It took me over a dozen trips to 4th Street Live in Louisville, KY, to notice just how tourist-centered the place really was. Nothing like Mackinac Island, mind you, where you can scarcely walk from one building to the next without spotting someone selling ten or twenty varieties of fudge, but still … 4th Street Live is clean. There’s a dress code. Everything’s expensive if it isn’t a weeknight. There’s a comedy club that serves cocktail-Slurpees. There’s even a Hard Rock Cafe with a Clarence Clemons saxophone and a guitar that looks like an assault rifle.
I’m usually at 4th Street for The Pub, where I can get a happy-hour draft and appetizer after work. I can draw something while I wait for food or drink, and a waitress in a uniform she no doubt loathes gets a customer she doesn’t really have to talk to for a tip.
On Friday, Sara and I were at the Louisville Palace (above) for a John Prine concert. This was a little further south on 4th Street, nearer to wig shops, shoe stores, nail salons and neighborhood bars than to anyplace that a charter bus might stop. It is the most ornate performance space I’ve ever been to–a place where one expects to see opera instead of an aged and humorous singer-songwriter like Prine.
Aside from having to put up with the drunken woman in the row behind us, who wouldn’t stop talking during the music until she had to take a bathroom break every ten minutes, the show was a very good one. Prine is a wry dude. I don’t think there’s anything I can say that would appropriately convey his wit, his plain-spoken and poetic lyrics, or even his capacity for picking impeccable melodies on a guitar, so here’s a video-link that I hope does the job:
Melodic, moving and hilarious in two verses. Who else does that?
And while John Prine isn’t from Louisville, when he closed the show with his old hit “Paradise,” with its chorus that name-drops nearby Muhlenburg County, the Green River and the coal mining industry, my wife and I couldn’t help but feel like we were hearing the theme song for this particular part of the country. I don’t much care for the song, but context made it great on Friday.
After the show, my wife and I meandered up to 4th Street Live. I wondered out loud how it was that as the evening wears on, a southern accent creeps out of the natives like a jug with X’s on it materializing from behind an otherwise normal-looking bar counter–even when those natives are college-age, clean-faced. We ended up at the Maker’s Mark Bourbon House & Lounge.
Strange place. The women there shuffled very short distances on heels that looked too high for running, or even flagging down a taxi. There was a guy that looked like Kanye West sitting by himself at a table, sunglasses on his face, iPhone resting on the table in front of him, wholly indifferent to the club music that pounded the walls as though there were actually floorspace to dance on.
I asked what was on draft. The man at the counter said they didn’t serve draft. It occurred to me then that none of the barhands look like they’d sully themselves with a task so lowly as, you know, lifting a keg. After we had our fill of mixed drink and pita bread, my wife and I went out the door, unlikely to ever return.
Across the street, in front of a Friday’s restaurant, there stood a man dressed as Colonel Sanders, next to a display case that looked straight out of Vaudeville. Strings of lights outlined the case, surrounding a camera-rig, as well as a rubber chicken strapped on one side next to bunches of pinned-up snapshots. I wondered aloud what the Colonel was promoting, if not “his” own fried chicken, and Sara and I started for our car. I wondered aloud whether anyone walked up to him and said, “Lemme guess … Mark Twain.”
The temptation was just too much. I asked Sara if we could get a picture with him, because … well, why not?
Turns out that this Colonel Sanders look-a-like, real name Don Decker, is a pretty-nice guy, posing for photo-ops with passers-by at no charge (though he does have a KFC bucket for tips). I didn’t pretend to mistake him for Mark Twain, but I did ask him what he was going to be for Halloween.
He didn’t say, but he laughed.
Prine + bourbon lounge + a photo with Colonel Sanders = arguably the most stereotypical tour of Kentuckiana ever. Also, I wish to profusely apologize for the tone of this post … I tried for wit and I think it turned into something as tourist-y as the evening itself felt. All of those hyperlinks … I’m so sorry! Feel free to skip them all except for the John Prine video. This you must watch.