"The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing." - Socrates, Greek Philosopher (469/470-399 BCE)
Arvel Bird is his name and he comes to get down with his mixture of Scottish and Indian heritage. He calls himself a “Celtic Indian.”
Notice the Scottish plaid hanging from his waist?
While on stage, he performs by switching between a traditional Indian flute and then playing the fiddle in a fashion that would make Charlie Daniels proud.
The diversity within his performance is quite fascinating, and enjoyable to listen to.
Arvel has a background for music. When he was younger, he attended Arizona State University on a music scholarship. He later went to Champagne/ Urbana, IL studying classical violin. His teacher was Hungarian violinist Paul Rolland, who is quite famous in the music world.
Before making Nashville his home, he actually toured with the original Rhinestone Cowboy - Glen Campbell for seven years, starting in 1986. Once in Nashville, he toured with Loretta Lynn, Tom T. Hall, Ray Price, Louise Mandrell, and Clay Walker.
Black Elk Oglala, Sioux Holy Man (1863-1950) once stated:
"You have noticed that everything as Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round..... The Sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours.... Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves."
Stated by an Indian named Red Cloud (Makhpiya-luta) in April of 1870:
"In 1868, men came out and brought papers. We could not read them and they did not tell us truly what was in them. We thought the treaty was to remove the forts and for us to cease from fighting. But they wanted to send us traders on the Missouri, but we wanted traders where we were. When I reached Washington, the Great Father explained to me that the interpreters had deceived me. All I want is right and just."
The 35th annual Indian Pow Wow and Fall Festival took place on the edge of Rutherford, Wilson and Davidson Counties in Long Hunter State Park this past weekend (10/14 - 10/16/16).
The event allowed for participants to explore their Native American Heritage while taking in the sites, colors and foods.
The event is attended every October by Indians of different Nations all working together to educate the public on their culture.
Approximately 19,500 Indians call Tennessee home.
"Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children." - Ancient Indian Proverb
A question I have been asked a lot is, “Where do you find such interesting people?” My answer is simple, “I stumble across them by accident.”
Jim is originally from New York, but at a young age enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. Later, he moved to Virginia where he became an investigator for the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Corrections. Jim told me that it was interesting, to say the least. He then added, “It taught me one thing, they’d have to kill me before they lock me up.”
Prior to moving to Tennessee, he resided on the north slope of Pikes Peak in Divide, Colorado. There, he lived on a 10,800 foot mountain in a log cabin. In looking back to his log cabin, he told me you could see for miles. With a smile he said, “You could see Oklahoma from up there.”
"There are hundreds of millions of gun owners in this country, and not one of them will have an accident today. The only misuse of guns comes in environments where there are drugs, alcohol, bad parents, and undisciplined children. Period." - Ted Nugent
I love the way that sunlight falls between the trees at places like Hippie Hill in Tennessee. The freedom to nap through the afternoon is equally beautiful.
"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves." -Abraham Lincoln
I guess you could say the tattoos were a gift from the penitentiary. His arms were laced in human skulls, evil faces and more.
Eddie Estepp has had a long life of crime, “I’ve done over 30-years of my life in the penitentiary,” he told me. But many would question, what started him off on the wrong foot?
Estepp told me, “My mother and father was drinkers, there was always alcohol involved in our lives. There were six boys and two girls, all six of my brothers has been to the penitentiary – I got two in the penitentiary now in the state of West Virginia.” Like his brothers, he too spent time behind bars for theft, felony assault, evading police, receiving stolen property, grand larceny and even “Riot in the 1st Degree.”
Alcohol was part of the problem. He said, “Alcohol was my drug of choice.”
Now that Estepp is out of the pen he has changed his way of thinking. While standing outside on a beautiful fall day in Tennessee he said, “You know, I always thought a good looking truck, a good looking woman and a bottle of liquor was a man’s way – well a man’s way is working and keeping a roof over his kids head, and paying his debt to society, being a part of the community and helping others.”
Today, Estepp is clean and sober, “God’s turned my life around. I no longer steal, I no longer drink, I’ve been clean for six months now going on seven. Like I told ya, I just got out of the penitentiary and I’ll never touch another drink of alcohol, never.”
I asked, “What would you say to someone wanting to put the bottle down?” He looked to the side and then said, “Find that higher power because nobody can quit alone, you need that higher power. Jesus Christ was mine.”
American poet Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) knew alcohol well and often wrote about the issues that surrounded the drink involving fictional characters that came to life page after page. In a 1978 novel called Women, Bukowski wrote, “I was drawn to all the wrong things: I liked to drink, I was lazy, I didn't have a god, politics, ideas, ideals. I was settled into nothingness; a kind of non-being, and I accepted it. I didn't make for an interesting person. I didn't want to be interesting, it was too hard. What I really wanted was only a soft, hazy space to live in, and to be left alone. On the other hand, when I got drunk I screamed, went crazy, got all out of hand. One kind of behavior didn't fit the other. I didn't care.”
The Hill Folk playing some tunes at Hippie Hill in Tennessee.
Arlo Guthrie once stated, “Folk music is music that everyday people can play, and it inspired a lot of people to make their own music. That trailed into making your own pop music, and that's why garage bands started springing up everywhere.”
Guthrie was an original hippy, a song writer and was known for singing songs against social injustice. However, his only hit was the cover of Steve Goodman’s City of New Orleans.
His best known work was an 18-minute blues / satirical song called Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.
Hippie Hill is deep in the woods of Middle Tennessee. Music and freedom is alive in the hills.
“Herb is the healing of a nation, alcohol is the destruction.” - Bob Marley (1945-1981)
While at Hippie Hill on Thursday, I ran across a man named Wayd Battle. In a small and cramped cabin of sorts, we talked.
Battle said, “Well, I’ll tell ya this… I’m the son of a Baptist minister and I started playing honkytonks when I was 14 years old.” As the conversation continued, Battle told me that he was born in Alabama, eventually moving to Nashville.
While in the Music City, Battle met a man named Jamey Johnson. Battle traveled with Johnson who was growing in popularity while playing guitar, singing background and writing songs over a seven year period.
As far as hits go, Battle stated, “We were lucky, we had the ACM / CMA song of the year called 'In Color' and that was an awesome thing [laughing] - my girls go to college because of that.” When discussing albums, Battle said, “We sold, I guess to date, 4 point something million on that.”
The hit song “In Color” was released on Mercury Nashville Records in 2008, the same year it won both the Academy of Country Music Awards and Country Music Association Awards.
In 2009, the song became Jamey Johnson’s first Top Ten country hit.
The song is about an older man who shows his grandson black and white photos from his past. Some of the photos, according to the lyrics, were of the grandfather fighting in World War II.
Wayd Battle no longer tours with Johnson. In fact, he is now on a mission to create brand new tunes with a band called Hill Folk. Their tunes make you want to sit back and just listen.
The old and now deserted Tennessee Prison opened in Nashville during the year of 1898. It later closed down in 1992. But, do you know why it shut down?
The prison shut down due to a class action lawsuit filed in 1983. The Federal Courts issued a permanent injunction that prohibited the state from ever putting another inmate into the old Tennessee State Prison.
The Grubbs V. Bradley case led to the determination that the conditions of living behind the walls was unfit for human habitation. Some prisoners had as little as 19-square feet in their prison cells.
Scotty Grubb and four additional inmates filed a suit on behalf of themselves and others being held in the prison in 1983. The suit alleged rampant violence, improper medical care, poor sanitation and overcrowding. Violence, according to court documents, included rape, robbery, stabbings, inmate vs. guard violence, guard vs. inmate violence and murder.
In the medical hospital on site, prisoners who were trustees were said to be involved in the direct delivery of health care. The inmates, who were completely exempt of certifications, licensure or training in the health care industry, assisted in examinations, surgeries, cleaning medical equipment, reviewing inmate medical records and more.
As a result of the court findings, the old Tennessee Prison eventually shut down.
Tennessee Department of Correction opened a the new Riverbend Maximum Security Institution at Nashville in 1989.
Grubbs v. Bradley, 552 F. Supp. 1052 (M.D. Tenn. 1982)
Culturally Alone: He lives in Drew, Mississippi, which is a town within Sunflower County. The town has only 1,801 residents and needless to say, he stands out.
Since 1990, the population has been on the decrease in Drew. In 1991, the population rang in at 2,400 residents. By 2014, the number was down to 1,801 residents.
In Drew, 82.7% of the population is black while 16% are white. In other words, he represents 1.3% of the “Other” category. To make the math clear, only 23 people in Drew are either American Indian or directly from cultures outside the U.S.
If we were to further examine the numbers, 0.7% of the residents in Drew are Hispanic, 0.2% are American Indian, 0.2% are Asian and 0.2% are classified as being part of one or two more races.
Talk about being culturally alone, this would be a prime example of that. Sometimes being different is a good thing while other times it means you can't fully relate to your surroundings, others fail to relate to you and you stand alone.
In Drew, this man works hard for a living while owning his own gas station and grocery. He also operates a popular package store. However, people litter his property despite his significant request for them not to. He stands alone.
While the Corrections Corporation of America operates a prison directly behind his home, he does not work there. However, he does work security for a local company in the Delta of Mississippi.
Tallahatchie County, Mississippi is a small community in the Delta that has a little more than 15,000 residents. Of that number, about 600 work in the prison behind this man’s home. The prison is contracted through the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Before the opening of the prison, the county was on the downfall quick.
While standing in his front yard on a hot September day, he told me, “The only thing that made a difference was they put that private prison back here [pointing behind his home].” CCA pays property taxes to Tallahatchie County for the facility.
Since opening in year 2000, the prison has served as both a county jail and a prison that houses inmates from all over the country. The prison currently has inmates from Mississippi, Wisconsin, Colorado, Louisiana, Hawaii and California.
In 2008, California sent 1,300 inmates to the facility in Mississippi. Soon after their arrival, a riot broke out between rival California gang members. This man remembered that day well, “I seen they was on top of the building. They had SWAT on top of the building and stuff like that.” He said the county had to shut the highway in front of the prison down until the problem was fixed and inmates back in their cells.
Some may ask if the community likes having inmates from all over the country in their local facility. The answer would be an overwhelming yes.
If other states did not send inmates to Tallahatchie County, the prison would fold and the town would see massive layoffs from CCA. That happened in 2001 when Alabama withdrew their inmates. The employee number went from 204 to 40 by the end of 2001. However, they have since recovered and continue to grow steadily.
I think it is safe to say that all in all, the prison literally saved the county and the city of Tutwiler, Mississippi.
Red was struck by a car a few years back and spent weeks at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville on and off during the first twelve months of his recovery. His leg is much better today and he has not used a wheelchair in about 10-months or longer.
For those who have never met Red, he has a huge heart for people. While he often drinks the afternoon away, I have seen him give his last dollar to someone in need on multiple occasions. He has allowed other homeless to stay in his tent numerous times until they were able to get a tent of their own.
In Clarksdale, Mississippi I spoke to this man who told me that the jobs are gone and the youth has gone wild. He is retired and calls the Delta home.
“I’ve lived here about 55 years,” he told me. When asked to explain the area he stated, “I done saw the whole town change, there used to be plenty of jobs and everything, mostly all the jobs done left – it’s sad, but that’s the way it is – and people done changed too, the crime rate wasn’t as high as it is now and a lot of killings been going on here and back in the day, it wasn’t like that, people had love for one another.”
As for the biggest crimes in the Delta, he told me shootings and assaults. He then said, “You know, kids are raising their self. There’s no discipline in the homes. The average grandmother now is maybe 34-35 years old – when I was coming up the average grandmother was about 70 something.”
As you walked through his gate an air raid siren sounded. Some of the signs on the fence along the road read, “No Trespassing, No Loud Music, No Loitering.” Other signs were simply pictures or stickers of an assault rifle. With that being said, I wanted to meet the man behind the collection of oddities.
As I made my way to the front porch crawling over old refrigerators, tires, washing machines and more, I could hear a television was on inside the house. However, my knocks on the door were unanswered.
I then made my way back to the road, this time noticing some of the scrap metal had been turned into art. Sculptors of old motors were to the left and a sculpture of an airplane to the right. Plastic skulls adorned the fence post along with the heads of mannequins.
“I never set out to be weird. It was always other people who called me weird.” - Frank Zappa, American musician, composer, guitarist, filmmaker and more (1940-1993)
Photo taken in the Mississippi Delta region.
I shot this photo in Sunflower, Mississippi in the Delta.
He was with three of his friends behind a convenient store and liquor store. However, before I left the owner asked all three to leave the area suggesting that all they do when behind the store is litter.
Sunflower County is often called Sunflower Country. It was named Sunflower in 1844.
In the 1930's, the county had over 66,000 residents. Today, that number is down to 27,005. It is one of the poorest counties in the state and also one of the poorest in the U.S.
The Mississippi State Penitentiary is one of the largest employers in the area. It is the home of Mississippi's death row and execution chamber.
While he lives on the streets of Tennessee, style is not beneath him. He looks like someone one might spot playing a bass in a jazz club or perhaps a guitar in a blues band.
"My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style." - Maya Angelou
I heard about the so called store of death, but I had to see it for myself to believe it.
It was not exactly my cup of tea, but some seem to really like it.
It is a small store located in the depths of Nashville with a hearse parked out front and a small camper to the right of it. The store is called "Hail Dark Aesthetics."
Inside I found a variety of animals, all deceased of course. They even had a giraffe head / neck inside the store.
In addition to animals, I also saw an assortment of antique medical supplies which were actually for sale.