Pipe makers had discussed it for years; a world class pipe show again in Nashville.
Almost two decades have passed since Uptown’s Smoke Shop sponsored a large pipe show in Nashville. During the interim, the Nashville area became a hub of artisan pipe making with no less than a dozen or more well known pipe makers – some of them among the most successful and talented in the business.
As Nashville is already a major destination city in the U.S., it was a no-brainer to mount a great new pipe show. And great and new it was, thanks to Grant Batson, Chris Merkle and Drew Estate.
Grant decided to make it happen and teaming up with Chris they mounted a highly successful and groundbreaking pipe show Sept. 20 in downtown Nashville.
Grant and Chris are two guys that don’t just talk about ideas, they make them happen.
In much less than a year, employing members and resources from the Southern Fried Pipe Club (another creation from Grant and Chris) and the crew from Smokers Abbey, they secured major backing from Drew Estate, put in vast amounts of time and sweat and a small fortune of their own funds and pulled it off with style, grace and true professionalism.
These two guys are friends of mine and I can attest to the very hard work and dedication they devoted to their labors to make it happen.
Three Days in September
The Friday morning and afternoon before the show, while Chris and Grant were feverishly rushing about getting details nailed down and physically setting up for the show, pipe makers began to arrive all day from as far away as Europe and Japan. Grant even picked some of them up at the airport and ferried them to "Hotel Batson" (more on this in a bit ).
Friday evening pipe maker Bruce Weaver gave a dinner for all the pipe makers and most attended. A few others, myself included, traveled up I-24 to Hopkinsville, KY for the Drew Estate Kentucky Fire Cured Barn Smoker held on a tobacco farm that supplies premium leaf to Drew Estate. Grant drove Tyler Lane Beard, Scott Klein and myself up to the event and it was a grand time.
A large crowd was fed and seated in a metal barn under racks and racks of curing tobacco leaves as Jonathan Drew held forth on the subject of fire cured tobacco, gave out awards and raffle prizes and explained the good works of the Cigar for Warriors organization, the charity that received 100% of the ticket receipts for the event.
All the while, Chris was at the show venue, a small historical church in downtown Nashville, setting up long tables and dozens of chairs for Saturday’s show. Talk about commitment.
Saturday turned out to be a fine, clear and dry day – and the show was just fabulous.
Unique, innovative, friendly, fun, entertaining and informative were all comments accorded the show by many of the nearly 500 attendees. Thirty plus artisan pipe makers, fine food and beverage vendors, craft artists and musicians coalesced around an old diminutive brick church in two large paved parking lots that flank the building. On one side under a huge white top: artisan pipe makers from all over, sought through invitation only, Drew Estate tobaccos and pipes and Sab Tsuge, principle of Tsuge pipes, who traveled from Japan for this show. On the other side under a likewise large white pavilion: food and beverages, an array of round tables and chairs and a flat bed stage at the end.
One of a Kind
This was a unique show in many ways.
Focused on artisan pipe makers only, with the intention of fostering the rising tide of new and younger pipe smokers, the crowd was decidedly skewed to the thirty-five and under crowd. This is not to say that the more mature and experienced pipester was neglected at all. There were many highly regarded higher end artisans in the group and more than a few grey heads in the crowd. There were also quite a few women on both sides of the tables in the pipe tent and throughout the crowd – a very welcome element indeed.
With the venerable Tsuge-san, artisans such as Jeff Gracik ( J.Alan pipes) and Danish master transplant Tonni Nielsen and other high end carvers, as well as a couple dozen up and comers, the pipe side of the show had a nice buzz about it all day.
Most purchases were in the $100-$250 range, but this was anticipated. New pipe smokers generally increase their outlay as their interest and experience grows. Here in Nashville they had the opportunity to see very fine pieces and meet some of the highly talented and well established "name" pipe makers in the U.S.
Fabulous Thunderbird Wings from Trace Scarborough, delicious nitrous cooled cold pressed coffees from Commune + Co. of Tampa, FL, great locally brewed beers from the Black Abbey Brewery and the superb bourbon from Angel’s Envy were all served on the "gather and party" side of the venue. On stage was a continuous series of fine bands, musicians, the whimsical Dream Beard Oils Beard Contest and another fine extemporaneous session with the charismatic and tireless Jonathan Drew. All this flowed across the stage throughout the lovely afternoon.
Beard Contest Judges
Beard Contest Winner & Photo-Bomber
I have attended and exhibited at many a pipe show and I can tell you they are really on to something here in Nashville. As is typical of any pipe show the folks in the crowd were friendly, interesting, curious, full of pipe passion and eager to expand their circle of like-minded pipe and tobacco lovers.
Atypical was the much lower age demographic in attendance. According to Chris Merkle, for the majority, this was their first pipe show.
Also atypical of other pipe shows were the opportunities to hear very fine musicians (this is Nashville, after all ), sample some ultra fine beverages from talented and premier brewers and distillers, consume the unparalleled Thunderbird Wings, and drink the most excellent and unique coffee from true coffee artisans. Throw in the superior hand crafted art exhibited within the church, Tsuge-san, Cigars for Warriors’ fine crew, The Dream Beard Oils Beard Contest and the inimitable Jonathan Drew and his cohorts and the day brought to mind the old and apt phrase: A good time was had by all.
A Good Time Part Deux: the After Party
Having spent 25+ years as a musician and having many actress and actor friends, I am quite familiar with the term; after party.
Often these affairs eclipse the main event and though the show was indeed sublime, the after party held it’s own and then some.
With a group swelling to around 150 and the indefatigable Chris Merkle going out three times for more tables and chairs, the after party spilled out of Smokers Abby and into a quickly roped off parking lot in trendy East Nashville. The evening was clear and oh so comfortable and everyone was chowing down on fine Italian food graciously provided by Johnathan Drew. Table after table of pipe makers, musicians, support folks, friends and family chatted, laughed, smoked cigars and pipes and reflected on the great time, smooth operation and satisfyingly fine show that was the Southern Fried Pipe Show sponsored by Drew Estate.
Jonathan Drew & Steve Morrisette
Sunday at Hotel Batson
Grant Batson is a great guy, with a big house and a large deck and a wife, Jill, who is three parts angel and one part Energizer Bunny. Over the course of the three day weekend Miss Jill, along with supervising her brood of four young folks, working pre-show and during the show, made sleeping accommodations for the following freeloaders: Tyler Lane Beard and son A. J. (who had a great visit with young Michael Batson), Simeon Turner, Steve and Jamie Liskey, Nate King, John Klose, Ernie Markle and Nathan Armentrout. This was a free flowing parade of fine young pipe makers and families that proceeded without a hitch. She, Jill Batson, is amazing. Between Grant and Jill, they accomplished more in three days than most could in three weeks. BTW- these folks were all welcome guests and certainly not freeloading.
All Hands on Deck
I mentioned Grant’s large deck, which he swears he reinforced to withstand a sizeable crowd. Good thing, because it was truly put to the test Sunday evening.
Now this deck has seen many fine evening gatherings with a roaring fire in the central metal fire pit, folks relaxing about in deck chairs with fine liquors and cigars or a pipe and the ubiquitous huge yellow golden retriever, Tucker, sprawled on the planking. However Sunday evening several of the "hotel" guests, Tucker, myself, Scott Klein and Mary Anna, and a very tired Chris Merkle were joined on the deck by the Drew Estate battalion, which consisted of J.D., his father Gary, Tsuge-san, Mario Takayama, Sam Smerkol, Johnny Brooke, several of the Cigars for Warriors guys and gals and several other of the fine Drew Estate fellows.
Grant remained serene, confident in his skill as a deck engineer and builder. He assured us, " It’s supposed to sway a bit." Well, like his pipes and his character, the deck was solid and dependable through the night.
Truly the most well known person in the show crowd was the founder and figurehead of Drew Estate: Jonathan Drew. He got behind Grant and Chris to lend considerable support for the show through his company. Just a few quick observations about J.D., as he is called.
His media image is that of a hip, quasi-urban New York City guy: an upstart in the somewhat staid cigar world. He founded a real powerhouse corporation in cigars and tobacco and jets about the world promoting the Drew Estate brands. He is a self-made millionaire from the streets, so to speak. This persona is all over the social media, worldwide.
After spending some hours with him, off and on, during the days before and after the pipe show, I can sum him up in one phrase: A sterling individual. As illustration I will tell you that away from the spotlight he is honest, genuine, open, compassionate, whip smart, funny and seems not to take himself too seriously. He also knows a hell of a lot about all aspects of the tobaccos in Drew Estate’s vast product line and truly is inspired and excited to not only move into the pipe smoking arena, he is energized to support and foster the growth of the pipe hobby and it’s community. He was extremely happy with the show. I could go on about J. D., as he is a fascinating guy and a ton of fun to hang out with. I’ll just leave you with this: How many hip young millionaire business lions bring their Dad along on trips – just because he’s his Dad? I really like this guy.
Not Too Many Cooks
Another good result from so many fine pipe makers under one roof at Hotel Batson was the creation of a pipe collaboration project. Working in Grant’s well equipped home shop Simeon Turner, Scott Klein, Steve Liskey, John Klose, Tyler Lane Beard, Nate King, and myself alternated working on a pipe together. Soon to be completed, this very unique group effort should thoroughly disprove the "too many cooks" adage.
All agreed that this was much fun and that such a collaboration piece should be done each year to commemorate all future Southern Fried Pipe Shows. Keep an eye out for this one of a kind creation.
Post Show Epilogue
When asked about their favorite memory from the show, both Grant and Chris used nearly identical phrasing to say it was the very positive and upbeat enthusiasm from attendees about the show and the new and different features not found at other shows. Planning for a bigger and better show has already begun. Chris and Grant were in meetings two days after the show working with the Drew Estate folks and cultivating more new sponsors for the next year. Surveys will be sent out to attendees and show participants via Email to inform decisions regarding all aspects of the next year’s show. Other pipe clubs around the country are also being consulted. Grant said that much thought and consideration is being given to including many more elements of traditional shows such as having more tobaccos, estate pipes and associated tobacciana vendors while maintaining the new and unique aspects that were the hallmark of this past show. Retaining the vibe, the atmosphere and the enthusiasm that attracted so many new pipesters while expanding offerings to reach inclusively across the entire range of demographics in the pipe and tobacco community seems to be the goal for future shows. Expansion, inclusion and fostering of community are the principles I often hear Chris and Grant emphasize. As Nashville is an internationally famous destination city, the next Southern Fried Pipe Show should be a definite DO NOT MISS event. A big, fun show, in a fabulous family friendly town – what a concept!
I am a pipe maker in Nashville, a show exhibitor, a founding member of the Southern Fried Pipe Club and a close friend of both Grant Batson and Chris Merkle. I have received no compensation or consideration from anyone associated with any of the show sponsors, The Southern Fried Pipe Club, the City of Nashville, Grant Batson, Chris Merkle, nor any of their agents.This piece was produced in my capacity as a contributor and columnist for Pipesmagazine.com
Tsuge – ( Drew Estate pipes )
Cigar Press Magazine
Cigars for Warriors
Dream Beard Oils
The Black Abbey Brewing Company
Commune + Co.
*Thanks to Ric Farrah for his photo contributions
Steve Morrisette is an artisan pipe maker, relentlessly snappy dresser, and self-confessed Virginia gentleman. He makes artisan pipes for discerning collectors, and scours the internet and shops of all types seeking information and fine garments, hats, watches, shoes, and jewelry – anything related to the gentleman’s lifestyle. Steve also spent several decades as a working drummer and photographer/photojournalist. You can find his pipes at www.smpipes.com, and catch his style photos and latest pipes on Facebook and Instagram.