After years of yearning, Linda and I finally made it to Nashville. From the moment we landed, you could sense that it lived up to its nickname of Music City. I saw scores of people carrying musical instruments out of the airport, shop after shop of music stores as we drove into town, and throughout our visit bands were not only playing in the honky tonks that dot the region but also in small retail stores and other unlikely venues.
Fascinating sidenote – Queen Victoria is attributed with coining the term “Music City” after a concert in 1873 by the Fisk Jubilee Singers who were on an around-the-world tour to help fund the school’s mission of educating freed slaves after the Civil War. In fact, the Fisk Jubilee Singers were one of the first groups to grace the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, one of the highlights of our visit. I don’t believe a trip to Nashville would be complete without a backstage tour of the Ryman – visiting the dressing rooms where Elvis, Johnny and June Cash, Minnie Pearl, Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline and so many others prepared for their performances. The Ryman is perhaps best known as the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974, a weekly country-music stage concert launched as a one-hour radio “barn dance” on WSM. We saw a Grand Ole Opry Classics performance with a variety of country artists and the standard schmaltzy banter that is used as filler and to promote the advertisers. You were transported back in time.
Like Beale Street in Memphis and Bourbon and Frenchmen Streets in New Orleans, Nashville’s Broadway Street offers blocks and blocks that deserve the moniker of Honky Tonk Highway. The establishments vary in size, talent and styles so we just wandered in and out soaking up music from The Stage on Broadway to AJ’s Good Time Bar to Nudie’s Honky Tonk, and on and on. My favorite spots are smaller venues scattered across the city. I’d particularly call out the Station Inn, that has offered live bluegrass in Nashville since 1974. We were blown away by Tim O’Brien and his band. And while we weren’t able to see Doyle and Debbie, insiders raved about “the brilliantly tacky tribute to Music City,” offered each week at this venue. Depending on your receptivity to campiness, go at your own risk. The final place to reference with a warning flag is Santa’s Pub. You may remember my prior post on Dive Bars – this one knocks it out of the park with the Santa-bearded owner smoking on the porch, as scruffy looking a set of rooms as you’ll find and really horrible karaoke. If you are in the mood, it is worth a final stop on your bar crawl.
We also made it to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Historic RCA Studio B tour (once the recording home of popular music titans such as Elvis Presley, Chet Atkins, Eddy Arnold, and the Everly Brothers) and Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage before heading down to Chattanooga to see Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at the Tivoli Theater. All of these deserve glowing tributes but I fear I’ve droned on too long so I’ll end with a few culinary highlights.
Places to Eat
Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish. All our friends that have spent time in Nashville told us we had to eat Nashville’s “Hot Chicken” and one of Leah’s dear high school friends, David Thacker, recommended Bolton’s, a ramshackle restaurant that knows how to cook. WOW – all I’ll say is watch out – mild was as far as we could go on the spice scale. Hot chicken has been referred to as a punishment and a joy at the same time. In fact, according to an NPR story, hot chicken was originally conceived as a punishment for a womanizer back in the 1930s. After he had been out-on-the-town Saturday night, his wife decided on Sunday to douse his fried chicken with a ton of cayenne pepper. Apparently, he liked it and opened up a chicken shack. During the period of segregation, the primarily African-American owned establishments served hot chicken and black patrons were allowed in the front door and whites (including country music stars) had to go to the back.
Marché Artisan Foods was one of those restaurants you stumble upon while exploring a neighborhood. East Nashville has so many wonderful streets to wander and as we ventured out in Five Points, we stumbled upon Marché, a European style café serving a wonderful variety of dishes that any locavore would herald.
Milk and Honey is located in the Gulch, an area filled with new developments that replaced the old railroad yard. As you walk through the high rises, you’d think you were in any upscale urban development. Normally, I’d concentrate on more diverse, historic or quirky neighborhoods but Milk and Honey brought us back twice to the Gulch. Brunch, evening cocktails and dinner were all exceptional and the atmosphere and service was welcoming and tasty.