If you've never visited Nashville you probably think the city's full of live music, cowboy hats, and the hope of becoming the next big country star. That's not far off, but it's also not the complete picture.
Nashville's nickname -- Music City -- fits like a fine pair of blue jeans because the city is the epicenter of country music and home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium and more than a hundred venues where live music is a nightly thing. But what you're able to hear in Nashville ranges far beyond the country, western (yes, there is a difference) and Americana you expect. There are plenty of cowboy hats, but more likely you'll find western shirts inspired by the likes of Nudie Cohn and Nathan Turk -- you know the ones: pearl buttons, fancy stitching at the shoulder. And while the city still draws plenty of next-generation musicians, you're more likely to find aspiring chefs, bartenders, brewers and artists -- and more than a few visitors enjoying the city -- while you're out and about.
Much of the music action is centered on Broadway Avenue, specifically Lower Broadway (which just happens to be near Riverfront Park, where many of the cruise ships dock), where honky-tonks and rooftop bars are interspersed with restaurants (featuring their own live music lineups), souvenir shops and boutiques. Printer's Alley, just a few blocks north of Broadway, has its own slate of bars and venues, and between Music Row and The Gulch, you'll find even more places to sip and listen.
You'll hear music all day from street corner buskers and coming from the stages of every open restaurant and bar you pass, but at night, things get hopping. Along Broadway, the sidewalks get packed and lines form at the most popular honkytonks, or at the ones where the band is playing a particularly hot lick at the moment. If you want a more refined music experience, those are available too. The Grand Old Opry, a radio show that started airing weekly concerts in 1925 and has hosted legends in country, bluegrass, Americana and even rock, records at the historic Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville and at the Grand Ole Opry House just a short ride away; no matter where the Opry is recording or who's on the show that night, this musical legend is worth seeing.
Given the city's musical history, several museums pay homage to the greats of country music. The Johnny Cash Museum, downstairs from the Patsy Cline Museum, is a good place to start as The Man in Black was a crossover artist who influenced artists from all stripes of the musical spectrum for five decades (Patsy Cline's story and musical legacy is strong today too). The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is jam-packed with memorabilia and music from the genre's past and present, and the Music City Walk of Fame Park spreads the love beyond the country borders. At the Hatch Show Print's Haley Gallery, you can see original concert posters and today's interpretation of the iconic designs: bold primary colors, big block lettering, prominent graphic of the artist on the playbill.
But Nashville's not all music, there's art, food and drink to be enjoyed, too.
The Rymer Gallery, Nashville's largest gallery of contemporary artwork, features work by more than 40 artists from the U.S. and abroad, and at Zeitgeist gallery you can catch performances and exhibits by established and emerging artists. Shopping at a bookstore like Parnassus Books, an antique shop like Antique Archaeology Nashville, or for delightfully tourist tacky souvenirs at one of the innumerable such shops that line Broadway makes for an easy way to pass an afternoon.
Nashville's food scene has made restaurants here a destination unto themselves, and new places and chefs continue to make a name for themselves. Spots like Acme Feed & Seed, located across the street from Riverfront Park, is a convenient meeting place for cruise lines and serves a menu that's expansive and tasty. Hot Chicken -- fried chicken with a spicy breading and spicier sauce -- is a Nashville original, but the two best places -- Prince's Hot Chicken Shack and Hattie B's -- will require a short Uber ride.
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