Across Tennessee. By Kia.

To get to Tennessee, you have to drive across a bit of North Carolina. I gun the Kia into action. It is a woman’s gun.

North Carolina turns out to be a very pleasant place. I may go back there one day, and explore a bit further. We are headed for ‘Ghost Town in the Sky,’ which is a theme park based on the wild west, situated up a mountain.

My plan is that if I can incorporate lots of theme parks, zoos etc. into our schedule then the LTLP will realise that I was right all along, and a great family holiday does not consist of going to a swanky beach resort in Florida with loads of facilities, pools and stuff for children, but getting in a Kia and driving across Tennessee in search of traditional banjo music.

She studies the map, her face still not quite having lost its original air of dry scepticism.

“There is a town called ‘Batcave’ coming up,” she announces. “Can we visit Batcave? It sounds interesting.”

“I would like to visit Batcave,” I agree. “We could stop there for dinner dinner dinner.”

Silence descends. We do not visit Batcave.

‘Ghost Town in the Sky’ turns out to be brilliant. You get to it via a mountain chairlift, which has no seatbelts or anything and brings the exhilarating thrill of wondering whether your wriggling Toddler might end up smashed to bits on the rocks below. At the top, there are loads of rides, a reconstruction of an old wild west town, and regular gunfights staged by actors.

And banjo music.

The bluegrass bands playing in the ‘saloons’ are incredible. I mean – let’s face it, banjo music is quite thrilling when you hear it on disc, or as the soundtrack to a car chase on the TV. Everybody knows that. But live, it is a totally different proposition. It fills the space and grabs you with a cocktail of excitement and history, and you suddenly understand how this music came to be and why it has been so core to the way of life of these parts of rural America.

I do not quite expect the Toddler to understand this yet. But she is clapping along with the banjo music, a delighted look on her face. I am almost in tears, I am so proud.

The fiddle player is introduced to us as Georgia’s state fiddle champion (twice). I am impressed by that. If there is entertainment at British theme parks it is usually some twat singing bad cover versions to pre-programmed Casio organ tracks. Here, you get Georgia’s state fiddle chamption, and legendary banjoist Steve Sutton. It is like turning up to the Dinosaur Adventure Park in Lenwade and seeing Martin Carthy playing a set with Yehudi Menuhin.

I am not saying that Martin Carthy and Yehudi Menuhin never gigged at the Dinosaur Adventure Park in Lenwade. But it strikes me as unlikely.

After that, the staged gunfight is mere dressing. A small child standing beside me is equally blasé.

“That’s nothin’ – they’re not even real bullets,” he complains.

“That’s right,” scolds his mother. “You show the man what happens with real bullets.”

The child turns to me to demonstrate a horrible scar on his face.

I chat to the man operating the kiddies’ carousel as he waits for it to complete its rotations. He leans back on a fence and we survey the scene together – miles upon miles of the dramatic Great Smoky Mountains – the sunshine, the wisps of cloud, the trees of green and red.

“They’re starting to let folks build houses up there,” he complains. “If you ask me, they shouldn’t let houses into that view.”

We nod slowly at the sadness of despoilation as we stand with our backs to the acres of theme park, gift shops and roller coasters that have been hewn into the mountainside.

The carousel slows to a halt. The Toddler reappears. I hurry her along. There is time for more banjo music before we leave.

21 thoughts on “Day 1: Ghost Town in the Sky.

  1. Zed says:

    Well, I’m glad it did something for you. But this obsession over banjos is a bit much, isn’t it? Perhaps I should see live banjo-playing – oh hang on, I have, and that’s what put me off forever.

    Will the toddler start banjo lessons soon?

  2. Richard says:

    Yes, Best of Bela Fleck for the Toddler’s stocking should go down nicely.

    A propos the child and boasting mother, you could have at least mentioned that it was the friendly fire in Iraq in ’91 that shot your toes off and proceeded to limp away.

  3. JonnyB says:

    Zed, I will turn up at your place one day and stand beneath your window on a moonlit night and play my banjo softly to you so that the notes drift up through the sultry air and IT WILL BE BEAUTIFUL and YOU WILL AGREE WITH ME.

  4. guyana gyal says:

    All this gun talk! So much *voylence*.

    Hmm, I never knew banjos and the wild west went together. I thought the wild west wuz guitar and that banjos wuz from dem duelling banjos people.

    That’s sad about the houses on the mountains. Lookout for landslides now, then they can blame the rain.

    Is “chamption” a local pronunciation there?

  5. Queenie says:

    You went to ‘Ghost Town In The Sky’. And there were riders. So they were Ghost Riders In The Sky, right?

    Can’t believe you missed that one, blimey, call yourself a banjo player??!!

  6. ajb1605 says:

    Oh, so you took the LTLP as well, did you? You never mentioned that. Had you forgotten she was there?

    I was thinking it was some great Dad and Toddler bonding expedition.

  7. MB says:

    So this whole trip was just so you could hear Banjos and make a Batman joke……

  8. You actually paid those outrageous prices to get into ‘Ghost Town in the Sky’? Hah! Suckerrrrr! You have the delightful little town of Cherokee fifteen minutes down the road, where you can get your banjo-strumming, tumbledown shacks and drunken gunfights for free. With real bullets.

    The Smokies are indeed beautiful, especially this time of year, but I’m not sure I’d buy any of the houses. When we rented a cabin a couple of years back, we were greeted by a sign in the kitchen saying not to put the rubbish out because it attracts the bears. Racoons I can live with, but I draw the line at bears mugging me when I walk out the door…

  9. Megan says:

    The really marvelous bit is now I can cross Ghost Town in the Sky off my list AND possibly Batcave (as I heard a joke about it and that’s practically the same things as being there). One or two more posts and I will be able to avoid the South for the rest of my life completely guilt free!

  10. spazmo says:

    If only you’d rented your car from Batcave. Most likely they throw in the capes and cowls free of charge. The toddler could’ve been Bat-Mite.

    Ivan = Smokey bears don’t really mug you so much as lecture you on fire safety precautions. Still annoying, though.

  11. kermit says:

    Oh my. It seems the Johnny Cash tribute band thing went so well that you’re actually alive and have gone to Tennessee!

    P.S. I feel obliged to inform you that Short Tony may be stalking you:

  12. Ah, Ghost Town in the Sky. When I was a teenager we visited it. Sort of. In those days (is it no longer true?) you could ascend either by chairlift or by tram.

    My stepfather is a man who believes that when it comes to storms or heights, discretion is the better part of valor. So we all sat in the car while he mused aloud as to whether it was better to take the chair lift (where the cable might snap) or the tram (where the brakes might fail). Which afforded the least possibility of death?

    In the end, he decided that the least deadly option was just to drive out of the parking lot and on to Cherokee.

    I second the recommendation of Cherokee, by the way. You can buy all kinds of splendid genuine Native American kitsch (made in China) there. But no alcohol.

    And please tell me that you got to Gatlinburg and found that the miniature golf course still had dinosaurs in it. You might have been inspired to write your own country song:

    Well it was Gatlinburg in mid-October
    And sadly I was stone cold sober
    And craving a beverage flavored with hops.
    When a shriek erupted from the LTLP
    And I looked at her and she looked at me
    ‘Cause there in the road stood a triceratops.

    (Erm, it might need some work.)

  13. tillylil says:

    If you play Countdown you can add an ‘e’ to pluralise banjoes for seven points.

  14. Pat says:

    You could always drop in on Ivan. I believe Americans are truly hospitable. Oh no – he’s not American – not born and bred.
    Wouldn’t it be lovely if you came upon that weird creature with funny eyes and ears sitting on a porch and playing a mean banjo. Know the one I mean?

  15. Cliff says:

    (settles down for a series of banjo/comedy related posts)I think I may have died and gone to blog heaven.

    Who wouldn’t want banjo played at their funeral, by the way?

  16. JonnyB says:

    Pat: Could be one and the same?

    I very much enjoyed ‘Ghost Town’. As did the Toddler and LTLP.

    Angie – the tram wasn’t working. I don’t know whether it was just out of order, or whether it had plummeted off the hilltop, killing loads of people. But it was chairlift only this time.

    And thank you for the Cherokee recommendations, everybody. It looked a very interesting town. I didn’t get out of the car.

  17. JonnyB says:

    My jaw is starting to drop at that link, Kermit…

  18. Hamish says:

    A person who had been savagely murdered by an insane banjo-toting madman?

  19. Hamish says:

    Link post 18 to post 15…

  20. kermit says:

    Might I suggest that you add “Edward Spinks”, “Alex Marsh” and “Andy Bell” to the list from your FB Appreciation Society:

    On your high falutin’ Appreciation Society, Bell says he wants to know who you are because he’d like to read more stuff you’ve written. Spinks, not me, was the one that originally discovered the body on Nov. 6. Marsh likes the body, so obviously that’s not a good sign.

  21. kermit says:

    oh crap, double paste by accident. See, clearly nobody as incompetent as me could ever have schemed to pretend to be Short Tony. Personally, I’d much rather be the Cheerful Builder or the Chipper Barman, but being female I couldn’t pull it off.

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