- By Mardy Fones
You don't have to love the twang of steel guitars
to enjoy this sophisticated southern city that has plenty to offer
in the way of history, culture, and just plain fun. But if country
music is your thing, you're going to be in heaven.
Say your old man was a no-account drifter named Sue who
got run over by a train. You've just spent your last dime in
a honky tonk and now your baby's gone off with your best friend.
Well, good buddy, Nashville, the site of this year's annual conference,
is your kind of place. In fact, it's a great city to visit, even
if the achy-breaky lyrics of country entertainers like Vince Gill and
Faith Hill don't exactly thrill you. Though best known for its
billion-dollar music industry, Nashville is a cosmopolitan city with
world-renowned art museums, great historic places like the Parthenon
and the Hermitage, a wealth of colleges and universities, and wonderfully
eclectic neighborhoods where you're likely to stumble upon funky
shops and fine restaurants. And for Civil War buffs, the battleground
of one of the war's bloodiest battles is a must-see in nearby
Downtown Nashville is a lush city where large trees
and pocket parks dot the busy landscape that coasts gently to the banks
of the Cumberland River. Here, modern buildings such as BellSouth's
so-called "Batman" building (nicknamed for its spotlighted,
twin spiral towers) rub shoulders with historic structures. Restored
mid-19th century, block-deep Victorian warehouses on Second Avenue
overlook the river and now house restaurants, art galleries, offices,
and downtown shops.
The 1990s saw the city's acquisition of professional
football—the Tennessee Titans—and hockey—the Predators—and
the construction of their arenas, bringing with them a re-energized
growth and interest in the city's historic downtown. And most
downtown historic sites are visitor accessible either by foot or via
the trolleys that circulate throughout the business district during
the day and early evening.
TAKE A WALK WITH THE STARS
Remember singer Eddie Arnold? Best known for his classic hit, "Make
the World Go Away," this yodeling great, now 84, just donated
his papers, recordings, and even his Liberace-esque costumes to the
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. For those who want to the inside
scoop on country stars like Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, or Dolly Parton,
this place is a gold mine. The museum includes interactive exhibits
that retell the story of country music's birth and the people
and songs that made it famous. It also houses the largest research
center in the world dedicated to a single form of American music. A
charming café makes an ideal spot for a sandwich and coffee.
To complete your country music experience, just walk two blocks to
the Ryman Auditorium. Revered as the "Mother Church of Country
Music," this red-brick former house of worship was the Grand
Ole Opry's home from 1943-1974. The building's excellent
acoustics and intimate seating continue to make it a popular venue.
Today, the Ryman is equal parts museum and performance site. Check
out the exhibit cases at the back of the hall containing programs and
memorabilia from the Ryman's heyday. Then have your picture taken
on the Ryman's historic stage. Don't miss its wonderfully
cluttered gift shop. The shop features everything from re-recordings
by greats like Patsy Cline and Porter Waggoner to buttons, postcards,
and even guitar-shaped nail clippers.
Broadway and Second Avenue are good starting points for visitors.
In the market for an excellent guitar? Visit Gruhn Guitar at Broadway
and Fourth Avenue. Gruhn is the vendor of choice for musicians across
the spectrum for excellent stringed instruments. You never know whom
you might see test-driving a guitar there. On the performance side,
a favorite of country music aficionados is Tootsie's Orchid Lounge.
It's another Broadway country music landmark and one you're
not likely to miss. This brightly painted bar (in orchid, of course)
was a second home in their salad days for country music legends such
as Kris Kristofferson, Faron Young, and Willie Nelson. Be sure to stop
in and check out the memorabilia-lined walls dubbed "Tootsie's
Wall of Fame."
Hatch Show Print, also on Broadway, is one of America's oldest
surviving show-poster printers, and it opens its doors to visitors
who want an intimate view of printing's historical past. Founded
in 1870, this still-working letterpress shop is credited with transforming
simple posters into an art form. In addition to viewing old posters
and watching as type for new posters is hand-set and printed using
19th-century technology, visitors can buy reproduction posters of their
Just off Broadway between First Avenue and the river is Fort Nashborough.
A replica of the original settlement of Nashville, its self-guided
tour can give you a sense of the life of the pioneers who established
the city in the late 1700s. Once you've had your taste of Nashville's
early roots, take a ride on the Tennessee Fox Trot Carousel. Also located
on the riverfront, this beauty is a fully functioning carousel/tribute
by artist and Nashville native Red Grooms. Open daily during good weather,
kids and grown-ups alike can climb aboard its 37 riding figures and
make their choice of mounts from the state's history, from Andrew
Jackson to country music great Kitty Wells.
Located in a former post office on Broadway, the Frist Center for
the Visual Arts is a feast for the senses. It's worth a tour,
not only to experience the ambiance of this renovated 1934 classic
modern-style building with art deco ornamentation but also to check
out the books and artware in the glitzy, well-stocked gift shop.
Featuring works on loan from other institutions, currently on exhibit
at the Frist are Medieval and Byzantine art from Baltimore's
Walters Art Museum, Women Beyond Borders—a collaboration featuring
the work of 500 artists from 36 countries—masks and figures by
Alicia Henry, and Empire of the Sultans: Ottoman Art from the Khalili
After you've soaked up the art, stop in at the museum's
café located in the rear of the building. It's a deli-style
eatery that serves up tasty soups, sandwiches, and salads (don't
turn down the potato chips, they're homemade). Or just have a
cappuccino and fruit tart outdoors in the courtyard, where you can
bask in the sun or relax under the postmodern gazebo.
North of downtown and under the watchful eye of the state's
1859 capital is the Bicentennial Capital Mall State Park. Check out
the 200-foot granite map of the state and a walkway of the state's
95 counties. Its 31 fountains, representing Tennessee major rivers,
are popular for those brave enough to splash away a hot Middle Tennessee
afternoon in full view of visitors. There's also a carillon and
a World War II memorial, plus gardens containing many native plant
species and flowers.
AT VANDERBILT, CENTENNIAL PARK AND BEYOND
Ten minutes south of downtown is the bustling campus of Vanderbilt
University. In addition to Vanderbilt's park-like campus and
Victorian-era buildings, points of interest include the Jeffersonian-style
lawn of Peabody College. Scarritt Bennett College, where church missionaries
were once trained, is a peaceful island of silence and solitude. Be
sure to visit Wightman Chapel. Its arching ceilings and gothic presence
have made it a favorite for weddings as well as concerts. Adjacent
to the Scarritt Bennett campus is the Upper Room Chapel and Museum.
It's home to a 8-by-17-foot carving of the Last Supper, an 8-by-20-foot
stained-glass window with a Pentecost theme, and galleries of religious
subjects painted from 1300 to 1990.
Next, journey back to classical Greece with a stop at the Parthenon.
Nestled at the center of vast, shady Centennial Park, the original
was built for the 1897 Centennial Exposition. The only full-scale copy
of the original Parthenon, plaster replicas of the Elgin marbles adorn
the building's pediments. In addition to the rotating and permanent
exhibits in its galleries on the lower level, the Parthenon houses
a 42-foot statue of the Greek goddess Athena Parthenos. It is the tallest
indoor sculpture in the world.
About 10 minutes from Centennial Park and 20 minutes from downtown
is the campus of Fisk University, a private, historically African-American
liberal arts college. On its campus are two world-renowned art galleries:
The Aaron Douglas Gallery is home to more than 200 drawings by Cyrus
Baldridge as well as masks, musical instruments, games, figures, and
ceremonial objects. Then commune with works by Picasso, Cézanne,
Renoir, and O'Keefe along with the more than 100 works from the
Alfred Steiglitz collection in the Carl Van Vechten Gallery.
Other sites beyond the city center: The Hermitage, the home of the
seventh U.S. President, Andrew Jackson, and his wife, Rachel, is located
about 25 minutes from downtown. Originally a working farm on 1,150
acres, today, it's a 600-plus-acre historical site featuring
original furnishings and renovated and reconstructed buildings.
If the weather's good, plan to walk in Rachel's garden.
It's alive with roses, iris (the state flower), herbs, and other
flora. Had enough history? Head over to the Hermitage Museum Store.
That's where you can pick up a little Tennessee to snack on later.
Good choices include the ever popular Goo Goo Cluster candy (plain,
peanut butter, or pecan) as well as Tennessee Tea and products liberally
laced with Jack Daniel's whiskey, including cakes and barbecue
sauces. The gift shop also has antique jewelry and books on history
The Jack Daniel's Distillery in Lynchburg is about 45 minutes
south of Nashville and is the oldest registered distillery in the U.S.
Although it is located in a dry county, visitors can watch the whiskey-making
process. In Murfreesboro, also about 45 minutes from Nashville, is
the Stones River National Battlefield. During the fierce winter of
1862-63, it was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil
War. While in Murfreesboro visit Cannonsburgh, a pioneer village including
restored buildings, plus antique farm equipment and cars.
SHOP TILL YOU DROP
Downtown Nashville's shopping is focused along Second Avenue
and Broadway. That's where visitors can check out both the Wildhorse
Saloon and Nashville's Hard Rock Café to pick up the requisite
commemorative T-shirts and other souvenirs. For country music fans,
the Charlie Daniels Store and Museum on Second Avenue is the perfect
place for gifts as well as to see artifacts and displays about Daniels.
Farther up Second Avenue is a small, enclosed shopping mall called
Butler's Run. Anchored streetside by Agora International, this
store offers one-of-a-kind sterling silver jewelry, plus collectibles.
Inside the mall is Pralines by Leon, which serves up toothsome sweets
in the New Orleans style.
The picturesque Arcade is a shopping stop with historic overtones.
Connecting Fourth and Fifth avenues, the arcade was built in 1903 and
was inspired by a similar structure in Milan, Italy. Throughout the
week, stop in for freshly baked cookies, popcorn, and roasted nuts
or a quick lunch.
Beyond downtown is a wealth of shopping. About 20 minutes by car
from downtown and near the Gaylord Opryland Resort is Opry Mills. This
megamall is a complete retail, dining, and entertainment complex. Stores
include the usual megamall fare—Off Broadway, Perry Ellis, Hilo
Hattie, Fossil, Samsonite Travel Expo, Stride Rite, and the Bass ProShop.
In the evening, especially on the weekends, live music in the mall's
public areas give the shopping center some local flavor.
South of downtown and all around the Vanderbilt University area is
a plethora of unique shopping. Hillsboro Village is one short block
that includes two art galleries, several restaurants and coffeehouses,
a South American import store, an antique store, a fine jewelry store,
and one of the area' s biggest and best used bookstores.
On the opposite side of the Vandy campus—off West End Avenue
across from Centennial Park—are import stores, estate jewelry
stores, a day spa, plus lots more. About 15 minutes from West End Avenue
is the Jefferson Street Shopping District, an historic African-American
business area, it includes galleries, souvenir shops, clubs, and restaurants.
For antique lovers, Middle Tennessee is ideal for serious searching
and exploring. Possibilities include stores along Eighth Avenue as
well as those north of the city in the Goodlettsville area. Thirty
minutes south of Nashville in the historic community of Franklin are
numerous antique stores and malls that attract shoppers from across
Mardy Fones is a freelance travel writer based
She can be reached at email@example.com.
Nashville is a city overflowing with clubs and bars where live music
is always center stage. Call ahead to find out who's playing
and when. Or just check the entertainment section of the Tennessean,
the city's main newspaper, or the Scene, an alternative free
paper available at most newsstands.
With country music as the region's claim to fame, it stands
to reason that fans will find the city is the place to hear this
genre played by the masters. And speaking of country's masters,
three little words say it all—Grand Ole Opry.
Every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday evening, live performances
of the world's longest-running radio show are center stage
at the Opry House near the Opry Mills Mall (2802 Opryland Drive,
615-871-OPRY). Drawing on a mix of veteran talent and emerging
performers, every Opry show is unique and, in the parlance of the
real musical deal.
It's a Grand Ole Opry tradition to keep the names of headliners
hush-hush until just a week or two before the show, so check the
Web site at www.opry.com to see who's working when you're
in town. The Opry House seats more than 4,000, and the seats are
padded benches, reminiscent of the church pews at the Ryman Auditorium,
one of the Opry's original homes. To get the best seats, plan
to buy tickets as early as possible. Of course, you can usually walk
up to the ticket booth outside the Opry House and buy tickets just
before the show. Chances are you'll end up in the peanut gallery,
but that's not a problem at the Opry. All country music fans
Once you've listened to good country music, it's time
to dance to it. Stop in at the Wildhorse Saloon near Second Avenue
and Broadway (120 Second Ave. N., 615-256-WILD). There you'll
see locals and visitors rubbing shoulders and having a boot-scootin' good
time. This is a family venue where even those under 18 who are accompanied
by an adult can and hear live music performed by well-known artists
as well as up-and-comers.
It's the right place to have dinner, listen to the latest
country tunes, plus pick up on the newest dances and try them out
on the club's 3,300 square foot dance floor. Is your two-step
a little rusty? Dance lessons are free. When a headliner hits the
Wildhorse, tickets move fast, so hop on their Web site at www. wildhorsesaloon.com,
and reserve your spot online.
The Bluebird Café (4104 Hillsboro Pike, 615-383-1461) is
an unassuming little storefront in a strip mall in the posh Green
Hills area that has been the launching pad for many a country career.
Featured in the movie, The Thing Called Love, Kathy Mattea is one
major star who is identified with the Bluebird, and she's still
a friend and a regular guest today. Garth Brooks often played the
Bluebird's Monday night open-mic shows and Sunday songwriters' shows
before he was discovered.
With just 21 tables plus some seating at the bar and on benches
around the wall, the Bluebird is an intimate house, so you're
likely to be seated with other fans. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday
and 6 p.m. on Sunday; the late shows start at 9 p.m. Reservations
Locals know that the early shows have no cover, so they come in
for a casual dinner (appetizers, hot and cold sandwiches, salads,
and desserts) and listen to the newest artists on the scene. If
you arrive a little late and end up standing in line, you'll
likely be treated to sidewalk one-person shows by new-in-town artists
to break into the music business.
Located on the periphery of downtown, the Station Inn (402 12th
Ave. S, 615-255-3307) is a homely stone building on the business
end of Twelfth Avenue where the high, lonesome sound of live bluegrass
comes to life Tuesday-Sunday. This traditional venue includes only
a dozen tables or so, plus some vinyl seats that rumor has it came
from Lester Scruggs' tour bus. The décor is pure music,
with the paneled walls plastered with tour posters advertising shows
by the venerable Bill Monroe and Mac Wiseman.
The atmosphere is down home and the crowd is always a mixed one
of people who crave this uniquely American musical form. Just so
you know, admission is first-come-first-served and they don't
take reservations. Locals know if a name act like the Dale McCrory
Band or Allison Krause is on the schedule, to arrive at 5 p.m.
for a 7 p.m. doors open and 9 p.m. performance.
So many good places to eat, so little time to sample all of them—a
walk through downtown Nashville reveals a vast assortment of eateries
from chains and local spots to upscale restaurants and quiet cafes.
Just off Broadway is the charming bistro, Sole Mio ($$$, 94 Peabody
St., 615-256-4013). Homemade pasta and rich sauces are Sole Mio's
claim to fame. Enjoy your favorite Italian fare at dinner or lunch.
Better yet, start off by enjoying a glass of the house red on the outdoor
deck where you can watch the sun go down over downtown.
Located just across the street from the Gaylord Entertainment Center,
Nashville's Palm ($$$$ 140 Fifth Ave. S., 615-742-7256) lives
up to the reputation of its New York namesake with delicious steaks
and seafood served in an old club atmosphere. Looking for something
more casual and definitely more hip? Step next door to Eddie George's
Sports Grill (141 4th Ave. S., 615-273-3343). Named for Tennessee Titan
running back Eddie George, this sports-bar-cum-casual-eatery heats
up after dark and is the place to see and be seen in Nashville.
If a quiet dinner is more to your liking, Merchants ($$$$, 401 Broadway,
615-254-1892) delivers delicious grilled seafood, steaks, pasta, and
poultry in a classic, renovated historic building. The upstairs dining
rooms are as serene and private as the downstairs bar is busy. There's
also Arthur's ($$$$, 1001 Broadway, 615-255-1494) in the historic
Union Station Hotel. A recipient of Mobil Travel Guide's four
stars, this is one of the city's top-rated restaurants. Offerings
range from appetizers to desserts and get rave reviews. Situated on
the edge of busy Broadway, it's a great place for diners to indulge
their penchant for people watching.
Another favored spot for dinner, but one with a distinctly southern
flair, is Café One -TwoThree ($$$, 123 12th Ave. N., 615-255-2233).
Tucked away on a downtown side street, the ambiance is neoclassical
casual and the menu an enticing mixing of old-style favorites and culinary
Just across the street is 12th & Porter ($$, 114 12th Avenue
N., 615-254-7236). A funky mixture of post-modern and youthful exuberance,
the fare here lends itself to pastas, pizzas, and seafood, plus vegetarian,
all served in an eclectic, sometimes boisterous atmosphere. Be sure
to check out the original art (it's for sale) on the walls.
The renovated Victorian-style warehouses along Second Avenue are
home to a whole host of dining establishments. Located in the grotto-like
lower reaches of these historic buildings, The Prime Cut's ($$$,
170 Second Ave. N., 615-242-3083) classic steakhouse fare is a good
value. The menu includes tasty side items, oversized baked potatoes,
as well as chicken and elegantly prepared steaks. Reservations are
a good idea here. Market Street Brewery and Public House ($$, 134 2nd
Ave. N., 615-259-9611) is Nashville's original microbrewery and
a Second Avenue landmark. Its signature is award-winning beer in traditional
handcrafted styles and flavors, plus pub-style food. Be sure to check
out the daily beer specials.
Other eateries and restaurants along the two blocks of Second Avenue
include El Rey Mexican Restaurant ($$, 615-726-8862), The Old Spaghetti
Factory (615-254-9010), Ichiban Sushi Bar (726-0390), Schlotzky's
Deli ($, 615-259-3777), and Mulligan's Pub ($$, 615-242-8010).
Just up from Second Avenue on Commerce Street are the San Antonio Taco
Company ($, 208 Commerce St., 615-259-4413)—a great place for
a quick lunch or a little spicy, late night pick-me-up—and locally-owned
Demo's ($$, 200 Commerce St., 615-256-4655). Demo's is
packed at lunch but the perfect place for an early dinner. It specializes
in pastas, steaks, and some of the best soups and hot bread in town.
At the foot of Second where the avenue meets busy Broadway is the
Big River Grille and Brewing Company ($$, 111 Broadway, 615-251-4677).
This a microbrewery serves up burgers and Smokey Mountain pasta in
a noisy, pub-like atmosphere. Check out the designer pizzas and be
sure to sample the daily beer specials.
Further north, adjacent to the Bicentennial Mall is the Stock-Yard
Restaurant, 901 Second Avenue ($$$$ 615-255-6464). Recognized as one
of the top 10 steakhouses in the United States, the Stock-Yard and
Coach Room Event Center specialize in USDA prime steak and old-world-style
service. Check out the walls of the Stock-Yard and Coach Room, which
are lined with tributes from country music celebrities.
South of downtown in the Vanderbilt area, the Bound'ry Restaurant,
911 20th Avenue South ($$$ 615-321-3043) features upscale global cuisine
in a relaxed and contemporary atmosphere. Visit them for dinner or
stop by with friends for drinks.