Nashville is Music City – and it’s not all about country
Irene Thomas loves the vibe in Nashville and found the ‘country’ inside her at the Honky Tonks
Guitar-shaped fly swatters and fingernail clippers? Morning coffee breaks with live music – during the week? Songwriters singing their songs made famous by top performing artists, right in front of you? You’ll find it all in Nashville– jazz, blues, classical, bluegrass, rock and roll and gospel. And yes, you’ll find the world’s best country music too, with such a range that even non-aficionados will find something they like. From Johnny Cash to Jimi Hendrix to Little Richard to Carrie Underwood, Nashville has been and is host to a dizzying array of musical performers and styles.
It’s not all about music, either. This friendly, well-planned city offers a wide variety of visual art as well, delightfully eclectic neighborhoods for shopping and dining, some of the nation’s finest universities and a host of museums. Take the Grayline of Nashville trolley tour for a perfect way to get situated.
Nashville has been a center for musicians and songwriters for decades, perhaps most notably observed at its top attraction, the Grand Ole Opry, the world’s longest running live radio show. The Opry, considered the showcase of country music, had its home from 1943 until 1974 at the famed and beautiful Ryman Auditorium. With its incredible acoustics and stellar talent lineup (such as Mae West, Bob Hope and Katherine Hepburn, along with country legends Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Dottie West,) the auditorium was known as ‘Carnegie Hall of the South’. The Ryman, lovingly restored in 1994 with its magnificent 100-year-old oak pews intact, is a National Historic Landmark now operating as a museum and premier concert venue (check the website for upcoming concerts and to make reservations). For your guide ask for Buddy, an old-timer working at the Ryman since its golden years, with a thick-as-molasses Tennessee accent and folksy stories. To Buddy, everyone was either a “fine fella” or a “sweet little lady” and just to forewarn you, in Buddytalk, the Ryman is on “Fith Ah nu” (Fifth Avenue.)
In 1974, the Opry moved from the Ryman to a new, larger facility at the heart of a multi-million-dollar entertainment complex nine miles from downtown Nashville. Take in a show yourself at the Opry, which opens to the public on Friday, Saturday and Tuesday evenings. Prices vary and it is best to make reservations.
Move on to the state-of-the-art, US$37 million Country Hall of Fame and Museum, and plan to spend a good three hours to see and hear it all. Membership in the Hall of Fame is country music’s highest honor. After, take the free shuttle to the Hall of Fame’s Studio B, located on historic Music Row. The city’s oldest recording studio is where Elvis sang his Are You Lonesome Tonight and Roy Orbison belted out Only the Lonely, along with hundreds of other top hits. Stroll in the intimate studio under the same rainbow lights that shone over the legends.
More music, of a whole different arena, is heard in the glorious Schermerhorn Symphony Center, a neoclassical revivalist concert hall opened in 2006. This gorgeous hall offers some of the finest acoustics in the country in one of the most beautiful venues in the world. A bonus is the excellent on-site restaurant, steps from the hall.
Steps from the Schermerhorn Center, join in unparalleled Nashville fun at the ‘honky tonks,’ a handful of which are all in a row on Broadway. These play-for-tip joints are where some of the biggest country stars started out. In fact, a 1949 Look Magazine article referred to some of the honky-tonk musicians as “virtuoso hillbillies.” At Robert’s Western World you’ll fit in fine with the local crowd and can enjoy a down-home US$5 meal package of a fried bologna sandwich, Pabst Blue Ribbon and a goo-goo cluster or moon pie (Tennessee confections for which you DON’T want to know the calorie counts.) The honky-tonks have no cover charge and are open from about 10am until 3am.
Another of Nashville’s special musical treasures is the Bluebird Café, one of the world’s most renowned ‘listening rooms,’ where songwriters have their own performance space. This cosy in-the-round club is where you might near a future Garth Brooks (he was discovered here) or you might hear the writer who authored Brooks’ or other stars’ songs. The Bluebird is extremely popular and only has 20 tables open for reservations – with none available for most Mondays’ Open Mic nights or Sundays’ Writers’ Nights.
Whether it’s to enjoy music, art, history or some of the nation’s top cuisine, Nashville offers it all. Founded as a fort in 1779, Music City was home to two U.S. presidents, the site of Civil War battles, host of the 1897 World’s Fair and is the quintessential antebellum Southern city with lavish prewar mansions and architecture still intact. The Nashville area offers a vivid portrait of a bygone era that is still making history.
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