Casey Jones Village caption

A Bucketful of To-Dos in West Tennessee

So I’ve been working on this assignment to create my West Tennessee bucket list. (All of us here at Tennessee TripTales are doing it – check out East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and Nature/Fishing bucket lists for more amazing to-dos across the state.)

Let’s get something out of the way: If you think bucket lists are all Hollywood sap (thanks, Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson), or lip-service intentions (“I WILL get up every morning at 5 to run! I WILL!”), please re-think.

I had to: In the midst of creating my bucket list, I learned that one of my favorite neighborhood music venues is closing. Midtown Memphis’ Hi-Tone Cafe lived a good life. I’m happy to say I was along for parts of the ride, albeit in the audience. Still, the venue’s closing sends a reminder to anyone harboring an “I’ve always wanted to”: Don’t just list it – live it. Start by helping me, if you like – I’ve got a bucketful waiting:

1. Get to the Vigil

I’ve seen Graceland during Elvis’ birthday celebration and Sun Studio during Elvis Week. But I’ve never seen the 20,000-some people, the scene of shrines and grave-ward lines, that make the Elvis Week Candlelight Vigil. The tradition dates to August 16, 1977, when thousands of fans rushed the gates of Graceland in the hours following the announcement of Elvis’ death. Today, you can attend an opening ceremony and join a candlelight procession from the street through Graceland’s gates and into the Meditation Garden, site of Elvis’ grave. The vigil typically begins the evening of Aug. 15 and lasts into the early morning hours of Aug. 16. The 36th Annual Elvis Week is scheduled for Aug. 10-18, 2013. (That should give me plenty of time to find a babysitter.) View footage from the 35th Annual Elvis Week Candlelight Vigil here.

During the Elvis Week Candlelight Vigil, you can join the procession from the gates of Graceland to its Meditation Garden.

During the Elvis Week Candlelight Vigil, you can join the procession from the gates of Graceland to the Meditation Garden, where Elvis is buried.

2. Try a new campsite

Tennessee State Parks just gave campers (that’s me) one of the best gifts ever: a reservation system for campsites. See, folks, I’m a planner, and while I was never edged out of a site under the previous first-come-first-served arrangement, I’ve often ached for the peace of mind that only a reservation can bring. While the state develops the online functionality, phone your reservation in to the park of your choice (up to 12 months in advance). Awesome. Paris Landing and Pickwick, here we come.

Bonus for fans of Tennessee State Parks (and honestly, who isn’t a fan of these parks?!): Check out this deal for 50% off cabins and inn rooms at state parks through March 15, 2013.

We boat. We camp. No one can believe we've yet to do so at Paris Landing State Park. This year...mark my words! Photo courtesy of Tennessee State Parks.

We boat. We camp. No one can believe we’ve yet to do so at Paris Landing State Park. This year, people. This year. Photo courtesy of Tennessee State Parks.

3. Eat more fruits and veggies

Some people miss the sun in winter. I miss the fruit. I miss it so badly I could cry, while simultaneously kicking myself for not hoarding a sufficient stock when I had the chance. And so I wait. For Freida and Ken of Memphis’ Windermere Farms to tell me it’s strawberry time. For the gentleman and his blackberries from a place named Green Frog to pop up at my favorite farmers’ market. For my friends in Ripley to share their prettiest heirloom tomatoes. And for Jones Orchard in Millington to tell me I can come pick peaches blazing like balls of fire in the trees.

This basket barely made it  30 minutes home. How did I think we'd have enough  to get us through winter?

This basket barely made it 30 minutes home. How did I think we’d have enough to get us through winter? To add a you-pick spot or farmers’ market to your bucket list, wherever you are in Tennessee, this site can help.

4. Trace the trail

2013 marks the 175th anniversary of the Trail of Tears. Tennessee stewards 12 national trail sites statewide, including two in my (western) neck of the woods: the Tennessee River Museum in Savannah and David Crockett State Park near Lawrenceburg. Museum exhibits note how the Tennessee River served as the primary water route for the nearly 3,000 Cherokee who were forced to migrate from Chattanooga to Oklahoma in the summer of 1838; the park shelters a two-plus-mile segment of the trail’s original “Bell Route.”

5. Don’t miss a beat

The question throughout West Tennessee is not whether you’ll catch a concert while you’re here, but whether you’ll make time to do anything else. Hang around Casey Jones Village in Jackson and about four nights out of seven, you can step up to an open mic, jam with old-time musicians or watch others perform. (You won’t find me at the mic, but I am curious about the Thursday night Jackson Area Plectral Society Jam. Stay up on the schedule here.)

Casey Jones Village in Jackson, Tennessee

The group Madison Avenue performs at Music Highway Crossroads inside Casey Jones Village in Jackson.

In Memphis, I’ll stay glued to the calendars of the music venues I revere most, plus a few surprises. Remember when I told you about Opus One last year? It gets better: Throughout 2013, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra is presenting a series of free concerts at a cool, warehouse-y space across from the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. This Symphony Soul Project, as it’s called, is a mix of Opus One reprises and concerts from gospel to orchestra. Last weekend’s Opus One reprise, featuring the North Mississippi Allstars with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, was unbelievable – I can’t wait for the Symphony Soul Project to pair funky Hope Clayburn with the orchestra on April 20.

One parting note for your bucket list: The Hi-Tone doesn’t actually go dark until Feb. 23, so you still have time to see one more show. (Or two or three.)

Now for your assignment. Finish this sentence: “In Tennessee, I’ve always wanted to…” Leave your answer in the comments section below; then come back to cross it off your bucket list (and brag about how great it was).

Hi! I’m Samantha Crespo, and I am Floridian by birth, Tennessean by heart. Growing up, I vacationed in East Tennessee, so I...Read on


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