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BUT SERIOUSLY, FOLKS! Football, Corn from a Jar … and Legal Fees
My daughter, a/k/a her Royal Highness the Princess, is now a rising high school senior trying to figure out where she wants to go to college. She recently broke the news to me that she is considering applying to Vanderbilt. As a proud graduate of the University of Tennessee (Bachelor of Conservative Arts, 1975), I quickly responded, “Well, Princess, if you want to go to a football school, apply to Vanderbilt. But if you want to pursue academic excellence, apply to the University of Tennessee.”
When I applied to the University of Tennessee in the fall of 1969, to get admitted, you just had to have a vaccination…and they would waive that if you looked healthy.
But in recent years, the University of Tennessee has dramatically raised its academic standards. If you don’t believe it, just watch the Tennessee Volunteers play football this fall. Clearly, the Tennessee team is comprised of very bright students who excel in the classroom, but not on the football field.
The world has been turned upside down. The bright scholars from the University of Tennessee are now hoping to someday beat Vanderbilt in football again.
On Aug. 31, more than 100,000 Tennessee fans will pack Neyland Stadium to watch the orange-clad student-athletes play Austin Peay. This may be the only game this fall in which the Vols are favored.
But win or lose, the highlight of the Volunteers’ opening football game will take place just moments before the kickoff when 100,000 fans will rise as one and join the Pride of the Southland band in singing Tennessee’s unofficial fight song, “Rocky Top.” (Tennessee’s official fight song is “Down the Field,” which we stole from Yale, but that’s another story.)
Most Tennessee fans do not know all the words to “Rocky Top.” In fact, most of us Vols fans just know the chorus:
Rocky Top, you’ll always be
Home sweet home to me!
Good … ol’ … Rocky Top (WOO!)
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Some Vol fans only know one word in the song, the gratuitous “WOO!” I say “gratuitous,” because the word “WOO” is not actually found in the lyrics of “Rocky Top.” It is something exuberant Vols fans have thrown into the song over the years, probably because when they are singing, they are usually inebriated.
While your typical Vol football fan will sing “Rocky Top” 20 or 30 times during each Tennessee football game, few fans ever sing the second or third verses of the song. This is too bad, because they really are quite interesting. They deal with a subject that, to my knowledge, is not dealt with in any other college football fight song, specifically … moonshine.
The second verse of “Rocky Top” goes like this:
Once two strangers climbed ol’ Rocky Top, lookin’ for a moonshine still
Strangers ain’t come down from Rocky Top
Reckon they never will!
And then the third verse reiterates the moonshine theme:
Corn won’t grow at all on Rocky Top
Dirt’s too rocky by far
That’s why all the folks on Rocky Top
Get their corn from a jar!
The fact that over half the lyrics to “Rocky Top” are dedicated to moonshine shows just how important the illegal white whiskey is to the Volunteer State.
First, moonshine has always been important to the people of Tennessee, particularly poor ones who often have a hard time scratching out a living. Yes, making and selling moonshine has long been illegal in most parts of Tennessee, but as a client of mine once confided in me, “Mr. Haltom, I’m as honest as the times will allow!”
Second, moonshine has always been extremely important to us Tennessee lawyers. A lot of criminal defense attorneys in this state have made a good living defending moonshiners. You say crime doesn’t pay? Well, it sure pays for lawyers when the crime involves moonshine!
Third, moonshine has been very important to the people of Tennessee in that it has provided some southern comfort to poor folks who can’t afford a French Bordeaux, a Napa Valley sauvignon, or a Lynchburg Jack Daniels.
Accordingly, when 100,000 Vols fans in Neyland Stadium croon “Rocky Top,” they aren’t just singing in support of their football team. They are singing in tribute to one of the great natural resources of the Volunteer State, moonshine!
But when 100,000 of my closest orange-clad friends and I gather at Neyland Stadium on Aug. 31, we should belt out “Rocky Top” stronger than ever, and we should definitely sing all four verses. Why? Simple. Tennessee moonshine is stronger than ever, and I’m not just talking about in terms of 50-percent alcohol content. According to a recent article in Time, the demand for Tennessee moonshine is booming, and it’s not just coming from strangers who climb old Rocky Top. Thirsty people from all over America are now trying to get their hands on Tennessee moonshine. Indeed, Appalachian moonshine has become one of the fastest-growing categories in the spirits industry.
According to Time, more than 130,000 cases of moonshine were sold in 2012, much of it totally legal. The Ole Smokey Moonshine Distillery in Gatlinburg sold more than 100,000 cases of moonshine last year. The Short Mountain Distillery in Woodbury is also shipping bottles (or jars) of “Short Mountain Shine” all over the country.
In some states you can now buy Tennessee moonshine in Wal-Mart, Kroger, and the Piggly-Wiggly. Of course, in Tennessee, you can’t even buy Sunshine whiskey in a grocery store since the legal venues of all such sales are exclusively liquor stores.
It is, however, good to know that Tennessee moonshine is now being bought at Wal-Marts, Jitney Jungles, and Sack O’ Suds across America. This could provide a whole new meaning to the word “revenuers.”
And so, my fellow Vols fans, when we gather at Neyland Stadium on Aug. 31 for the big game against Austin Peay, let’s raise our glasses, or more accurately our jars, not just to the Volunteers, but to Tennessee moonshine, that wonderful concoction that has generated legal bills for decades.
I’m absolutely confident that someday our Vols will beat Vanderbilt in football again. Until then, we Vols fans should remain in high spirits. As thirsty Tennesseans have said for generations every time they have taken a sip from a jar, “WOO!”
Bill Haltom is a partner with the Memphis firm of Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell. He is past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is a past president of the Memphis Bar Association.
“Rocky Top” © 1967 House of Bryant Publications, written by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant. Lyrics used by permission of publisher.