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Nashville: More than Glamour and Glitz
Thomas R. & Deborah A. Fletcher
Glamorous and glitzy? You bet. That’s Nashville. It’s expected. What one may not expect are the culture, history, and earthy, friendly feel to this sizable city with a metropolitan area population 1.23 million. Nashville has a long history on her way from "Fort Nashborough," as she was founded on the banks of the Cumberland River in 1779 as part of the Carolina Territory, to becoming known as "Music City USA.". That history is reflected in some of the area attractions such as The Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson, Travellers Rest and Belle Meade Plantation, and you’ll find plenty of culture at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts.
Music fans flock to Nashville to get closer to the stars of country music. That’s easier to do than some folks may realize. There are a number of events throughout the year that make it happen. There’s Fan Fare, the world’s largest country music festival, held every June. Fans get to meet the stars, get autographs, and hear more than forty hours of live performances. Another event is Tin Pan South, the annual celebration of songwriters and their craft. Probably most well known is the Grand Ole Opry, with live performances every Friday and Saturday night.
In Nashville, you may simply bump into a star or two while seeing the city. For instance, after dancing a bit at the Wildhorse Saloon, we briefly dropped by a couple of honky-tonks along Broadway–just to see what they’re like. In one of those, at the end of the bar, was the guy who held the number one spot on country music radio. Most patrons didn’t realize who he was–just another guy having a drink. Eating out is another way to bump into the locals. Well known for its fine dining, the Sunset Grill provided another close encounter where a well-known singer/songwriter dined a couple of tables away. Our visit took place during the annual Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival. Nashville was overflowing with songwriters and events. The intimacy of the performing venues needs mentioning as we were taken by the stature of performers, the small venue sizes and the proximity to the performers.
The Ryman Auditorium, known as the "Mother Church of Country Music," is a National Historic Landmark. It got its start as a church in 1892. After conversion in a tent revival meeting, Nashville businessman Thomas Ryman decided the Reverend Sam Jones needed a better place to preach than a tent. He built the structure to serve that purpose. Called the Union Gospel Tabernacle, the church later became known as the Ryman Auditorium. The structure was made famous as the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943-1974. The Ryman has been called "the Carnegie Hall of the South," as result of her wonderful acoustic qualities. After the Grand Ole Opry moved to Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, the Ryman sat vacantly for nearly 20 years until it was restored in 1994. The Ryman is open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, 9:00 A.M. - 4:00 P.M. as a museum and is again a performance venue, featuring a diverse schedule of performers throughout the year. Those who have recently graced the Ryman stage include: Indie Arie, Bruce Springsteen, Matchbox 20, and the more expected performers such as Vince Gill, Lee Ann Womack, and Dwight Yoakam. Friday and Saturday night, November-February the Ryman is once again hosting the Grand Ole Opry. Tour the museum by day, take in a show by night.
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is located in a new downtown $37 million, 130,000-square-foot facility with of three floors of exhibit space, theaters, store, restaurant and the 5,300-square-foot Hall of Fame Rotunda. The best of its million-item collection covering the history and culture of country music through photographs, artifacts, recordings, and video clips, is on display. Touch screens and listening stations make the museum an interactive, educational experience. Visitors can select songs from a vast catalog of country greats and burn their own cd. The 213-seat Ford Theater and the 56-seat Songwriter’s Theater are two areas where visitors may enjoy an intimate performance by Nashville talent. Live performances and demonstrations are a regular part of the museum experience. We suggest purchasing a two-day pass, as one day simply isn’t enough to soak up all the museum has to offer.
RCA’s Historic Studio B on Music Row is another must see. Built in 1957, Studio B is Nashville’s oldest surviving recording studio, having earned its right in history as home to the "Nashville Sound." The Nashville Sound revived interest in country music and stemmed the tide of young people flocking to rock and roll. Names such as Jim Reeves, Dolly Parton, Charlie Pride, and the Everly Brothers put Studio B on the map. It is ironic that Elvis Presley, the King of Rock & Roll, recorded more than 200 of his hits in Studio B, a place that at the same time was developing a sound to draw young people back into country circles. After RCA closed the studio, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum began operating the studio as an historic site in 1977. In 1996 the studio was restored to its vintage look. Partnered with Belmont University, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum operates the studio as a "learning laboratory" where students get to work with vintage and state-of-the-art recording technology (as well as offering public tours).
The Hermitage, plantation home of President Andrew Jackson is open to the public. The plantation, at its peak in the 1840's covered 1,000 acres and was worked by the labor of 140 slaves. The Greek Revival style mansion has been restored to its appearance during the 1837-1845 period. The Greek theme is carried on in the interior as the wallpaper displays scenes from The Odyssey. A visit to the Hermitage is a lesson in history as guides in period costume lead guests on tours through the mansion.
The Grand Ole Opry, the world’s longest running live radio show, got its start in November 1925 on AM station 650 WSM. In 1974 the Opry moved from its home in the Ryman Auditorium to the Grand Ole Opry House, a 4,400-seat auditorium that is the centerpiece of Opryland Resort. With a cast of more the 70 members, the Grand Ole Opry features some of the best known names in country music with performers such as Porter Wagoner, Patty Loveless, Trisha Yearwood, and Ricky Skaggs. On Friday and Saturday nights the line-up of stars varies from week to week, but the entertainment level is always high.
Country music is the number one visitor draw to Nashville, but surprisingly, not the number one industry. That would be publishing and printing, stemming largely from the denominational publishing houses and headquarters in the city. Which, in some circles, has led to another nickname for the city: "The Protestant Vatican." Nashville is all about country music but there’s something for those seeking culture and history as well.
If You Go:
2001-A Belcourt Avenue
Nashville, TN 37212
Text and Photos Copyright Thomas R. Fletcher / PROSE AND PHOTOS