NASHVILLE, TN - The voice over the airport public address system announces: “You can pick up your luggage – and guitar cases — at carousel 1.” That’s Nashville, or Music City, as it’s called. Music is everywhere, at more than 125 live music venues and from traffic boxes at intersections while you’re waiting for the light to change. On New Year’s Eve, it’s not a silver ball that drops at midnight, it’s a musical note.
Nashville is the world’s largest community of songwriters and, despite the fact that it’s home to high-profile artists such as Keith Urban, Kings of Leon and Dolly Parton, it still maintains a down-home feel.
“Honor Thy Music” is written above a doorway in the Country Music Hall of Fame — a monumental structure that is a short distance from Music City’s Walk of Fame, the historic Ryman Auditorium of Grand Ole Opry repute and Lower Broadway’s honky-tonks.
The hall pays tribute to “country” through its vast collection of recorded music, video clips, celebrity costumes (from Carl Perkins’ blue suede shoes to Faith Hill’s Versace gown), musical instruments such as Taylor Swift’s Swarovski guitar, and even Elvis’s solid gold Cadillac.
A visit to RCA Studio B, known as the “Home of a Thousand Hits,” can be arranged through the Hall of Fame. The importance of the studio (set in the heart of Music Row, 16th and 17th Aves. South) is legendary. More than 35,000 songs were recorded at Studio B, including 40 million-selling singles, 1,000 American hits and more than 200 recordings by Elvis — more than any other studio. It opened in 1957 and operated until the day after Elvis’s death in August, 1977 — a coincidence which became an unintended tribute to the King.
Newest to Nashville’s scene is the Johnny Cash Museum. Among its treasures are Johnny Cash and June Carter’s marriage certificate, a stone wall from the family’s Hendersonville, Tenn., home that was destroyed by fire and the handwritten manuscript of the songwriter’s last tune (penned days before his death in 2003).
Above: The Parthenon in Nashville is based on the Greek original.
Lower Broadway is four blocks of door-to-door music joints. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 3 a.m., this stretch of honky-tonks is known for its atmosphere as much as its music. This is where legends like Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson began their careers. Some of today’s top performers pop in for impromptu concerts at venues where countless hopefuls fine-tune their repertoires.
Not too far away from Broadway, in a nondescript strip mall, is the 90-seat Bluebird Café. Since its 1982 opening, it has become a Nashville treasure. It’s a mecca for aspiring singers and steeped in history. Faith Hill and Kathy Mattea honed their skills on its intimate stage and singer/songwriter Taylor Swift was discovered here at age 15.
The city’s No. 1 attraction, the Grand Ole Opry, is synonymous with Nashville. Its on-stage memories are legendary . . . from Carrie Underwood’s show-stopping performance of Tammy Wynette’s Stand by Your Man to Vince Gill’s unscripted invite to jazz vocalist Diana Krall to join him for a duet.
In 1974, the Opry moved from its long-time home at the Ryman Auditorium to its current location at The Opry House, adjacent to Gaylord Opryland Resort. The move left the Ryman vacant for two decades, but it was restored as a national showplace in 1994 and hosts the Grand Ole Opry each November, December and January.
Nashville is to music what Paris is to romance. But though music is typically at the top of most tourists’ itineraries, this city is much more. It was founded on Christmas Day, 1779. Among its pioneers was Rachel Donelson, who later became the wife of president Andrew Jackson, and Oprah Winfrey was the city’s first female and first African-American news anchor.
The city’s highest point, “Capitol Hill,” has its most luxurious digs, The Hermitage Hotel. Named after Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage estate, it is Tennessee’s only Mobil Five Star and AAA Five Diamond hotel.
Opened in 1910 as the city’s first million-dollar property — Persian rugs throughout, Italian Sienna marble at the entrance and a stained glass ceiling in the vaulted lobby — it became the preferred gathering place for city socialites.
Above: Belle Meade Plantation is a Nashville landmark.
A local saying is that millionaires live in Brentwood and billionaires live in Belle Meade, the city’s most exclusive enclave. Belle Meade Plantation’s 150-year-old antebellum home claims to have had a Civil War battle fought on the lawn (evidence is found in bullet holes embedded in the columns). A noted race horse plantation, many famous horses were bred there or can trace their lineage to the farm, including Iroquois, Seabiscuit and Secretariat.
The mistress of Belmont Mansion, Adelicia Acklen, was one of the nation’s richest women; and her home reflects her life and times. Standing at the foot of the mansion’s stairway, it’s easy to imagine it during the wedding reception for Acklen and her third husband, Dr. William Chetham in 1867. Deemed a “modest” affair of 2,000 guests, French emperor Napoleon III sent a diamond tiara for her to wear on the occasion.
Nashville’s most impressive museum structure is the Parthenon. Built for the state’s 100th anniversary and the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897, it is the world’s only full-size duplicate of Greece’s Parthenon, and houses a spectacular statue of Athena (itself a duplicate of the statue in Athens). Dramatically covered in gold leaf, the 12.8-metre-tall statue is the largest indoor sculpture in the Western World.
As you can see, Nashville is more than just Music City.