I spent a week in Tennessee, 5 nights in Nashville and two more in Memphis, my time mostly consisted of live music, southern fried chicken, beer and a few local tourist attractions.
Id booked into a hostel on the outskirts of Nashville, most of the backpackers I met there were musicians and from around the world, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, North Americans and a few Aussies. People were sat around in circles outdoors playing instruments and having a few singalongs, it felt family like and was warm and friendly. I headed to the local store, purchased a six pack of beer and joined in the conversation and listened, I can’t play an instrument so those that cant participate listen. At about 9pm the hostel staff shut up the office and announced it was time to head downtown for music, beer and food in no particular order.
The town centre is quite a large area made up of mostly bars, restaurants and retail shops. The two areas I spent my evening time in were Broadway and Printers Alley. Printers Alley is the historical nightlife centre of Nashville and is named after the printing businesses that used to be located there in the at the turn of 20th century. The short alley had some saloon bars and used to showcase artists like Waylon Jennings, the Supremes and Jimmy Hendrix. The hostel staff took us there to see some free live music consisting of blues, rock and country, the beers were really cheap and the bars not very crowded, a few of the hostel staff performed live, it was an enjoyable introduction to the city.
After a few hours it was time to be unleashed onto Lower Broadway, the much-famed musical street of Nashville. Lower Broadway is made up of several Honky Tonk bars which play live and various styles of country music. These are the bars that the likes of Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson started out at, each bar playing constant live music from 10am to 3am all year round and for the most part with no cover charge and most importantly cheap alcohol depending on your preference. There are hundreds if not thousands of people walking up and down Broadway every night staring at the neon lights and wandering into whichever bar appeals.
To escape the crowd, I wandered into an appealing bar where line dancing was being taught to the inebriated customers so I enthusiastically joined in, I think I got the hang of it though everyone was wearing cowboy boots except for myself in trainers so I decided I would need my own boots which I sorted the next day. The staff in all the bars were friendly, bar food was excellent (if you like fried or barbeque) and the music fsensational. I was not a fan of country music before heading to Nashville but certainly was afterwards. The people in the bars were mainly American tourists from all over the country, also come locals and occasional backpackers, the music, alcohol and dancing make for a very friendly environment, I enjoyed my five nights immensely and all the evenings blurred into one.
I managed to do some daytime tours in spite of the late night drinking and dancing. This included touring the Ryman Auditorium, known as the birthplace of country and bluegrass music. The tour included the history of the building originally built for gospel music, it then became the home for the Grand Old Opry, a touring country radio show that originated out of Nashville and featured many artists including Johnny Cash, it is also where Evils Presley made a name for itself, the venue is active and often sells out. I went to the Country Music Hall of Fame, a new building and the largest collection of memorabilia devoted to you guessed it, country music. It contains instruments, gold records, cars, recording booths, posters etc and is quite sizeable. Finally, I went to the Parthenon, a life-size replica of the original one in Greece and built in 1897 to celebrate something called the “Tennessee Centennial Exposition” and contains works of American artists and a replica of the Athena Parthenos statue.
Before leaving for Memphis I decided to tour the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg, a 1.5-hour drive south of Nashville. When I arrived, the car park was almost full and there were thousands of people walking in and out of the museum attached to the distillery. I purchased a walking tour that went for a few hours and had to wait an hour before my tour started so I went to the gift shop. I found out there that the town of Lynchburg is in the county of Moore and that it’s a “Dry County”, this means that its illegal to purchase alcohol including Jack Daniels in the county of Moore but fortunately the gift shop had a dispensation. I could purchase a bottle only there I but I could not drink it until I left the county, this law went back to 1910 under prohibition and had not been changed, think Al Capone. The tour itself was really interesting, describing the history of the whiskey, taking us to the spring in a cave where the water comes from which is used in the process of distilling the whiskey and then showing us the process itself.
The following day a few friends from the hostel ride shared with me down to Memphis where I stayed for a few nights. We checked into a hotel near the centre of town walked to the Mississippi River to watch the sunset, with lots of birdlife it was quite spectacular. The streets were comparatively quiet compared to the mayhem that as Nashville, it was almost a relief to be in a city that was less crowded. We headed to Beale street, if Nashville is the capital of country music then Beale street is blues. The set up is quite similar to what is on Broadway in Nashville, lots of bars playing live music. We stopped at the Blues Cafe had ourselves a huge American sized steak, potatoes and gravy, a few beers and then headed over to BB King’s bar and listened to live music, the bar was kind of quiet so we did a little pub crawl from the top to the bottom of Beale street which is a short walk, we listened to more blues and then headed back to the hotel, I said goodbye to my mates, planned out my following day and went to sleep.
Memphis’s most famous tourist attraction is Elvis Presley’s Graceland, the home of Elvis and a park devoted to everything that is Elvis. This is a hugely popular attraction, so much so that you can not even park at the location, you are encouraged to take a bus that comes from Graceland which then transports you to the location. Upon arrival, you are given a group of tickets to view all the attractions including museums and attractions including Elvis’s private jet and of course merchandise. Near the end of the day I was taken on a guided tour of the Graceland mansion itself, walking through some of the rooms, viewing the retro 70s furniture that adorned the place as well as a room where his gold records are on display, it was a seemingly endless wall of gold. After exiting I entered the Meditation Garden where Elvis’s grave is located, it is all quite the spectacle. I got back onto my tour bus and on the way back was dropped off at Sun Studios a much smaller but no less significant iconic building. Sun Studios is regarded as the birthplace of “Rock’n’Roll” music and is where Elvis, Johnny Cash, BB King and Roy Orbison recorded albums. The tour included the studio itself and detailed the history of music.
I headed back down to Beale street for some more soul food and beers and reflected on my time in Tennessee, my experience there was so much fun. I had some notion prior to arriving regarding music coming from the area but had not been aware of how many different types of music had come from one state. participate in enough tours to assuage my guilt from all the drinking and dancing Id patripiated in and I hoped to be back through there one day (actually I have been back to Nashville two more times) but now was time to head back on the road down towards Baton Rouge Louisiana….