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Visit to ARN by Jenni Williams

WELCOME TO THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF LUCY!!

DAY 1

Arrived at Atlanta into a swampy heat which was oh so welcome after the miserable summer we’ve had in the UK.  Took the train to the Car Rental Centre, I’ve never seen so many cars in one place, organised our chariot for the next 10 days together with the oh so necessary Sat Nav (note to self: in the US it’s called GPS – so many things to remember, especially that we don’t always speak the same language).

After a rather slow journey through Atlanta’s rush hour (now I know what real traffic congestion looks like) we arrived at Roswell at about 5pm to a rousing welcome from the menagerie: Max the dashing dachshund & Eli & Yahoo the very regal cats - Lucy & Robert had to wait to greet us until they had finished!!

First things first, before even unpacking Lucy shows us our itinerary – a large flipchart with am & pm shown for each day of our visit.  It’s already practically full, often with a choice of places to go – wow Lucy has been busy.

Before jet lag can claim us we’re fed, watered & sent to get changed for the first evenings entertainment – we’re off to Darwins in Marietta, it’s Thursday so it’s Blues Jam night.  It’s little more than a shack but the atmosphere is electric - the house band were already on stage blowing up a storm with 2 harps adding to the guitar, bass & drums – a fabulous sound!  Jamie suddenly disappeared, Lucy & I thought he’d gone to the bar but, when a little while later he’s invited on stage to sing a couple of numbers we realise that he’d gone off to sign up!!  He introduced the band to a few blues standards popular on the UK blues scene “Baby, what you want me to do”; “Statesboro Blues” & “Walking the dog” & had great fun, the crowd were noisy & appreciative and the musos were a friendly bunch.  Blues certainly is an international language!  Finally it’s time for bed, Day 1 complete & we’ve had a blast – Lucy assures us that we’ve seen nothing yet!

 

DAY 2 Did I mention the weather? It’s glorious high 80s, not a cloud in the sky.  We get up late as befits the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.  Lucy has a healthy breakfast prepared as we really don’t want to go home having put on tons of weight as is usual after a visit to the US!

We work on the itinerary

a little – having so much fun in such a short period of time takes very careful planning!

Lucy takes us for a drive around the Roswell area for us to familiarise ourselves with the area.  First stop Roswell Village centre – it’s so pretty & clean: full of antique & craft shops; restaurants & bars & wherever we look there seems to be music advertised.  For a complete contrast we then head into the woods, it’s all dappled shade with amazing cottages (often more like mini mansions) hidden amongst the trees & secluded lakes at every turn.  The roads are little more than single lane tracks, if you meet a car coming from the opposite direction someone has to give way.  I had no idea Georgia was so gorgeous.

Next we have a look at some of the newer sub divisions (that’s estates to us in the UK) dotted around the Roswell area: we see huge mansions, back to back, each house a show house; a monument to the American dream, it’s all pretty amazing, but perhaps to our UK eyes a touch pretentious.  En route to one of the best views of Atlanta Lucy spots a house for sale with the realtor standing outside – we stop & ask for a tour.  The house is utterly amazing, it’s a bank foreclosure so will go cheaply – the previous occupants have stripped it of most of the fittings & it’s in need of some work, most of it superficial but it has the most stunning decks on 2 levels with views over 2 or 3 states.  It’s a tardis – we counted 16 rooms (only 5 bedrooms though!) all of them enormous to our UK eyes with many featuring 2 storey ceilings.  The realtor reckons that it will go for between $350-380k (that’s £230-250k)– are they kidding!  In the UK it would go for more than £1 million!

Next stop, lunch, it has to be American as it’s out first full day – Lucy takes us to Wild Wings & we eat, what else but WINGS – yummy!!  It’s then time for home & a quick dip in the communal pool – wonderfully refreshing & Jamie suddenly announces he’s got an idea for a song & he rushes off to write it down.

There’s no rest for the wicked, so they say, so after a quick wash & change if’s off to Woodstock, they’re having a festival & there’s lots of music on.  Woodstock is a relatively new town that is growing fast & everyone is trying to create a community feel to it.  There is outdoor music at every shop & restaurant, the range is positively huge, delta blues outside one shop, singer/songwriter at the next; a rock band belting out sounds from an upstairs venue; there are films being shown & food, food everywhere. 

We’re in for a treat tonight as Lucy is taking us to see the Barry Richman Band at Niks in Marietta.  Niks is famous for its wraps & their very special dressing & they don’t disappoint (belt now having to be loosened by a notch!).  We were utterly blown away by Barry’s guitar – I’ve seen some great players in my time, but Barry tops them all, he has such an elegant style, real feel & great taste & he doesn’t overplay!  To top it all he’s also a lovely guy and his band are pretty impressive too - we have to take home a CD to remind us of a great night.  Barry has inspired Jamie & he has another idea for a song “Mr Dynamite”.

 

DAY 3

Jamie & I decide to give Lucy & Robert a break while we explore Roswell – just too pretty & quaint for words!  We stop off at Mitties for a bite to eat, surrounded by southern belles in hats lunching!  Then it’s off to the Diesel Bar for a leisurely drink before getting ready for our trip to Athens to see ‘Holdcell’, one of the bands that Lucy is promoting & we’re really excited to be finally seeing them.  Lucy gave us a sampler CD when we met in the UK but this will be out first experience of seeing them live.  Athens is a couple of hours away & it’s Labor weekend with a home college football game so we have no idea what to expect – luckily the traffic is reasonable light going our way, most people seem to be leaving.  First we visit Melting Point: it’s a bar/restaurant where Holdcell are due to play later this month & Lucy wants to check it out.  It has a nice stage & a smaller outdoor stage for acoustic acts it looks like a really good venue.  Lucy’s friend Daniel has come along & over the best burgers we’ve ever eaten the discussion becomes far ranging everything from symbolism in the architecture of Washington DC; free masonry; the Knights Templar through to Steve Earle, Warren Zevon & Mary Gauthier (all singer/songwriters that we like).

We’re still early for the gig, so find a bar & the conversation continues to flow.

Time for the gig & we’ve already missed the first band & Dan suggests that giving the 2nd band might be a good idea too – he’s had them on his radio show & wasn’t impressed.  Neither was I, but that’s another story…  Now for the main event - Holdcell.  We’d already met Richard, their manager & his partner Angelica – what a lovely couple & the guys in the band are all delightful too.  I knew they’d be good but I was still completely awestruck, they were utterly amazing, so much energy & excitement – they really do deserve a break as they are truly world-class.  Jamie is already wearing a band t-shirt & I’m dancing like a loon…. We finally crawl into bed at 4am, but we’re too wired to sleep!

 

DAY 4

After the late night it’s a leisurely morning spend chatting & a quick trip to the supermarket to get some much needed supplies – it’s a wondrous experience for me: aisles full of goodies unheard of in the UK; Havarti with dill; Rosemary smoked ham; my eyes are out on stalks – piles of tropical fruits & ½ an aisle devoted to salad dressings alone – the Americans really do know how to live!

At 2pm we head off to Allatoona Lake – Andrew Black is playing an acoustic gig at Props & Hops.  We first met Lucy at an Andrew gig at our favourite haunt in the UK, St Anne’s Castle, when she was his tour manager.  The restaurant is up on stilts overlooking the lake & Andrew is set up outside – what a glorious setting; the sun is shining; there are boats on the lake & everyone is really chilled.  Amazingly Andrew remembers us & makes us feel really welcome.  He plays a wide ranging set everything from Robert Cray; Johnnie Cash to Jack Johnson, all very laid back & chilled as befits a sunny afternoon.  I ate shrimp & Lucy introduced us to Key Lime Pie … yum, what a perfect lazy afternoon.

Back to Lucy’s for a well-earned rest – all this fun is exhausting!

Next up it’s to Players in Marietta, Andrew is hosting a jam session.  It’s a biker’s bar, but really friendly.  We eat fries served in really cute napkin cones & listen to Andrew & the house band play Hendrix, Elvis & some great blues before slowing it down with a stunning rendition of Clapton’s ‘Change the World’.  Andrew got Jamie up on stage & they did a couple of blues standards before Jamie borrowed Andrew’s acoustic guitar & he led the band in a couple of his own compositions ‘Come Home’ & ‘Blues Man’ – the audience were appreciative, dancing & clapping along.  Another great day – what on earth can tomorrow hold for us?

 

DAY 5 (LABOR DAY)

A late chilled start to the day after yesterday’s exertions… Jamie borrows’ Lucy’s very precious guitar signed by both Paul Rogers & Simon Kirk to work on the 3 songs he’s already written since we arrived – the creative juices are really flowing.

Our next port of call is a visit to the WRFG Labor Day Blues BBQ at the Park Tavern in Piedmont Park in midtown Atlanta, the sun was shinning, not a cloud in the sky & all was well in our little world.  There was nowhere to park, but Robert being the perfect gentleman dropped us outside while he went to find a spot.  The stage was set up in an enormous marquee & was already filled to capacity, the smell of the BBQ was delicious & the beer was flowing freely & everyone was having a ball.  We’d already missed the first few bands but we did get to see the Liz Melendes Bands last 15 minutes full of real up tempo rockin’ blues.  The Breeze Kings were next up starting with a duo format with some great delta-esque blues, but once they were joined by the rest of the band the tempo rose sharply & they played some great Chicago blues.  Lucy as usual knew everyone & introduced us to her friends including Radio Jock UK Bob; Motor City Josh & Jeff Robinson of the Blues Cats amongst others.  We sampled the ribs & shredded pork from the BBQ which was utterly delicious & Jamie managed to round it all off with a hot dog!  Back to the music & Roy Lee Johnson led the Breeze Kings in some of his best-known songs including Mr Moonlight, which was covered by the Beatles in 2 of their albums.  Born in 1931 he has amazing energy & stage presence for a 79 year old!

Lastly my personal favourites of the day, Motor City Josh & the Big 3 – they played a stunning set of funky blues which had everyone dancing – a brilliant end to a brilliant day.  With exhaustion creeping up on us we took a slow amble through Piedmont Park & admired the city skyline at dusk – what a sight, then it was home for a well earned rest in preparation for another busy day.

 

DAY 6

Shopping day – all those of a nervous disposition look away now……………  First stop & Lucy thought Jamie might find some great gigging gear at Kohl’s – she wasn’t wrong, her first pick a black embossed/embroidered shirt, a princely $8.40, & she just kept on pulling out bargains from the multitude of racks… 30 minutes later Jamie has 6 shirts at a total cost of $63, a huge $144 of savings off list price!

Next stop Michael’s Arts & Crafts – we went for adhesive magnetic sheets so I can make some fridge magnets (I’ve never seen it in the UK) unfortunately we had to pass the jewellery making section.  An hour later & poor Jamie is wilting & positively fed up with our indecision, we finally forget all the beads we’ve collected & end up with the pendants we started with!

Lunch was a fabulous steak at Charlies & I simply had to sample a Grapefruit/Orange Marguerita – delicious. It’s a tough life………..

Suitably fortified it’s off to Horsetown, a western superstore, as I want to replace my old cowboy boots.  They advertise that they have 30,000 pairs & the dizzying range on display looks like it, but as usual Lucy comes to the rescue, she looked me up & down, smiled & said “I’ll be right back” & low & behold in less than a minute there she was clutching a pair of boots & said “These are the ones!”  I fell in love with them instantly & once we’d found the right size they fitted like carpet slippers.  I put all the others back!  I shan’t say how much they cost but I haven’t stopped grinning since I got them.

 

We get back & it’s time to head off to meet Daniel in Roswell, we’re going to see their old friend, singer/songwriter Doug Easterly who’s playing at the Street Kitchen.  He’s set up on the porch & is already playing as we arrive – he has a wonderfully smooth voice & when we finally persuade him to sing some of his originals we find out just what a great writer he is too.

Doug joins us during his break & soon discovers that Jamie is a singer/songwriter too & immediately offers Jamie his guitar & sends him up to sing a few numbers.

Thanks to Lucy we have met some truly wonderful people & this really is turning into the trip of a lifetime.

 

DAY 7

Sightseeing – we’ve promised ourselves a trip Down Town to catch the sights & today’s the day.  As usual the sun is shinning & it’s a beautiful day.

First stop the Georgia Aquarium – it’s the biggest in the world & absolutely amazing.  Its spread over 5 distinct areas but you can end up with a crick in your neck from constantly looking at all the fish, rays, sharks & whales swimming over your head!  The beluga whales were my particular favourites they seemed such gentle giants as they glided through the water & of course the otters were as cute as cute can be!

Next stop the World of Coca Cola – not being a huge consumer I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was an amazing experience as we were shown the entire history of the company.  There were historical artefacts; cartoon characters; rooms full of advertising across the ages & from around the world; a breathtaking 4D film show; an art gallery & finally a tasting session where you could try all 162 flavours currently available across the world – needless to say we didn’t quite manage to sample all of them!  It was however a really worthwhile visit, one I would highly recommend to any visitor to Atlanta.

We strolled through Centennial Olympic Park just as the choreographed water fountain show was due to start – it was beautiful with the jets rising high into the sky to tunes from Sinatra etc. 

Robert had told us that the best view of Atlanta was from the top of the Westin Hotel, so that was out next port of call.  The Sun Dial Restaurant & Bar is on the 73rd Floor, so we duly present ourselves at the reception desk & were escorted to the lift.  Oh horrors! It was glass & climbed the outside of the building.  Luckily we were the only occupants as terrified I cowered & cringed, clinging onto the railing as if my life depended on it as we shot into the sky.  Luckily once on the 73rd floor it wasn’t so bad as I didn’t need to go anywhere near the windows to see the most staggering view.  I composed myself & then happily sampled a Georgia Peach cocktail whilst quite literally watching the world go round.  The prices were of course pretty steep, so we made do with one drink & came down to earth (via the internal lift I hasten to add) & popped into the Hard Rock Café for a few drinks & a well-earned rest.

We made it to Niks in Marietta thanks to the GPS to find Daniel already there, but we just managed to beat Lucy!  We were introduced to Atlanta’s other finest guitarist, Mike Martin & as advertised he was just as wonderful as Barry Richman but with a totally different style.  Mike’s playing was truly breathtaking, more rock fusion & played at a furious pace – it was exhausting just watching & as usual he was utterly charming when Lucy introduced us.

So ended another fun filled day in Atlanta & we were now completely shattered – Lucy suggested a lie in followed by a lazy day to recharge our batteries – it seemed like a marvellous idea.

 

DAY 8

Time for the full American breakfast – well you have to have at least one – it’s the law!  We took Lucy’s advice & went to IHOP & had the full works, served with the obligatory pancakes, Jamie’s with strawberries & cream & mine with apple, cinnamon & cream & delicious they were too, I just needed a forklift truck to get me out of there!

We then bought a few souvenirs to take home to the band & retired exhausted to the Diesel Bar had a couple of drinks sitting in the sunshine & put the world to rights.

The evening was going to be busy, Lucy had lots planned.  We began at  ……………….? A Mexican restaurant in ……………..?, sitting at a long table on the deck overlooking fields of horses, with a game of football going on in the background.  I had a marguerite to start; in fact it was so good I had to have second!  We all ate fajitas, which were utterly delicious, & we ended up taking more home in our doggy bags than we’d managed to eat.  The entertainment was provided by Ian Schumacher who played a stunning set of originals & covers with guitar, drum machine & a loop pedal, he really was superb.  He joined us during his break & on learning that Jamie was a fellow singer/songwriter he immediately dragged him onstage to sing one of his songs.  Unfortunately we couldn’t stay for long as we had places to go….

Next stop, and en route to our final destination, we popped into Montana’s in Alpharetta to catch a little of Andrew Black’s set.  This time he was playing a completely different set, closer to his touring set & fantastic as ever.  He has such a great voice & the emotion he puts into his delivery is awe-inspiring.  Lucy introduces us to Andrew’s lovely wife Julia, but we can’t stay we still have places to go!  Then it’s off to Darwins for the Blues Jam.  Jeff Robinson is there, what a lovely, warm, funny man, we were all so busy talking no one joined the jam!  A little while later Barry Richman popped by to say ‘Hi’.  One piece of news is circulating, the owner has sold Darwins, & the jam will be moving to Sidelines in October, I wonder how that will work as Darwins has such a unique atmosphere it might prove difficult to move elsewhere.

We have to go home, we’re all shattered, we’ve crammed so much into such a short period of time & tomorrow’s our road trip to the north of Georgia.

 

DAY 9

Up early & a quick breakfast & it’s into the car heading up I75 to the Blue Ridge Mountains.  It only takes a couple of hours & the scenery has totally changed, we’re in the mountains & every which way you look its forest, I’ve never seen so many trees.  Lucy takes us first to Blue Ridge, a small tourist town & stop on the scenic railway that crosses the mountains.  We come across one of the strangest mixes of shops ever – my favourites …………………. The record shop, it’s a real little treasure with prints, throws & incense as well as an eclectic range of CDs.  The owners remember Lucy & we’re soon having an in depth conversation about music – what else?  They recommend Cyndi Lauper’s latest CD – it’s blues, & good blues at that – are they sure?  They play us a bit, of course they’re right – strangely she’s made a really good blues record.  Jamie buys a CD, me, a throw, but there’s no time to waste & we’re off to our next stop The Chocolate Express – if you’re a chocoholic as we are then this place is a must – trays upon trays of home made chocolates, the biggest problem being what to choose!  Its elevenses & lunch won’t be for a while so we all have just one.  It’s then down to the serious business of deciding which fudge to buy – after a tasting session we settle on Chocolate/walnut & Butter pecan.

Something catches Lucy’s eye & we’re off – The Bear Shop – I can’t believe my eyes, it’s a whole shop selling everything to do with bears: ornaments; toys; clothing including a range of very tasteful pants; even CDs of bear songs – it did put a smile on my face.

On our way out of town we find the Welcome Centre & stock up on maps & info.

We’re now in lake country & everywhere you look between the mountains are beautiful shimmering lakes with stunning houses scattered between the trees.  After an hour we arrive at Hiawassee & the Smoke Rings BBQ.  Lucy found this restaurant on the web & wanted to check it out.  What a fabulous setting, it sits slightly back from & above the main street & has a large balcony overlooking Lake Chatuge with the mountains & forest all around – it’s stunning.  We have a lazy BBQ lunch & chill out just enjoying the peace & quiet & the view.  All too soon it’s time for home & en route we drive through Helen, a German themed village – it’s cute but a bit of a shock to find a chocolate box image of Germany in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but hey this is the US of A & anything’s possible here!

We see a small road side stall & decide to get some peaches – the place is amazing, it has a whole room devoted to jams, another to sauces, racks upon racks of different types of home made bread & just about everything you could possibly need from umbrellas & garden ornaments to fridge magnets & piles of the biggest peaches you have ever seen – a real Aladdin’s Cave & right in the middle of nowhere.

Back in the car we see bumper-to-bumper traffic heading to the mountains for the weekend; luckily we’re heading in the opposite direction.

We get home later than planned & so decide to miss the first gig Lucy had planned, just time for a quick shower & we’re off to Sidelines Sports Bar to see the Marty Manous Band.  Wow – there’s a truck parked inside the venue acting as the backdrop for the bar, how cool is that?  We try to work out how the hell they got it into the bar; it must have been put in before the walls!  The headline act tonight is a Red Hot Chilli Peppers tribute band but we’re only here to see Marty, so we have a bite to eat before heading over to the venue.  Luckily Robert manages to get a quick look at the support band before we pay our $10 entrance - it’s not Marty.  Close shave there!  It appears that there’s been a mix up & the band isn’t playing after all.

So Plan B, we head over to Matilda’s in Marietta, Lucy has heard it’s an interesting occasional outdoors venue behind some craft shops – she wasn’t misinformed, it’s actually held on an patch of ground behind a group of arty shops, between the trees with an improvised stage, no bar or seating, everyone brings their own drinks, picnics & seats.  It’s really casual & the music had a really laid back, funky feel.  We couldn’t see the band as there were so many people dancing but there was a great atmosphere – definitely not to be missed, but we were all tired & decided to make an early(ier) night of it.

 

DAY 10

So it’s our last full day, where has the time gone, I can’t believe we’re leaving tomorrow, how sad.  I spend the morning packing.  Lucy & Robert are taking us to Stone Mountain, there’s an arts & crafts show on with some music too & apparently it’s a beautiful part of the country.

The drive takes just over an hour & then I see why it’s called Stone Mountain, it is in fact a huge stone mountain, there’s no other description, rising from the woodland beneath & surrounded by lakes.  There is an enormous carving of the 3 Confederate generals on one side of the mountain & this is the site of the laser light show which will take place later, however it’s sold out so we’ll have to come back another time.   It’s very hot & humid as we arrive & it’s getting greyer by the minute.  We just make the visitors centre as the skies open & it pours with rain.  It didn’t last very long but it’s the heaviest rain I’ve ever seen, an absolute torrent.  At this point we decide to give the craft show a miss as they will probably close early due to all the rain, we head off to find a bite to eat & Jamie & I both try the southern fried chicken, well we had to at some stage & it is our last day!!  The chicken was delicious although I was a touch concerned when our waitress started throwing ‘biscuits’ at us.  Apparently that’s what they do there, & for those of you who don’t know, ‘biscuits’ in the states are not ‘biscuits’, they are more like scones.  We are then served with a napkin full of battered deep fried bits & upon inspection it’s a mixture of pieces of onion, sweet potato & strangest of all gherkin.  Now I have eaten some strange things in my time but deep fried, battered gherkin is not, & remains not one of them – even I draw the line somewhere!

On the way home we encounter one of the scariest thunderstorms I’ve seen & Lucy wonders whether the Blue Grass gig we’re going to tonight will be cancelled as it’s outside.  She calls Richard & Angelica to check - they’re not sure but they say ‘come on over anyway’, so we do.  The house belongs to Richard’s parents & there is a welcoming committee of grand & great grandchildren, to whom we soon add the gentlemen, returned from their trip to the liquor store, there are about 14 of us in all & the noise level is fairly high.  The adults soon descend to the ‘games’ room; a pool table takes pride of place & Richard’s collection of vintage guitars & amps take up one wall.  Lucy, Richard & Angelica take themselves off to the jigsaw they’ve been working at for the last few weeks (it’s mainly black & very hard going) & Janice challenges me to a game of pinball on her vintage Elvis table.  I’ve never played before & have enormous fun, how on earth did I miss pinball when growing up?  Richard makes me a wonderful Marguerita to his own special recipe, which is just to die for.  It’s now too late to go to the gig, even if it’s still on so we decide to head into Marietta to the Irish bar, a particular favourite of Richard & Angelica’s.  The joint is absolutely heaving & we have to push our way through lots of small rooms, all decked out with comfy sofas & chairs & out into the garden which is also pretty full but we manage to find a table.  The drinks are flowing, as is the conversation but all too soon we have to go home, but hey it has been the most amazing holiday ever, we have had a ball!

 

DAY 11

Home today - what a dreadful thought.

We finish off our final bits of packing & take our farewell of the Max (the dashing dachs) & Eli & Yahoo.  Lucy & Robert take us to the Flying Biscuit for our final breakfast (well brunch as it’s gone 11.00am); Jamie has steak & eggs & I opt for the full American, pancakes included – scrummy!

 

We finally take our leave of Lucy & Robert.  I really hate goodbyes & am really bad at them & we’ve had such a brilliant time here, it’s really hard to leave.  Lucy has worked so hard in making sure that every detail of our stay has been perfect and there is just no way in which to thank her.  She has shared her home, her family, her pets, her friends & her music with us, but most importantly she has become a great friend, someone who will always be in our hearts.

 

WELCOME TO THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF LUCY!!

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