Maybe it’s the waters of the Ohio River, or merely frequent showers, but it’s hard to imagine a U.S. city more lush and green than Louisville, Ky. Away from the asphalt landscapes of downtown, thick tree canopies and acre after acre of bluegrass lawn frame the city’s residential neighborhoods.
You won’t find Jim James, leader of My Morning Jacket, in a suburban cul-de-sac. James’ apartment—one of four units in a character-laden prewar building—is nestled incongruously into an older neighborhood of single-family homes in Louisville’s Highlands district.
The Highlands, east and slightly south of downtown, constitute the city’s beating heart. There you’ll find Bardstown Road, the main dining-and-entertainment drag, home to Ear X-Tacy, one of the country’s premier independent record stores.
However, when I meet James at his apartment, the day’s first destination is Lynn’s Paradise Café, an eclectic eatery and popular brunch spot, where we run into VHS or Beta’s Craig Pfunder. The colorful Barret Avenue building is hard to miss thanks to the large, red coffeepot flanking the sidewalk.
James and I later make it to Ear X-Tacy, where he—inspired by a recent viewing of Five Easy Pieces—goes hunting for some Tammy Wynette. After deciding he’s likely to find a more nicely priced, appropriately weepy Wynette record at a yard sale, he moves on to hip-hop, a recent enthusiasm, walking out with Three Feet High and Rising, by De La Soul, Run DMC’s Greatest Hits and Amerikkka’s Most Wanted by gangsta-turned-actor Ice Cube.
“I always say I’m never going to spend any money when I come in here and it never works out,” says James.
Later we meet up with the rest of My Morning Jacket at the Captain’s Quarters, which presents itself as a restaurant but boasts a local scene second only to Churchill Downs. On a gorgeous summer’s afternoon, there are few places in Louisville with more joie de vivre than this gargantuan Ohio riverside establishment. The crowd ranges from longhaired twentysomethings like James and his bandmates to moneyed equestrian-preppy types.
For a band whose road schedule can be relentless, having such creature comforts waiting at home is a nice perk. “It makes you value home more,” says James. “You keep coming back and being excited about coming back. Because I know if I stayed here all the time, I’d probably be like ‘Man, I want to get out.’”