Nashville struck a chord in my soul. It made me want to dance in the streets – tunes play everywhere, even in hotel elevators – and walk around with a karaoke mic to broadcast my spontaneous songs. In search of what makes Music City USA sing, I embarked on a country-crooning quest of Dolly Parton proportions!
I didn’t expect my first music moment to be in the airport. Walking up the jetway I heard a tune so true, I turned to my husband and asked “is THAT live” to which he replied “it might be!” Yep, there was a gent singing and strumming on a little stage beside a leopard-print baby grand. Four steps later we passed a sign that stated “you’re in the global headquarters of Gibson (guitars).”
Singing with the Elvis
It gets better. As soon as we merged onto the highway in our rental car, we cruised beside five music tour buses. As a Nashville first-timer, I wondered who might be behind the tinted windows. When we passed another group of buses on our 15-minute airport-to-hotel drive – an average of about one bus per minute – I stopped hypothesizing.
You know, I know, and Taylor Swift knows Nashville hits a high note on the music front – I mean, it has a namesake TV show and is home to the world’s largest concentration of songwriters. Intent to get the inside track, my husband and I met with my childhood friend-slash-rocker – now a Nashville resident – within hours of my arrival.
Over three dollar beers, he told us Nashville’s a music magnet due to the worldwide talent it woos – musicians are to Nashville what actors are to LA. “People don’t sing or song write here because it kinda pays the bills, they do it because their voice, their fingers, and their spirit knows no other way” he told me. Before I knew it, he had to leave for a 12.45 a.m. departure with his band on a tour bus.
Before our goodbyes he suggested Robert’s along the neon-lit honky tonk strip, for a window into the town’s near 24/7 music scene. The next day, we visited this dimly lit watering hole decorated with cowboy boots and the characters inside. The house band jumped and jived – their tassels flying in the air – with the energy of toddlers throughout the whole set. It was 2:30 p.m. and the place was packed. “You’re always welcome to dance, you don’t have to be good at it” said the lead songstress. I smiled as it dawned on me that while the town is filled with fame – some front-facing, some behind the scenes, some up-and-coming – this come-as-you-are attitude permeates every place and person. Maybe this is the underlying cry of country music?
Patsy, Dolly, Faith, Vince, and Garth didn’t start famous. Like every other hopeful, they exercised their vocal chords crooning in church, at fairs, and in neighborhood bars before playing at the Ryman Auditorium (the original Opry) or Grand Ole Opry, or becoming frozen in time at the Country Music Hall of Fame. (This latter spot, by the way, is worth a visit for the sequined suits and Elvis’ 24-karat gold-leafed piano alone!)
Viewfinder Tip: Downtown, most of Nashville’s music musts are within walking distance.
Nashville’s creative cats lend their talents to more than music. Creativity breeds creativity. From art collectives to bike-shares to restaurants, the city of neighborhoods goes for perfect pitch in every endeavor. Like at Barista Parlor, a warehousey coffee shop-slash-songwriting-space filled with touches of Americana, fresh-made biscuits, and my personal favorite, handkerchief napkins. Another place I’m certain songs are penned is Rolf and Daughters, a casual restaurant in 100-year-old factory where the cooks and bartenders take eating and drinking as seriously as a blockbuster performance.
After our early dinner – we tried to beat the crowds at this oft-reserved restaurant – we came across a place that summed up Nashville in a sign, the intersection of Music North and Music East streets. Instead of dancing or breaking out into song over this apropos encounter, I Instagrammed the moment instead. As I geotagged it, I saw that BMI, Sony, and Warner were nearby. Music City indeed.
At what kinds of clubs do you like to hear live music on the road?