Seven Southern Sojourns in Seven Spring Seasons

Karyn in Bristol, TN 2018

For the seventh consecutive spring in 2023, my wife and I took a uniquely tailored vacation to the Southern United States. This year, we focused on the coastal areas of North Carolina and Virginia and with this we “closed the loop” on hitting every part of the 15-state region.

Our first (and probably most memorable) trip was in March 2017. The previous December, Karyn had offered to bring me to Nashville for my birthday in 2016 to see my beloved Denver Broncos play the Tennessee Titans. But instead, I proposed that, being it was our 20th anniversary that same month, we should go on a unique tour of very non-tourist places that had significance in music history. The first stop along our tour that year was the homesteader Patsy Cline in Winchester, VA before we headed into Tennessee, hitting Knoxville and Chattanooga on the way down. Next, we went across Northern Alabama to historic recording destination of Muscle Shoals before hopping on the Natchez Trace Parkway to Tupelo, MS where we spent some time at Elvis‘s birthplace and childhood home area. I brought along my acoustic guitar which I just purchase the previous summer in 2016 and I played on the quiet hill outside town where Elvis first played guitar.

The heart of our first trip in 2017 was spent in the Mississippi Delta, where we visited such legendary places where American blues music originated such as Dockery Farms, the Tutweiler train station, the gravesite of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters’ cabin, and the BB King Museum. For more on these, check out this interesting documentary on the history of blues. In many of these locations, I recorded footage for three music videos from songs on the upcoming album The Journey, the debut album by my group Sinclair Soul. In fact, in direct correlation with these seven Southern sojourns would be seven record releases, one each year from 2017 to the upcoming one I will release later in 2023. In fact, an accidental underdeveloped picture picture became the album cover for The Journey as we turned around at a crossroads just outside Clarksdale, MS. On the return we spent time in Memphis and toured Stax and Sun Records studios and saw a show on Beale Street before we headed up to Nashville for a short stop. In fact, after every quiet and rural place we’ve been, Nashville felt like New York City at the time.

The second trip in 2018 happened just weeks before the release of the second Sinclair Soul album, Reflections of Relevance, and would be the one where I was most musically active. Along with shooting footage for the official video of the song “Delicately Dancing the Dogwhistle Diddy” from that second album, I play a couple a live gigs in Ashville, NC and Cape May, NJ (our final destination). Along the way, we hit Southeast Virginia and the Carter Family Fold, Northwest Tennessee before crossing North Carolina from Ashville to Raleigh and heading up the coast through Virginia Beach, Ocean City, MD and across the Delaware Bay to the annual Cape May Singer-Songwriter festival.

In 2019 we headed to South Carolina and were joined by our son Bryen for part of the trip as he was interested relocating to the Palmetto state. We spent a fair amount of time in Myrtle Beach, Georgetown, Charleston, and Folly Island before parting ways with Bryen and heading back inland through Columbia, Charlotte, Hillsville and Roanoke on the way home. Many of the places on this trip we would revisit on future Southern sojourns. While no official music videos came out of this trip, we did release the third Sinclair Soul album, The Good Guys at the end of 2019.

While the first three trips all took place in March of their respective years, in 2020 we decided to go south in February, we turned out to be very fortunate because the Covid pandemic came in full in early March of that year. This trip first took us to the Atlantic coast of Florida to Flagler Beach (a possible retirement destination for us), Saint Augustine and Jacksonville, before we headed inland and continued a music-themed tour. We paid homage to Ray Charles in his hometown of Greenville before heading to Tallahassee and the Bradford blues club where we saw Southern Avenue perform (more on that here). We up drove up to Macon and spent the day with a whole bunch of Allman Brothers fans, checking out a lot of the famous (and infamous) sites including the “Big House” where the group collectively lived in their heyday and saw The Allman-Betts band (descendants of the original Allman Brothers Band) at the Macon Theater. This would the last concert Karyn and I would see for the next 2 1/2 years due to Covid. And, while I had not planned on recording any music in 2020, the isolation of the lockdown sparked we to compose and record my first solo record, Out There Somewhere, which I recorded at home and played every instrument.

By March 2021 we were ready for a big vacation, and this would be are longest of the seven both in milage and duration. On the very first day we drove all the way to Central Kentucky where I recorded the first of many footage for future music videos. Then we went down to Nashville and actually saw people outside having fun for the first time in a year or so. We stayed in Nashville for two days, walking through the downtown and visiting many destinations such as the Johnny Cash museum and Ryman Theater (original Grand Ole Opry location). After Nashville, we revisited many of the same places from our original 2017 sojourn, down the Natchez Trace parkway to Muscle Shoals and the Mississippi Delta, but this time we continued further. Through Southern Arkansas and Northern Louisiana into Texas, our major destination. First through Dallas and Dealy Plaza, then down into Waco and Austin where we hung out in the park and checked out the music scene and Stevie Ray Vaughn memorial. We next headed to San Antonio and the the Riverwalk and the Alamo before reaching our furthermost point of to Corpus Christi, where we stayed with Karyn’s cousin Carl for a few days, where we drove on the beach of Padre Island and I discovered a new love for Mesquite and Tex-Mex food.

On the long trip home we stayed along the Gulf of Mexico, touring Houston, Lake Charles and Baton Rouge before heading to the Mississippi beaches of Biloxi and Gulfport then Mobile and the the Florida panhandle to Panama City, where we stayed a few days. We then headed north through the heart of Alabama, Birmingham and Montgomery, and then up to Chattanooga where we took a tour on a duck boat tour around downtown and the Tennessee river. That summer, I released the fourth Sinclair Soul album, The Girl with No Name and produced two more official videos with much footage coming from this fifth Southern trip.

The February 2022 journey was all about beaches. We started in Virginia Beach, where we went on whale watch before once again hitting to Myrtle Beach and much of the interior of South Carolina. But our ultimate destination last year was Florida. We drove down the entire Atlantic coast of the state, stopping in places like Amelia Island, Cocoa Beach, Jupiter Island, Juno Beach, Boca Raton and ultimately Miami, where we stayed two nights, From there, we headed down to Key Largo and we took a glass bottom boat tour before going across the Everglades to Everglades City and then started up the Gulf coast. We visited Naples, Bradenton Beach, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa before stopping to see the manatees in Apollo Beach. We next went to Orlando to recharge for three nights and hang out with friends, visit Epcot and watch the Super Bowl before an expedited trip home. That year I released my second solo record, Another Rock to Roll.

So that brings us to this years seventh Sojourn. This may be the shortest in mileage wise but we packed a lot in. Our first major stop is Floyd, VA a cool little town with a “country store” where you can have lunch and hear life roots music from various local talent. We went to Mount Airy, NC to see a show dedicated to local legend Tommy Jarrell. After this we crossed the heart North Carolina – Winston-Salem, Durham, Raleigh, and down to the coast at Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach, where we stayed for a few nights and did a historic horse trolley tour through downtown Wilmington. From there, it was a slow ride along the beaches Emerald Isle, Cedar Island, Ocracoke and Hatteras Island, which include two long ferry rides along the way. On the Outer Banks we stayed at a fantastic place that was closest to the water we’ve ever been, toured many lighthouses and took a Jeep tour around Corolla to see wild horses and actual towns that are built on sand. We once again stopped in Virginia Beach before heading home.

This year I’ll be releasing the fifth and final studio album by Sinclair Soul entitled Frequencies, making it seven albums in seven years. This feel like the end of an era and which adventure we shall embark on in the future is currently unknown. But this sure was real and fun.

~ Ric Albano