Great Music Trails of the American Southeast: The Journey Begins

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Photo credit: Josephine Matyas

On the road again, this time with a camper and an easy-going border collie, to explore the fabled sites of the American Southeast

By Josephine Matyas & Craig Jones

Who’s writing

This is an experiment in creating a lifestyle: taking her expertise (travel writing) and his experience (as a professional musician and freelance writer), stirring it together and seeing what happens. Add a camper van (a 20-foot Leisure Travel Class B, for those who need the specs), an easy-going border collie (Eleanor Rigby), a window of six weeks and a yearning to follow and write about the great music trails of the Southeast United States. There’s a file full of maps and a GPS nicknamed Hal (we prefer the maps).

The journey begins . . .

 “If I could choose what to come back as, it would be a Martin OM-45”

   —Eric Clapton


It’s almost impossible not to break into song when pulling into Nazareth, Pa., the tiny town known for C.F. Martin & Co., manufacturers of the most widely recognized acoustic guitar ever created.

“On any one day, there are well over 1,000 guitars in process,” says tour guide Ben Locicero as he escorts us on the behind-the-scenes tour of the family-owned manufacturing plant. “We complete 220 guitars each day, and they range in price from $1,200 to well over $100,000. There’s no limit to the top range.”

In the early 1830s, German immigrant Christian Frederick Martin brought his skills as a luthier to America. Business survived ups and downs, grew, and today the sprawling factory is overseen by a sixth generation Martin. Chris Martin IV has managed to marry the purity of the artistic process with the whiz-bang of modern-day technology.

On the same shop floor, there are craftsmen finely carving a compound dovetail joint to precisely fit neck to body. Some of the methods are low-tech: wooden clothespins are still the tool of choice to attach the grooved wooden ribbon to the guitar’s inside edge. Across the aisle, laser controlled routers cut tops and backs to shape and polishing robots buff the instruments to a lustre.

“There are about 150 parts in a guitar, and it takes 300 processes and eight weeks to complete one.” Locicero retired from 37 years on the shop floor where he mastered every skill set from the sawmill to construction to final assembly.

As if the peek behind the scenes wasn’t enough to make any guitarist salivate (including a walk past Chris Martin’s private collection of 3,000-plus guitars), the tour ends at the Pickin’ Parlor, where a wall of Martins are there for the fondling. Craig can’t restrain himself.





Sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

A century and a half ago, President Lincoln stood at Gettysburg and in just 10 sentences spoken in two minutes turned the memory of a bloody battlefield into a place of hope and restoration. His immortal Gettysburg Address – which began Four score and seven years ago . . .  is one of the most oft-quoted speeches in American political history. Nov. 19, 2013, marks this anniversary.

The Soldiers’ National Cemetery – the final resting place for thousands of Union soldiers killed during the three-day conflict in July 1863 – is just one chapter of the Gettysburg National Military Park in southern Pennsylvania.

A film, multi-media displays and museum tell the story of America’s deep conflict over slavery, the differing views of “freedom” and the conflicts that polarized the young nation. It was the perfect starting point before we navigated the driving tour around the sprawling 6,000-acre site that encompasses the cemetery, more than 1,300 monuments and the rolling landscape where battle lines were drawn.

Gettysburg marks the bloodiest battle in American history and while the Civil War raged on for two more years, the Confederacy never recovered from the losses here.

Virginia house tours: from Cline to Jefferson

When docent David DeCarlo opens the door to the Patsy Cline Historic House in Winchester, it’s as though the legendary singer just slipped out a minute ago – her collection of salt and pepper shakers line the kitchen shelves and the bed is topped with her favourite pink chenille bedspread and a pillowcase her mother stitched from a feed sack. The modest four-room home is a shrine of original Cline memorabilia, including the white boots she wore on stage when singing hits like Crazy.

At the other end of the spectrum of wealth and privilege is the 21-room plantation home of the country’s third president, Thomas Jefferson. Monticello not only served as Jefferson’s mountaintop home, but as a laboratory where he experimented with new ideas in agriculture, science, architecture and technology. Jefferson was a child of the Enlightenment – he was dedicated to reason and knowledge as the surest paths to progress. He read voraciously in multiple languages, had a passion for ordered knowledge and invented tools like the polygraph pen to make copies of his correspondence.

We know Jefferson as one of the Founding Fathers, author of the Declaration of Independence, who brokered the Louisiana Purchase and opened the west with the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Jefferson called the front lobby of Monticello his “museum of a lifetime,” the walls lined with maps, animal skins and artifacts brought back by the Expedition.

To get an exterior view of Monticello, have a look at the back of the U.S. nickel. To 360-degree virtual tour the inside, go to the website and follow the Google Street View link.


Iconic songs and films

  • The Weight by The Band (Pulled into Nazareth, was feeling ‘bout half-past dead . . .)
  • Lincoln, a Steven Spielberg film
  • The Civil War, the PBS series by Ken Burns


The who’s-who of Martin pickers is long and illustrious, including:

  • Hank Williams
  • Dolly Parton
  • Paul Simon
  • Joan Baez
  • Bob Dylan
  • Eric Clapton
  • Johnny Cash
  • Willie Nelson
  • Gordon Lightfoot