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.