The hiking in the Shenandoah was great but the accommodation and eating situation was of a different order. A kind of hikers and campers’ theme park, Sky Land (as in the Sky Line drive) offered cabins in the woods originally constructed in 1902 when the site was first opened to the “well to do” as the description inside our tiny cabin put it. The place was very quaint and the surrounding mountains sublime, but something told me that the well to do of the turn of the previous century would not have spent the best part of the night listening to children who hadn’t been put to bed til 10 crying and moaning before the dulcet tones of Dad coughing his guts up in the early morning light finally ended my futile attempts at rest. We got ourselves moved out of there to more modern motel style accommodation which made us feel a whole lot better.
Inspired by our conversations there we drove on heading towards Kentucky where we are as I write this. Our friends have a house in the old state capital Frankfort, a quaint town of 23,000 where we discovered a wonderful book shop (Poor Richards) where we spent several hours browsing (and purchasing) second hand books, where later we returned for a gig featuring John Pope, a blues and jazz piano stylist, Matt “Zip” Irvin on tenor sax, and a double bass player Owen Reynolds. He though was the only professional musician, John being a piano technician by day and Dr Zip being a professor at EKU. On arrival we hadn’t expected much and, despite the venue, were not excited about what we mistakenly thought would be a sober coffee shop situation. When we walked in we became 45% of the audience (and much of the rest seemed connected to the venue) and sat right down near the band for what was akin to a private audience. The tunes veered between old and more modern jazz standards (MoonRiver, a Buddy Bolden song and a song about Buddy Bolden, Mose Allison etc), trad blues songs and some more contemporary or off the trail numbers such as a self penned instrumental by John (presently nameless to me), a cover of Billy Bragg’s musical interpretation of a lyric penned by Woody Guthrie about a town known to Zip - Winston, Salem - a theatrical style piece (Hail Mary) by Pamplemousse, and an adaptation of a Basque folk tune about being a tree. It was a great night, where it felt wonderful to chat with relatively local musicians and to throw out the odd comment between numbers. We returned to the porch before retiring pretty light headed well past 1 am. Earlier our friends’ friend’s daughter, who is house sitting in their absence, had come back from a work shift to check on the dogs accompanied by her friend and we semi embarrassedly told of (some of) our evening’s fun. It was as if the roles had reversed.
A dining highlight in Frankfort was Rick Paul's "White Light Diner" (whitelightdiner.com), where we ate an excellent lunch on our second day in town. The host was out of town that day but we were in good company in the small but atmospheric eatery where the locals offered good advice and kindly interest in our travels. The diner has functioned since 1943, and Rick Paul, almost a celebrity chef who has cooked for a variety of interesting personalities including Goerge Bush Senior, has made the place a source of a wide variety of southern dishes. Well worth a visit.