Songwriters and musicians flock to Nashville, Tenn., creating music as diverse and exciting as bluegrass, Americana, gospel, rock, pop, Grammy-winning classical and, of course, country. Whether in gargantuan venues such as the Grand Ole Opry, halls like the Schermerhorn Symphony Center or the reach-out-and-touch-the-guitars intimacy of the bluegrass jam sessions at the Station Inn, music of some kind or another always is wafting through the nooks and crannies of this city.
After dark, check out the honky-tonk bars along Broadway: Robert’s Western World with the big red boot, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge next door where you’re likely to rub elbows with Opry stars and Legends Corner with its tip jar for struggling musicians.
The Ryman Auditorium, the original and winter home of the Grand Ole Opry, is a fascinating showcase of the city’s musical history. For insatiable music buffs, there’s the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the world’s largest music museum.
Nowhere is the fusion of history and contemporary elegance captured more beautifully than in The Hermitage Hotel, which opened in 1910. Italian sienna marble, Russian walnut wall panels and a breathtaking stained-glass ceiling delight as you enter the vaulted lobby. Its Capitol Grille is considered the finest dining in town by Nashvillians “in the know.” The Hermitage has been a longtime recipient of the AAA Five Diamond Award and Forbes Travel Guide’s Five Star Award. In the spring of 2011, the hotel was named No. 6 on U.S. News & World Report’s list of best hotels in the United States.
For true Southern cooking, travel a bit outside the city for the quaint country charm of the Loveless Café, where the likes of Princess Anne, Al Gore, Tim McGraw and Martha Stewart (what a gathering that would be!) have raved about the country ham, red-eye gravy and scratch biscuits.
For true carnivores, try the Stock-Yard Restaurant; Sambuca for imaginative Southwestern cuisine; the world-famous Wildhorse Saloon for live music, dinner and dancing; and Midtown Café or Firefly Grille for delicious seasonal menus in a neighborhood setting.
Beyond the music life of Nashville, there is much to enjoy. The Belle Meade Plantation, the queen of Tennessee plantations, recalls the dark times of slavery and the grandeur of private estates. A leisurely ride under the stars on the General Jackson Showboat takes you back in time to the heyday of paddlewheel riverboats along the Cumberland River.
And you’ll think you’re in Greece when you come upon Nashville’s version of the Parthenon — a darned good version, down to the 42-foot statue of the Greek goddess — the Athena.Frist Center for the Visual Arts is superb, and the Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art is lovely.
Also not to be missed are the evening ghost tours at the historic Carnton Plantation, the most-haunted building in Tennessee and the site of five of the bloodiest hours of the Civil War. With any luck, you’ll encounter the weeping maiden, the fiddler in the parlor or the noisy kitchen ghost.
Legendary songwriter Harlan Howard once said, “Country music is three chords and the truth.” I found Nashville and its inextricable country music to be made up of many pleasures and chords — and that’s the truth.