Every city has a heartbeat – that one aspect of the city that embodies its character. Visitors to Nashville will have no trouble tapping into this Tennessee city’s heartbeat – it is music; and Nashville proudly celebrates its musical heritage in a variety of ways. From iconic venues, comprehensive museums and guided tours, to the rousing honky tonks on Broadway, music is front and center in Nashville.
Because our recent visit to “Music City” was our first, we took the Music City Hop sightseeing tour offered by Gray Line, which gave us an excellent introduction to the city, its neighborhoods, and its musical icons. The tour, which includes 15 hop-off/hop-on stops, provides a wealth of information about Nashville.
An iconic venue
Armed with a good orientation from our Gray Line tour guide, we set out to experience Nashville’s heartbeat. First stop – the self-proclaimed “Soul of Nashville,” the Ryman Auditorium. The building’s stellar line-up of talent and amazing acoustics earned it recognition as the “Carnegie Hall of the South.” But in 1943 when the Ryman’s manager decided to rent out the auditorium for a live radio show on Saturday nights, the music world was forever altered.
This local radio show, the Grand Ole Opry, gave the building nationwide recognition as the “Mother Church of Country Music.” The Opry’s musical review held court at the Ryman from 1943 until 1974, when the need for a larger venue initiated its move to its current home, the Grand Ole Opry House. After a period of abandonment and the threat of demolition, the Ryman opened in 1994 following a major renovation. The famed auditorium once again welcomed an impressive line-up of performances and continues to draw the best from the music world to its stage. Visitors to the Ryman can take the Guided Backstage Tour or a self-guided tour and learn why this building remains “historically cool since 1892.”
Seeking the “Nashville sound”
After visiting this revered venue, we were excited to take in some of the city’s live music. We started with a visit to lower Broadway, the area affectionately called Honky Tonk Row. Awash in neon lights and pulsing with live music, the saloons and cafes beckon anyone seeking the “Nashville sound.” Places like Legends Corner (the bar where Keith Urban was discovered), Tootsies Orchid Lounge, Tin Roof Broadway, The Stage, and Honky Tonk Central feature multiple live bands, many starting as early as 11:00 in the morning.
The Wildhorse Saloon is another great venue for live music. The Wildhorse has the perfect ingredients for a great night in Nashville – top musicians, the largest dance floor in Tennessee, free line dance lessons offered each night, and some great southern cuisine. Try their famous fried pickles, which can be ordered hot or mild.
A first-time visit to Nashville should include one of the city’s legendary shows – the Grand Ole Opry. The Opry, which is broadcast live on 650 AM WSM radio, presents eight or more artists on each show, offering a sample of each artist’s music. Be sure to take a Backstage Tour of the Opry House to get an exciting, behind-the-scenes look at this legendary country music venue.
With over 160 clubs and venues that feature live music, Nashville will have whatever kind of music you’re looking for, whether it’s blues, rock, bluegrass, singer-songwriter, classical or country. Nashville’s music may have its roots in country, but its legacy reflects a wide range of music.
Nashville’s musical archives
In addition to live music, another way to immerse yourself in the music scene is by visiting some of the museums and attractions that help preserve Nashville’s musical legacy. Foremost among these is the “Smithsonian of country music,” the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Numerous interactive exhibits, artifacts, and vintage video present the history and sounds of country music, its origins and traditions. We also recommend the Historic RCA Studio B Tour, Music City’s only studio tour, which gives a fascinating, first-hand look at one of “the cradles of the Nashville Sound.” The tour provides transportation from the Country Music Hall of Fame and includes a narrated drive around famed Music Row. Be sure to take a few minutes to visit the Music City Walk of Fame Park located directly across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame. The park pays tribute to those from all genres of music who have made an impact on Nashville’s music industry.
If you are, like us, fans of the “man in black,” you’ll love the Johnny Cash Museum. Exhibits include numerous historical documents, letters, awards, costumes and instruments, as well as interactive technology, to give an in-depth look into the prolific songwriter’s life.
For anyone seeking a deeper look into the music industry, a visit to the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum is a must. Honoring the talented session musicians who actually played on the greatest recordings of all time, the museum is divided into cities that have a history of recorded music. Cities like Detroit, Nashville, Muscle Shoals, L.A., Memphis, and New York.
When we decided to visit Nashville, we knew we wanted to focus on what the city does best – barbecue. After all, in 2014 Travel + Leisure readers named Nashville the No. 1 city in the U.S. for barbecue “for compiling a greatest-hits collection of barbecue styles.” From rural Tennessee whole-hog style, Memphis style, and even the white-sauce style of Alabama, Nashville’s barbecue was outstanding. We enjoyed Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint and its whole-hog, low-and-slow smoked specialties. Martin’s has no freezer, no microwave and no pre-cooking. Everything on the menu is cooked fresh daily with the goal of running out of food everyday. We enjoyed hanging out in the backyard beer garden (which contains a ping pong table, darts and shuffleboard) while we sampled several of Martin’s classic barbeque meats and sauces.
We also experienced Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant with its throwback country-store feel and homey Southern dishes. Puckett’s prides itself on the southern theme of “meat-and-three” items, and its roots go back to the 1950’s and a small grocery store in the Tennessee village of Leiper’s Fork. As we ate our shrimp & grits and barbeque specialties we were treated to some great live music.
We spent a wonderful five days in Nashville, taking in the sights – and most definitely the sounds – of this hospitable state capital. But it certainly didn’t take us that long to understand why, as Duane Eddy said, “Nashville is the city built on music.”
For more information on Nashville visit the Music City website.