Travel Diary 1: Savannah Juju

I woke one morning to a message from the Outlaw Amish, that read, “Want to go to Savannah for your birthday?” As my birthday was about 2 days away, and as the message was sent about 4:30 am OAT, (that’s Outlaw Amish Time), I wrote back with, “You’re drunk, right?” The next day they replied, “Yes, we were drunk but we were also serious. Let’s go!” Well, I could hardly say no.

We set off a few days later for places more ancient and further South than this little corner of near-Nashville. Savannah is a beautifully ancient little place. Spanish moss drips across the streets. Charming squares dot the city, lined with stately old homes so alive with the past you almost expect to see spectral ladies with fans and men tipping top hats to walk out the door along with the present owners. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if they actually do. “The juju here hangs thick as sauce on spaghetti.” a rickshaw driver (yes, there are rickshaws everywhere too, as it should be, said. When I asked him how he’d come to have such an interesting profession he replied, “My Great-Grandmother was a witch.” He smiled, as though that explained everything. He then added that he was descended from the GA Tarltons, “Like the twins in Gone With the Wind. Stepping into Savannah really is like stepping into a scene from the novel. Except, there the characters would be more aptly named Mojo Butler and Scarlett O’Hoodoo;  West African traditions have continued nearly untouched in the area. That, absolutely, would have been a marvelous enough vacation. However, it didn’t end there.

In a few minutes time, we went from Savannah to Tybee Island. I grew up close to the ocean in Virginia and was excited to have returned to it. (There are lots of rivers in near-Nashville, including the one Mr. Prine immortalized in his song “Paradise,” but they’re rather dubious insofar as swimming goes. Thank you Mr. Peabody’s coal trains and no doubt much else.) There were spots where, if you moved your hand through the water at night, it glowed and sparkled as if full of fireflies. In the wake of a tropical storm, I walked along the beach and got caught without an umbrella in a downpour. The feeling of, uh-ohhhh it’s driving rain and I’m miles from any cover, is not an easy one to describe. Nor is it one I necessarily want to repeat.

Rather unhappy and uncomfortable, I found myself in front of a little pool in the sand where an enormous horseshoe crab was swimming. I paused, just watching him for a little while, and the rain thankfully, stopped. A few feet down the beach I found the shell of another, nearly 4 feet long. I brought it back with me thinking that being caught in that storm had been worth it after all and feeling, as I did in Savannah, like I’d somehow been in touch with something unspeakably ancient. Horseshoe crabs are the oldest creature on earth and have, in fact, saved all of our lives; their blood is what enables us to determine if surgical and dental instruments are sterile. I later learned that the sand where they die, (as mine had), contains a chemical that has been used to cure sadness in whales; Juju thick as spaghetti sauce indeed.

The Outlaw Amish and I went to many restaurants and many more bars as we frolicked through the Lowlands but my favorite was the Tybee Island Social Club, ( Opened a few years ago by the magnetic Kurtis Schumm, a musician and his lovely new wife Sarah (a designer), it’s an open, breezy place just to the left of the tourists and the hub of immediate oceanfront. They have steel drums on the porch with bacon bloody mary’s and champagne cocktails on Sundays and truffle burgers with bacon hugged collard greens on the side, any day of the week. I quickly saw why they’d been lauded by publications like The Wall Street Journal and The South Magazine.  Their cocktails include ingredients like muddled cherries and frost nipped blueberries and liqueurs you don’t find everywhere, (but should), like organic cucumber and elderflower. They have music most nights of the week. I realize that, when in the Lowlands where magic and mojo are as normal as Spanish Moss on palm trees, coincidence is not at all surprising. I also realize that, when in a popular vacation spot, it’s not at all unusual to run into people you know from elsewhere. So, when it turned out that Mr. Schumm was from the same part of near-Nashville, Ky as we were, I wasn’t overly astounded.

However the chain of coincidence at the Social Club was over the top. When I told him I was going to play a song I’d just written about Levon Helm, and he mentioned he’d opened for him. This led to a discussion of Helm’s Jesse James songs and new ones I’d written about the Outlaw’s time in Lost River Cave. He said he used to work in the cave. The icing on the cake was when he said he’d been in a band for several years with Mitch Plumlee, who you can see me playing with in the “Weight” video at the bottom of my Levon blog.  We were singing a “Paradise” duet long before the night was over. It was all, clearly, meant to be on Tybee. As with many things clearly meant to be, it’s unfortunately hard to say just why the experience was so significant, (you usually find yourself saying OH to things like that long after). I’ll have to keep y’all posted on that one.

If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the Lowlands, I strongly encourage you to discover some magic of your own at that spot.  If nothing else, you’re sure to have a hell of a time. I can’t think of another place on earth like it. For example? While patrons enjoyed fish tacos with pear puree and the epic, aforementioned truffle burgers, Kurtis shouted, “Play LOUDER,  the cops are here for a noise complaint.” “Louder?” I said. “YES!!!” he shouted. And so, after “Hellhound on My Trail”, which everyone laughed and clapped at my thinking of, when told to “PLAY SOMETHING EVEN LOUDER!!”  I dove into “Helter Skelter” for the first time since playing it with Jesco.

All this, I repeat, while very chill patrons continued to sup upon Southern infused delicacies, sipping marvelous concoctions like Hibiscus or White Jasmine Sangria and the ocean sparkled with a phosphorescent glow, echoing but not drowning out the creaking of rickshaw wheels across cobblestones…

You can find the Tybee Island Social Club on Facebook:

and in Tybee Island, GA at 1311 Butler Ave. 912-472-4044 


~ Lonesome Liz

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