NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE: THE HIGHLIGHTS
For fans of country music, Nashville Tennessee is a pilgrimage that has to be made. Guitar riffs and crooning voices pour out of the honky tonk bars that line Broadway day and night, and almost a century of history has been made in the music venues and recording studios around town. So grab your comfiest cowboy boots and take this tour of the must-see sights and sounds of the home of country music!
The Music Venues
When WSM’s hit Saturday night radio show “The Grand Ole Opry” outgrew its various homes around town, the enterprising Mrs. Lula Guff took a gamble and gave the show a new home at the Ryman, where she was manager. It stayed for 31 years, transmitting the brightest stars in country music to homes across America and earning the Ryman the nickname of the “Mother Church of Country Music”. Take a multimedia tour of the venue and get up close to the instruments and artefacts that made country music world famous. No booking required.
TIP: Buy the “Total Access Music Pass” at the Bridgestone Arena when you arrive and you can visit four attractions including the Country Music Hall of Fame for $60 – it will save you around $20.
Grand Ole Opry
In 1974 decades of hosting the Grand Ole Opry had taken its toll on the Ryman, and it was decided a new home needed to be built. Opryland, a 20 minute drive from Downtown now hosts the impressive 4,000 seat arena that rising country music stars dream of playing. But a little piece of the Ryman is still part of the Grand Ole Opry show – a wooden circle of the original stage was taken to the new venue and still marks the spot where country stars address their audience of millions. Go backstage with a tour that will give you a behind the scenes look at the dressing rooms and television studios, as well as your moment of glory on the Grand Ole Opry stage. Every 15 minutes.
TIP: Tickets to the Grand Ole Opry are among the hottest in town, with shows on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Visit nowplayingnashville.com for an up to date list of where your favourite bands are performing across town.
The Bluebird Café
If you want to get back to basics, when country music was just three chords and the truth, visit this small, iconic café where songwriters have been cutting their teeth since the 1980s. With just a 100 seat capacity, this “listening room” is where many songs and singers have been discovered, whether they are working in the kitchen or performing at the open mike night. Famous faces that have performed there plaster the walls – Shania Twain rocked up for an impromptu performance just last month. The Bluebird serves food and drink but operates a strict Shhh! policy to ensure the performers have your undivided attention. Booking/queuing essential.
TIP: To keep up with the overwhelming demand for tickets, the Bluebird now has a new online queuing and booking system. Reservations can be made at 8 am one week in advance – weekend shows remain first come first served on the door.
Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge
Tootsie’s is perhaps the most famous Honky Tonk bar on Broadway; with its garish purple walls and three floors of music it’s hard to miss. Country stars playing the Ryman would often start their night here, and sneak out of the back doors on Printer’s Alley to the Ryman stage door to do their show. It is perpetually packed whether it’s day or night, so you might want to try getting in via Printer’s Alley yourself.
DRINK: Apple Pie Moonshine – it’s like a shot of dessert with a deliciously warm kick.
Layla’s Bluegrass Inn
A few doors down from Tootsie’s you have Layla’s, which can also be accessed at the back on Printer’s Alley. As you can see from the name – Layla’s specialises in up-tempo music that will have you dancing til you drop. Remember – most of the bars do not pay the musicians anything so drop a few dollars in their bucket and they will be happy to oblige with any requests.
DRINK: Fireball – that’s cinnamon whiskey to you and me. Spoiler alert: it BURNS.
Whiskey Bent Saloon
Tennessee is pretty much synonymous with the world’s finest whisky, and you won’t find a better array than at the Whiskey Bent Saloon on Broadway. Music is known for having more of a Southern Rock vibe, so this is a good one to choose if you want to get on your dancing shoes.
DRINK: If you’re not a whiskey fan, try an Island Girl – a sweet and fruity cocktail made with Blue Chair Bay coconut rum. You’re welcome.
Nashville Farmers Market
No Southern town is complete without a farmers market that sells its sweet treats and hot sauces. This is the ideal place to pick up gifts to take home, from bourbon caramels to spicy seasonings for recreating that Nashville flavour back home. Come around lunchtime to enjoy the world cuisine on offer, topped off with ice cream, or cupcakes, or both… On the third Friday of the month a night market runs from 5pm -8pm that brings live music, crafts and thrift stalls.
BUY: Original spice blend & rub, from the East Nashville Spice Company, which is crafted in Music City itself.
If you have the time, stop by sleepy East Nashville to spend an afternoon wandering around the unique boutique shops at Five Points. Grab a map from any of the local businesses to find your way around and visit treasures such as Fanny’s House of Music, Rusty Rat’s Antiques and other vintage/thrift store delights. The pastel painted houses will give you a feel for the residential side of Nashville, and there is no shortage of restaurants and cafes to keep you fuelled for your shopping trip (including a yellow VW that serves the best hot dogs in town).
BUY: Handmade jewellery, purses and knitwear from nancybgoods (1100 Fatherland Street) – all individual at a reasonable price.
When it comes time to take back some souvenirs of your time in Nashville, chances are you will want to take home a luggage load of liquor. It’s not that easy to find places that sell it, but hidden away on the corner of 4th and Church should have everything you are looking for. Small bottles of Fireball are available from $5, and a generous jar of moonshine in an array of flavours will set you back around $35.
BUY: Blue Chair Bay coconut rum to mix up your own Island Girl cocktails at home – they only come in jumbo sizes so leave room in your luggage to bring this baby home!