While in Tennessee: Goat Days, the Zoo, and the Titans

As promised, I’ll lead off by discussing the much anticipated International Goat Days Festival. Okay, “much anticipated” may have overstated our enthusiasm a bit. I think we were more intrigued by the novelty of the festival. It turned out that it delivered about as much as could be reasonably expected. We skipped the kick-off parade on Friday night due to rainy weather, but made it out the following day to the grounds at USA Stadium in Millington to check out the festival itself. There were tents with crafts, small businesses, some food trucks, bouncy houses, pony rides, and, of course, a pen of goats. 

Honestly, the goats were a bit disappointing. I mean, the whole festival is named after them and I feel like the goat barn at the Evergreen State Fair held more and a wider variety of goats than the International Goat Festival. There weren’t even any pygmy goats (undisputedly the cutest of the goat variety) included in their modest pen. The only pro was the hand written sign encouraging you to pet the dopey creatures. Last time we went to the Evergreen State Fair I may have been petting the animals directly beneath the sign that said: “Please do not touch the animals” before being scolded by Jeff. I had to do a double take at the sign at this festival to confirm that it did in fact say: “Please pet the goats.” Take that Washington! Tennessee doesn’t care about sanitation, or not scaring the animals, they didn’t even have those little hand wash stations outside the pens. Nope, go ahead and pet the goats, exit the pen, and immediately walk up to the food truck to buy a pouch of BBQ smothered nachos, nom nom!

In general it was like a smaller version of a fair, without a variety of animals and an absence of rides and carnival games, but there were a couple exceptions. First, was the tractor pull races. Yes, tractor pull, not merely tractor. Just the tractors themselves may have been more entertaining. But instead they were pulling heavy cargo down a short straightaway at the riveting speeds of 3-4-miles-per-hour. Yes, they had a speed gun to capture such amazing velocities. They raced one at a time and presumably compared times at the end. We observed a couple runs: they made a lot of noise and generated copious amounts of exhaust. But we were not intrigued enough to stick around for awards.

Runway for tractor pull races

The highlight of the event was definitely the BBQ contest that we crashed. Since the Memphis area has the reputation as one of the BBQ capitals of the country, I was unimpressed with the food options around the festival. There were a few stands with hot dogs, hamburgers, tacos, and nachos, but c’mon, where was the real BBQ? So we walked through the festival and found behind the grounds an area marked for a BBQ contest. It was filled with personal trailers, tents and barbecues, and was clearly not a food court area for customers like us. 

Who’s got two thumbs and is a BBQ fan?

We walked in anyway and started chatting up one of the contestants, asking questions about the competition and whatnot. I was genuinely curious, Jeff may have had an ulterior motive… After several minutes of chatting with the friendly gentleman he just happened to offer us each a generous portion of his pork, which had been slow cooking for the past 13-hours. He first instructed us to taste it sans sauce, to appreciate the full-flavor of the meat, and then with his homemade sauce for full effect. It was exquisite both ways! In general, as an adult, I was not overly impressed with Goat Days but I could see how it could be a fun event to attend if we had young children. There were some amusing things to do in a small, not-too-overwhelming setting. 

A week or so after the somewhat anticlimactic Goat Days we decided to visit the surprisingly highly rated Memphis Zoo. It had been on our to-do list for quite some time but we had been trying to wait for the weather to be less ridiculously hot and humid. So a couple Monday’s ago Jeff was let off work unusually early, the sky had clouded over (but not in an about-to-unleash-torrential-rain way), and we decided to finally make our trip to the zoo. After our fun, but super-packed, tourist activities in Atlanta and Chattanooga, it was great visiting the Zoo at a decidedly non-busy time.  

Entrance to the Zoo, showing off Egyptian themes that run through the city

I’ll try not to bore you with long descriptions of the zoo. I’m sure you’ve been to a zoo. It was probably pretty similar to your experiences, but with less people there, and potentially a wider variety of animals. I was most excited to see the two pandas in their Chinese exhibit and was pleased that they were awake and situated well within view, lazily chomping on piles of bamboo. Unlike most other bears they have surprising dexterity with a false thumb (enlarged carpal bone) that serves as an opposable digit for grasping, this was on full display for our viewing pleasure. 


Another highlight was watching the penguins being fed. They had a marker at the base of each penguin’s wing with a unique color combo so you could identify each one and match him or her to a board with the corresponding name, size, and age. There was one particularly gray and scruffy penguin that was nearly twice the age of all the rest. The keeper informed us that in the wild these type of penguins usually live to 15-years or so but this guy had somehow made it to 30. Well done old fellow, well done.

The zoo had a nice safari exhibit which housed a large group of giraffes, including a couple babies. Giraffes really are awkward animals, not really cute, but not ugly either. The zoo also had some impressive bears including a polar bear which was exhibiting some strangely indecisive behavior in its habitat, and a couple grizzlies who were lazing about. They had all the typical monkeys and big cats that you expect from a big-city zoo (though, arguable if Memphis is a big city) as well as some other more rare species. We purchased an annual pass so we can return to dote over the variety of animals as much as we want in the next year. Especially the red panda, I think they were the most dotable of animals we saw. I had an “It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die” moment a la Agnes from Despicable Me. Have you seen red pandas? They are adorable!

So now let’s segue from zoo to football, naturally. The Rec Center on base comes out with deals and discounts for various events and we were notified about a month or so ago of a few Tennessee Titan games that they were selling tickets for, as well as providing transportation to, since the Titans play in Nashville about 3 hours away. So, being the sports enthusiasts that we are, we purchased tickets to the first home game versus the Texans.

It was a noon game, so we met on base early Sunday morning to catch the bus (well, more like a van) to take us to Nashville. I think this may have been the maiden voyage for the guy organizing the event because his math did not add up (granted we had a couple of unexpected stops and waits) and we did not arrive at the intended time. Our tickets had included entrance into the Fan Zone with food and drink vouchers but the Fan Zone was closed and the game was starting by the time we actually made it to the stadium. And then, bless his heart, the leader didn’t actually know where Will Call was to pick-up our tickets. We were still circling the stadium outside during the National Anthem and an impressive (and loud) flyby with jets. 

We eventually made it inside, after waiting in a long security line and getting our sunscreen confiscated. But once we entered we were literally as far as possible from our assigned seats. We were walking along the main level when we heard a growing roar, chaotic applause, followed by what sounded like a cannon. The unexpected boom definitely activated my startle response but I figured the Titans must have just scored (or we were all about to die). The next time the Titans scored, and we had a clear view of the arena, I discovered that they actually set off fireworks from both ends. 

Unlike Mercedes-Benz arena in Atlanta where the Falcons play (and where we saw UW play Auburn), the Titan’s Nissan Stadium is notably uncovered. It was overcast and in the mid-80s, and although it could have been much worse, I felt slightly-to-moderately overheated throughout. Towards the end of the game we hiked up to the very top section and a nice breeze came through, but I would have preferred some protection from the heat. Jeff definitely would have preferred some protection, as it turned out he got a significant sunburn on the top of his legs and arms. Fortunately he had put some on his face before security made me hand over the sunscreen, but he hadn’t done his usual full-body application. I got a nice tan.


It was fun to be at a game where I didn’t strongly favor one team over the other. Usually when I go to a sporting event I consider one of the teams My Team and obviously prefer them to win. On this occasion I thought, meh, I guess I’ll cheer for Tennessee since we live here now, but the Texans are cool too. I mean, JJ Watt is pretty awesome. Who do the Titans even have? Mariota was out with an injury and he was really the only Tennessee player I could name.

The Titans theme was pretty cool though. Their team colors, logo, mascot, rallying cry etc. were all aesthetically pleasing and pretty bad-ass. The clips they used on the big-screen after getting first downs or scoring looked like images right out of the movie 300. And their “mascot” was a big, totally ripped, dude in Greek-God attire standing behind the end zone. These are all very important considerations in whether or not I decide to like a random team. I’m not sure how directly Tennessee links to Greek mythology… perhaps a bit of a stretch. But it does seem a better sports theme than something regarding country music, so, I guess I’ll let it slide.

The game went down to the wire with the Texans inexplicably blowing a last shot at scoring by scrambling around and letting the game clock expire. The Tennessee fans were happy, but unfortunately, due to the closeness of the game, all remained in the stadium until the very end and clogged up every exit afterwards. Fortunately, the side of the stadium we were on afforded us great views of Cumberland River and downtown Nashville as we slowly shuffled down the long ramp to exit. 


Thus concludes my recap of some of our recent local excursions. I’d say we’re one-and-done on the Goat Days, we’ll definitely return to the Memphis Zoo, and seeing another Titans game is a toss up, maybe if the right deal comes along again. Well, thanks for reading this far, ’til next time…

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