I have 2,831 downloaded songs in my iTunes library and without internet, I thought I’d start listening to my own personal soundtrack from A to Z. I’d just checked into my super swank deluxe tent at Under Canvas, the new glamping camp outside Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where the sight of NO SERVICE on my phone shook me to the core. I wandered through the grassy village of 40-plus platform tents and found Stephanie, a friendly staffer, who sent my family an email from her hard-wired laptop, reassuring them I’d arrived but would be offline for two days.
I unpacked, hanging up my hats, bags and jammies on a rough-hewn tripod made of thin logs tied with rope and surveyed the comfortable tent. I rolled back the creamy coated canvas door panels, unzipped the large screen windows on the other three walls, positioned the quiet fans just right and plopped down on the king bed awash with fluffy pillows and soft white sheets.
Let me just check my email … I mean, now what?
OK, I had plenty of writing to catch up on so I launched my Spotify for some music. Nope, not this time.
That’s how I landed in my iTunes library, which I admit, I don’t pull up unless I’m on a plane without internet.
I sorted the tunes alphabetically by title, thereby mixing the artists and genres. First up was “A Hard Day’s Night (Live at The Lighthouse)” by the Ramsey Lewis Trio. His Sun Goddess album was one of the first records I listened to on loop. That is, I listened to both sides, over and over. And, my husband and I caught him at The Blue Note a few years ago, so my soundtrack was off to a meaningful start.
Other A songs included "A House is Not a Home" by Luther Vandross, "A-Punk" by Vampire Weekend, "Accidents Will Happen" by Elvis Costello, "Affirmation III" by Prince, "Ain’t That a Kick in the Head" by Dean Martin and "Alex" by The Punch Brothers with "Avery Hill" by The Shouting Matches caboosing the A’s. I have no idea where that last one came from, to be honest.
In the first hour, I evicted a kettle bug and spider from my tent and watched a curious cricket cast an entertaining shadow on the outside of the canvas as the sun started to set over the lush foothills of the Smoky Mountains.
I looked longingly at the cute wood stove in the corner, knowing it would be too warm to light it up during my early October stay. But, lanterns on either side of the bed would provide just the campy glow I desired and they had USB ports to charge my otherwise unplugged devices. A loo and shower hid out behind a handsome barn door at one end of my tent, part of cofounder’s Sarah Dusek’s plan for guests to reconnect with nature in a way that is “comfortable and seamless.”
Meals at the camp food hall (restaurant) are cooked to order and a coffee station provides hot coffee, tea and fruit to anyone wandering into the lobby tent, a four-domed feat of canvas that looks like a spread from a West Elm catalog. Glampers gathered around a fire pit once the sun set and a cheery staffer brought a basket of s’mores fixings, much to the delight of Sandy from northern Virginia, who was celebrating her 60th birthday and hadn’t roasted a marshmallow for a good 50 years. I stayed at the campfire longer than I’d planned, enjoying conversations about our paths and plans while staring into the flames and each other's faces instead of our phones.
Turning in, I left the wide screened flaps open and a chorus of crickets kept me company and lulled me to sleep. Waking around 4 a.m., I peered out into the moonlit camp and was reassured by a winking half moon and palate of stars. Not a peep. I had a hard time getting back to sleep, mostly because I was excited to start my day in the Smoky Mountains at Under Canvas.
Waking again around 9 a.m., busy birds and the bubbling brook outside my tent provided my soundtrack.
Since there is little to NO phone coverage on the quiet grounds, I had to drive 10 minutes down the winding country roads into Pigeon Forge, where roller coasters, arcades and pancake houses were already bustling with a different kind of traveler altogether.
Under Canvas has camps at Mount Rushmore, Moab, Zion, Yellowstone and Glacier adding an outpost in the Grand Canyon next. This Smoky Mountain camp is open April through November, with 40 tents and another 50 planned.