Archive for July, 2011

The Delta Saints

Sunday, July 24th, 2011


The Marathon Village Café in Nashville is situated on a small, grassy plot in a charming wooden building, and comes complete with an authentic Tennessee porch.

cafeMarathon Village used to be known as the Southern Motor Works during the First World War. However, today it is a place for the arts: among its many businesses are a recording studio, a photography studio, an automobile museum and Nashville’s only independent radio station: Lightning 100.

Since I belong to an unruly social minority called “disc jockeys”, the search for local radio stations and record stores tends to be my guiding light when it comes to navigating new territory. “Like cures like,” so the saying goes.

Being in Tennessee is a marvel. Much of the heart and soul of American Blues, Roots and Funk music has its origins in the southeastern states. Hence my excitement a few days ago, when I finally visited the Mississippi River, inspiration to so many lives and so many songs. It felt like meeting a wonderful old grandmother, who knows me better than I know myself.

8316Within 48 hours after my arrival in Nashville, the #1 Google search result for a local record store specializing in Blues, Roots and Funk music showed up as “The Delta Saints”. As soon as I heard the first song on their MySpace page, my musical antennae started to buzz.

Two emails later, I ascended the porch steps of the Marathon Village Café, armed with tripod, film gear, laptop and iPhone. I was on my way to interview singer/songwriter and dobro player, Ben Ringel.

The afternoon’s heat was intensified by 100 % humidity, adding sub-tropical spice to Nashville’s southern flavor. Little did I know, that I wasn’t just about to have my first meeting with Ben and his dobro, but also with a tornado warning


“Hey guys, you better beat it. If the tornado hits here, we won’t be in good shape,” urged Sharideth, who manages the Marathon Village Café. “Pack up your gear and move into that red brick building across the street to wait out the storm. You should be OK there.”

Marathon works ext 2

The Tornado Warning System in Nashville sounds like an obnoxious, tenacious tuning fork, which gets amplified through speakers all over the city.

Growing up with Civil Defense Sirens in Holland, these kinds of alarms cause an eerie feeling in my stomach. The Dutch sirens haven’t changed since the Air Raid Warnings of WW II, and they remain associated with threat and fear — even to those who were born after the war.

Heeding Sharideth’s advice, I quickly packed up my equipment and moved outside. Sheets of warm, relentless rain had turned the street into an ankle-deep, fast flowing creek in a matter of minutes. Blue white lightning reflected in the dark windows of the old industrial buildings, while earth-shaking thunder provided an “all natural and organic” soundtrack to my adventure.

I was glad to have a seasoned Southerner as my companion. Ben calmly waded through the water, carrying his faithful dobro. “She’s never more than 3 feet from me,” he said. “Not even in a thunderstorm.”

We bee-lined for a rickety canopy, which was providing cover for a couple of hobo’s. After greeting them politely, we faced the most artful, steel-enforced door I have ever seen in my life.

Steel art

An inventive and creative person had welded rusty tools from the days of the early motor industry into a wonderful sculpture, breaking the straight lines of the metal bars that covered the glass.

We quickly moved inside the sturdy, brick home of the former Southern Motor Works. Finally…safety!

Photographs from its glory days in the early 20th century graced the old car factory’s lobby walls. A showroom featured a couple of antique automobiles. In the center of the foyer, an elegant staircase ascended to the second floor, and its wooden steps still seemed to emanate the cadence of industrious feet.

Ben and I searched around and settled into a quiet corner on the second floor to continue our conversation. With the upcoming European tour of The Delta Saints, there was plenty to discuss: from food and fishing to music and media.

After a while the tornado sirens stopped ringing, and we decided to get on the road. However, as soon as we reached the top of the staircase, all alarms in the building went off!

Trying to ignore the aggravating sound, we quickly made our way to the elaborate steel enforced exit and found the doors and gates to be firmly locked. Obviously, a dutiful attendant had closed up the building at 6 pm, not realizing that we were inside.

“Oh shit,” we said in harmony.
“Did you bring some playing cards?” I asked Ben.
“Nope. No dice either,” he replied, looking worried.
“Well, we have a dobro,” I sighed, trying to sound very sure of myself, and failing.


“Ben, did you ever see that Wallace & Gromit animation, called The Wrong Trousers?” I teased the forlorn-looking singer and dobro-ist of The Delta Saints. “You remember how they got stuck in the museum and set off all the alarms?”

However, Ringel’s humor-chip had been deactivated for the moment. He was focusing intensely on the address book in his phone. As soon as the name “Wells Adams” appeared, he pushed the call button. I recognized the name as belonging to one of the DJ’s at Nashville’s independent radio station, Lightning 100, which has its headquarters in Marathon Village.

“Hey Wells? You remember that DJ from Holland I told you about? Uhm…well..we are actually locked inside the Marathon Village museum across the street from the radio studio….Yes……No, we had no idea…..Do you have a key?…..Shit….Yea…..OK, I’ll call the police.” Click.
OldieAmerica has some wonderful, brave and amazing cops, and some scary ones. Scenarios of being questioned all through the night, exposed to harsh, bright lamp light, drifted through my mind. My curiosity was peaked about how Ben was going to handle the phone call and diffuse any suspicion that we were trying to rob the building.

A woman answered the phone at the Nashville police station, and Ben proceeded to describe our situation in a very polite and charismatic way. Let me tell you: if Mr. Ringel’s music career does not take off (which it will), he should consider becoming a diplomat (which he won’t).

Within ten minutes, two officers were at the scene. They carefully examined the uber-enforced steel door, which would take a small army to open by force. What a Great Irony it was! All the tools we ever needed to break the door open were right there, rendered completely useless by their Involuntary Participation in Art, welded firmly to the thick steel security bars….

Our only hope was to find someone with a key, or we would have to stay the night on a stone cold, hard, uncomfortable floor.

Lobby from the stairsI frantically searched my mind for ways to resolve our quandry, and decided to text my friend D. She sent me back the encouraging words “WOW! Is he cute? Are you sure you want help?!”. She promised to call her friend, The Honeybee, an 80-year old Tennessee Belle and philanthropist from Nashville. Surely she would be able to pull some strings in high places! Hope glimmered in my worry-stricken heart.

Suddenly my iPhone buzzed: Sharideth from the Marathon Village Café had just started following me on Twitter! I immediately sent her a message about our situation. She wrote back: “Hold out. I am making some calls.”

After an eternally long wait, which turned out to be only twenty minutes, a man arrived with a key to the slightly less glamorous backdoor of the museum. Seconds later we were freed.

The police officers grinned as Ben and I stepped into the stormy twilight. No questions were asked. At least this little drama, one of many that the cops were yet to encounter on their shift that evening, had a happy ending.

Our liberator, Bryan, happened to be the owner of the Marathon Village Café. He had received simultaneous calls for help from Wells Adams and from Sharideth. Thank you iPhone. Thank you Twitter.

“Either you are followed by a barrel full of fun, or I am followed by a barrel full of trouble,” Ben said. We walked over to our cars across a now bone dry street. “Anyway, I am glad I had you to share this adventure with.”

“Likewise,” I said. “And at least we have a story to tell!” A distant lightningbolt and roll of thunder completed my epic introduction to The Delta Saints.

However, Life had one more thing in store for me before I could hit the road.


When The Honeybee learned about my predicament from D., she didn’t have very good cell phone reception. The only clear words that she had picked up from their conversation, were: “Simone”, “locked up” and “cops”.

The Tennessee Belle called me the very moment I got into my car to go home. I could barely say “Hello”, when she launched her plan of action, sounding very determined: “I call’d my lawya, and he sayed that he will assist you in gettin’ outta jail. You know, I said to D. when she cawled me that I didn’t know you were like that, but I guess it coulda bin a rayd at a drugstoh’ or somethin’. Anyway, my lawya’s telephone numba is……”.

It took me 10 minutes to explain what had really happened, and believe me – I have never heard anyone laugh so contagiously as dear Honeybee.

With love,

Listen to the interview with Ben Ringel on KX Radio ConneKXions 15 April 2011:

MP3: Ben Ringel/Delta Saints part 1

MP3: Ben Ringel/Delta Saints part 2

Photos: Simone Walraven, Melissa Madison Fuller

Special thanks to:
Ben Ringel
Dan Buckley @ Lightning 100
Wells Adams @ Lightning 100
Sharideth & Bryan @ Marathon Village Cafe
Nashville Police

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