I finally made good on a trip I’d wanted to make for some time. I headed north to Nashville’s legendary Ryman Auditorium for one of their summer Bluegrass Nights. The equally legendary, and nearly as old, Ralph Stanley was headlining in possibly his last full concert appearance at the Mother Church. A farewell concert by a first generation Bluegrass legend at ground zero for Bluegrass music was a recipe for success.
Always on the lookout for new places to eat, I noticed that Southern food guru John T. Edge had listed something called the Redneck Taco at Nolensville’s Martin’s BBQ Joint on his Garden & Gun 100 Southern Foods. There’s not a better combination than barbeque and Bluegrass, so I put Nolensville onto my travel map and started toward Nashville.
Martin’s apparently used to be a bit more of a hole in the wall (which I enjoy), but the new place is a stand alone building in nicer shopping area. Good sign number one: smoke was billowing out. The smell of pork filled the air.
The inside is properly porky, signs and artifacts cover the walls. The restaurant was busy, but there was no wait time when I was there. You walk by a very large menu board that highlights “The Notorious Redneck Taco.” There are several meat options, each with its own sauce recommendation. I went with the basic pulled pork with Sweet Dixie Sauce. I gave my order to the young lady at the order window and waited for my taco to be brought out.
The Redneck Taco is a hoecake covered in meat–pulled pork, in my case–then a layer of slaw, finally topped with barbeque sauce. The hoecake is similar to a regular pancake, slightly sweet. I found the pulled pork tasty and moist (tried alone without sauce). The slaw was finely chopped. The recommended sauce, Sweet Dixie, lived up to its name. It is tangy, a little sweet, with good flavor. The beans were likewise tangy, and although I liked them at first, later, I wasn’t entirely sure if I did or not. I will say this, I appreciate a place that doesn’t just give you warmed up beans from a can. I want them to at least do something to make them their own. Martin’s fulfills its responsibilities to the beans.
You really need a little more sauce than they put on it, so ask for more or it gets a bit dry. In what may be a barbeque restaurant first for me, there was no sauce readily available. You have to ask for extra in which case they’ll bring you a small paper cup with sauce. Maybe Martin’s will find some squeeze bottles and put this stuff out for their patrons. BBQ Joints shouldn’t be stingy with the sauce.
Having Martin’s Redneck Taco was a great experience, one I recommend. The atmosphere is right, service is solid. Now I want to go back to try their ribs and other sauces. Speciality items are one thing, but ribs are where an establishment can stand or fall.
With the Redneck Taco behind me, it was on to Dr. Ralph and the Ryman.
Ralph Stanley is probably most known to modern audiences as the voice behind the song “O, Death”, featured in the movie O Brother Where Art Thou? Stanley is really the last of the true old guard in Bluegrass music. He began his career as half of the Stanley Brothers in 1946, and even toured with Bill Monroe. When Carter Stanley died in 1966, Ralph retooled and began his solo career using the Clinch Mountain Boys as his back-up band. Ralph hired teenagers like Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, and Marty Stuart over the years, giving the future stars their starts.
The show opened with co-headliner Jim Lauderdale and band who did a fantastic job. Lauderdale and Dr. Ralph did a couple of albums together, and have toured extensively. Lauderdale has written a great bit of material for Stanley, some of which Lauderdale performed during his set.
Dr. Ralph Stanley came out with his Clinch Mountain Boys for the second set, and I wondered how well he would hold up. At 86, he’s understandably slowing down a bit. He’s no longer playing his banjo, and had a chair on stage to rest.
But although Stanley started the set a bit slow, he nailed the a cappella “O Death” (capping it with a sung, and sincere, “thank you”). From that point on, Ralph Stanley seemed only to pick up steam getting stronger with each song. My only disappointment: there’s no mandolin in the current iteration of the Clinch Mountain Boys–what?!
I wasn’t sure how long Dr. Ralph would be able to keep going, but they did a 90 minute show, which was amazing. Stanley was spelled with lead singing by his grandson and various instrumentals. A highlight was Jim Lauderdale joining Dr. Stanley onstage for a song.
It was a great way to begin seeing shows at the Ryman. And I was glad to have the opportunity to have Dr. Ralph Stanley sign my official Hatch Show Print for the summer Bluegrass Nights.
I should have asked Dr. Ralph if he had ever eaten a Redneck Taco.