[See also: The 2012 List]
Admit it. You blew the entire weekend before Christmas not getting out there and expressing your consumer spirit — the spirit necessary to send this old Scrooge of an economy packing. Fear not, for I bring you tidings of great joy — especially if you think economic joy begins at home. And by home, I’m referring to Tennessee, my home for the past three decades.
Thanks to some geographically-close and friendly elves of mine on Facebook, I’ve put together the following list of gift-ideas for the procrastinated shopper. Each item, in some way, has a connection to Tennessee. It turned out that most of them ended up being from Nashville and Middle Tennessee — that may reflect a statistical bias of my Facebook friend list. I looked for items you can purchase pretty much anywhere in the U.S., generating sales tax revenue for your local economy. Of course, if you purchase them on Amazon.com, I’ll get a commission on my affiliate account (I’m up to $5.75 for the year) and Amazon may ship them to you FedEx (Memphis), making the purchase a Tennessee economic twofer. As a bonus, I’ve tried to find items (or the stores that sell them) that represent a unique (uh, I need one of those German words, something like gestalt or zeitgeist) essence Nashville and Middle Tennessee artists and entrepreneurs seem to have perfected: the ability to create brands and products that evoke an American folk or heartland tradition, while being packaged and marketed with astute, savvy and, sometimes, market-distrupting innovation.
So if you’ve been naughty in putting off your shopping to the last few days before Christmas, go ahead and be nice to my home-state’s economy by choosing something from the following list:
12. Pork (Various locations): There are lots of websites that offer food from Tennessee, much of which seems intended to clog your arteries with fat, delightfully cured and created in all sorts of enticingly blissful ways. Here are two pork ideas that I personally endorse and that would happily clog my arteries with any day: Loveless Cafe Gift Baskets (Nashville) or a rib dinner shipped via FedEx from The Rendezvous (Memphis twofer). While several people suggested hickory cured country bacon from Benton’s Country Hams (Madisonville), their website suggests a backlog of up to four weeks, so they didn’t make the list. Some non-pork Tennessee-related food basket ideas can be found at the website, PickTNProducts.org. Last, last minute and desperate Tennessee-related food gift idea: Buy anything from one of the 60+ Cracker Barrels in 42 states or online at CrackerBarrel.com (Lebanon – the Tennessee city, not the country). Still desperate for a Tennessee-connection to food but don’t care if it’s primarily varieties of corn fructose blended and packaged in various ways and sizes? There are 9,600+ locations of Dollar General (Goodletsville) in 35 states you can stop by for some holiday Cheetos.
11. A Lodge Cast Iron Skillet (South Pittsburg): Founded in 1896, Lodge is the the oldest family-owned cookware foundry in America. (At least, according to them, it is. I’m not sure where to fact-check claims related to family-owned foundries.) While you can’t order from their website and get delivery by Christmas, they have four factory stores or, since they last forever, you can always find one on ebay.
10. Shoes, Hats or Boots (Nashville): Go to practically any mall or major airport in America and look for one the 2,300 retail locations of the following retail chains: Journeys Kidz, Shi by Journeys, Underground Station, Lids or Johnston & Murphy. Buy anything. The companies are all owned by Nashville-based Genesco. If you’re addicted to Zappos.com and don’t buy shoes at the mall, you can purchase the two brands of shoes Genesco still manufactures or distributes through channels outside its branded stores: Johnston & Murphy and Dockers (a brand Genesco licenses). As for boots, back in the day (translation: when we put adjectives in front of the word “China” like “mainland,” “communist” and “red”), nearly every cowboy boot in the universe was made in Tennessee. Other than some handmade boots that may take you months and a second-mortgage to get, I doubt there’s any factory-made boot manufactured in the U.S. (except those made for the U.S. military). However, there are still several boot brands based in Middle Tennessee. To make sure they’ve got a Tennessee-connection, look for one of the brands from Franklin-based Dan Post Boots. However, an easier way to have a Tennessee-connection for many different brands of boots is to just purchase a pair at one of over 1,000 stores in 44 state operated by the Nashville-based Tractor Supply Company. To find a store, go the the outer edge of the most distant suburb of the city you live in, then drive a little farther out. (Here’s a directory, by state</>.)
9. Griffin Beacon Universal Remote (Amazon link) : What could be more traditional that watching TV? What could be more innovative than replacing every remote control with one device and iPhone/iPad/Android app (Dijit) that actually fulfills the perpetual promise of combining every remote control you have into one gizmo. And, as you’ll see several more times on this list, it’s from Griffin Technology (Nashville). Best thing: You can purchase it just about anywhere cool electronic gizmos are sold. (The link above is to Amazon and when I linked it there, it was priced aggressively and it is in stock.) I saw one at Target last week, where I purchased it to ensure that my stocking has something other than lumps of coal in it. (Bonus idea, just because it’s a geek toy and everything else on this list isn’t, and also because you can buy it at Target on the way home today: The Griffin Helo TC, an indoor remote control helecopter you control with an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.)
8. A Gibson instrument, hand-made in Tennessee, with legal wood the EPA should get the hell off Gibson’s back about: I bet $10,000 Mitt Romney could afford the pictured $10,000 Sam Bush Signature Mandolin. But fortunately, Nashville-based Gibson has a wide-array of musical instruments at most any price-point you need. However, when it comes to the hand-made classics, Gibson still shines. A mandolin officiando can pick up a Sam Bush signature and hear the echo of the 1920s Gibson luthier, Lloyd Loar, who would be known as the Stradivarius of the mandolin if Stradivarius hadn’t made mandolins, grabbing the Stradivarius of the mandolin title before Loar came along. By the way, if you have no idea what that pointed political jab at the end of the title of this gift suggestion was all about, let’s just say, Stradivarius was lucky he didn’t have the EPA around back then.
7. Music (Nashville): Surprising suggestion, huh? Nashville is filled with the artists and business-types who create and package the music you hear at cheap honky-tonks on Saturday night and in mega-churches on Sunday morning. In other words, you don’t need this list to find music from Nashville (in the form of CDs or iTunes gift cards) to stick in a Christmas stocking on Christmas eve. However, if you want some Nashville music that’s not by Taylor Swift, here are four ideas (note: this could have been a very long list) that may not have been the type of music you’d think of as being Nashville:
- Daugherty’s Metropolis Symphony / Deus Ex Machina, performed by the Nashville Symphony and recorded at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center: If you think I’m just suggesting this recording to make Nashville sound high-falootin’ or something, I’ll add this endorsement: In February, the recording won three classical-category Grammys for the five-movement piece inspired by the Superman comics. Yeah, and you thought you knew what “Music City” referred to.
- El Camino, The Black Keys: Let’s say you were from Akron, Ohio, and you were a super star and could play anywhere you wanted. You’d choose Miami Beach, right? Well, Akron natives Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney (The Black Keys) decided to move to Nashville. In 2011, they won the same number of Grammys the Nashville Symphony won (3). El Camino is their first Nashville-recorded album. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it one of top rock albums of the year. Heck, even elitist listeners of NPR like me ranked it #7 on the list of top albums in 2011.
- The Goat Rodeo Sessions: When you want to talk about innovation and tradition merged, well, don’t talk. Just listen to this album created (in Nashville) by whoever your personal higher-being-of-choice might be and Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile, with vocals by Aoife O’Donovan. Nothing I can say about it will come close to describing what happens when you combine the talents of individuals who each have boundless talent.
- Own Side Now, Caitlin Rose: I wanted to add a country album from someone who might sound like you’d hear from Nashville if country music artists in Nashville didn’t have to create music that was packaged to appeal to soccer moms and their pre-teen daughters. But then I got scooped by Time magazine who included Caitlin Rose’s album in their top 10 albums of 2011. Frankly, Caitlin’s style of acoustic Americana-fused with alt.country and pure twang is something you’d usually discover far away from Nashville — say, Austin. Fortunate for us, Caitlin is one of those rarest of Nashville country music phenomena: she’s actually from Nashville. So no matter where she goes with her career, she’ll be Nashville. (Sort of how the Black Keys are still Akron.)
6. Third Man 45 iPhone case (Nashville): This is the list’s first Nashville “three-fer,” as this iPhone case was created and is being marketed by two Nashville companies, Griffin Technology (if you’re keeping count, this is the third of four Griffin mentions on this list) and Third Man Records, the indie music idea factory created and run by the official 2011 Music City Ambassador Award Winner, Jack White. Throw in the fact that the case is made from a Third Man Records 7″ single custom-cut vinyl record pressed by another Nashville company, United Record Pressing, and you have a hat-trick. Consider that Nashville still has a vinyl record pressing plant and a working letterpress print shop and you’ll begin to see why you couldn’t replicate Nashville in, say, Silicon Valley.
5. The Family Fang: A Novel, by Kevin Wilson (Sewanee):: When this book by Sewanee author (and creative writing professor at the University of the South) was published in August, New York Time’s Janet Maslin gushed over it. It went on to become a Times bestseller and is on lots of Top Books of the Year lists, including Amazon’s, so that means it’s 50% off the list price at the link above. Need more Tennessee connections? The movie option for the book was acquired a couple of months ago by Nashville soccer-mom, Nichole Kidman.
4. Nissan Leaf (Middle Tennessee) or Volkswagen Passat (Chattanooga): If you need a Leaf by Christmas, you’re out of luck, but the Nissan Leaf can be reserved for delivery later. While the Leaf won’t be manufactured in Middle Tennessee until late 2012, it is still quite a Tennessee car, as the North American headquarters of Nissan is located in the Nashville suburb of Franklin and Nissan Manufacturing is based in Smyrna, another nearby community. And thanks to $1.4 billion from the tax-payers of the U.S., Nissan will also be making the batteries for the Leaf and other electric cars in Smyrna soon, as well. So you may think the Leaf, the 2011 World Car of the Year, is from Japan. But when I see one, I’m thinking about all the good ol boys and girls from Tennessee who’ll be making them — and creating marketing material and websites and on and on. As for the Passat made in Chattanooga, it’s Motortrend’s Car of the Year, or what we say in Tennessee, the car’s got some far-out fahrvergnügen. Also, the Pssat’s Darth Vader commercial (see embed) was not only the best Superbowl commercial of 2011, it is one of the best commercials of all time (according to my wife). 2012 Prediction: Next year if I have one of these lists, a likely entry will be the Chevrolet Equinox as GM’s Spring Hill plant is being prepared to start cranking them out in early 2012.
3. Anything bearing the Col. Littleton brand (Lynnville): Lynnville, Tennessee, a small community about an hour south of Nashville, is home to the savvyist marketing colonel since Col. Sanders invented fried chicken by the bucket. Just visit the company’s website, ColonelLittleton.com, or its “official outpost” store called Abernathy Road on Second Avenue in Nashville (named after the Col.’s address in Lynnville), or check out the Col. Littleton Channel on YouTube. The guy captures the essence of what I’m referring to about the unique grasp some folks from ’round these parts seem to have on Americana marketing. And, hold on to your Col. Littleton hat, if you mix up the brand and line of goods from Col Littleton with the tech-accessory design and distribution savvy of Griffin (my fourth, and last, mention of the company), well, you’ve got one of the most amazing Tennessee combinations since Elvis met Col. Tom Parker. From a MacBook Pro case Griffin offered a couple of years ago, to this year’s complete line of Col. Littleton products for iPads, iPhones, MacBook Airs and more, Col. Littleton and Griffin are the best duo since Dolly and Porter broke up.
2. Jack Daniels 2011 Holiday Select: A little east from Col. Littleton’s hometown, you’ll find the place where they make what is, without a doubt, the most successfully marketed Tennessee-made product that’s not music. Anything bearing the Jack Daniels brand is 80 percent proof of what I’m saying.
1. A Donation to Susan G. Komen for the Cure: Make a donation in your hometown, in honor of someone you love who is battling breast cancer. I first had a Bible chosen for this #1 gift idea from Nashville and Tennessee. It seemed so obvious, considering the holiday and the fact Nashville is the bible-publishing center of the universe. However, late last week, a Nashville Bible publisher inspired me to make a donation to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure chapter in Nashville instead of recommending a Bible published by them. It’s one of the few times in my life when I’ve known without a doubt, that’s what Jesus would do.
(If you’d like a little Christmas bumper music for this post, I can’t think of a better one than this one from Nashville-native Amy Grant.)
[See also: The 2012 List]