It was July 2013, and the plan was to spend a week in Charlottesville, Virginia, where we would do some walking on the nearby Appalachian Trail. We also reckoned on a bit of local sightseeing, including Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States and celebrated as chief author of the Declaration of Independence. After that we would head further south, in search of music.
As it happened, we switched our priorities a bit in Charlottesville, as we discovered that midsummer is not the ideal time for walking in Virginia. It’s not just the heat or humidity, which can be oppressive. The vegetation grows to such an extent, with all the trees in leaf, that the trails become very enclosed, with only restricted views of the wider landscape.
Conversely, we discovered that Jefferson’s wasn’t the only presidential home in the vicinity. Also nearby were the homes of James Madison and James Monroe, respectively Montpelier and Ash Lawn. Jefferson, Madison and Monroe were all ‘Founding Fathers’ of the United States, and the third, fourth and fifth Presidents. I knew a bit about Jefferson already, but not nearly as much as I thought. Touring their residences and hearing their stories was a thought-provoking start to our trip, introducing us to the complex attitudes and contradictions that formed the basis of American politics – and the issue of race.
Not to prolong this prologue unduly, but these were intelligent, ‘Enlightenment Men’, rallying to a truth they proclaimed 'to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’. But they were also elitists, who aimed to create a Union that would 'secure the blessings of liberty', but essentially envisaged a government led by educated people like them.They were also capable of believing that slavery was wrong, but that circumstances were such that nothing could be done about it. Jefferson owned a couple of hundred slaves himself, in spite of his apparent disapproval of the practice, and freed only a few of them on his death. Monroe, meanwhile, believed slavery had to end, but that it would not be feasible for slaves to remain in the States; so he came up with the concept of founding a homeland for them in Africa – hence Liberia (ie, land of liberty), the capital of which is Monrovia, named after him.
Charlottesville is a small university town – Jefferson founded the University of Virginia there, and it gave us a pleasant week of good food, rest and relaxation, in addition to the walking and presidential stuff. While music wasn’t the priority here, it wasn’t entirely absent either. One afternoon we took shelter from a downpour in the Number 3 Sports Bar, in an area called ‘The Corner’ across the road from UVa, and were assailed by the likes of Zeppelin, The Guess Who, The Doors and Jethro Tull. Meanwhile someone had tuned the radio in our hire car to supply a diet of classic rock. We caught a couple of acts playing in local bars too, and even one young lad putting on a show in a garage, facing a local park.
The music was about to take centre stage though, when we set off for Nashville.