Weekend in Nashville: Music, History and Honky-tonk
By Tab Hauser
Driving cross country can be either a rushed event to get to a destination or one where you can slow down to make it an old fashion road trip.
During our 6283-mile road trip across the US, one of our stops was in the music city of Nashville Tennessee. Arriving in Nashville at noon was a real eye-opener after leaving the quiet city of Asheville, NC early that morning.
Where Asheville had quiet streets and is surrounded by nature, downtown Nashville was crowded with the hustle and bustle of busy sidewalks and music spilling out from many bars. We knew this would be a fun weekend.
We decided the best way to be introduced to Nashville’s history and music would be with a downtown walking tour. We met Ryan from Really Entertaining Tours for his 90 minute Live Nashville Walking Tour.
The tour takes you around downtown while he talks about the city’s history, architecture, and of course music. Our walk took us past and into historic buildings, the riverfront, old alleys, and inside a couple of old bars.
When looking at some of the architecture, it seems Nashville had a love for Greek-style buildings which you will see in different places. (Nashville has been called the Athens of the South).
During our walk, Ryan recognized one of Nashville’s leading songwriters and with a friendly prod got her to talk about her work. We also found Ryan helpful in recommending a few traditional places to eat as well as bars with a better grade of music or entertainment.
See www.reallyentertainingtours.com for their tour information.
After our walking tour, we doubled back to visit the inside of the Ryman Auditorium. The Ryman was the original home of the Grand Old Opry operating from 1943 to 1974. This 2,362 seat theater was built originally as a church in 1892.
It transformed into a concert hall in 1904 and has gone through seven renovations since it was built. When the Grand Old Opry left downtown in 1974, a piece from the original stage was removed and brought to its new location outside of the city.
The tour starts with a historical movie about how it started, became a theater, and how the wrecking ball almost took it down.
Afterward, visitors walk around the theater and the hallways where there are the original posters or photos of performers from the last 100 years. For show or tour information go to www.ryman.com
Before walking back to our hotel to rest up for a night out we stopped at the Goo-Goo Candy outlet half a block from Broadway on Third Avenue. Goo-Goo Candy has been in business for over 100 years.(www.googoo.com)
It is said to be the oldest clustered candy made in the United States. The store has almost an old-time candy store feel with samples to taste and a counter to order dessert. There are a few old signs at the store in which one proclaims Goo-Goo at five cents to be a “nourishing lunch”
Friday Night BBQ, Honky-tonk and Burlesque
To fuel up for a night of honky-tonk we started with dinner at Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint. The long lines here go quick ordering at the counter and then getting the food promptly from servers.
We shared a sampling of their smoked turkey, pulled pork, ribs, brisket along with a side of beans and slaw, and loved everything served.
We were told to head upstairs to visit the smoke master who showed us a large pig in a large smoker being prepared. Vegetarians have a choice of salad and sides and may want to pass on seeing the smoke room. www.martinsbbqjoint.com
Based on a tip from Ryan earlier we passed on the music bars on Broadway and went to two places on Second Avenue. We started by listening to a set and half at the Benchmark. We split the set by sitting inside first and outside later to people watch which was very entertaining.
Drinks are reasonable because of all the competing bars paying $6 for the top-shelf liquor. From the Benchmark, we crossed the street to the Wild Horse Saloon. (www.wildhorsesaloon.com).
The Wild Horse Saloon is not so much a bar but a music venue with big stage, multistory seating, a big dance floor and statues of wild horses upside down on the ceiling. Between the different bands or breaks, a woman gets on stage to teach line dancing.
For the purpose of research for this story, I gave it a try and I apologize for those watching us from the bar. It was all good fun with a dance floor of 90% woman.
Most of the people that night seemed to know what they were doing in all those good looking cowboy boots. We left after two sets and headed to the historic Printer’s Alley.
Printers Alley has a bar that first opened in 1948 called Skull’s Rainbow Room. Besides good music and food, they put a nostalgia style burlesque review starting at 10PM or 11PM depending on the night.
The show is a classy event with beautiful dresses and costumes that go with good music. It is recommended to make reservations well in advance or you will have to stand in line an hour before the show and hope to get in. See www.skullsrainbowroom.com on showtimes.
Seeing the Sights
Always drawn to early American homes, we started our day at the Belmond Mansion. (www.belmontmansion.com). This antebellum era home was built in 1853. It has 36 rooms taking 19.000 square feet.
It is decorated in period style furniture, some of which is original to the home. In 1863 the house escaped damage before the battle of Nashville and was used by General Thomas Wood for two weeks.
It should be noted that an interesting part of the tour is to learn about Adelicia Hayes Franklin, the lady of the house and her life, business dealings, and her art that has influenced the mansion.
The standard house tour takes 45 minutes with different specialty tours available. It is a several minute drive from downtown and is a regular stop for the Old Time Trolley.
From the mansion, we took the hop on hop off trolley for the next few hours. This is a good way to get a personal narrative tour of the rest of the city and get off where you want.
These stops include a restored car factory with shops and the store Antique Archeology made famous from the TV Show, American Pickers. (I would pass on visiting here unless you like waiting on long lines and you are a big fan. Inside they tend to push T-Shirts and mugs).
Other stops worth mentioning was the reproduction of the Parthenon which is the city’s art museum built in 1897. We have seen the real thing in Athens and it is impressive to see what it could look like, not in ruins.
For a late lunch, we went for hot chicken with a stop at Hattie B’s. (www.hattieb.com) Hot chicken is a Nashville specialty in which spicy seasoning is put into the batter and fried. Hattie B’s sells it mild, medium, hot, dam hot, and “shut the cluck” hot.
We found the chicken delicious and worth the stop. Another hop-off place to consider would be the Nashville Market. www.nashvillefarmersmarket.org) While they are open year-round I would recommend a weekend visit when all the farm vendors and diverse food stalls are open.
Grand Ole Opry and Country Music History
No visit to Nashville should be complete without taking in a show at the Grand Ole Opry which is a 20-minute drive out of the city.
We bought tickets to their Saturday night show which has been broadcast on the radio for 90 years. We enjoyed this audio piece of Americana that came complete with an announcer introducing several acts on stage.
These included different versions of country music along with their in house square dancers. The show made for an entertaining two hours. When visiting I would allow extra time if you want to see the huge Grand Ole Opry Hotel and for parking.
The Opry shares a parking lot with a large mall and during show times finding a spot near the building can be difficult. For show information go to www.opry.com
Upon returning to Nashville at 10:30 we strolled Broadway listening to the music coming out of all the bars. Broadway is also known for the many stores that sell cowboy boots. Each store carries hundreds of them with all kinds of enticing sale signs including the buy one, get two pairs free.
It is best to know your prices before shopping and consider not visiting these stores after you been to perhaps a few too many bars on this street. You don’t want to regret a purchase the next morning.
To round out our country music experience the next morning we visited The Country Music Hall of Fame. (www.countrymusichalloffame.org). This center is located downtown in a 350,000 square foot building.
The outside is appropriately decorated with a large piano key style motif. As a person that did not grow up with country music and had nothing more than a passing interest off and on I learned a lot here.
What the museum taught me is how country music affected so many artists that were not known for this kind of music. The exhibits here include video, music clips, costumes, cars, albums, a hall of fame, and more.
There are also changing exhibits dedicated to different singers and bands. We cruised through here in about two hours but you should allow more time if you are a fan.
President Jackson’s Home
With our stay completed in Nashville, we drove 15 miles outside the city to President Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage.
The Hermitage is a Greek Revival style thirteen room mansion that sits on 1020 acres. There is a welcome center focusing on his life.
Here you get an audio guide that explains things as you walk around the grounds to see the farm, slave cabins, gardens, and many other points of interest. The mansion is by guided tour and is included in the admission.
At the mansion, visitors wait in line and hear a costumed docent before entering it. The line is quick as they start tours every 15 minutes.
We did pay extra and enjoyed our historical carriage ride around the property. For information go to www.thehermitage.com. Next road trip stop, St. Louis just four and half hours away.
Information: For all things Nashville visit their website.
Hotels: we recommend staying at hotels within walking distance of Broadway and Second Avenue because of parking issues in the area. Also, if you like to party late it is always best to walk back to your hotel.
We liked the Hyatt Place based on location, easy parking, service, gym and breakfast included. Go to website.