By Steve Kelman
“Roll into town, step off the bus, shake off the where you came from dust” – Jason Aldean
“Lets go honky tonkin baby, we’ll go honky tonkin around this town,” – Hank Williams
On a recent whirlwind trip of the American mid-west I, along with two traveling buddies, “rolled” into Music City, USA, also known as Nashville, Tennessee.
We entered the city with Bob Dylan’s 1969 recording Nashville Skyline on the rent a car CD player. The music served as a most appropriate soundscape for our visit which would take up the better part of two days.
While in town we toured the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Grand Ole Opry, RCA Studio B, had lunch at Hattie B’s Chicken and saw the Pantheon, a life sized replica of the one located in Greece.
For our evening adventure we visited Broadway, which is better known as the Honky Tonk Highway.
Here there are a string of clubs offering almost around the clock live music by bands basically playing for tips and the hope (forlorn for the most part) of being “discovered.”
Among the clubs we sampled (along with the beers} were Tootsies, Legends Corner, Robert’s Western World, Tequila Cowboy, Ripley’s Second Fiddle and Laylas Bluegrass Inn.
Among these establishments Tootsies also doubles as a shoe store during daytime hours.
Most of the clubs had at least two floors where music could be found on each one. Oh and there was no cover for any of these establishments.
The way it works is these bands, which played everything from southern rock (Lynyrd Skynyrd) to traditional country (Hank Williams), would play a one hour set and then vacate the stage for the next act. This would go on until the early morning hours.
At 3:00 am things were still going strong. So was I, it was an extremely humid night and besides, sleep is over rated.
The Grand Ole Opry
A music tradition and a must visit when in music city, this is the place where the biggest names in country and bluegrass music have been performing, in its present location since 1974. That said, the Opry has been around for more than 75 years in various
locations throughout the city including the Ryman Auditorium. Everyone from Hank Williams, Bill Monroe and Patsy Cline to Vince Gill and Blake Shelton has performed on this legendary stage. The 1970s comedy show Hee Haw was taped here as well. We took the back stage tour and saw it all, the dressing rooms, the stage, of course, and the back stage gallery which has“nearly 400 photographs showcasing the countless characters and cherished moments that have made the Grand Ole Opry the American icon it is today.”
Country Music Hall of Fame/RCA Studio B
A highlight of our tour of the Country Music Hall of Fame was the featured exhibit “Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats…A New Music City.” Of course they are referring to Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, along with a group of world class session musicians, that played on literally hundreds of recordings over a period of more than four decades.
Centered around the legendary friendship of Cash and Dylan “the exhibit illuminates Nashville’s rise as a world class recording center on par with New York, Los Angeles and London,” according to Kyle Young, the director of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Our visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame also included a tour of the legendary RCA Studio B, the “Home of 1000 Hits.”
Within these hollowed walls the likes of Fats Domino, Chet Atkins, Dolly Parton, Dottie West, Jim Reeves, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, the Everly Brothers, George Jones, Roy Orbison and especially Elvis Presley all recorded.
Located in the famous “Music Row” section of the city, Studio B hosted around 18,000 recording sessions over a twenty year period (1955 -1975).
Presley alone recorded more than 200 songs in this studio including some of his biggest hits such as “Little Sister”, “Are You Lonely Tonight?” and “It’s Now or Never.”
No visit to Nashville would be complete without having lunch at Hattie B’s. For those who love fried chicken (and even if you don’t) this is the place to go. And if you enjoy hot food, the meals here will make your nose run! If you go, the lines could be long but, it will be worth it.
As we were on our way out of town we made a final stop in Centennial Park, Nashville’s version of New York’s Central Park, for a visit to The Parthenon. A life sized replica of the one in Athens, Greece, the structure houses a wonderful art museum which features American artists from the 18th and 19th centuries. The Nashville Parthenon was built in 1897 for the occasion of the State of Tennessee’s Centennial Exposition.
We certainly packed quite a bit in during our whirlwind visit. Next time I’m in music city I’ll hopefully have a little more time to take in the sights and sounds. I will certainly make plans to visit the Ryman Auditorium, the Johnny Cash Museum and the Ernest Tubb Record Shop on Broadway, which was closing when we walked by it.
Our trip to Nashville was part of a much larger road trip: a visit to Mammoth Cave National Park and numerous cultural and historic sites in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.