By Hope S. Philbrick
Nashville, Tennessee is hot right now, thrust into the spotlight as the setting and film location of ABC’s nighttime musical soap Nashville as well as being on the receiving end of a recent wave of media accolades like Bon Appétit’s crowning it “the coolest, tastiest city in the South” and Conde Nast Traveler proclaiming “Nashville is one of five best places in the world to see in 2013.”
Given the city’s history, it’s experiencing more of an encore than a debut. It’s well-deserved. Utterly unique and yet quintessentially Southern, Nashville warrants exploration. And after each visit you’ll want to hit the replay button.
Here are just five of the many ways to discover Nashville.
Nashville is known as the home of country music, but that’s not the only sound playing on local radio stations, being recorded in studios or making boots tap in honky-tonks and more than 120 live music venues all over town. Luring diverse talents from every aspect of the music industry and nearly every musical genre, Nashville is indeed Music City. A great place get acquainted with what music means to the city is Ryman Auditorium. Built in 1892, the Ryman leapt to prominence from 1943 to 1974 as the home of the Grand Ole Opry, hosting such legends as Earl Scruggs, Hank Williams, Sr., Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton and many more. Perfect acoustics continue to make it popular with audiences and artists of all genres. A uniquely American experience, the Grand Ole Opry has entertained audiences since 1925; the Grand Ole Opry House, considered to be the home of Country Music, has stood in its current location near the banks of the River Cumberland since 1974. The long-running radio show offers a unique behind-the-scenes opportunity to witness live performances featuring a mix of stars from yesterday and today along with rising talent. Home to the seven-time Grammy-winning Nashville Symphony, the $123.5 million Schermerhorn Symphony Center opened in September 2006. With its distinctive architecture and renowned acoustics, it’s considered one of the nation’s best concert halls. The variety of performances ranges from classical to swing, jazz to pops, country, rock and even live comedy. One visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum will open your eyes and ears to the breadth and depth of American music, as well as the complexities of categorizing it (since several stars, including the King of Rock and Roll Elvis, cross boundaries). Whether you know you love country or think you don’t, this place will spark a desire to buy some MP3s.
Nashville has a style all its own, influenced by iconic fashions and current trends in Texas, Hollywood and the Deep South. Boots are just part of the story, but a good place to start and surprisingly affordable since several stores make an offer almost too good to be true: Buy one pair of boots, get three pairs. Look around and it will seem that Tennessee must sell more men’s vests than any other state in the union. Jeans and plaid shirts are wardrobe standards for both genders. Local ladies favor dark nail polish, side pony tails, sequins and unique accessories to personalize their look. Want to imitate Nashville style? Head to Katy K Designs for vintage fringe and rhinestones. Custom-made jeans at Imogene + Willie are stitched on-site. In Marathon Village, a four-block creative community with several boutiques and artists’ studios, Otis James sells custom hats, handcrafted neckties and bow ties while Emil Erwin sells handcrafted leather and canvas goods in their joint workshop. Posh Boutique in Hillsboro Village carries fashions from New York, Los Angeles, Italy, Amsterdam, Australia, and Canada; it’s a great place to find something akin to what a celebrity might wear. Opry Mills boasts 200 discount and specialty retailers along with restaurants and entertainment venues all under one roof.
The creativity drifting in Nashville’s air doesn’t just inspire musicians but artists of all sorts. The Alan LeQuire Gallery is the working studio and gallery for the works of the nationally recognized sculptor of Musica and Athena Parthenos on permanent display in Nashville. The gallery also features paintings, drawings and sculpture by other contemporary artists. Originally built for Tennessee’s Centennial Exposition in 1897 (and then reconstructed in 1931), The Parthenon in Centennial Park is the world’s only exact replica of the ancient Greek temple. A gilded 42-foot-tall statue Athena Parthenos, the largest indoor statue in the western hemisphere, is inside. The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is like a two-for-one deal: there’s artwork in the galleries and the building itself is a marvelous example of Art Deco architecture. Formerly Nashville’s main post office, it’s been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1984. Changing exhibitions feature work by local, state, regional, national and international artists. In business since 1879, Hatch Show Print is the nation’s oldest-known letterpress poster shop. Just eight miles southwest of downtown, Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Art Museum, a 1932 Georgian mansion and former home of the inventor of Maxwell House Coffee, displays a permanent art collection along with rotating traveling exhibitions. Eleven gardens and a sculpture trail surround the mansion.
More than 200 years of stories, anecdotes and sites is a lot to absorb, but the guides with Grayline of Nashville Inc. make learning about Nashville history fun, plus take a load off your feet with their driving tours past key attractions. The Tennessee State Museum goes even further back in time, starting more than 15,000 years ago in the prehistoric era and continuing through the early 1900s with displays of arts and crafts, history and culture, textiles and tools. Belle Meade Plantation, which includes a 150-year-old antebellum home, tells the history of the Old South from slavery to the Civil War. Think Civil War history is boring? Belmont Mansion will disprove that assumption. The story of how the home’s owner, Adelicia Acklen, manipulated both the Union and Confederate armies to save her cotton crop after her second husband, the love of her life, died of malaria while attempting to do the same should be made into a Hollywood movie—we’d love to see Sandra Bullock and Dermot Mulroney cast as the leads. Until someone produces that film, be content hearing the story from tour guides. Travellers Rest is Nashville’s oldest historic home, built in 1799 by Judge John Overton who became Andrew Jackson’s presidential campaign manager.
Culinary styles grow out of the foods available in a region and the people who live there. In land-locked Tennessee, there’s a long tradition of barbecued and deep-fried beef, chicken, pork and even vegetables. In Nashville, this sort of stick-to-your-ribs home-style cooking is common. But not all of the culinary offerings are traditional: Many talented chefs are giving Southern cuisine a contemporary twist, with award-winning results. The farm-to-table trend is in high-gear, and fresh, seasonal and local ingredients set the stage for today’s Nashville flavor. For our picks on where to eat in Nashville, click here.
Where to Stay…
Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center
2800 Opryland Drive
Nashville, TN 37214
1808 West End Avenue
Nashville, TN 37203
How To Find The Music…
A new free app helps locate live music venues throughout Nashville and lets you know who’s performing when and where (for events up to 14 days out). Search by area of town or venue name. Download the app by searching “Nashville Live Music” in your app store. (The icon for the app is shaped like a guitar pick and reads, “Nashville Live Music Venue.”)
How To Save Money…
Buy a Total Access Attraction Pass and gain admission to four attractions for $50. Contact the NCVB for details.
Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau (NCVB)
150 4th Avenue North, Suite G-250
Nashville, TN 37219
-Photo Credits: Skyline and Frist Courtesy NCVB; Broadway lights, Taylor Swift, Cheekwood and barbecue © Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.