Behind the ScenesThe barroom is quiet, save for the persistent sounds of clinking bottles and shuffling boots. The young man on stage clears his throat. His eyes are closed as his lips part, but then the lyrics barrel out from somewhere deep inside in his chest, knocking him out of his nervous haze. Finally, with the last strum of his guitar hanging in the air, his long lashes flutter apart, allowing for a few precious glimpses of a thoroughly captivated audience.
This is Nashville, though the songs aren’t always upbeat and triumphant finales don’t befall every would-be musician. While health care and publishing are two of the biggest local industries, the lifeblood of the city is music—whether it’s belted out by boot-wearing country stars or touring indie bands. Your trip is not complete until you experience the wide variety of music in the city.
Though millions of visitors each year seek out Music City’s harmonious core, other nicknames suit the Tennessee capital just fine. Home to more than 700 churches, Nashville—flush with steeples and stained glass windows—is sometimes referred to as the “Buckle of the Bible Belt.” The United Methodist Publishing House and the Southern Baptist Convention are headquartered here, along with one of the largest publishers of Bibles, HarperCollins Christian Publishing.
As the “Athens of the South,” the city's architecture often reflects a strong preference for Greek symmetry. Case in point: a full-size replica of the Parthenon. An impressive classical clone, the columned building is the centerpiece of lush Centennial Park, where Canada geese and their fluffy brood ply the waters of Lake Watauga. Nashville boasts several edifying institutions, including Vanderbilt University, founded in 1873, and Fisk University, well-known for its renowned African-American ensemble, first organized in 1871.
Still, most everyone comes to town to experience the thrill of at least one live performance: an impromptu session in a rustic honky-tonk or a well-oiled revue in a nicely equipped theater. The city’s most recognizable tabernacle remains the Ryman Auditorium, or, more appropriately, the “Mother Church of Country Music,” where fans seated in restored 19th-century pews now worship the likes of Alison Krauss and Vince Gill.
The city offers a plethora of fun things to do with friends. Revelers roam the entertainment district surrounding the Ryman nightly, eyeballing bands hard at work inside the string of honky-tonks lining Broadway. Along this historic thoroughfare peppered with Western shops and neon signs, street performers pose for photos with tourists. Well-traveled retirees barhop from Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge to Legends Corner to Robert’s Western World—memorabilia-crammed establishments where great country artists continue to stir things up.
A concrete block building on Roy Acuff Place serves as a shrine to Nashville’s storied musical past, smack-dab in the middle of the city's $5 billion entertainment industry. State-of-the-art for its time, RCA Studio B was built in 1957 in a burgeoning district quickly emerging as the place to record—Music Row. More than 200 Elvis Presley songs were recorded here, and in recent years the studio has been restored to its former 1970s glory.
Tours of the “Home of 1,000 Hits” are available through the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where music plays a part in, well, everything. Visitors drool over the 1928 Weymann strummed by Jimmie Rodgers, “The Father of Country Music.” In the hall of fame, bronze likenesses of bygone Grand Ole Opry stars enthrall groups who, just the evening prior, were wowed by contemporary acts at the stage show that first aired on Nov. 28, 1925.
Inspired by Nashville’s long broadcasting history, a triangular-braced tower attached to the Bridgestone Arena rises more than 200 feet; its elliptical 100-foot base recalls an angled spotlight lighting a stage. The arena's music box-style roof, left ajar, allows the sounds of shows to resonate through downtown.
AAA’s in-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. To pass inspection, all hotels must meet the same rigorous standards for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality. These hotels receive a AAA Diamond designation that tells members what type of experience to expect.
Tennessee's statewide sales tax is 7 percent; Nashville's sales tax can be up to an additional 2.25 percent, and the city has a 6 percent lodging tax, plus $2 city tax per night.
Nashville General Hospital at Meharry, (615) 341-4000; Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital, (615) 284-5555; Saint Thomas West Hospital, (615) 222-2111; TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center, (615) 781-4000; TriStar Summit Medical Center, (615) 316-3000; Vanderbilt University Medical Center, (615) 322-5000.
501 Broadway Nashville, TN 37203. Phone:(615)259-4747 or (866)830-4440
For tourists with airline flights,
Hertz, (615) 275-2600 or (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.
The Greyhound bus terminal is at 709 5th Ave. S.; phone (615) 255-3556 or (800) 231-2222.
Cab fare is $3 to start and $2 per mile; a $25 flat fee is charged for transportation between the airport and downtown. Cabs are not easy to hail outside downtown, but they can be ordered by phone. The major cab company is Yellow, (615) 256-0101.
Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has more than 50 city routes, including an airport connection. Exact change is required. The fare is $1.70; $1.00 (ages 5-19); 85c (ages 65+ and riders with disabilities). Buses generally run daily 6:15 a.m.-11:15 p.m., depending upon the route. For information phone (615) 862-5950.