Until I attended my first medical meeting in Nashville, I’d never thought much about visiting this mid-sized city, an oversight on my part. Nashville’s a fun destination in many ways, especially if you’re a fan of Country music. I enjoy Country music, though don’t consider myself a particularly big follower of it, but I’ve had a great time in “Music City” each of the three times I’ve visited it.
Nashville was the last Tennessee stop on our Elvis tour. We decided to see those sights in Nashville important to Elvis’ story because Nashville is where he recorded most of his wonderful music, including many big hits. We also wanted to tour around the city and immerse ourselves in its Country music heritage.
To say that Country music is a big and thriving business in Nashville is a huge understatement. Country music is everywhere! Unlike Memphis’ music scene, which sadly seemed in decline, Nashville’s music business is robust. Here are some of the highlights.
Elvis-related sites in Nashville:
1) The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum: If you’re a Country Music fan, this place is not to be missed. Same is true for Elvis fans. Nashville is home to the world’s largest popular music museum and it’s filled with thousands of interesting displays which trace the history of Country music from its origins to modern times. Many of the exhibits are permanent, but a number are rotating.
The museum displays memorabilia and music from hundreds of artists, including a limited number of items from Elvis’ life. On display you can find Elvis’ gold-leafed Cadillac (a gift from his wife, Priscilla) and one of his pianos.
There are many of Elvis’ gold and platinum records in the Museum’s collection of Country gold, and be sure you see his plaque in the Country Music Hall of Fame. You can easily spend a full day here enjoying the fascinating displays. The museum has a great gift shop, with lots of rare recordings, also worth a look.
2) RCA Studio B: “Home of 1000 Hits”! Who would have thought that this modest single story building, about the size of an average home, would have recorded over 1,000 top 10 hits over the years? Elvis himself recorded more than 200 songs here (including “Are you Lonesome Tonight” — the guides reveal a secret in how it was cut and spliced), and we’ve previously published a detailed look at Studio B at this link. Other artists who have recorded at Studio B include Roy Orbison (“Only the Lonely“), Dolly Parton (“I Will Always Love You“) and the Everly Brothers (“All I have to Do is Dream“). The studio was at its prime from 1957 through the 1970s, all but shuttering in 1977 (rare artists still record here, like Carrie Underwood). Tours of Studio B are run through the Country Music Hall of Fame which is where you buy your tickets and grab the shuttle bus to this legendary recording facility. Takes about an hour and a half and if you like music from this era it’s not to be missed.
3) The Ryman Auditorium: The Ryman Auditorium opened in 1892 and most every big star of Country music has performed on its stage, from Hank Snow to Johnny Cash. The building looks a bit like a church, so it’s no wonder it’s been called the “Mother Church of Country Music”. It was here that the Grand Ole Opry performed in for decades before moving to a more modern auditorium near Opryland. It was on its stage that Elvis auditioned for the Opry in the mid-1950s (but was turned away as untalented and unworthy). Nashville wasn’t ready for Elvis at that time any more than Vegas was; it would take another decade for these cities to embrace the “King of Rock”. During the winter some shows of the Grand Ole Opry are still performed at the Ryman, so do your research if you’re in town at that time.
Other things to see and do in Nashville:
1) The Parthenon: In Nashville’s Centennial Park you’ll find the world’s only full-scale reproduction of the ancient Parthenon (Athens, Greece). Built for the Tennessee expo in 1897, it was intended to be a temporary exhibit but soon became a local landmark. There’s an art museum inside and a huge statue of the Greek goddess, Athena.
2) The Hermitage: I enjoy visiting Presidental homes and do so whenever I can. You can do a tour of President Andrew Jackson’s (“Old Hickory’s”) southern plantation. You’ll know this President from his image on the US $20 bill. The home is well preserved and gives you a nice feel for life during the early 19th century. Tours include the kitchen, smokehouse, garden, an old log cabin, and the gravesite of Jackson and his wife.
3) The Grand Old Opry: I wasn’t prepared for what a FUN night a performance at the Grand Ole Opry would be. The show has it’s own theater and is still broadcast live (commercial breaks and all) every week. Over a dozen artists show up and you’re never quite sure who will perform on a given night. Country stars, bluegrass groups, cowboy and gospel music are performed by highly talented artists. You’ll even be entertained by some corny comedians who’ll have you in stitches. The shows last about 2 hours and I’ve enjoyed every minute of the several I’ve seen. I make it a point to go to the Opry each time I visit Nashville.
There’s a small Grand Ole Opry Museum adjoining the Opry House, which I haven’t visited. It’s said to nice exhibits on the performers who’ve appeared on the Grand Ole Opry over the years.
4) Walking through the city: The downtown part of Nashville is compact, pleasant, and very easy and worthwhile to explore on foot. Some of the sites you’ll see on a walk through downtown Nashville include the state capitol, the Center for the Performing Arts, the Convention Center, and of course the Ryman Auditorium and Country Music Hall of fame. Much of downtown closes after office hours, but there’s a great music and food nightlife scene here center in “the District”, the area around Second Avenue and Broadway.
5) Opryland. A massive resort and convention center, I’ve stayed here a few time because the facility is a popular place to hold national meetings. One usually doesn’t think of a hotel as an attraction, but this one is. Besides its nearly 3000 hotel rooms, it has 3 large courtyards covered by 8 acres of glass (greenhouses). There’s tropical plants, ponds, waterfalls and rushing streams. It’s an interesting complex and is near Opryland, so if you’ve a few hours to kill, come to Opryland and take in the sights. There are large numbers of restaurants in the complex; all those I’ve dined at at Opryland, all have been good.
6) Food. Some great southern food is available. We especially enjoyed the Barbecue at ‘Jack’s Bar-B-Que’ in downtown Nashville (best BBQ brisket I’ve ever tasted) and the catfish and hushpuppies at ‘Cock-of-the-Walk’.
(Click on thumbnails to enlarge, right arrow to advance slideshow)