Greeneville, TN


Tennessee. Greenest State in the Land of the Free. Written into a song about a Tennessean Favorite Son named Davy Crockett. And it’s easy to agree with. We just spent a lovely weekend in two cities in Tennessee: Greeneville and Nashville. And you might have heard me say that I’m ready to return tomorrow.

There is a man who is married to Nikki Niswonger by the name of Scott Niswonger. They’re gonna love that description of themselves. Well, they indeed have known each other since high school. Scott started a trucking company with a partner over 30 years ago, 2 trucks that grew (no, exploded) into a behemoth freight giant that’s better than world class and quality, and which has created financial fortunes over and over. Their joy in life for the past couple of decades has been to “return” to the community.

Currently, there are a couple of state-of-the-art performing arts centers bearing the Niswonger name. We played a 1200-seater. But even more significant are their efforts in the arena of education. Not only are there schools and facilities that they have built, but they have pioneered some educational programs and techniques that are game-changing, like developing a program that has high school seniors graduating with a two-year Associates Degree from local colleges, so that when they attend that or another university, they will only have 2 years of studies in order to complete their undergraduate degree. That’s phenomenal. Washington is having a close hard look at this. Scott says we’re simply following a model that is so obvious. “Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmetic.” Make sure the kids get the basics while they’re still in elementary school. And then he adds another element founded in department of education studies which determined that one of the major reasons for kids dropping out in high schools is boredom and a disconnect between what they’re studying and what they think they’ll need in life.

And so, the Niswonger group studies and finds out what a young student’s interests and goals are, whether technical/scientific, artistic/social, or otherwise, and helps that student pursue those particular subjects of interest. They don’t drop out. This is significant work. Now add to that the restoration of a 19th century historic hotel in Greeneville with beautifully restored crown molding and wainscoting, pine wood banisters and brass railings, and hallways with wonderfully carved oakwood furniture from the same period. These are special people, Scott and Nikki. I told them I want to come and do an internship with them. I’ll serve the coffee. Their motto is: “Learn, Earn, and Return.” I told them they should do some sort of seminar program for corporate executives who feel the need for some enlightenment in that genre.

The night before our show, we saw Marc Broussard, a funky R&B group from New Orleans headed up by Marc, who could be Dr. John’s nephew. It was great, we got a chance to say hello backstage after their set.

It was a beautiful rainy fall football afternoon in Tennessee, and when we arrived at the hall, there was Scott at the stage door with a great big umbrella for me and Patrick. What a guy.

I was really impressed with the visionary, renaissance, man of the world community consciousness and genuine kindness. He should be teaching ethics at Yale and Harvard big schools. The other guys are failing the nation and Western society that looks at and emulates America. They should be fired for the kind of business leaders they’ve produced, who steal retirement funds and won’t pay taxes. And guess what? Half of Congress would declare these good people to be enemies of the state and the Public System.

Everyone around us said that the audience was full of people from across county lines and state lines. All I know is that they were so beautiful to me. They let us be loud and frenetic in some moments and then whispery soft in others. I got the sense that they were surprised at how much cross-section and variety they could get in one evening… All the way from Turano’s firey tenor and soprano sobs to John Calderon’s acoustic chamber guitar gentleness. And they oo-ed and ah-ed when Chris sang his sweet ballad. They they stood up and clapped in time for Puddit Doo Wop and Funkified Roof Garden.

We keep finding new audiences and making new friends whenever we can. Grateful, too! Wow! That was really refreshing. I’ve been thinking of how to get back to Greeneville on a relaxing visit. It’s picturesque like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life, and reminds me of Ripon College where I went to school, except no hills. You can drive from one end of town to the other in five minutes. I’m working on it. For sure let’s do some music again. In the meantime, a deep bow at the waist and hats off to Greeneville. You’re one of a kind and wonderful. Thanks for everything, Nikki and Scott! Signed coffee mugs, too. Bye, y’all! Nashville, here we come!



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