If you go
(All addresses in Nashville, Tennessee)
Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.: One Nashville Place, 150 Fourth Ave. N., Suite G-250; visitmusiccity.com, 615-259-4700, 800-657-6910.
Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center: 2800 Opryland Drive; gaylordopryland.com, 615-889-1000. Rates from $174.
Hotel Indigo Nashville: 301 Union St.; hotelindigo.com, 615-891-6000. Rates from $139.
Omni Hotels & Resorts Nashville: 250 Fifth Ave. S.; omnihotels.com, 615-782-5300. Rates from $269.
Union Station Hotel: 1001 Broadway; unionstationhotelnashville.com, 615-726-1001. Rates from $174.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS
Chauhan Ale & Masala House: 123 12th Ave. N.; chauhannashville.com, 615-242-8426. Lunch Sunday to Friday, dinner every day. Moderate.
5th & Taylor: 1411 Fifth Ave. N.; 5thandtaylor.com, 615-242-4747. Dinner Monday to Saturday, brunch Sunday. Moderate.
Frothy Monkey: 2509 12th Ave. S.; frothymonkey.com, 615-292-1808. Three meals every day. Moderate.
Hattie B’s: 5209 Charlotte Ave.; hattieb.com, 615-712-7137. Lunch every day, dinner Monday to Saturday. Budget.
Husk Restaurant: 37 Rutledge St.; husknashville.com, 615-256-6565. Lunch and dinner every day. Moderate to expensive.
Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint: 410 Fourth Ave. S.; martinsbbqjoint.com, 615-288-0880. Lunch and dinner every day. Budget to moderate.
Merchants: 410 Broadway; merchantsrestaurant.com, 615-254-1892. Lunch Monday to Saturday, dinner every day. Moderate.
The Bluebird Cafe: 4104 Hillsboro Road; bluebirdcafe.com, 615-393-1461.
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum: 222 Fifth Ave. S.; countrymusichalloffame.org, 615-416-2001.
Exit/In: 2208 Elliston Place; exitin.com, 615-891-1781.
George Jones Museum: 128 Second Ave. N.; georgejonesmuseum.com, 615-818-0128.
Grand Ole Opry: 2804 Opryland Drive; opry.com, 615-889-3060 or 615-871-6779.
Historic RCA Studio B: 1611 Roy Acuff Place (Music Row); studiob.org, 615-416-2001. Tours depart from Country Music Hall of Fame.
Johnny Cash Museum: 119 Third Ave. S.; johnnycashmuseum.net, 615-256-1777.
Legends Corner: 428 Broadway; legendscorner.com, 615-248-6334.
Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum: 401 Gay St.; musicianshalloffame.com, 615-244-3263.
Robert’s Western World: 416 Broadway; robertswesternworld.com, 615-244-9552.
Ryman Auditorium: 116 Fifth Ave. N.; ryman.com, 615-889-3060.
Schermerhorn Symphony Center: 1 Symphony Place; nashvillesymphony.org, 615-687-6500.
Station Inn: 402 12th Ave. S.; stationinn.com, 615-255-3307.
Third Man Records: 623 Seventh Ave. S.; thirdmanrecords.com, 615-891-4343.
Tootsies Orchid Lounge: 422 Broadway; tootsies.net, 615-726-0463.
Belle Meade Plantation: 5025 Harding Pike; bellemeadeplantation.com, 615-356-0501, 800-270-3991.
Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Art Museum: 1200 Forrest Park Drive; cheekwood.org, 615-356-8000.
Corsair Distillery: 1200 Clinton St.; www.corsairdistillery.com, 615-200-0320.
The Frist Center for the Visual Arts: 919 Broadway; fristcenter.org, 615-744-3340.
Hatch Show Print: 224 Fifth Ave. S.; hatchshowprint.com, 615-577-7710.
The Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson: 4580 Rachel’s Lane; thehermitage.com, 615-889-2941.
Nashville Craft Distillery: 500 Hagan St.; nashvillecraft.com, 615-916-0042.
The Parthenon: Centennial Park, West End and 25th avenues; parthenon.org, 615-862-8431.
Tennessee State Museum: 505 Dearderick St.; tnmuseum.org, 615-741-2692.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. —
The heart of this city of 680,000, not six blocks from the Tennessee State Capitol building, is a strip of former warehouses that has become known as Honky-Tonk Row.
Better known to locals as Lower Broad, the Row’s brick buildings are packed cheek-to-jowl along Broadway between Fourth and Fifth avenues. Every night of the year, the neon-lit bars swarm with partyers who come to drink, dance and enjoy live music that ranges from country to rock, blues to bluegrass.
Tucked just behind Honky-Tonk Row, the Ryman Auditorium, “Mother Church of Country Music,” continues to welcome the Grand Ole Opry radio broadcast (as it has done since 1925) and scores of other concert performances. The brilliant Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is a couple of blocks south. Across the city are small cafes and clubs that have been welcoming musicians for decades — some of them household names, a majority of them aspiring songwriters just glad to get a toehold on a gig.
Nashville is widely known as Music City, USA. Yet a great deal of the musical activity goes on behind closed doors. The city is as much a center for the business of music as for the performance of music. In suburban neighborhoods from East Nashville to Germantown, Belmont to the West End, singer-songwriters struggle in tiny home studios with melodies, lyrics and promotion. Their dream is to sell to the record companies that flourish on Music Row, along with music-licensing firms, publishing houses, radio stations and recording studios.
Indeed, although the Academy of Country Music will be presenting its annual awards in Las Vegas on Sunday, Nashville is where many of its talented performers cut their musical teeth.
While the city of Nashville certainly has attractions beyond music — a presidential mansion, historic plantations, botanical gardens, art museums and a full-sized reproduction of Greece’s Parthenon — the best reason I know for a brief visit is to immerse one’s self in the music.
A great introduction may be found at the Nashville Visitor Center adjacent to Bridgestone Arena, home to the National Hockey League’s Nashville Predators, in the heart of downtown. Ask to see a new documentary film, “For the Love of Music: The Story of Nashville.” It will walk you through a history that began with famous fiddler Davy Crockett (the frontiersman and congressman) and the Fisk Jubilee Singers, freed slaves who performed in England for Queen Victoria in the 19th century.
“The perception that (Nashville) is only country music couldn’t be further from the truth,” the film asserts. Indeed, contemporary artists as diverse as Sheryl Crow, Miley Cyrus, Michael McDonald, Keb’ Mo’, The Black Keys and the Kings of Leon call the city home. Of course, the country roster is even more extensive — Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Brad Paisley, Alan Jackson, Keith Urban and Wynonna Judd, to name but a few.
At the Visitor Center, consider equipping your mobile device with the Nashville Live Music Guide app, which identifies any location that offers live music four times a week or more. Then stroll to the corner of Fifth Avenue and Demonbreun Street to the Music City Walk of Fame Park, where granite stones inscribed with names and guitars remember contributors to the local scene.
Across Demonbreun is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, a stunning three-story showcase for the stars of this very American musical genre with an 800-seat theater. Gold and platinum records line the walls of several galleries, while bronze images of many performers are enshrined with notations on their career highlights.
A core exhibit, “Sing Me Back Home,” circles the mezzanine and includes original recordings, photographs and artifacts that document the folk roots of country music. Current (temporary) exhibits feature the band Alabama, the Zac Brown Band, Charlie Daniels and Brad Paisley. Younger visitors are often attracted by the hands-on activities of the Taylor Swift Education Center. The historic Hatch Show Print workshop, a letterpress operation founded in 1879, sells replica concert posters going back before Elvis Presley.
My favorite exhibit, one that’s been extended through this year, is called “Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City.” Looking back 50 years at Bob Dylan’s decision to record in Nashville with local studio musicians, the exhibit recounts how his friendship with Johnny Cash helped to bridge a cultural gap between old-school country music and a new generation of songwriters. Such renowned artists as Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez, Paul Simon, Neil Young and even The Beatles were among those who grew musically through their exposure to Nashville.
Cash has his own memorabilia collection, the Johnny Cash Museum, near Honky-Tonk Row. So, too, does George Jones, in a nearby stretch of small clubs known as The District. Exhibits and films in both small museums balance the artists’ personal challenges with considerable successes.
I especially enjoyed the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum, and not only because it allowed me the opportunity to take the stage and sing “Hit the Road, Jack” with former “American Idol” semifinalist Ethan Harris, who was working there part time. The exhibits here extended well beyond country music, acknowledging the contributions of studio musicians along with stars in creating post-World War II popular music. It was a bit of a thrill to see the piano on which Elton John created many of his hits.
I was fortunate to visit the Ryman twice, once for the Saturday-night recording of the Grand Ole Opry, another time for a concert that featured husband-and-wife Vince Gill and Amy Grant, along with Martina McBride. Since opening as a tabernacle 125 years ago, in 1892, the 2,362-seat Ryman has been acclaimed for its exceptional acoustics by everyone from Theodore Roosevelt, who spoke here, and Charlie Chaplin, who portrayed his “Little Tramp.” Now a National Historic Landmark, the Ryman has seen musicians from Patsy Cline and Elvis Presley to Bruce Springsteen. The Who’s Roger Daltrey called it, “the best bloody place for a musician to play in the whole world!”
Just a couple of blocks away, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center opened in 2006 as the home to the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. Neoclassical Revivalist in style, it is one of the only major concerts halls in North American to utilize natural light. Symphony conductor Jeff Tyzik is considered one of the country’s leading pops conductors.
Nashville’s oldest recording studio, RCA’s Studio B, is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. Situated on Music Row, it’s now owned by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, from where tours depart. A visit is well worth it. Beginning in 1957, more than 35,000 songs were recorded in this fabled space, including Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Roy Orbison’s “Crying” and Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” Elvis’ keyboards are here — the 1942 Steinway has never left the room — with his soundboard and the King’s own music charts.
You can still record today at Third Man Records, a venture of Jack White and two partners. (White is the “third man.”) First launched in White’s hometown of Detroit in 2001 and in Nashville in 2009, this is more than a record store: It is a lounge, photo studio, distribution center, label office and home to the Blue Room, said to be the only place in the world where artists can record their music direct to an acetate disc.
Athens of the South
There are plenty of other attractions in this wide-ranging city, quite apart from 68,800-seat Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans of the National Football League. Sitting beside the slow-flowing Cumberland River, and connected to downtown via the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge, this is now the venue where former star Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota plays his home games. Perhaps someday, Mariota will rate at least a passing mention in exhibits at the Tennessee State Museum, which will move next year to a spectacular new space near the Capitol Mall.
Nashville’s finest art museum is The Frist Center for the Visual Arts. Ensconced for 15 years in the city’s former Post Office building, built in 1933 in Art Deco style, it is an educational facility as well as an exhibition center. Though it lacks a permanent collection, the 24,000-square-foot building brings in a constant selection of visual arts, from painting to film. These currently include Buddhist art from East Asia, historical fashion photography by the late Irving Penn, and three-dimensional works by Irish artist Claire Morgan.
The Parthenon, built in Centennial Park for the 1897 World’s Fair, houses a 41-foot replica of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and the tallest indoor structure in the Western world. Docent-led tours circle through a basement area with four fine-art galleries of American art.
East of the city is Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, home of the seventh president of the United States. Built in 1821 as a Federal-style brick home, it was enlarged 10 years later in Greek Revival style and helped to foster Nashville’s reputation — underscored by the Parthenon — as the “Athens of the South.” The Hermitage is a National Historic Landmark with more than 30 buildings on its sprawling, 1,120-acre grounds, including a museum and visitor center from which tours of the mansion begin.
Southwest of the city center are the Belle Meade Plantation and Cheekwood Botanical Garden. Belle Meade, an 1853 Greek Revival mansion, is renowned as a thoroughbred stud farm: Kentucky Derby winners like Seabiscuit, War Admiral and Smarty Jones all traced their lineage from here. Cheekwood has 55 acres of gardens, including a sculpture garden, and an art museum with a range of contemporary and decorative arts.
Sleep and eat
Among Nashville’s best-known addresses is the Gaylord Opryland Resort, its 900 acres surrounded by a giant oxbow loop in the Cumberland River.
About 10 minutes’ drive north of the international airport, and 20 minutes east of downtown, the Marriott property has 9 acres of gardens, with cascading waterfalls, under a climate-controlled roof. There are indoor and outdoor pools, a full-service spa, a golf course, multiple restaurants and lounges, and much more.
Two other terrific hotels in downtown Nashville are the Omni Hotel, which is directly connected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Union Station Hotel, which occupies a renovated 19th-century train depot.
There are fine restaurants in Nashville, of course, including Husk, a farm-to-fork Southern-style restaurant just east of downtown, and 5th & Taylor, offering gourmet American fare in the city’s oldest residential neighborhood, Germantown. Try the beer-can chicken or the pork four ways.
Hattie B’s is renowned for its spicy fried chicken; the Frothy Monkey is a former coffee shop in the hip 12 South district that now serves three meals every day; the Chauhan Ale & Masala House has found a way to blend Southern food with the native Indian cuisine of its owner-chef; and Merchants is a mainstay of Honky-Tonk Row.
I’m especially fond of Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, just around the corner from the Omni. Whole sides of pork are pit-barbecued, smoked for six to 24 hours and served with all the fixin’s — crispy okra fries, deviled eggs, catfish fingers — in an indoor-outdoor restaurant with TVs to show almost any game you might want.
There are a couple of excellent craft distilleries in the light-industrial Wedgewood Houston (“WeHo”) neighborhood southeast of downtown. Nashville Craft Distillery owner Bruce Boeko, a former forensic biologist, introduced me to his Naked Biscuit, made from sorghum syrup. And at the Corsair Distillery, founder Darek Bell, the author of two books on whiskey-making techniques, offered an unusual range of spirits, from pumpkin-spice moonshine to a quinoa whiskey made with red and white grains from South America.
Many of the music clubs in Nashville’s outlying neighborhoods date back decades. The West End’s Exit/In, for instance, was a hangout as early as the late 1960s for Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, John Prine and Jerry Jeff Walker.
Garth Brooks was an unknown country crooner when he played The Bluebird Cafe, established in 1982 in the Green Hills neighborhood. That’s where I enjoyed the poetic lyrics and gentle folk-inflected tunes of Mississippi-born Charlie Mars, whose fame has yet to achieve that of his ex-girlfriend, actress Mary-Louise Parker. Two nights later, at the Station Inn in the close-in Gulch district, six Carolina women playing bluegrass as Sister Sadie gave me one of the best concerts I’ve ever heard.
But it seems all music in Nashville begins and ends on Honky-Tonk Row. Clubs like the venerable Tootsies Orchid Lounge, Robert’s Western World and Legends Corner keep music fans of all ages excited every night of the week. I don’t know the names of the bands I heard, but whether they were covering classic rock, mimicking Hank Williams or offering originals, I liked every one.
— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at email@example.com .
Next week: The Oregon Vortex