As my last post indicated, I have been lucky enough to travel throughout the United States and struck up conversations with people from all regions and all walks of life. When I speak, they never fail to ask where I am from. I suppose it is due to my southern accent. Although I live in a suburb, I always say Nashville because most everyone knows where that is. Most everyone has a preconceived notion of it as well. Either, everyone here wears cowboy hats and sings, or everyone here wears cowboy hats and watches Hee Haw. Well, there are plenty of people here who have jobs outside of the music industry. Hee Haw hasn’t been on television in decades. And, the only people I see wearing cowboy hats are the tourists.
Obviously, Nashville, nicknamed Music City, is known far and wide for country music and it has been the driving force behind the city for decades. However, there is more to our fair city than that. It is a cosmopolitan city with a thriving scene built around art, dining, and various forms of entertainment that includes all kinds of music. I have written a couple of posts about places to which I have traveled. Now, I want to tell would be travelers what they may find around here.
What Every Tourist Must Do
People come to Nashville to discover the roots of country music and maybe see somebody famous along the way. The quest needs to begin at the Ryman Auditorium, the mother church of country music, where the Grand Ole Opry was broadcast for decades. The radio show made Nashville the country capital of the world, and a backstage tour of the music hall is essential. Behind the Ryman sits a row of Honky Tonks that have become favorite tourist hangouts. This is where you will see the cowboy hats. Each bar is essentially the same with live music and plenty of alcohol. However, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is the destination for most. It gained fame as the place where Opry performers spent time between sets. Legend has it that Willie Nelson was so despondent about his singing career that he walked out of Tootsie’s and laid in the middle of the street. There are no famous people there now, but it is a fun place to go.
The performers of the past no longer haunt Tootsie’s, but they can be learned about at the Country Music Hall of Fame, a great museum with priceless artifacts. To find singers in their natural habitat, a trip to Music Row is required. If you are lucky, then you may be able to see someone going in or out of a recording session. More than likely, your sightings will only include some giant statues of nudes. However, I have seen more celebrities at Green Hills Mall, an upscale shopping destination, than anywhere else.
Being a historian, I must mention some locations that do not involve history. Nashville was prominent city long before the music industry existed, and several historic sites reflect this. The first would be the Hermitage, home to President Andrew Jackson. It is a good place to learn about one of our most powerful presidents and of life in the south before the Civil War. A second would be the Belle Meade plantation. Like the Hermitage, it is a pre-Civil War home with a distinction. Every Triple Crown winning horse is descended from a horse on the plantation. Our legislature, in its infinite wisdom, outlawed gambling and drove the thriving thoroughbred industry to Kentucky.
What the Locals Do
Nashville residents like live music as much as tourists do, but it may not be country or at Tootsie’s. There are several options that locals enjoy.
The Bluebird is pseudo-touristy and fun. Songwriters sit in the round; talk about their songs; and play them. Plenty of alcohol is served, but it is more of a classroom atmosphere as talking is not allowed. It is an intimate setting of the true music industry.
Sambuca, in the Gulch, is one of my favorites. A restaurant but more bar, it has a live bands of different genres throughout the week.
Bourbon Street Blues Club sits in Printer’s Alley, an area with a history of underworld mystique. For good blues and fabulous guitar playing, this is a great place to go.
However, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center is my favorite place to listen to music. A state of the art music hall, it is home to the Nashville Symphony and hosts performers, both classical and otherwise, from all over the world.
Of course, Nashville has a lot of watering holes where live music is not played, but they are cool hangouts nonetheless. Many of these are located in Midtown. Losers. Winners. Broadway Brewhouse. South Street. The list goes on and one. Taylor Swift also lives in the area, so a sighting could take place.
Up the street, there are other great hangouts such as Tin Roof and Whiskey Kitchen.
What Locals Do for Non-Music Entertainment
Obviously, man cannot live on music and liquor alone, and Nashville provides other forms of diversion as well. Small art galleries dot the city map, but the Frist Center remains the center of Nashville’s art community. Housed in the old post office, it hosts collections from the best museums in the world. Cheekwood Mansion also hosts artistic and historical collections and currently houses an exhibition of western artifacts from the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum.
Nashville is also home to many parks, the most famous of which is Centennial Park. Created during the city’s centennial celebration, it is home to an exact replica of the Parthenon in Greece. Why is the Parthenon in Nashville? Because the city has another nickname, Athens of the South, due to the number of universities in the area.
However, for a really good time, go to the Belcourt Theater, an old movie house that has been refurbished. It now serves as a viewing room for independent films, documentaries and movie classics. Also, there is a stage for intimate musical performances by some very famous people.
Where the Locals Eat
Visitors to Nashville can always eat at the Hard Rock Cafe, Margaritaville, or Cracker Barrel, which was founded in my hometown. However, to get a true taste of the city people should branch out. The following are a few of my favorites.
Bricktop’s – Americana food with a little flair. It is a great local hangout with a cool bar.
Virago – The best sushi in the city and a porch/bar with a great view of downtown.
Tayst - Serves organic food produced by local farmers. The best dish is the bread pudding made from a Krispy Kreme doughnut.
Rotier’s – Legend says that Jimmy Buffett wrote “Cheeseburger in Paradise” about this place. Enough said.
Pancake Pantry – Nashville’s favorite breakfast spot. Be ready to stand in line.
Eastland Cafe – Americana food with a lot of flair.
I Dream of Weenie – Any kind of hot dog you want served out of a 1960s mini-van.
There you have it – a guide to the Nashville experience from a person who has been around Nashville all of his life. Nashville has changed a lot in my lifetime, and it keeps changing for the better. Everyone is always welcome, and they can even bring their cowboy hats if they want.