I’d just left the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge and headed for Nashville, where I would be staying for the next five nights. Id read up on Nashville, the birthplace of Country Music, a style of music which wasn’t to my taste to be honest but I was very much looking forward to seeing what the city was like and what the fuss was about, its also regarded as one of America’s biggest party towns. Sitting in a “Honky Tonk” listening to live music was slinging back beers had a great appeal to me, so roll on Nashville.
Id booked into a hostel on the outskirts of Nashville, it was full of musician backpackers from around the world, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, North American and a few Aussies. When I turned up, I parked the car on the property, booked in with the friendly staff and invited to sit down with one of groups of people forming circles playing instruments and having singalongs. I felt more like I was in a “hippy” community than the typical backpacker. It was all friendly. I headed to the local store, purchased a six-pack, came back and joined in the conversation. I can’t play an instrument or sing, so for those that can’t take part, 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.
Downtown culminates in an area named after its major street, Broadway made up of bars, restaurants and retail shops. A block up from Broadway is Printers Alley, the historical nightlife centre of Nashville, and is named after the printing businesses that used to be located there at the turn of the 20th century. The short alley had a few bars and was used to showcase artists like Waylon Jennings, the Supremes, and Jimi Hendrix. The hostel staff took us into the Alley first to listen to live music comprising blues, rock and country. One of the staff members got involved and ended up playing the drums for a set. The beers were really cheap and the bar not crowded; the bar was dark and dingy; the music sounded amazing.
After a few hours it was time to be let loose on Lower Broadway, when travelling I do my own thing but I was having an enjoyable time with the backpackers so hung out with them the much-famed musical street of Nashville. Lower Broadway is made up of several Honky-Tonk bars, which are identified by the large neon coloured signs that adorn the entryway to each bar. There was live music coming out of every entry way that we walked past and thousands of people on the street. These are the bars that the likes of Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson started out at, each bar claiming constant live music from 10am to 3am all year round. Most of the bars had no cover charge and once again the beer was cheap. I sat down at a bar, ordered a side of wings and watched the band playing really loud with the crowded bar swaying and dancing to the sound. I have been to a lot of party towns, but Nashville was surreal, maybe it was the familiar music from the 70s and prior and people dancing together instead of being in a nightclub and dancing alone, I was loving it.
All my evenings during my stay ended up in a similar way. The hostel, Printers Alley and then onto Broadway, I found myself experiencing a few different things however.One evening I wandered into an appealing bar where a throng of people were taking line dancing lessons to live music with beers in hand, so I heartily joined in; I think I got the hang of it still felt out of place as everyone was wearing cowboy boots and a lot of big brimmed hats except myself in “clubbing” trainers. I decided I would need my own boots, which would need to be sorted during my stay. The staff in the bar (like all the bars) were friendly, bar food was excellent, specially if you like fried or barbeque and the music sensational. I was not a fan of country music before heading to Nashville, but was becoming one quickly during my stay. Most of the people I met were American tourists from all over the USA, Nashville appears to be a tourist mecca for both international tourists like myself and locals, the entire downtown area was one large tourist town, like Las Vegas without the casinos.
When not drinking, dancing and eating on Broadway, I managed a few daytime activities. This included touring the Ryman Auditorium, regarded as the birthplace of country and bluegrass music. The tour included the history of the building, they built it for gospel music, it then became the home for the Grand Old Opry. The Opry was 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; they guided us through the dress rooms and also onto the stage where we could talk or sing through a microphone. I went to the Country Music Hall of Fame, a recent building and within the largest collection of memorabilia devoted to, you guessed it, country music. It contains thousands of instruments, gold records, recording booths, posters and also cars including those owned by Waylon Jennings, Elvis and the Bandit Car from Smokey and the Bandit. The Bandit car was my favourite car in the world when I was a kid, and I still love it now. Finally I went to the Parthenon, a life-size replica of the original one in Greece and built in 1897 to celebrate the “Tennessee Centennial Exposition” and contains works of American artists and a replica of the Athena Parthenos statue. The Parthenon in Nashville ticked my “America can be weird” flag.
Least I forget there was also shopping, being a hipster type Nashville was like heaven for Western gear. Down on Broadway I picked up some cowboy boots on a 3 for 1 sale. They fit all the way up to my knees though I found out sadly fashion dictates that men wear their boots on the inside of their jeans when women can do what they want so nobody would get to see the amazing patterns on the boots unless they asked to look. I also picked up some cowboy buckles and belts. I headed to a pawn shop and purchased myself an antique suitcase, much cheaper than going to a department store and great for throwing in excess luggage for impulse purchases. I headed to a Western Department store and loaded up on jeans and checkered shirts (very hipster), about the only thing I didn’t buy was a cowboy hat, preferring to go with “truckers caps” which was more my style. I was loving life in Nashville, neon, live music, famous musicians, cheap beer and turning into a fashionista.
Another must-do activity is the Jack Daniel Distillery (even if you don’t like it) in Lynchburg, a 1.5-hour drive south of Nashville When I arrived, the car park was 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 the tour started,. I went outside to look at the Harley Davidson bikes that were lined up, these were customer’s bikes, I then into 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 it’s illegal to purchase alcohol including Jack Daniels in the county of Moore but the gift shop had a dispensation. I could purchase a bottle only on the distillery grounds but could not drink it until I left the county. This law went back to 1910 under prohibition and had not been changed since The tour described the history of the whiskey, this included taking the group into the spring cave where the water comes used in the process of distilling the whiskey, it sounded more like a promo but I have no reason to doubt it. We then headed into old wooden buildings where the guide took as through the distilling process.
After 5 nights, sadly it was time to leave, I had grown attached to Nashville and the people Id met at the hostel. This was a city that I must return to (and have been back twice since 2012) and I loved every minute. So do yourself a favour, if you like music, history, entertainment and a genuinely friendly holiday like atmosphere there are few places better to head than Nashville. I can’t recommend it high enough, however sadly it was time to leave, a pair of British backpackers wanted a lift to my next destination of Memphis, which is where Ill pick up the blog next time.