I’ve been a country music fan most of my life and Nashville is not only the top live-music city in the world, but also the keeper of country music’s rich history.
I checked into the charming Germantown Inn, a short Uber ride from downtown. I started my music trail at the Ryman Auditorium, the ‘Mother Church of country music’ – to see blues act the Tedeschi Truck Band. I then took a short walk to Robert’s Western World, rated the best of the Lower Broadway ‘honky-tonk’ bars, to sip Belle Meade sour mash whiskey and watch excellent country bands.
Hit parade: Nashville’s Broadway is packed with concert venues
A couple of blocks away is Printer’s Alley, where I dropped in to Alley Taps to see singer Tosha Hill perform. A few doors along at Skull’s Rainbow Room, Laura Mayo was breathing hot jazz standards.
The cab driver who drove me back to Germantown Inn told me she’d travelled to Nashville a year ago from her home in Pennsylvania to make it in the music industry.
As I got out, she handed me a CD. She’s called Brittany Opperman. I popped it on and was amazed. Even cabbies sing like angels in this city.
I then checked into Noelle, an Art Deco hotel just a short walk to the main music centres. From there I headed out to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Nearby stand the Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline museums, while just up the road is the RCA Studio B, where the likes of Elvis recorded. For a mobile history lesson, take a Songbird Tours bus ride – which comes with two songwriters/singers on board who play for you in pauses between historic sites.
The bus trundles along Music Row – where musicians knock out hits in neat little mid-20th Century houses – on its way to residential Brentwood. We got to see the bungalow where Hank Williams’s alcoholic widow Audrey died and, years later, Tammy Wynette passed away in mysterious circumstances. There’s always a bit of Southern Gothic tragedy in country music.
Finally, I checked into the chic 21C Museum Hotel. Its in-house restaurant, Gray & Dudley, is worth the stay alone. Over the past decade, the city’s culinary landscape has transformed. New restaurants such as Husk Nashville and Café Roze give New York and LA’s finest a run for their money.
Talent: Tosha Hill singing at Alley Taps in Nashville
You may still want to tip your hat to the Old South as well, and dine at Hattie B’s Hot Chicken or Arnold’s Country Kitchen. At Arnold’s, I sat alongside truckers, lawyers and country music stars. It’s an institution – all red leather banquettes and walls crammed with pictures of country-star customers.
It struck me that, for all Nashville’s nouveau hipness, it is its history that really makes it one of my favourite cities. A scorching concert by The Time Jumpers, a collection of Nashville’s top session musicians, later that night just confirmed it.