The Reality Of Middle America – The Metallica “Black Ticket” Tour Continues

Boise and Portland To End The Year

You wouldn’t know it, but I was in Boise and Portland for Metallica to end 2018.  It was my first time in Boise since college.  Both shows were an absolute blur of activity.  I had an amazing pizza at ‘The Front Door’ in Boise, which I paired with an ‘Enter Night’ pilsner.  I still don’t like beer, but like with ‘Blackened’ whiskey, I had to try it.  Four Horsemen made another appearance for me, which never gets old for how many shows it took me to get it in the first place.

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Portland was an easy down and back that I debated doing in one day, but erred on the side of caution and stayed in Kelso.  (It was that or a ditch.)  I made a point to hit Pine State Biscuits, which is still absolutely on point!  The sweet potato, marshmallow pop tart was good too!

I spent most of the afternoon and evening walking the city.  The MLB to PDX campaign is in full effect, so I stopped at their new store, which wasn’t officially open yet, but they let me in anyway to grab some swag.

Portland as a city is still taking a downward turn, rampant with drug use and the sad state of homelessness.  It feels very much like Seattle and San Francisco.  It’s upsetting to see the spiral.

‘No Remorse’ was a set standout in what was probably my least favorite show of the tour.  The Portland crowd was boorishly rude and impatient with Jim Breuer and there were short fuses abound.  I saw my first real ‘lady fight’ with two incredibly intoxicated women in their mid to late 40’s; full on fists flying, and a Steve Austin-style pounding.  There was a lot of pushing at the show too, which is no biggie if it’s ‘show action’, but when you’re just being a dick, then fuck off.  It’s a shame the poor vibe was such a downer, because the setlist was solid, and certainly more than Portland deserved.

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Boise and Portland were in the books to end the year, then it was off to Little Rock to kick off 2019.

January 20th, 2019  (Little Rock, AR)

This was my first year missing Red Sox camp since playing these last two years.  I underestimated how much I would miss it, and instantly regretted it when I knew there was no turning back.

Traveling for Metallica has been an awesome time, and the opportunity to see some places I’d never been to before was something I couldn’t pass up.  While I missed camp tremendously, it was a great week on the road.

My flight into Arkansas was smooth and easy.  I had my connection timed to a “T” and IMG_7005.JPGwas able to see the area in the daylight before parking by the arena a few hours early to walk the area.  I had ‘Gus’ World Famous Fried Chicken’ for dinner.  The chicken was solid, but not earth shaking or worth the hour and a half I ended up waiting for it.  (Yes, really.)  What a disorganized cluster.  At least I still had plenty of time to get back to the arena.

I’ve been to so many shows that I have it timed to get there roughly an hour early, make one last pit stop, then take my ‘usual’ spot, roughly 3-5 people away from the stage.  I know plenty of people that camp for the rail, but really, what’s the difference?  (Beyond hours of unnecessary waiting and bladder control.)

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January 21st, 2019 (Memphis, TN)

IMG_7126There wasn’t a ton to see in Arkansas, so I was excited to hit the road to head towards Memphis, Tennessee and Elvis’ Graceland.  Evidently I was a little too excited, since I got a speeding ticket on the way.  (Honestly, I’m surprised it took so long with the way I’ve been driving on these trips.)  I grabbed a ‘Big Bill’s BBQ’ once I hit Memphis, which was recommended on Yelp, but below mediocre at best, then went up to take the tour of Graceland.

I’m not a huge Elvis fan but there’s no denying his impact and contributions to music!  The tour itself was fun too, and worth the stop.

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Memphis is known for the music scene on Beale St, so I hit that for dinner and some entertainment, enjoying a cup of gumbo, some ribs, and catfish, along with some music.  After dinner it was a nice cigar off the strip at Havana Mix watching a group of men play dominos.

IMG_7196The cigar shop was great, and entertaining for a few reasons.  The shop was packed, and I was the only white guy there.  I sent Amy a text and she sent me a GIF from ‘Weird Science’ that made me laugh out loud.  I watched the men play dominos before they wrapped up and left.  One of the guys joked on the way out why I didn’t play in, I told him I was happy to just watch.  I moved over to another couch and watched my first minutes of NBA since the Sonics left Seattle.  Two different couples came in, both settling in long enough to take a selfie and out in under 5 minutes.  I was probably there close to an hour before leaving, feeling relaxed, and catching a few more minutes of music up the strip, before heading back to the hotel.

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January 22nd, 2019 (Birmingham, AL)

Spotify has been my best friend this week.  I stuck with the Elvis theme on my drive through Tupelo, Mississippi, where Elvis was born.  I had another average-at-best BBQ at Bishop BBQ, before heading towards Alabama, my 40th of 50 states.  I’m not sure what the deal is, but I sure expected better BBQ down here!

The reality of Middle America has been loud and clear this tour, and Birmingham, Alabama was just another example.  I’d noticed the same thing through upstate New York and Pennsylvania last October.  We are truly living in a period of haves and have nots.  It’s a sad and eye opening reality driving into another town, like many I’ve seen this year, that is screaming for help.  A collection of dilapidated homes, vacant storefronts, poverty, and homelessness.  It’s hard not to feel guilty.  I’m traveling while others are struggling to put fresh food on their tables or make a living to provide for their families.  And all of this during a government shutdown, where close to a million Americans are working and not getting paid.

I drove past Rickwood Field, the oldest ballpark in America.  Rickwood is a living testament to Birmingham.  Old and rundown, a fresh coat of paint trying to disguise the rot, and its struggle to even stand.  But behind the park’s brave face, there was hope; the sun shining on the ballfield that I could see through the shadow of the concourse.  It was like a beacon saying “Don’t give up on me yet.”  A message?

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January 23-24th, 2019  (Nashville, TN)

I’d heard a lot of great things about Nashville, and I’m happy to say they were all true.

I started the afternoon at ‘Arnold’s Country Kitchen’ for a “Meat and 3”.  Arnold’s is pretty much like a IMG_7428school cafeteria.  You choose a meat and three sides.  I grabbed a slice of chess and a slice of chocolate chess pie too.  It wasn’t anything special, but it’s one of the things to hit when you’re in Nashville.  The comedian Asiz Ansari popped in for lunch while I was there too, but I left the guy and the woman he was with alone, while the manager or whatever kept bringing him plates of the next thing to try.

img_7448.jpgAfter lunch it was off to the Grand Ole Opry for a tour.  I’m not a country guy – clearly, I’m traveling across the US to see Metallica – but it was still a fun tour.  I’ve been listening to country a lot on the drive to stick to the area I’m at during the trip.  You could see through the videos how big of a deal the Opry is to the fans and the artists, so I was happy I went.

The biggest thing I was looking forward to, outside of Metallica, was the row of bars off Broadway.  20-30 bars, and nearly every one of them exploding with music and sound, even on a random Wednesday.  It was great!

Every bar was different.  Some played traditional country, some modern, and then others with current rock covers.  I didn’t expect to get downtown and see a news truck outside one of the bars.  When I got close enough I could see the sign “Blake Shelton at capacity”.  Blake Shelton, a country artist that sells out arenas, was playing a show at the bar he owns.  I watched him play from the window and could hear the speakers outside as clear as day in the 35 degree cold, while a collection of mostly women stood on ledges to look in the window with their phones.  Wild.  I watched for close to a half hour before going bar to bar past midnight, stopping for a patty melt at the ‘Sun Diner’ (which was delicious by the way).

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I spent most of show day (the 24th) walking the city, but not before hitting Hattie B’s for a hot chicken sandwich.  Let me tell you, it is AS ADVERTISED.  It was without a doubt theIMG_7535 best chicken sandwich I have ever eaten.  The breading, the flavor, the slaw, the sauce, the bun.  Perfection!

I walked past the Nashville Sounds ballpark to take a peek, (I drove past their last park too, which is in a state of partial demolition,) then put on roughly 2 more miles past the capitol and courthouse, before ending back at the strip of bars to kill some time before Metallica.

Nashville may have been my favorite show of the tour.  It was a solid setlist, but it wouldn’t have mattered because the crowd absolutely killed it.  An absolutely fantastic crowd that eclipsed the Philly crowd that until then had owned the tour.

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Nashville was the perfect way to end this leg of the tour.  Will there be more?  I sure hope so.  1 or 2… Or maybe more?

We’ll see.

(Spoiler.  There were more.)

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