Monday, May 03, 2004

Back from Music City USA!

Well, I'm back from my first experience as a tour hostess, and what an amazing trip! Here's a little recap of my journey:

TUESDAY: I was at the Rockford Coach Lines headquarters by 6:30 (we were to leave at 7 AM), and already a couple of tour members were waiting. By 7 AM, we were on the bus and ready to go! Our bus driver, Jeff, is a young man who happens to be an avid 101QFL fan and had requested to be our driver. We started out with a prayer for traveling mercies, and were on our way!

It didn't take long to find out that the 23 people on the trip were fun, enjoyable and likable people. I couldn't have asked for a nicer group to accompany me on my first experience as a tour guide.

We arrived in at the Nashville Hilton Suites at around 6 PM. I settled into my lovely suite and watched TV, waiting for my sister Lisa to arrive. She was flying into the Nashville airport and would take a shuttle to the hotel. When I got her call that she had arrived at the hotel, I headed out to meet her at the elevator. We practically screamed, we were so excited to see each other and enjoy this experience together!

We strolled around downtown Nashville a bit, and I showed her the Renaissance Hotel where our 101QFL booth is located during GMA week and where I've broadcast from in the past. (This year, thanks to my tour guide duties, I was not a part of the broacast.) Then we had a late dinner at Eddie George's Grill in the hotel, and went back to our suite for a great time of conversation, laughter and general catching up before drifting off to sleep.

WEDNESDAY: This would be the busiest day of the trip. After the free breakfast buffet at the hotel, our group headed over to the Renaissance Hotel to visit the live 101QFL broadcast. Afterwards, we were able to mill around the hotel lobby and check out other live radio broadcasts as well as do some CCM stargazing. Lisa and I got our picture taken with Mercy Me and Jeremy Camp, which was a big thrill for Lisa. By the way, Mercy Me lead singer Bart Millard has really changed his look! Bart traded in his bald pate for hair and a goatee, and got rid of his glasses. He looks really handsome. And Jeremy Camp is very handsome as well.

From the Renaissance lobby, we headed across the street to the Ryman Auditorium for an escorted tour. The Ryman began as a church, pastored by famed Southern preacher Sam Jones; in later years it became the Grand Ole Opry. We got to tour the backstage, hear fascinating stories about the Ryman's past, and get our picture taken onstage holding guitars! The Ryman is a lovely facility, and I've been privileged to attend several concerts there in past years at GMA.

Lisa and I had lunch at the Big River Cafe before heading over to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Wow, what a wealth of audio/visual and actual exhibits chronicling the history of country music! One of the most interesting things I saw was Elvis Presley's actual "Solid Gold Cadillac." This was a self-guided tour, so some of us (including Lisa and I) opted to leave early and head back to the hotel to get ready for the Dove Awards.

At a quarter to five, our group boarded our bus once again, this time to travel several blocks across the downtown area to the Nashville Municipal Auditorium for the 35th Annual Dove Awards. Joining us was our friend Bruce, who lives in Nashville and works in the music publishing division of Lifeway Christian Resources and who we attended college with a looong time ago. (Bruce and Lisa traveled together one summer in the late 70's as part of a college group called "Living Water," so they had a great time reminiscing and catching up.)

The Dove Show was a blast! Lisa was particularly thrilled that the two artists she had met and had her picture taken with--MercyMe and Jeremy Camp--were big winners of the evening, with Mercy Me taking Group of the Year and Artist of the Year, and their song, "Word of God Speak," taking Song of the Year...and Jeremy Camp winning New Artist of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year. She was also jazzed that Deion Sanders was one of the hosts of the show, because she's been a Dallas Cowboy fan since she was a little girl.

The evening ended on a worshipful note as the audience joined the Newsboys in singing "He Reigns." As the audience continued singing the chorus, the band members left the stage. It effectively took the focus off "entertainment" and shifted it to worship instead.

I will admit there are elements of the Dove Awards that bother me, but I was encouraged that the emphasis seemed to be more strongly on the Lord (as well it should be) more than ever since I've been attending the event. (This was my fifth time.)

THURSDAY: After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel buffet, we ventured out into gorgeous weather (which we had been blessed with every day, by the way) to board the bus and head for the Opryland Hotel. The place is incredible! This from the hotel's website:

"Under majestic, climate-controlled glass atriums, you'll be surrounded by nine acres of lush indoor gardens, winding rivers and pathways, and sparkling waterfalls where you can unwind, explore, shop, dine, and be entertained to your heart's content. Highlights include a 44-foot waterfall, laser-light and fountain shows, and tours aboard our Delta Flatboats - right inside the hotel."

From there it was over to Opry Mills Mall for lunch at Chili's Too and a full afternoon of shopping till we dropped! Afterwards, Lisa and I were more than ready to head back to the hotel for a couple of hours of chill time before going out to dinner with Bruce at Houston's.

Lisa and I talked far into the night, laughing and re-hashing all the wonderful moments we had shared during the past few days.

FRIDAY: It was hard to believe when Friday dawned and we realized that this much-anticipated trip was really drawing to a close. It was sad saying goodbye to Lisa (she would be flying out later that afternoon), but we promised to see each other again as soon as possible. After the hotel breakfast, our group boarded our bus again and said goodbye to Nashville. It had been one of the most enjoyable times ever.

The people on the trip, as well as our adorable driver Jeff, had helped make it an incredible experience for me.

Every day had been beautiful, but on this last day of the trip the weather turned rainy and chilly, and that was our welcome back to Rockford. But it was wonderful seeing Doug and Elizabeth again. Homecomings are sweet! :)

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