Travel Guide: Singing Nashville’s Praises
You don’t have to be a music lover to enjoy Nashville. But even if you aren’t, the music will get to you. In a good way.
Call it a vibe, a certain kind of energy, call it anything you want. But Music City is trending in travel for good reason. Twenty years ago, you could head downtown to listen to music, but you wouldn’t necessarily know where to go, and the tunes would be limited. Plus, people were eerily absent. Now, downtown is bustling. Head into darn near any of the music venues on Music Row on Broadway Street and beyond to find a cool sound. Country, of course, but also pop music, jazz, R&B and anything and everything in between. Because the musicians compete to get a spot on stage, you can trust you’ll see talented acts. So that love for Johnny Cash you never knew you had? You’ll discover it in Nashville.
Expect to see large crowds, and in the middle of it all, musicians. They’re dragging instruments down Broadway Street, discussing their next gig on a hotel shuttle bus, dancing on sidewalks to music from soundtracks like “Grease.”
Need a break from all that stimuli? There’s that, too.
Here’s a run-down of where you might like to take a listen as well as grab a bite to eat, shop for souvenirs, and learn more about the history of the city’s music scene.
What To Do & Where To Listen
Start at Ryman Auditorium for the self-guided tour. Circa 1892, home of the original Grand Ole Opry, it began as a church with gospel music. A woman named Lula C. Naff – one of the few businesswomen in show business in the early 1900s – was brought in to operate the Opry house. She wrangled in big names like Mae West, Hank Williams and Patsy Cline. Her story is on display inside the newly expanded lobby. Inside the auditorium itself, you’ll learn more about the theater and maybe even hear acts rehearsing. If you can sing, step inside the recording studio to make a demo. The television variety show called “Hee Haw” that aired for nearly 40 years, starting in 1969, was filmed here. The gift shop sells t-shirts with the show’s logo on it.
Don’t bypass The Country Music Hall of Fame. Aside from walls that display every artist who has ever been inaugurated, the auditorium where it all happens during the annual Country Music Awards is right here, too. Get a sneak peek inside if it’s not closed to visitors. Then follow the guided map to country music videos, exhibits that tell the story of country music history, and sound booths where you can record yourself singing a favorite country song. If you have time, a tour of Historic RCA Studio B is a real treat.
The two newest museums feature Johnny Cash and George Jones. Listen to original recordings, learn more about the artists’ private lives, and soak up any familiar childhood memories of these two now-deceased country artists at their separate venues. Exhibits include stage costumes, instruments and personal artifacts. Plus, the George Jones Museum has a bar both upstairs and down, with live acts playing nightly. The rooftop bar offers outdoor seating overlooking the Cumberland River. Neither is short on souvenirs. T-shirts, mugs, music on CD. It’s all there. The café at the Johnny Cash Museum also sells fresh-roasted branded coffee for your afternoon pick-me-up.
In the planning stages is a long-discussed National Museum of African-American Music to be built across from the Ryman, accessible by Avenue of the Arts. There’s also a Walk of Fame to find.
For bluegrass music, drift over to the Gulch area’s Station Inn. Jazz lovers head to clubs in Printer’s Alley. If you can get tickets, the Blue Bird Café is a popular venue showcasing both legends and newcomers. It’s live and up-close. Skip the lines at most clubs and avoid paying some cover fees by showing up early. People start lining up by 6 p.m.
Find a change of pace at The Frist Center for the Visual Arts, also downtown, at the sight of the former Post Office. Architecture is neoclassic on the outside and art deco on the inside. With no permanent exhibits, there’s always something new to see. Less than an hour’s drive outside the city, tour the former home, The Hermitage (not the hotel near capitol square), of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States. Also nearby, take a tour of Belle Meade, a southern plantation dating back to the Civil War. Kentucky Derby horses are trained here now and there’s a winery onsite.
Where To Eat, Drink & Snack
Aside from the trendy 12South or German Town districts for dining and shopping, a few solid spots downtown include Tin Roof on Broadway for the hoe-cakes, Skull’s Rainbow Room near Printer’s Row for fine dining and cocktails, and Goo Goo Shop for the famous chocolate, peanut and caramel clusters.
Where To Stay
Embassy Suites Nashville at Vanderbilt offers a free shuttle to and from Music Row, complimentary made-to-order breakfast, and afternoon reception with free wine or beer and snacks. Sheraton Nashville Downtown is a newly renovated and stylishly modern hotel within walking distance to Music Row, but check out The Hermitage Hotel if you love architecture and historic buildings.