Tune Into Music City
Nashville is a rich mix of Southern culture, fine art, business and education. And, oh yeah, music.
Photo courtesy of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation
Ever popular is The Bluebird Café, a 100-seat, humble “listening room” where mostly unknown songwriters play tunes made famous by others.
You might not realize it, but Nashville is about more than the music.
Make no mistake: country music and its history are embedded in the area. But it doesn’t take much to tune into the city’s real-life rhythm, a rich symphony of much more than pickup trucks, dogs, girlfriends and pontoons.
With more than 20 major colleges and universities and a healthy business climate, Nashville’s cultural side is quite refined. A relative newcomer is the exquisite Frist Center for the Visual Arts, housed in an art deco landmark. The Frist specializes in premier collections that can’t be seen anywhere else because they’re compiled exclusively for the museum.
Also noteworthy is The Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art, 55 acres of lush grounds and an historical mansion turned art museum. This May, renowned British artist Bruce Munro opens a site-specific exhibit at the Cheekwood, marking only the second time his work has been exhibited in the U.S. The large-scale, indoor and outdoor installation, titled Light, will turn the grounds into a dramatic, iridescent landscape. The exhibit runs through November.
There are a number of eclectic small galleries throughout the city, especially within the 5th Avenue Art District, and a visit to Nashville isn’t complete without a view of The Parthenon, the world’s only exact replica of the ancient Greek temple. Inside is a 42-foot gilded Athena, the western hemisphere’s largest indoor statue.
Nashville also is home to a respected ballet company, opera, a repertory theatre, an award-winning symphony housed in the gorgeous Schermerhorn Symphony Center, and opening in May, the grand Music City Center convention space.
Hearth and Home
The South is famous for finer living both past and present, and Nashville has some exceptional estates open to the public.
Belle Meade Plantation is a 160-year-old antebellum home that still bears scars from the Civil War. Although the Greek Revival complex is in excellent condition, columns on the front porch show cannon-fire pockmarks from a battle fought on the front lawn. The Italian villa-inspired Belmont Mansion also boasts expansive grounds and ties to the Civil War: former resident Adelicia Acklen duped both the Union and Confederate armies to get her cotton crop downriver.
Perhaps the most well known home is Andrew Jackson’s The Hermitage. The 1,100-acre antebellum plantation sports mostly original furnishings, even down to the wallpaper in the grand foyer. Jackson and his wife are buried here, and his funeral was held in the mansion.
Boats, Boutiques and Boots
A dip into more Southern history is on the General Jackson Showboat, a grand paddle wheel that cruises the Cumberland River.
The District on 2nd Avenue and Broadway is a quirky row of stores with everything from vintage clothing to endless candy choices. At Hatch’s Show Print, one of the last letterpress print stores in the U.S., you’ll recognize the iconic look of music posters from decades past. Just make sure you mind the cats when you go in and out.
Cowboy boot stores are plentiful. Many shops run three-for-one deals on boots, but be aware that these can be re-purposed boots that might not last your lifetime, as a good pair of boots should.
In season, foodies won’t want to miss the Nashville Farmers’ Market, held near the capitol building. Fresh food is just the start at this exotic market and country fair.
A number of professional sports teams call Nashville home, including an ice hockey team and the Tennessee Titans football team. For a fun day, book a ride on the paddleboat to a football game, brunch and cocktails included.
Last but Not Least
Of course, most tourists first turn to the country music attractions. They are a hoot and a good time worth every bit of their media coverage.
Honky Tonk Row is a few blocks of lower Broadway that squish bar after bar next to each other, with live music from morning until late night. Whether it’s old-time country, bluegrass, acoustic or contemporary country, they’re all here. The quality of the music is across the board excellent. Renowned Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is easy to find with its purple exterior, and the adjacent Legends Corner features vintage album covers and musical instruments from around the world on its walls. Cover charges are rare, so nighttime crowds can be elbow-to-elbow.
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, perhaps Nashville’s most popular tourist attraction, tells the history of country music from roots to current leaders. An excellent Patsy Cline exhibit is on view through June, and always on view are items such as Brad Paisley’s guitar and Taylor Swift’s dress. Don’t miss the additional tour, purchased through the museum, of RCA Studio B on famed Music Row. The staff tells intriguing stories of Elvis, Dolly Parton and more.
The Grand Ole Opry show, still a live radio broadcast, blends the best of new and old country music in a number of shows every week. The Opry’s current home is just a few miles east of downtown, next to the lavish Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. The Opry’s original home, often referred to as “The Mother Church of Country Music,” is the Ryman Auditorium. The historic red brick building still hosts shows by music legends from all genres.
Many visitors enjoy set tours of the city’s attractions and the stars’ homes. There are numerous to choose from, but one unique tour is the sassy, irreverent Nash Trash Tour. Held on a big pink bus, this hilarious tour sells out days in advance.
No matter how you choose to tune in, Nashville will sing to you. It’s just that kind of town.