Roadside MBA Trip #3 took place in May 2011. We flew into Charlotte and out of Atlanta, and in between visited Hickory, NC, Johnson City, TN, Spartanburg, SC, and Smyrna, GA.
This trip was also an opportunity to for us to personally right one of the great geographic wrongs in popular music over the past 20 years. The story goes like this: There’s an old Dylan bootleg where he sings a catchy chorus that goes
Rock me, Mama, like a wagon wheel
Rock me, Mama, any way you feel
Oooooooh, Mama rock me.
(Go ahead, tap your feet. It’s catchy.) The rest of the song either wasn’t recorded or didn’t exist or went missing… so for years there was just this song fragment. In 2003, along comes a band called Old Crow Medicine Show to take the chorus, write some verses (with permission from Dylan) and release the song. It’s a big hit, eventually goes platinum, and is covered by none other than former Hootie-and-the-Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker.
It’s a great road song about a young gentleman hitchhiking south to North Carolina to see a lady friend, but what’s truly shocking is the geography. It’s almost like Paul, our sense-of-direction-challenged navigator (and a big Dylan fan), wrote it. Here’s a line from the last verse about a trucker the singer encounters while hitching:
But he’s a headed west from the Cumberland Gap
To Johnson City, Tennessee
OK, so not to get picky — wait, scratch that… we’re getting quite picky here — the Cumberland Gap is something like 100 miles west of Johnson City. And if you head west from the Cumberland Gap, then you’re not even in Tennessee. They call that Kentucky.
We took it upon ourselves to figure out how, exactly, you would head west from something to get to Johnson City, and it’s actually pretty fun. You start in Hickory, NC, and you head west up and over the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a spectacular drive. We eventually figured out that “Blue Ridge Mountains” wouldn’t fit the meter, and maybe would reference John Denver more than you can get away with as an up-and-coming Nashville songwriter.
Here’s a snapshot of the sign outside the local small business incubator, where we met with Elisa Comer of Eagle’s Landing Informatics. We hope the trucker in the background isn’t lost trying find the the Cumberland Gap.