Nashville surprised me. In a good way. I’ve not been before so didn’t have memories of yore that I was seeking to relive. I’d also not done a heck of a lot of reading or Googling about the place, except that I wanted to go to the honky tonk bars.
How to get around
You don’t need a car in Nashville if you just want to hit the hot spots of Downtown, Midtown, the Country Music Hall of Fame, Johnny Cash Museum and the bars. Most of it is walkable and cabs are cheap. But I’m traveling with my parents and husband, so we picked up our Chevrolet 7-seater van from Avis at the airport and began what is dubbed our Music Roadie from Nashville to Memphis and ending in New Orleans for a family reunion with my brother, sister-in-law and niece from the Cayman Islands.
Where to stay
The newly multi-million dollar renovated Loews Vanderbilt Hotel in Midtown is our home for 2 nights. It’s opposite Vanderbilt University which is alive with baseball fans attending the game. A gas fire behind glass in the outside wall is a great look (one for Pinterest) as we pull in and have the car valet parked for $30 per day. It would have been $26 if we’d parked it ourselves. The 6-month makeover has cool touches of the vintage Nashville music scene blended with a contemporary design using dark wood and natural fibres and colours. I love the back wall in the lobby lounge which from a distance shows the face of an old country singer made up of thousands of photos of other musicians.
What to do
Grab a car and for about $8 head straight down the road into the honky tonk bar district of Downtown. Bar hop along the road stopping for a drink where the music lures you. All the greats got their starts along here and you’ll find everything from contemporary country to Elvis and Johnny Cash at the Legends bar. The highlight for me was the Big Bang piano bar with 2 grand pianos and a team of incredibly talented young guys in T-shirts and jeans taking requests and belting out Bohemian Rhapsody or Piano Man like I would play chop sticks. Brilliantly, I might add.
The Johnny Cash Museum opened yesterday and people were lined up around the block. Fortunately it was quiet as we entered through the gift shop and scooped up a couple of items like a limited edition poster and a T-shirt. You’ll see his stage outfits and that of his wife June and the Carter family. Dining room bits and bobs from their home, love letters to June and a huge collection of his gold and platinum records. The staff look like Johnny in black shirts and bril’d black hair.
The Country Music Hall of Fame is probably what Nashville is most known for. Housed in one of the most impressive buildings I’ve seen, it’s 3 floors of the history of country music, display cases filled with memorabilia including Elvis’s pimped up car that he drove here to donate. It has a TV in the back with what looks like a coathanger for an aerial. You’ll get an audio handset to take yourself on a your.
But Studio B is a must-do to add to your Country Music ticket. I wouldn’t have done this if I hadn’t bumped into the Nashville Tourism girl at Johnny Cash who said we must. It was an absolute highlight. I can now say I have sat at the original Steinway grand piano that Elvis cut 250 of his songs at and jammed on with his band. Yes, me. It’s the same piano that all the greats from Roy Orbison to Charlie Pride to Dolly Parton have used. It is still used for recording sessions today and tuned every Friday, in the room that is just the way it was back in the day of the king. Rugs are still rolled out on the floor for the accoustics and coloured lighting helps set the mood for any diva.
Where to eat
If you’re after an authentic Southern breakfast, drive about 25 minutes out of town to Loveless Cafe. They smoke their ham and bacon out here in a smoke house next to the country-style cafe that serves biscuits (which look and taste like scones) and grits (a savoury porridgy dish oomphed up with butter and spices).
The Tavern in Midtown is a great spot for dinner – and one of the barmen is a kiwi. Say hi to Taylor and order the lobster sliders. Hopefully you’ll also have room for a little campfire to be brought to your table so you can roast your own marshmallows and make smores. It’s an easy walk from the Loews Hotel.
Nashville is one incredibly talented city and I’m so thrilled we started our Music Roadie here!