There’s upbeat, downbeat, and heart beat in the “The Music City” of Nashville.
There’s even street beat, with music-pulsing speakers at some intersections in this lyrical mecca that is home for more than 25,000 published songwriters.
And whether you prefer the spirit of Johnny Cash or Johnnie Walker, Nashville can deliver, with lots of good food, history, fashion, and art, too— all accompanied by a live soundtrack.
On any Saturday night, you can go from clapping at the famous Grand Ole Opry (the world’s longest-running radio show), to stamping feet at Honky Tonk bars, and then on to watch some retro-Burlesque at Skulls in the famous Printer’s Alley. When you wake up Sunday morning, you can head to the Troubadour Theater for Cowboy Church, with Joanne Cash (Johnny’s sister) singing for the Lord with her husband-preacher giving a short upbeat sermon.
I did all that after some jam–packed (including musical jams) weekdays and nights that included:
THE BLUE BIRD CAFÉ
Diners and drinkers sit around live music nightly and witness the creative process, as songwriters try out new material and performers test new approaches. Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Trisha Yearwood, Faith Hill, and Bruce Gill are just some of the musicians who credit the Blue Bird Café with part of their musical happiness.
The night I was there, James Slater, Wynn Varble, JT Harding, and Chris DeStefano entertained us with both their tried-and-true crowd-pleasers, their new riffs and rhymes, jokes and behind-the-scenes tales.
THE COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM
This 350,000 square-foot celebration of music includes the country greats you would expect, as well as exhibits for Bob Dylan and other 60s and 70s legends who helped make Nashville a center of recording. This downtown magnet offers beautiful overviews of Nashville as well as its aural history. In this interactive and engaging space, you can speak out and sing out.
You can also record yourself! Head into the Taylor Swift Educational Center, find an empty booth and mike, and sing along with a famous recording. Then, hear what it sounds like with the famous singer’s voice dropped out, leaving only your voice and the original music-mix.
Known as the “Mother Church of Country Music” the Ryman is worth a visit as a National Historic Landmark that is still making history. People have sat on the wooden pews for decades, enjoying talents from Caruso and Kathryn Hepburn to Patsy Cline and Bruce Springsteen. The first sell-out performance was for Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan back in 1913. Recently the pews were packed for venues from author Steven King to the band Mudcrutch. History exhibits with famous narrators show and tell how the Ryman went from church to show-time with Lulu C. Naff, a heroine fit for a Hollywood movie.
MORE MUSIC MOJO
You want more music lore? Tour the oldest recording studio in Nashville – RCA’s Studio B – on the famed Music Row. Stand in the room where Elvis Presley sang more than 250 songs and where Dolly Parton, Roy Orbison, and the Everly Brothers recorded their hits. Then head out to the other museums that can set your foot tapping—the Johnny Cash Museum, George Jones Museum, and Musician’s Hall of Fame and Museum. You can also sign up for song-writing workshops or add to your vinyl collection at the historic Third Man Records.
Nashville also boasts a symphony hall designed for soaring acoustics. The Schermerhorn Symphony Center enjoys standing ovations inside its renovated neoclassical revivalist walls.
Nashville is growing fast and creating more rooms for guests seemingly by the minute. Brand hotels like the Hilton and Marriott accommodate guests comfortably and conveniently. For something more memorable, the Union Station is historic and The Preston is unique with velvet patterns in the elevator and original art on the walls.
The Nashville Visitor’s Center outshines most city centers and is a good place to catch the Grayline Trolley Tour of Nashville Neighborhoods, an air-conditioned bus tour that is a relaxing way to get a sense of past and present from Nashville’s sports venues, to famous homes, to its very own Parthenon, as a sister city to Athens.
A walking tour of downtown Nashville is a more energetic, but also more engaging way to hear the gossip and gospel of city history, and literally to walk in the steps of the great and quirky. You can hear the tale about how Jack Daniels reached from his grave to get even with a major prohibitionist on the actual site of the city capital. You can also see where the first major desegregation took place downtown.
AND DON’T FORGET
Nashville is now popping with art studios and galleries. The Frist Center for Visual Arts is a compelling institution for those who hear with their eyes. The museum is continually changing exhibits of diverse arts from other top notch museums, since it hosts no permanent collections of its own. The Tennessee State Museum is also a worthy stop for those who like to see their way through time.
There are bourbon and whiskey and food tours in Nashville, a city with rows of restaurants, and hip neighborhoods dedicated to eating and drinking like 12th Avenue South. Peg Leg Porker is a savory example of the great BBQ available. Jack Daniels Distillery, Corsair Distillery, and Nelson’s Green Briar are all places to toast the tunes of the city and tones of good spirits.
President Andrew Jackson’s home Hermitage offers a sense of time travel when you saunter the grounds and vintage rooms Walking through the gardens of the Belle Meade Plantation, we entered the fanciest stables I had ever seen. This place is famous for being a stud farm that claims lineage for War Admiral, Sea Biscuit, and other top winners.
A woman was carefully setting lovely glasses on a beautiful table in one of the stalls converted for a dining event. I found out she was a newly anointed “Som” – that’s short for Sommelier, a person who has passed rigorous tests to be able to recommend wines. She was just one of the surprises I loved about Nashville. The best surprise was perhaps the last one, before I headed to the airport.
My last day, after hearing Cash sing to the heavens in Cowboy Church, I wanted to see a bit of Sunday in the famous Downtown Presbyterian Church, where both Andrew Jackson and President Polk had prayed. The grand organ sat silent amidst the memorable “Egyptian” style architecture and décor.
I was there between services, but as a volunteer guide led me down a spiral staircase from the choir loft, she showed me the thick rope that rang the big bells up in the tower. I looked at her inquiringly, and she said “Sure,” then quickly added as I pulled the rope down vigorously, “Don’t forget to let go!”
I did just that as the rope started to lift me off the ground, and the bells rang out over Nashville!
Cultural Traveler Lisa TE Sonne has two books coming out this summer that you can co-author—THE GREAT OUTDOORS: Nature’s Bucket List and BIKE LONDON: A Journal, both from Quartos Publishing. She sent WatchBOOM this story before heading to Cuba on one of the first cruises allowed from the US in decades. She thanks Nashville for inviting her to visit.
© Lisa TE Sonne
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