Birmingham marked the last stop on the designated civil rights history part of my trip. As it turned out, I was a little underwhelmed by the city, since unlike Selma and Montgomery, the history of the civil rights movement took a back seat to the history of Birmingham as an industrial powerhouse.
Starting off at Vulcan Park, where the largest cast iron sculpture in the world (of roman god of crafts and labour Vulcan) stands. It was interesting reading about the history of Birmingham, being built up from a small collection of farms to one of the major industrial centres in the USA. Particularly interesting was learning that the grid layout of the city that is present today was actually planned in its exact form when the city was built. This definitely made it easy to navigate without a map!
Walking into downtown past a few interesting and hip suburbs, I took the civil rights trail, following the route of the palm Sunday protests. This was actually pretty dry compared to Selma, particularly since there wasn’t any information that I didn’t already know, and little to stir any particular emotion, despite the atrocities that occurred there only 50 years ago.
The best part of Birmingham occurred the next day when I met a guy called John at one of the local breweries. We originally started talking about music, but the conversation turned to attitudes towards race and sexuality in Alabama, as well as towards gun control which was a lot less clear cut for him, despite him not even owning a gun! After a few more bars we settled in to a local dive bar to watch his friend’s rock band who were pretty good. It was really interesting to get a local perspective on all these things, and especially to escape the tourist trail and see some real places! As in all of the cities I’ve visited, it’s the people that make it fun, not just the museums!
Nashville couldn’t have been much more different than the rest of the cities so far on the trip. Almost entirely dedicated to tourism, the town centre was absolutely buzzing with music even when I arrived at around midday! Since I was only really in town for the grand opening of the Ascend Amphitheatre and Eric Church’s awesome acoustic performance I decided to go off the tourist trap a bit and visit some of the more hipster spots in East Nashville!
Whilst I was supposed to leave for Memphis the next day, as luck would have it I got offered a press ticket for Dolly Parton’s charity gig at the Ryman Amphitheatre! I’m so glad I stuck around, not only because the gig was incredible, but because I met a couple of fantastic guys at a brewery, and so we decided to continue the brewery crawl together, and then hit the honky tonks to listen to some live music! These were the same guys who I went to the ‘Whisky, bourbon and hot chicken festival’ at the bridgestone arena with. This was so awesome, tasking lots of moonshine and whisky, and getting my tongue burned by some seriously spicy chicken!
Despite the touristy atmosphere of Nashville, it was such a fun city, with loads of stuff to do, especially if you like music! I can’t wait to go back for an extended time after Memphis, New Orleans and Clarksdale.