Escaping to Jonesborough, Tennessee
Downtown Jonesborough, Tenn. Little shops line the street, a festive atmosphere infuses the town.
It was just the two of us. We couldn’t go too far. But we did have an anniversary to celebrate. We headed to Jonesborough, Tenn. Our reservations were for Friday and Saturday at the Eureka Hotel in Jonesborough. This 1790s period piece has been totally and tastefully renovated and, being situated on Main Street, was the perfect headquarters for our laid-back weekend.
We checked into our hotel in the early afternoon and strolled through historic Jonesborough enjoying the ambience and exploring the myriad of little shops. In The Cherry Tree, a diverse and interesting gift shop, we asked the proprietor about where we might find some good music that night. He promptly invited us to the local Valentine’s Dance to be held that night in the old post office.
To start the evening off we drove in to Johnson City for an anniversary steak dinner at the Peerless Restaurant, famous to that area for as long as I can remember. It lived up to our expectations and we were sated and content as we returned to Jonesborough. We strolled down to the old post office shortly after 7:30 but had to wait to enter while an elderly couple was helped across the street by their son and daughter-in-law. They were excited about their prospects for the evening. We followed them in to find a party in progress.
There was a mix of ages and styles, from the 93-year-old blond bombshell whom we found out the next day is the unofficial local historian, to the young couple obviously on a first or second date, the crowd was of one mind – they were there to have fun. The band played blues, swing and Cajun, all of which was totally danceable.
Saturday we spent a slow-paced morning exploring more shops and galleries, ending at Windows on Main Street for lunch. The Victorian bed and breakfast was in wonderful shape and the sun porch-cum-dining room was charming. As we enjoyed a delicious meal, the owner wandered through and came over with a warm “I saw you two at the dance last night.” After finding out he was a native, I asked for information on the area’s best barbecue restaurant. He recommended a little place “over towards Elizabethton.”
The Ridgeway, nestled in a niche beside the highway on a mountainous corner, had possibly the best food I have ever eaten. The menu is limited; the quantities are not. Long and skinny, with restrooms outside (because there was no place else to put them), this diner-style restaurant had a line of people waiting to get in, and for good reason. Never have I had such good, lean pork. It was worth the drive and the wait, and anytime we’re within 50 miles, we’ll have to go by and eat again.
That evening we visited Bristol’s famous Paramount Theatre, a wonderfully redone facility from the era when going to the show was a dress-up occasion. The ladies room has a lounge complete with little gilt, velvet-skirted dressing tables with individual gilt-framed mirrors above each.
The event of the evening was the Piedmont Blues Festival with the High Street AME Church Choir and Cephus and Wiggins as the main attractions. The curtain opened to show a “choir” consisting of five women, a pianist and a sax player. The hall was large. I worried that they wouldn’t be able to pull off a credible performance with so few people. I worried in vain. They opened their mouths and filled the hall with glorious music. Foot stomping, hand clapping, glorious music. In the second half, when Cephus and Wiggins came out I was beyond doubting. Never have I heard finger-picking blues and harmonica that sounded like this.
We returned to our hotel mellow and blissful. If we had spent weeks planning we could not have had a better trip. We experienced a slice of small-town America that we had forgotten existed, caught up as we are in the hectic pace of daily life. We remembered how much we enjoyed each other’s company and how wonderful it was just to go with the flow.