"We can’t know where we’re going until we know where we’ve been. And the music of the past is not just to study and put in a museum. The way to study it is to put it on the stereo and turn it up as loud as you can." -Emmylou Harris The tour bus driver’s son is a drummer. The head of catering at our hotel is a Patsy Cline-alike. The bartender is a singer. The tourism director’s husband is a songwriter. “Our nanny, our painter and our lawn guy – they all have some connection to music. It’s everywhere,” one gift shop owner told me. Everywhere you turn, everyone you meet is in the music business or trying to get into the music business. Nashville – a magnetic city of dreams for thousands of hopefuls with a dance in their steps, a song in their hearts and an earnest and fresh believability that success and fame are just moments away. Gretchen Wilson was singing for tips “just three years ago” on Music Row. Dolly Parton grew up poor and arrived with nothing but a few dollars and a beat up guitar. A tumbled and guileless Elvis showed up looking for backup work. Nashville’s moniker is Music City and music indeed is everywhere. But so are those who yearn to be part of the magic.
Visitors to this Southern city, nestled on the banks of the Cumberland River, will find a fascinating vacation for the whole family. The city’s music fame began with the National Life and Accident Insurance Company, which sponsored a radio program in 1925. Ever since, Nashville has been a destination for the crooners and pencil-wielding lyricists who have woven bluegrass, gospel and good old church singing into a multi-million dollar industry.
Music Row - Live music springs from the bars along Broadway. Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Layla’s Bluegrass Inn and Legends Corner offer bands – really good bands – two hours to play. From late afternoon to the wee hours of the morning, a large variety of singers and bands unpack and pack up their amplifiers, guitars and tip jars as they step onto the window-bound mini stages. Two hours later, another hopeful arrives to take their place. Unsaid but readily apparent is their fervent belief that a record producer or famed musician will wander in for a listen and sign them on the spot. You wouldn’t be in Nashville without an evening soaking in the ambiance of Music Row.
Ryman Auditorium – The Grand Ole Opry (www.opry.com) has had five homes in Nashville since its start back in 1925. During the “slower” months of November to February, the Opry resides in the “mother church” of country western music – the Ryman. It switches to the mammoth stage at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel complex during the busier months. But it is the Ryman where history oozes from every spot . Performances are broadcast on the radio and everyone will enjoy watching the laid back precision that the Opry performers honor. Well worth the ticket price and during the day, do take the backstage tour.
Country Music Hall of Fame - This magnificent museum, shaped like a bass clef with windows to resemble piano keys, relocated from Music Row in 2001 and is home to everything imaginable from Elvis’ solid gold Cadillac to Willie Nelson’s headband. Families can easily spend several hours interacting with and listening to gold records, watching video clips of early C&W recordings and enjoying exhibits featuring Marty Robbins, Ray Price and Ray Charles, among dozens of others. Archivists are working on view, digitizing old radio programs and carefully curating the extensive collection and tracing the evolution and traditions of country music. A must-do for visitors.
Musicians Hall of Fame – New to Nashville is this equally impressive collection featuring instruments, memorabilia and fabulous photographs. From the piano used to record Tammy Wynette singing 'Stand By Your Man' to George Harrison's steel guitar he used to record 'All Things Must Pass,' wander through the beautifully prepared exhibits and admire the keyboards drums, guitars and amplifiers that made history.
Studio B – There are more than 100 recording studios in Nashville now but in its heyday, this was the only one that counted. More than 35,000 songs were recorded here and more than 1,000 became Top 10 hits. We stood in awe, standing on the tan and brown floor tiles where Elvis walked – having recorded more than 250 songs here. In the studio itself, we were allowed to sit at the piano bench where Floyd Cramer recorded ‘ Last Date,’ and where Elvis, early in the morning of April 3, 1960, recorded ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight.’ We felt as if we were on a private tour and the closeness to those giants of C&W filled our hearts.
Also recommended - It’s corny, but we took the Grayline bus tour of the stars’ homes. Our small bus went up and down the streets and out into the suburbs showing us Dolly Parton’s home – patterned after Tara in ‘Gone with the Wind,’ Martina McBride's lovely home with her turquoise VW Beetle parked under the porte cochere and her tour bus on the other side, the house where Tammy Wynette died and the former homes of old time stars like Brenda Lee and Jimmy Dickens. We loved it! For a complete guide to the city, visit www.visitmusiccity.com (Photos by Larry Shiflet).
(This article was originally published on 2/07/07)