Dave Gore and Robbie Bowden at the Brown County Playhouse.
photo courtesy Michele Wedel Photography
The Jefferson Street Kids
~by Jeff Tryon
Onstage at the Brown County Playhouse, for a recent benefit concert, local music legends Robbie Bowden and Dave Gore shared with the audience that it was not their first time to work in the venerable Nashville performance space.
“When we were kids, they used to hire us to come in after the performances and clean up the trash,” said Bowden.
Bowden and Gore grew up to share a passion for music and played together in different bands, including a near-miss at fame and fortune with the locally-famous String Bean String Band.
It all started on the streets of Nashville, in a simpler time, when gangs of baby boomer kids stormed around town on their bikes, swam in Salt Creek, and sometimes got into mischief.
“The Playhouse at that time was open air, they just had these canvas flaps that they would put down and it had a tin roof,” Bowden recalled. “The alley running down the side there wasn’t paved—it had gravel on it.”
Gore remembered, “We would sneak down, especially if there was a play going on that maybe had some suspense to it, was kind of scary. We’d hang out in the alley and we would pick up a handful of that crushed stone and—at the appropriate moment—throw it up on the metal roof, which made a horrible racket.
“You’d hear women scream—it scared the hell out of them. Then usually a backstage assistant would come running out—‘Get out of here, you crazy kids!’—and chase us uptown,” he said. “But we knew all the good hiding places. We’d run between the buildings, sometimes there were little alleyways and things that you could hide
in, so they never did catch us. That was fun.”
It wasn’t just the two of them, of course, there was a whole cadre of kids looking for fun in a Nashville of the 1950s that was smaller, slower, and sleepier than today.
Robbie Bowden and Dave Gore in elementary school.
“There were more kids that lived in town back then,” Gore said.
“There was a bunch of us, ‘Jefferson Street kids,’” Bowden said.
“We rode our bikes everywhere. I remember this one summer, we turned Nashville into a racecourse, a bicycle racecourse in a figure eight shape. We’d take a certain number of laps around town.”
Gore said his bicycle gave him freedom and access to all the fun in town.
“Everybody had a bike back then,” he said. “We lived on Orchard Hill, and I remember the first time being able to ride my bike to town by myself, how cool that was, that incredible feeling of freedom.”
He would ride into town, meet up with a bunch of other kids and they would ride all over and around Nashville, usually not returning home until dinner time.
Among their main attractions were the local creeks.
“We would go down to ‘The Mouth,’ we called it—the mouth of Greasy Creek,” Bowden said. “There was good fishing in that area down there. And then down west of the bridge was an area we called ‘The Bluff.’”
They had a rope swing hanging from a Sycamore tree and the kids would swing out and drop into the creek where there was a deep hole.
Bowden recalls the gang would get the largest stones they were able to carry, climb up in the arches underneath the highway 46 bridge, and drop them into the creek below to admire the splash.
They got into the usual small-town tomfoolery, including certain creative pranks and capers.
“We never did any harmful things,” Gore said. “We never hurt anybody or caused any kind of real destruction other than maybe a few soaped windows or some toilet paper in trees, stuff like that.
“That, and occasionally hiding behind a fence and squirting a few tourists with squirt guns,” Gore confessed.
Gore recalled a goofy act the local kids would put on for the tourists. They would each get an old hat from their fathers, soak it in water and stretch it out to make these really dumb-looking hillbilly hats. There were five or six of us, and we each had our own style hat. We’d sit in front of the courthouse, just for the amusement of the tourists, mainly.
“Across the street was the Nashville House. We’d wait for some really nice respectable-looking family to come in and be seated there at the window, and then we’d go over to the window and stand there and look at them with these stupid hats on.
“I’m sure it was amusing to some and irritating to others.”
Robbie and Dave bonded over Mad Magazine at a winter Boy Scout hike in 1959.
“We shared the same tent at Boy Scout camp and got into all kinds of mischief there,” Gore said.
“Dave and I got to talking about how we both liked Mad Magazine,” Bowden recalled. “And that’s where the friendship started, maybe about the winter 1959.
“So, me and Dave started running together more and more, especially through school.”
And their friendship remains.