The first thing is the music – literally! Walking through Nashville airport we came across live music venues throughout the terminal. The musicians are local and mostly play for tips and its a great welcome to Music City.
Out and About
As first timers, with just two full days, we confined ourselves pretty much to the Downtown music scene and the big three – Ryman Auditorium, The Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry (we’d pre-booked all three).
Following suggestions on Tripadvisor we started with this tour which set us up nicely for the Nashville scene.
Situated downtown, this is the original home of the Grand Ole Opry and still considered the Mother Church of Country Music. Originally built as a house of prayer, it is the building itself that is the main attraction and while the Grand Ole Opry moved out in 1974, the Ryman is still very popular as a performance venue.
Tours begin with a video which gives a great introduction to the place. You can opt for a self guided tour and take your time with the exhibits, sit on the original wooden pews in the auditorium, have your photo taken on stage and even book a session in the recording studio.
We had tickets for the backstage tour which sets off after the video, lasts about 30-40 minutes and goes through the dressing rooms, wings and across the stage. The guides are passionate about the building and share lots of trivia about the big names of the Grand Ole Opry. Afterwards you can follow the self guided tour, enjoy the memorabilia and just sit in the auditorium and take it all in.
(The original wooden pews were refurbished in 1993)
(No huge crowds so its easy to enjoy the atmosphere)
(You don’t have to be a huge country fan to appreciate the history of the place)
(There are plenty of displays and exhibits)
(Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl – and me!)
Country Music Hall of Fame
Also located in the downtown area, this is another ‘must do’ when in Nashville. With over 2.5 million artifacts, be prepared to spend at least a few hours flying through everything and if you get caught up in it at all – watching movies and listening to recordings – you could easily spend a full day here. The extra $5 for an audio guide is definitely worth considering as it includes extra info not covered in the exhibits.
(The building itself celebrates country music through elements of design. The windows on the front of the building resemble piano keys!)
Studio B Experience
If you have an extra hour or so to spare then you should really consider including the tour to Studio B. A shuttle brings you from the museum to Music Row passing several other studios on the way. As with the Ryman, the guides here are also true fans of country music and very passionate about what they do.
At the studio, you learn about the musicians who recorded here – Dolly, Roy Orbison, Elvis, to name but a few. You can sit at Elvis’s Steinway piano and maybe even shed a tear or two as ‘Are you lonesome tonight‘ is played in the dark!
(Spotted Connie Smith in the time-line  … no particular significance …. except she was on the billing for our show at the Grand Ole Opry later that same evening!!)
(A young Roy Orbison)
(Elvis’ Steinway piano)
Back at the museum, the recommended route brings you through exhibits starting at folk roots, moving through the decades, to the current country music scene. There are videos and recordings, costumes and instruments, gold records, photos, song drafts and – Elvis’s Cadillac!
(Elvis’s Gold Cadillac ….)
(……interior includes 6 gold records!)
(Exhibits are kept up-to-date)
(Inductees of the Hall of Fame)
The Walk of Fame Park is across the road from the museum. Over 80 stars honour figures in the country music industry. Induction ceremonies are actually free to the public so you might get lucky on your visit!
Grand Ole Opry
After all those hours of immersion in the Ryman and Hall of Fame, we were more than ready for the iconic show itself! Our tickets had been purchased before the acts for the night were announced. However, most people attending seemed to be like ourselves – in town for a few days and just glad to be there regardless of the billing.
Anticipation had been rising since we’d arrived in town and we were looking forward to getting there early and soaking up the atmosphere both outside and in before taking our seats for the 7.00pm show. Alas – the best laid plans……….. Our uber driver – first day on the job – missed a turn and by the time we got back on the right route and finally to the venue itself, we just had time for one or 2 quick photos outside before going straight to our seats.
The live broadcast is divided into 4 half hour sessions, each one with a different host and guests. There is a mix of music styles and comedy and most acts perform 2 or 3 songs. An announcer reads out commercials between sessions – he has a wonderful voice! – and there is an interval which allows enough time to head for the gift shop .
(Sorry Connie – bad photo! But doesn’t she look great 54 years on from her picture in Studio B!)
It being a Friday night, the end of the show coincided with the closure of the outlet mall beside the Opry However there were plenty of taxis outside and our driver managed to bypass the bottleneck trying to leave the car park and had us back downtown fairly quickly.
Downtown Music Scene
Downtown with its neon lights, souvenir shops and honky tonks – bars with live country music – may scream ‘tourist trap’ but don’t let the hordes on the streets, or the bachelorette parties up and down in mobile taverns, put you off – its great fun and its really about the music.
Live acts begin playing in late morning with the atmosphere intensifying towards evening. Most venues have no cover charge which leaves you free to wander from bar to bar. Performers depend on tips and there is always a tip jar close by. We are not au fait with the US country music scene but that didn’t in any way lessen our enjoyment. Although we didn’t recognise a lot of the music, we could enjoy the crowd singing along and every now and then the bands throw in a Tom Petty or Johnny Cash that the whole world knows. While the area around the musicians may be crowded, there’s usually space further back in the bar and probably free seats as well.
First things first ! Start with your free line – dancing lesson in Wildhorse Saloon….
…….get ‘the look’!…….
…….embrace the street scene…..
……and find some great music!
Riverfront Park on the Cumberland River is a venue for outdoor concerts and other events
The Ghost Ballet is a steel and aluminium piece of artwork symbolizing the industrial heritage and vibrant energy of modern Nashville.
Nissan Stadium – home of the Tennessee Titans
Fort Nashborough is a replica of the original Nashville settlers’ fort on the river
The AT & T ‘Batman Building’ dominates the skyline
The Customs House, built in the American Victorian Gothic style, opened in 1882
Old Victorian warehouses along the river have been renovated and reopened as shops, restaurants and apartments.
Churches -Not quite one on every corner but there are about 700 churches in the city!
A ‘to do’ list for my next visit to Nashville:
Go to a show at the Ryman Auditorium
Try and get a reservation for the Bluebird Cafe.
Go out to Centennial Park and see the Parthenon and its art museum
Visit other areas of the city – The Gulch, Germantown, etc.