Guest column: searching for “the New” in Nashville


Donavan Barrier grew up in La Porte and graduated from Purdue Northwest in December 2019. He wrote for the Purdue Pioneer for a year and a half while also writing preview pieces for the Canterbury Theater, Footlight Player’s and La Porte Little Theater. Currently he works at WNIT-PBS in South Bend.

I committed a cardinal sin this weekend. On September 5th 2020, I and a friend of mine took a two-day trip out of La Porte, Ind. down to the beautiful city of Nashville, Tenn. We left behind our sleepy hometown to drive almost 450 miles to see the capital of country music, where household names like Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Emmylou Harris and others got their start.

We knew the risk of going traveling in times like this where it’s a potential health hazard to even pick up items from the grocery store. But for us, it wasn’t just a trip. It became something more to us than we would have ever thought.

We left La Porte at approximately 4:30 p.m. I had to wait for my buddy to get off shift at work before we could go. When we did finally get on the road, we passed through the rolling cornfields that Indiana is famous (and mocked) for. The evening sun hit the fields just right for just looking at them gave me a sense of true beauty. It was a kind of beauty that didn’t strike me on a physical level like appraising a painting or another work of art. It was a kind of beauty that one could consider divine; God or Mother Nature’s handiwork at its finest. Normally I mock Indiana with my buddies as having nothing but cornfields to look at. This time, however, the fields were truly a miracle of man and nature combined. Writing about it almost brings a tear to my eye.

We drove around Indianapolis on I-465 to relieve the headache of driving through two major cities. We passed through Kentucky at night which robbed us of seeing the amazing cliff sides that surrounded the highway but we would eventually see on our way home. When we finally got to our lodging (a youth hostel a mile and a half from downtown), it was almost midnight. Our beds were basic and slightly uncomfortable. We were given one working sink and the shower was communal. Any other person would’ve balked at the idea of staying there. My buddy and I well before we got there resigned ourselves to the discomfort. Traveling wasn’t always meant to be comfortable. The adventure was more important than creature comforts.

Nashville, Tenn.

After fitful sleep, we made our way downtown. We left early in the morning and the city had not awakened yet when we decided to explore. The few denizens we saw always smiled at us and said hello, something I personally was not used to growing up in La Porte where people seemed to be very standoffish and shy. We got breakfast at the Sun Diner, formerly where Sun Records used to be. We struck up a conversation with a waitress also came from the Midwest, living for a time in Valparaiso before she migrated with her dad and baby to Nashville for a better life. After breakfast we went to the Johnny Cash museum to learn all about the Man in Black. Seeing the man’s life and what he had been through gave me a better perspective on the mysterious singer that my mother and her siblings idolized in their childhood. We then bummed around the city for an hour or so before deciding to explore the Nashville Parthenon, a museum created to replicate the famous Parthenon in Greece. We went there on motorized scooters; a nifty invention that I had only seen on my trip to France but have been popular with tourists and citizens for what I can assume was the last decade.

Later that day, we returned to the hostel. We had initially gone down to Broadway to go see some live music but because of the coronavirus they stopped serving at ten. We then decided to have our own party; to knock back a few beers and get to know some of the other residents. There were three others who were travelers like us, respectively from Iowa, Texas and California. Two of them were there for school and another was there to see the state. As we talked and sang songs well into the night I felt for the first time a kind of commonality, a true friendship experienced briefly but one you can never forget. Like fireworks on the 4th of July, it was beautiful but fleeting. I’m pretty sure I’ll never see them again, but I will always cherish what they gave me.

The next day, we visited the Grand Ole Opry. Famous with country stars and fans, we were able to experience for a little bit what it was like to be on that famous stage. I even got to sing an old shanty to entertain some of our other tour-goers. I’m not a professional musician; what music I learned on guitar I use to entertain my friends. But being on that stage gave me an inspiration. I saw where hard work and determination pays off and I feel determined to reach my goals of being a better musician. Later that night we were finally able to see some live music at Rippy’s Honky Tonk. The band that performed that night played mainly classic rock and country singles like ‘Jolene’ and ‘Highway to Hell’. We left a few hours later satisfied. We had our fill of Nashville and all that it symbolized to us. After some more restless sleep, we headed out early that morning leaving nothing behind but a piece of us that we will collect when we pass away.

The trip for me wasn’t just a weekend trip. It wasn’t just a need to get out of my hometown that pushed me to do this. No, it was something more. Jack Kerouac called it Mañana; Hunter S. Thompson called it the American Dream. For me, it was a search for what I call the New. I had felt a need to leave since I graduated college last year. My whole life I spent in this town, hardly leaving it at all. I know every nook and cranny and every Jack and Jill in this town. Though I had accomplished many things in my life, I had barely stepped foot into a world that was not my own. I had (and still need) to know what is out there. I wanted to defy what I felt my town wanted me to do which was stay and never leave. It almost became a survival need. This trip to me was a bit of a rebellion and I plan to keep my rebellion going.

If it means I can finally live and breathe, I plan to keep my travels going.

One Response to “Guest column: searching for “the New” in Nashville”

  1. Lloyd C Cooper

    Sep 09. 2020

    Grew up in LaPorte, graduated from Purdue and lived in several places including 10 years in the Nashville area. Live in AZ now but my wife and I agree that TN was great because of the people and natural beauty. Recommend that Donavan goes back for further exploring.

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