Thursday, June 2, 2011

Fontanel Mansion - A Biker's Destination?

Fontanel Mansion, formerly the 136 acre property and estate home to country crooner Barbara Mandrell, once one of twang towns biggest mega super stars, is now a great tourist and event destination that you need to check out if you're visiting Nashville.

I had the good fortune to attend and participate in their very first Music City Car and Bike show, what a great time. With my bike polished and clean including bright white side wall tires, I made the twenty minute ride down to the Whites Creek area all the while hoping I wouldn't collide with one of the millions of cicadas that have been buzzing around Nashville the past few weeks. Lucky for me I arrived without incident although I was prepared as I had packed and carried with me a container of Windex wipes and some dry towels just in case.

When I arrived at the welcome point I was greeted by a man directing traffic. I had no idea what to expect so I was pleasantly surprised to see so many show cars already being lined up during the 10am registration period. I was pointed a different direction as the bikes were being lined up front and center near the new Farmhouse Restaurant, just one the many new facilities on the property along with the old original farmhouse on the property which is now a quaint little gift shop and ticket counter. On the other side of the gift shop was a beautiful old leafy tree that stood tall enough to share a shady parking spot for all the show bikes including mine.

I found my spot in the lineup and went to the registration desk to check in and get my bike number. While at the registration table I signed up for a beautiful black Gibson guitar that was being given away at the end of the day. I don't play but it would look great in my house, so I dropped my name in the box along with all the other hopeful winners. I took my number 5 sticker and placed it on my bike. I was officially a participant in my very first bike show.

With several hours of down time remaining before the show was over I decided to go explore the area and view a few of the vehicles that were participating in the car show. My first stop was in the gift shop. The old farmhouse had been remodeled with an open floor plan to allow many visitors to stroll freely around the shop. The selection of merchandise was good - clothes, caps, jams and jellies, candles, picnic blankets, Barbara Mandrell memorabilia, art work and the usual little trinkets you'd expect to find as a keepsake treasure of your travels. I knew I didn't have room to carry anything back with me on my bike so I left empty handed but could have certainly dropped a bill or two on several things that caught my eye.

Next I walked over to the field that had been set up to display the show cars. I've never really been to a car show so I was like a kid with a new toy, eyes wide and a smile on my face. The cars were impressive, new, old, restored and some even for sale like the old classic baby blue Chevelle for $28,000, I passed on that as well.

There were plenty of Corvettes, both new and old including the timeless Stingray. Then there were the Thunderbirds. I know they brought that car back a few years ago but there's nothing like the original with the sharp lines and distinctive leather seats. How could you not love those cars back in the day.

Next I came across my son's dream car, the Dodge Viper. These are newer sports cars with a high octane of energy just in the looks alone. They had what seemed like all the colors of the rainbow represented, blue, yellow, green, red as well as a white one and a black one, but my favorite was definitely the red one with the matching red and black interior. A pair of red fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view mirror was the perfect bit of tackiness needed to offset the shear sportiness that oozed all over that fast machine. What a car!

I finished my car viewing with a few old Chevy and Ford restorations as well as some other unique vehicles and headed back toward the bike area. As I approached the bikes I was pleased to see that several bikes had entered the show but that was nothing compared to all the bikers that had just ridden out to attend the event in general. There were large riding groups coming in one after another with pipes roaring and popping. Had this become the new biker destination I wondered? It's certainly not a bad choice for a nice afternoon or morning ride.

By now I was getting a little hungry so I decided it was time to pay a visit to the Farmhouse Restaurant. The crowds had gotten much bigger so I had to put my name on a waiting list and got my pager and decided to sit outside in the shade of the front porch until my table was ready. I sat right across from my bike and watch as people checked out our rides pointing, talking and making pictures. I had a nice conversation with a young guy named Chuck who just moved here from New York. He was showing his 1966 Honda Black Bomber. This bike was built with a 450cc engine that would turn out 10,000 rpm's sending a clear message to the British bike makers to check their rear view mirror. Although quick, even in '66 the styling was a bit outdated and by 1968 the design was completely changed but today it's a highly sought after bike for collectors. Chuck told me he practically stole it from a fellow in New York that had taken it apart to restore it but simply couldn't put it back together again. He picked it up in pieces in a couple of boxes for $300. Still not restored but it is running and looks pretty cool.

My pager finally buzzed and I headed inside to get my table. With seating options inside and out I opted to go back out on the side porch where I could oversee the tourists and listen to the live bluegrass band playing out next to the old dairy barn and silo. The menu selection was just what you'd expect, country cooking, with breakfast served all day. I had a hard time deciding what to order, the menu had so many mouth watering options like the Buttermilk-Dipped Fried Chicken, the Creole-Seasoned Country Catfish and the Beer-Braised Beef Brisket or the 12-Hour Pork Roast. Heck they even had something called Toad in a Hole but finally I decided on just a regular old cheeseburger without the tomato, yeah, I know.

When my plate finally arrived the waitress told me she'd made a mistake on the order and actually ordered me the Farmhouse Cheeseburger, which she assured me I'd like but offered to take it back to the kitchen just the same. I told her I'd try it. What she sat down in front of me was a work of food art. The yeast bread bun was running over with ingredients that I wasn't expecting like the tobacco onions (kind of like onion ring pieces), pimento cheese, a layer of thin-cut country ham and finally a thick 8 ounce juicy beef patty - no tomato of course. I'm not a food critic or even a burger lover but this burger was one of the best I've ever had. Unfortunately, I didn't have room for one of their homemade pies or blackberry cobbler, but it gives me a great reason to come back later.

After paying my tab I walked over to the old dairy barn that has become home to Walden's Puddle Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. What a great concept. The center is a wonderful educational source not to mention the work they are doing to release rehabilitated birds and animals back to the wild on the Fontanel land, something that Barbara Mandrell herself has been especially fond of with all that's been done on the property. Recently, the center released four great horned owls along with a family of raccoons and grey squirrels.

Next stop on my sight-seeing tour is the newly built Studio Gallery. The Gallery is a 5000 square foot multi-use facility that can house art exhibits and memorabilia, but it's also designed for state-of-the-art television and video productions with a live studio audience. Just opened is a new production called Music City on Stage, a musical showcase and dinner or as they call it "dinnertainment". Later this year they will be performing again with a show called Music City Christmas. This is definitely an alternative to the General Jackson Showboat or the Opryland shows during the holiday season.

Just outside the Studio Gallery is where you catch one of the shuttles to head up to the actual mansion. Unfortunately, my time was running out on the day so that'll have to wait 'til my next trip not to mention the fact that I didn't get to hike along the trails that have been created in the vast woods around the property. Speaking of woods I also didn't mention the Woods Amphitheater. This may be the best part of the whole property. Although I wasn't able to see it on this trip as I understand it the setting is an open air 4,500 seat natural amphitheater nestled amongst the woods, nothing like anything else in Middle Tennessee. With upcoming shows like Willie Nelson, ZZ Top, Steely Dan and Big and Rich on tap to perform this will certainly become a well-known event destination very soon.

As my day wound down to a close I was proud to receive a plaque for showing off my bike. There's no doubt that I'll be back and will probably do so on my two-wheel scooter, so yeah, I'd say it's a biker's destination.

If you'd like to more about Fontanel Mansion visit