Music City USA lives up to its name
THERE are several theories regarding the origin of the name “Music City USA” but, regardless of which one is true, Nashville, Tennessee, proudly lives up to the title.
The most popular story is that a DJ named David Cobb came up with the moniker during a Grand Ole Opry broadcast in 1950, but it’s doubtful even he could have predicted the all-pervasive role music plays in Nashville today.
It all happens on the Honky Tonk Highway
Music — country and otherwise but, hey, mainly country — is everywhere in Nashville, but the epicentre is “Honky Tony Highway”, officially known as Lower Broadway, in Downtown.
Music’s answer to gambling’s Las Vegas Strip is crammed with bars and honky tonks where live music is pumped out 17 hours a day.
Interrupted only by the occasional store selling vinyl and other music memorabilia, or cowboys boots, the bars often feature three different bands simultaneously on three levels and you can literally window shop them before deciding who you’ll stop and give a listen.
Tips? We’ve got you covered
Many of them feature respected sessions players and sidemen as well as up and coming hopefuls, and the beauty of it all for the music-loving tourist is that there is no cover charge — they all play for tips.
AJ’s, owned by country superstar Alan Jackson, became a favourite of ours. We saw Jay Bragg, who was about to embark on an arena tour as Jackson’s support act, on two different nights.
Right across the street you’ll find Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge or, as it bills itself, “the legendary” Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. Folk lore has it that Willie Nelson got his first songwriting job right after appearing there.
Be prepared for the crowds, but don’t miss Lower Broadway.
And don’t forget to go to ‘church’
Within a minute’s walk, on Fifth Ave North, you’ll find the Ryman Theatre, the 2300-seat auditorium that was the home of the Grand Ole Opry, America’s longest-running radio broadcast, between 1943-74.
Named after Nashville businessman Thomas Ryman, who had it constructed over seven years, the Ryman is known as the “Mother Church” of country music. That’s because when it opened in 1892 it was officially the Union Gospel Tabernacle.
Entertaining, educational … and brilliant
A minute’s walk in the other direction, on Fifth Ave South, is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Established in the eary 1960s, it is now the big daddy of American music museums, where you can see everything from Elvis Presley’s huge Cadillac to Dolly Parton’s tiny-waisted costumes.
It is immense and comprehensive; entertaining and educational. Brilliant
Be warned and be prepared
A few words of warning: We would advise anyone planning a visit to Nashville to be well prepared, well in advance.Tickets to various attractions and shows at venues such as the “new” Grand Ole Opry, east of Downtown, and the Blue Bird Cafe, which showcases songwriters, usually are scarce.
Confirm your dates as far in advance as possible and then hit the internet for details of shows and tickets. And enjoy! There’s no place quite like Nashville, although you’d be selling it short to believe music is its be-all and end-all.
And then there’s …
Nashville also is a sporting hub, as the two big stadiums that bookend Downtown attest. The Tennessee Titans play their National Football League home games at the 70,000-capacity Nissan Stadium, on the east bank of the Cumberland River.
Across the Shelby Street pedestrian bridge and back on Broadway, Bridgestone Arena is the home of the Nashville Predators ice hockey franchise.
And Nashville folks are particularly proud of their Centennial Park, with its full-scale replica of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece.
It was built in 1897, with strict attention to detail, for the Centennial Exposition of Tennessee and was only ever meant to be a temporary art gallery, but the locals kind of liked having it around and no one was game enough to suggest bringing in the wrecking ball.
So not only has it stayed, but was embellished during the 1920s.