country music and Tennessee history, despite all of my mother’s fussing and the unpleasantries of the day. In the end, it was all worth it to see my family and friends in one place celebrating together, even if I had to suffer for three hours, because that was the important part: celebrating family.