Country Strong

By | Category: Travel destinations

Stunning architecture, a fantastic food scene, A list celebrities and live music every night of the week, served with a heavy dose of Southern hospitality – yes reasons to visit Nashville soon add up. Kaye Holland heads to the hottest destination in America right now

It’s midnight and men (and women) in cowboy boots and Stetsons are swirling across the dance floor of Robert’s honky-tonk, line dancing to a traditional country band.

Earlier today I tucked into Meat and three (a classic Southern meal of meat loaf, fried chicken or catfish served with three sides) and attended an open mic session at Bluebird Cafe – a much loved live music venue where bright young stars get signed. (Lady Antebellum  and Garth Brooks were both discovered here.) Tomorrow? I’ll be rising for a breakfast of crumbly Buttermilk biscuits and cheese grits at the institution that is Puckett’s Grocery.

Welcome to Nashville – which truly lives up-to its nickname Music City. Make no mistake: NashVegas is all about guitars, bars and wannabe country music stars.


Country music rules in Nashville

If my experiences are anything to go by, chances are that almost everyone you’ll meet in Nashville is an aspiring muso. The Uber driver who drove me back to Broadway (the heart of the downtown district) from East Nashville (Music City’s new new hipster neighbourhood)? He’s an artist – who could have a number one by next week. The bubbly blonde who tried (and nearly succeeded) in selling me a pair of brash, glittery, rhinestone cowboy boots at Boot Country? An actress and singer. The Aussie receptionist at Downtown Nashville, the hostel where I stayed? A songwriter who travelled all the way from Oz, to develop a career in the music business.

The boots Kaye nearly bought

The boots Kaye nearly bought

Of course there are plenty of bonafide stars in town too: Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman, the cast of hit ABC show Nashville (if you haven’t watched it, you’re missing out), Jack White (formerly of the White Stripes), the Kings of Leon, Reese Witherspoon, Taylor Swift, self-proclaimed ‘architect of rock n’ roll’ Little Richard and disco queen Donna Summer all have homes in Nashville.


The annual Country Music Festival attracts country fans from around the world

And while I was in town the CMA Awards – aka country music’s biggest night – were taking place meaning Music City was flooded with even more celebs (here’s looking at the A list likes of Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton and Carrie Underwood, aka the most honoured artist in CMA Music Awards history)  than normal.

You can learn all about the importance of country music at the monumental Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where my own personal highlights included gazing at Elvis’s gold cadillac and Tammy Wynette’s wig. On the way out, head over to Hatch Show Print (it’s tucked away at the back of the Country Music Hall of Fame) – a gorgeous screen printing shop that has been open since 1879.


It’s in the stars

The Ryman Auditorium – often referred to as the ‘Mother Church of Country Music’ – is another Nashville must visit. A National Historic Landmark since 2001, the Ryman has hosted country music legends like Johnny Cash (fans of the late ‘Man in Black’, won’t want to miss the Johnny Cash Museum on Third Avenue in Downtown Nashville which celebrates Cash’s musical legacy, while telling the riveting story of Cash’s extraordinary life down the decades) and Don Williams  (aka country music’s gentle giant) to name but a few.


The iconic Bluebird Cafe

East of downtown Nashville, the Grand Ole Opry – a weekly country-music stage concert – also rewards a visit. The Grand Ole Opry was started in 1925 by Jimmy Thompson, an 80 year old fiddle player who announced that he would take requests live on air. Fast forward 90 years and country music devotees still make a weekly pilgrimage to the theatre to see the show be broadcast live on air.

But there’s more to the Tennessee capital than country: Nashville boasts a booming pop and rock scene, while gospel also thrives in this city that’s home to more than 800 churches and attracts over 11 million visitors every year.

Not that I knew any of this prior to visiting, which only serves to prove that one of the best ways to learn and better oneself is to explore new lands and meet new people…


Nashville is all about the music

Yet while Nashville has long been famed for its many musical attractions, in recent years the city has also become a top food town leading Conde Nast Traveler, no less, to declare of Nashville: “There’s enough going on food-wise to warrant a trip solely for eating”.

Needless to say that following a feast of local cuisine at  Nashville nosh stops such as Arnold’s, Monells and The Southern, you may well return home a good dress size larger than when you left. However  trust me when I say that after trying Southern delicacies such as Brisket, Fried chicken, Sweet potato pancakes and Pulled pork BBQ, you might be heaver – but it will be with happiness.


Nashville nightlife

Shopping is another prime reason to visit Nashville: happily the stores  aren’t all for the masses and it’s fun to window shop, arm in arm, around East Nashville (the unofficial enclave of creative types) where you’ll find an array of independently owned boutiques and funky thrift stores like Local Honey.

With so much on offer, it’s hardly surprising that Nashville is becoming of the fastest growing cities in America, with the low living costs – Nashville is approximately 14 per cent cheaper than other cities in the US – only adding to the town’s already considerable appeal.


Nashville’s appeal is strong

Little wonder then that for many who come, Nashville immediately becomes their favourite American destination. Are you ready for the country?

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,