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Nashville is more than a city for music lovers

Travel News from Stuff - 14-11-2022 stuff.co.nz

There is nothing more quintessential to the experience of visiting Nashville than attending a concert at the Ryman Auditorium.

The Ryman was the home of the Grand Ole Opry until 1974 and is at the heart of Nashville’s country music heritage. It started life as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892 and this link to its religious past is still there in the stained-glass windows that adorn the back of the theatre.

We were fortunate enough to attend a concert by the legendary US roots act The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on the Saturday night of our stay in Nashville attending Americanafest, a conference and showcasing event for the Americana music industry.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band still has two of its original members from 1966 including the singer-guitarist Jeff Hanna, and at times the show had a distinctly spiritual feel that seemed very appropriate to the surroundings of this theatre.

In fact there is a spirit to Nashville that is evident on the streets and in the venues of this very welcoming and easy to navigate city. With a population of approximately 800,000, the central area is easily walkable and many of the music venues, museums and points of interest are easily accessed from a downtown hotel.

For the tourist interested in country music there are many choices including the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Johnny Cash Museum and of course a visit to the Grand Ole Opry itself.

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Also of note to music lovers and guitarists in particular is the recently opened Gibson Garage which is the guitar maker’s flagship store in the city where its head office is located. And further enhancing Nashville’s title as ‘Music City’ is the Bridgestone Arena, a multipurpose sports and entertainment stadium right in the heart of downtown that was completed in 1996.

It happened to be hosting Seattle grunge rockers Pearl Jam on the same night as our Ryman show, bringing thousands of excited concert goers into downtown for the evening. The stadium is a great example of how a well-located facility like this can enhance the entertainment precinct.

And for building spotters the AT&T Building is the highest in the city and is known as the ‘Batman building’ because of its unusual twin towers.

We chose to stay in an apartment in the Music Row area where many of the music industry labels, recording studios and allied support businesses are based. This area is adjacent to The Gulch, a rather hip shopping and entertainment neighbourhood within striking distance of downtown.

Being the capital of Tennessee, and with an international airport, the city has something of a boomtown feel to it with one of the fastest population growth rates in the States. This has brought a lot of development and building activity to the town and the associated road cones and traffic issues.

It has gained the nickname ‘Nashvegas’ as it has captured an increasing share of the weekend break and hen party market, a sort of Las Vegas minus the casinos if you will.

This phenomenon has spawned the growth of the open-deck tourist party bus market where all manner of vehicles cruise the inner city on the weekends with rowdy party-goers on board, adding further colour to the atmosphere of the centre.

Broadway is the main street through downtown that resolves at the Cumberland River and it is the lower end of this strip that contains the many bars, clubs and honky-tonks that pump out loud country and rock and roll music at all hours of the day.

As a heaving tourist area this strip is basically Nashville’s countrified version of Bourbon Street in New Orleans and makes for a fun evening if you’re in the party mood.

The arguably cooler venues such as The Basement East are found in east Nashville, across the other side of the river. We were fortunate enough to see Taj Mahal and young bluegrass ace Molly Tuttle perform showcase events at this venue as part of Americanafest.

The festival itself is part conference, with discussion panels and presentations, accompanied by music showcases throughout the five days.

But whatever your reasons for wanting to visit Nashville, the city has something to offer with a vibrant food, music and entertainment scene in what felt like a safe and friendly environment.

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