Usually I pick my own topics for my AdVentures column in Nashville Lifestyles magazine, but now and then my editors nudge me to go outside my interest zone. I would never have visited this place ... and I'm so glad I did:
“This is the largest log home in the world, “ says Amy, our tour guide at Fontanel Mansion, Barbara Mandrell’s former residence. “And if anyone has to use the bathroom, we’ve got 13 of ‘em in this house so just find one and use it if you need to.”
The 12 in our group then walk into the 2,500-square-foot great room with cathedral ceiling. On the walls hang famous guitars from Barbara’s friends: The Eagles, Miranda Lambert, and the famous red-and-blue one played by Buck Owens on Hee Haw. Amy encourages us to pull any of them down and pose with them -- or, if we’re able, play them. “Take pictures if you want,” she says. “Y’all can take video, too.”
In Barbara’s bedroom I inquire about an open sleeve of saltine crackers on the bedstand. Amy reminds me of Barbara’s song You Can Eat Crackers in My Bed. ”Why don’t you lie down on Barbara’s bed and pretend to eat a cracker and I’ll take your picture?” Amy suggests -- and I do.
The tour of Fontanel, the 27,000-square-foot home to the iconic star and her family for 14 years -- Barbara relocated to smaller digs after her kids were grown and gone -- exemplifies all that is Nashville: friendly and informal, with no fuss or pretense. And, if Amy is your guide, you’ll even get some music thrown in; the singer-songwriter belted out for us a few bars of a song she’d written about butterflies.
Tired? Rest a spell on any piece of furniture you desire. “Jaime says ‘it’s all just stuff,’” says Amy, quoting her boss and one of the three Mandrell children. (The home is now owned by Dale Morris and Marc Oswald, well-known managers in the music business.)
The other tour highlight is the gossip Amy dishes:
… Like the time Kenny Chesney got drunk and jumped off a balcony overlooking the pool, only he missed and broke his leg. “He left his tour jacket here -- look,” Amy says. “Does anyone want to try it on?”
… and there was the time that Kid Rock and Hank Williams, Junior got drunk with an AK-47, rendering the walls of the indoor shooting range into swiss cheese.
… and those mirrors on the ceiling of the canopy bed where Barbara and her husband, Ken Dudney slept? Amy says they both liked to read in bed and they installed the mirrors so they could look up and see each other when talking, rather than having to turn their heads. “That’s their story, and they’re stickin’ with it,” she says.
The tour over, we all pile into the bus to head back down the mountain. A green tennis ball, pierced with a hole, has been stuck onto a part of the van door’s hinge that sticks out. “That’s our redneck bumper,” says the driver. “Some lady dinged her head on that one time and passed right out.”
Perfect lyrics for a Mandrell song, I say to myself.