Nashville: Like No Place Else
Grand Ole Opry, 2804 Opryland Drive. The soaring Grand Ole Opry House in the Opryland complex has housed the Opry (a country music concert/live radio broadcast) since 1974. Plan your visit around the schedule of regular stars and guest musicians, or just take a chance. Whether it’s Charlie Daniels, Diamond Rio or Kelli Pickler, a great show is a sure bet. Stroll through the Opryland Hotel before or after the show and gawk at its gargantuan fabulosity. The resort and convention center complex features nine acres of indoor gardens, waterfalls and an indoor river with its own Delta flatboat.
Ryman Auditorium, 116 5th Avenue North. This historic building began life as a house of worship and housed the Grand Ole Opry starting in 1943. After the Opry moved in 1974, the Ryman was barely saved from demolition. It was refurbished and reopened in 1994 and is in demand as a venue for artists who prefer playing “small houses” (to use a Nashville phrase). Take a self-guided tour to experience it without the crowd.
Music Row. Centered around 16th and 17th Avenues South, this area is the heart of Nashville's entertainment and music publishing industry. Businesses here include record labels, recording studios and licensing firms serving the country, gospel and Christian music industries.
Frist Center for the Visual Arts, 919 Broadway. Everyone wondered what fate awaited the picture-perfect Art Deco post office building when the city’s main post office moved to a bigger space. Enter the Frist Center, which re-purposed the space as several art galleries, art library, cafe, auditorium and classrooms. The Frist gets many of the world-class traveling exhibits you’ll want to catch. The Frist and its neighbors Union Station Hotel and Christ Church Cathedral represent three exceptionally handsome examples of historic civic architecture. And there’s the Flying Saucer beer emporium, at 1001 Broadway, nestled between the three.
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, 222 5th Avenue South. Famous and historic artifacts from country’s golden years to last year. The gold Cadillac and Porter Waggoner’s rhinestone suits get the attention, but there are also precious cocktail napkins with famous lyrics and old broadcast equipment. Interactive exhibits keep children busy. Check the schedule of public performances and have your picture made in the “Hee-Haw” cornfield as a souvenir.
Bicentennial Mall. Stretching from the foot of Capitol Hill, along 8th Avenue North, Bicentennial Mall tells the story of Tennessee in granite, water, stone and plants. In hot weather, children play in the “rivers of Tennessee” fountain. Runners use the avenues, called Pathway of History and Walkway of Counties, to help the miles pass more quickly. The Farmer’s Market is next door.
Cheekwood Museum and Botanical Garden, 1200 Forrest Park Drive. Built with the $40 million sale of Maxwell House coffee to General Foods in 1928, this spectacular house has been a museum far longer than it was a country residence for the Cheek family. The house, its permanent collection and grounds are worth the price of admission even in winter.
Belle Meade Mansion, 5025 Harding Pike, and The Hermitage, 4580 Rachel’s Lane. Nashville has a number of antebellum and historic homes, and these two are the cream of the crop. Belle Meade once bred the finest race horses in the country, while the Hermitage was the home of President Andrew Jackson. Belmont Mansion and Travellers Rest are also open to the public. Take a tour of some of the privately owned historic homes. Drive slowly out Hillsboro Road and Franklin Road, and look especially closely at churches and schools, as many homes were sold to churches, which retained the original mansion for offices or schools.
Mega-churches. Nashville is home to massive churches that look, and operate, more like businesses. There are stages for altars, professional soundboards, microphones and bands. If you’re invited to a ”church musical,” definitely go. And if you see Vince or Faith sitting over there, remember that it’s rude to ask if they’re attending church or talent scouting.
Civil War history. The Battle of Nashville raged in the corridor bounded by Hillsboro Road and Franklin Road from about I-440 south to Tyne Boulevard. There are several monuments and parks, mostly tucked away in neighborhoods. Breastworks remain visible on Hopkins Avenue in Green Hills, and Shy’s Hill in Seven Hills has a historic marker and a path.
Venues, venues, venues. Nashville must have more places for listening to music than anywhere on earth. Among the clubs, Springwater had a dirt floor, Bluebird is ridiculously small, Exit/In is legendary and Mercy Lounge is big. There are auditoriums in several high schools and all 21 universities. Downtown Nashville alone has four auditoriums, three concert halls/theaters, a dozen music clubs, plus Schermerhorn Symphony Center. So when you hear of a show you want to see, be sure to find out where it is.