If you had asked me a year ago which destination I thought would be the first we’d return to, I can assure you my answer would not have been ‘Nashville.’ New Orleans? Maybe. The Gulf Coast of Florida? Possibly. Savannah? Sure. But Nashville?? For two people who don’t listen to country music? Not in a million years…
But there was just something about this small city that made us happy. In fact, we were so smitten, I’ve already booked a return trip for the fall.
All the things we love….
Of course, when you think about it, the city ticks a lot of the boxes we often talk about. It’s a good size without being overwhelming, it’s got interesting history and architecture, it’s pedestrian friendly, and it’s got great food and entertainment options. But what we didn’t expect is that it would be so much FUN!
Walking around the main historic district reminded us of walking along Bourbon Street or the Vegas Strip: Tons of people out and about, live music pouring out of the bars, and happy, slightly buzzed people strolling from one venue to the next.
But the city is more than just a collection of live music venues and bars. It is chock full of restored historic buildings, impressive street art, manicured parks, and the Parthenon.
Because why would there not be a full scale replica of the Parthenon in the middle of Tennessee???
The city’s energy drew us in and made us want to stay. And while sometimes it’s hard to define what exactly it is about a place that gives it that gravitational pull, with Nashville, we could identify several specific features.
One example? These incredible murals. We kept running into them as we wandered around. I don’t know if the city commissions them or private building owners offer space to local artists, but however it happens, it’s brilliant. The enormous one-of-a-kind paintings bring otherwise entirely forgettable buildings to life.
Nashville also had a distinct personality and sense of humor…
The city effortlessly blended old with new: set among the modern office buildings we found numerous preserved and restored nineteenth century buildings, many of which had their own unique histories.
We found government buildings, many of which were built to replicate Greek architecture, surrounded by impressive plazas featuring memorials, historic markers, and fountains.
The city has also done a good job of highlighting and memorializing its interesting history…Tennessee was the 36th and final state to ratify the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, and it was home to an Exposition in 1897 which is somehow related to the whole Parthenon thing. (If you haven’t figured it out, I still have no freaken idea why there’s a full scale replica of the Parthenon in Nashville. It’s just one of those mysteries of life I think we’ll all gonna have to live with).
More than anything else, Nashville is about music. Walk into any bar in the downtown district any day of the week, any time of the day, and someone will be playing live. We caught this guy doing a show in front of a pretty respectable audience in the middle of a weekday afternoon…
Then there’s the Grand Ole Opry, one of the best experiences we’ve had…
I was under the mistaken impression that the Grand Ole Opry was simply a music venue for country shows. Turns out, it’s actually a radio program. Started in 1925, the show, which is broadcast live several nights a week, features 7-8 artists each of whom perform 3 songs. In between the sets, an emcee will read a couple advertisements – hawking everything from cowboy boots to Humana Health Insurance. On any given night, the performers will range from the hottest current acts to folks who’ve been around for 40 years, from crossover pop stars to country rock bands, from gospel performers to bluegrass groups.
It is a huge honor to play the Grand Ole Opry and the artists clearly don’t take the invitation for granted, even if they do only get to play 3 songs. In fact, there’s something neatly democratic about each act being limited. There are no “headliners”; every act is given the same attention.
Of course, we know nothing about country music, so when I figured out what the Grand Ole Opry was, and I saw the performers who were scheduled to play the week we were visiting, I reached out to my friend Julie, the one person I know who loves country music, to get some advice. Via text, I rattled off some of the acts that we had the opportunity to see. I think a little part of her died as she realized I – whose entire knowledge of country music comes from belting out “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift in my car – was gonna get to see all these awesome performers. It’s like your friend who’s never watched a football game in his life winning tickets to the Super Bowl…and then asking how many points a team gets for a home run.
Anyway, based on Julie’s stellar advice, we went to the show above and had a fantastic time! The theater is small and the acoustics are incredible, so there are no bad seats. The artists keep their performances simple and straightforward; no light shows, no fog machines, no distractions. It’s just a night of great music, performed live, to an appreciative crowd. We loved it, and promptly went home and downloaded a bunch of new-to-us music.
Interestingly, the reason we loved downtown Nashville so much is directly related to the Grand Ole Opry. Nowadays, the Opry is located in suburban Nashville. But up until 1974, it was housed downtown at the Ryman Auditorium, a building just steps away from all those bars that feature the live music.
Famous artists used to play their sets for the Grand Ole Opry and then walk over to the bars and perform impromptu concerts. That’s how the bars became famous and that’s why up and coming artists still flock to those particular venues. The Ryman Auditorium (which was originally a church, if you can’t tell), still hosts the Opry a couple months each year, but generally, in order to experience it, you have to head for the burbs.
When we were done with all the walking, the music, and the trying to figure out the Parthenon thing, we headed to Hattie B’s Hot Chicken…
I’ve never been a big fried chicken fan, but seriously? This stuff is life changing…. In and of itself, the fried chicken was great. Add some fire, and wow! Incredible. They offer levels of heat including: “no heat” “medium,” “hot,” “damn hot,” and “shut the cluck up.”
And “shut the cluck up” was the funniest description I’d seen on a menu right up until we got to Lexington when Kevin ordered the “Vladamir Poutine” at a restaurant downtown.
Seriously – you cannot say “Vladimir Poutine” without smiling.
Go ahead. Try….
See?? It can’t be done.
Next time you’re having a bad day, just think: “Man, I should get a big bowl of Vladimir Poutine!”
Anyway, speaking of bad days, unfortunately we had 3 days of rain while we were in Nashville which put a damper on our ability to sight-see. It’s one of the reasons we vowed to get back there asap. There’s a ton to see and do, from live music bar crawls to touring the State Capitol, to checking out the museums, to visiting some of the historic plantations homes nearby. We are pretty confident we can keep ourselves busy for a couple weeks in this super fun city and we’re very much looking forward to getting back there.
Where we stayed: Grand Ole RV Resort