Big time Nashville Skyline Star Whoop!

Nashville. A quick Wikipedia search turns up an A-Z of songs about Nashville, including 18 with the name ‘Nashville’ in the title, most of which I’ve never heard. And may I add – if I did such things as contribute to Wikipedia – that the one ‘Nashville’ song that’s on my iPod (yes, I still have an iPod) is missing from the list. Check out ‘Big Time Nashville Starby Shakey Graves if you’re interested.

What I’m getting at here, is that Nashville is quite a musical place, in case you didn’t know.

Nashville - Home of Country Music, is also full of music from many other genres. We headed there as part of our USA trip to visit where the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash started out, playing in Nashville bars overlooked by the Nashville Skyline #Nashvillemusic

Nashville and me

When I was growing up I was more likely to align myself with New York punk (see previous post) or Seattle grunge (see future post…?) and so I didn’t pay much attention to Nashville. It’s all about country music right?

More rhinestone cowboys with bootlace ties than ripped jeans and flannel shirts. My dad liked Johnny Cash – He did something in Nashville, right?- and I was actually named after some bloke called Kris Kristofferson… well, apparently, he was a big shot in Nashville, but I only knew him from the film ‘Convoy’ and a lesser known role in ‘Cisco Pike’.

Kris Kristofferson Nashville

So it wasn’t until relatively recently that I started considering it as a ‘must-see’ place. Music tastes change over time, admittedly, but then I also found out that Nashville wasn’t just about spurs and line dancing. Firstly, there was Anthony Bourdain in Nashville with local residents – ‘The Kills’. Then there was Dave Grohl with his Sonic Highways documentary and episode 3 – ‘Nashville.’ Suddenly it seemed like a cool place to go.

Also. Kate’s mam n dad said I’d like it. So, Anthony Bourdain, The Kills, Dave Grohl AND Graham and Trish Lloyd. Seemed we had to go. So, on a leg of our 2017 US tour, we cruised into Music City one hot August afternoon with the radio blasting out the very Seattle Soundgarden’s ‘Jesus Christ Pose’

Sweet Home Nashville

We Air-BnBed it again and stayed out of the centre in a suburb across the river. As we were driving the residential streets looking for the house a big Dodge something or other pulled up alongside my weedy Nissan and a guy asked what we were looking for.

Though tempted to yell ‘The party, duuude!!’ I supressed the urge and told him the address instead. Amazingly, it was his house we were seeking and he pointed to his driveway! I’d turned off the Soundgarden by now and we arrived at a cool house with a porch and a load of friendly dogs.

Nashville Airbnb

Our hosts couldn’t have been more helpful. They basically showed us to our room – which was more like a wing of their house than a ‘room’, let us use their washing machine and then took us to the kitchen to give us the lowdown on what we should see in Nashville. After that they were off out. We didn’t actually see them again and we were left with a key and access to the house although we were monitored by their resident dogs.

Big Time Nashville Star – Saturday Night in Nashville

Nashville Corner packed

That first afternoon we headed downtown….

So Nashville is a party town. I guess music and parties go together. I get that. I’m not that old yet. But Saturday in Music City was pretty intense! Basically, the ‘main drag’ (as they like to say in Lonely Planet) is wall-to-wall music bars banging out country and pop and rock, interspersed with some cowboy boot shops and on Saturday late afternoon (as it was) it was jumping. The pavement (sorry, sidewalk) was packed with gangs of people ambling from bar to bar. The bars were packed to the rafters with people whooping and doing shots.

Nashville boots

Even the road was full of people whooping and doing shots as every now and then a ‘party bus’ would pass by. Basically, this is an open top bus with a bar that cruises the streets with some young crazy things from Dawson’s Creek in it drinking shots and, well, whooping at passers-by. This was particularly awkward when we were stone cold sober waiting for a crossing light and the bus stopped a few feet in front of us and everyone whooped directly at us. Being British and not inebriated all we could muster in return was a nod of recognition and a stiff upperlip.

Finding our Nashville place

So we wandered and ogled the crowds and got increasingly put off at going into the standing-room-only bars. Until we found a back street – actually recommended by our hosts. And there, on a relative peaceful narrow line of buildings, was a blues club! Blues. I like blues. And in we trotted to find a guy playing guitar and plenty of tables and a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon…..

Nashville Blues Bar

It was really cool and chilled and over the road there was even an English pub! Which of course we visited as part of our ‘Around the World in 80 English pubs’ tour. I met a nice bloke with a big beard from Alabama who bought us drinks and I tried to initiate a conversation with a man who’d opted for a tiny bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale.

The Country Music Hall of Fame

So then, suddenly it was Sunday, and time for another go at the main strip. We wandered through the debris of the night before and couldn’t help noticing that some bars offered ‘breakfast shots’ ….. another example of America’s conflicting relationship with alcohol.

Anyway, our first port of call today was The Country Music Hall of Fame (me in a Sex Pistols t-shirt – ever appropriately attired)! Cue a few hours of looking at guitars, cowboy hats and bootlace ties. The highlight exhibits for me were Elvis’s gold car and Burt Reynolds’s car from Smoky and the bandit. I was also tempted to get my sister a Loretta Lynn t-shirt with her hit ‘Coal miner’s daughter’ on it (my sister, afterall, being a coal miner’s daughter) – but, to be honest, I’m not sure she’d wear it.

All in all it was actually really good fun, whether you’re into country music or not! And yeah, I would like to say that the display of Shania Twain’s weird hooded leopard-skin dress didn’t ‘impress-a me much’….but I’d be lying. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, YouTube it….

Nashville Hot Chicken

And out into the humid heat it was time to find somewhere serving Nashville’s famous spicy chicken. We finally found, on Sunday, the bars were actually accessible. The whooping had died down somewhat, the extras from Dawson’s Creek had clearly scuttled off back to the creek for an emotional coming-of-age wrap up scene before the closing titles rolled.

Nashville hot chicken

So we found a bar and ate spicy chicken and began doing what we’d intended – a pub crawl to see a load of bands. Is it called a pub crawl in the States? I’m feeling it’s more of a bar hop..? Never mind, we mainly sauntered anyway and saw some really cool bands in some really cool bars. Yes, there was country. But other stuff too. And you haven’t lived until you’ve heard a country music band play Britney Spears in a country style.

Sunday Night in Nashville

A top tip for Nashville is to keep some dollar bills handy in your pocket. Every now and then during a song a member of the band will walk amongst the crowd seeking tips, perhaps with a bucket hanging on his guitar. It seemed really rude not to give something, but if all you’ve got is a 100 dollar bill it’s a bit much asking for change right in the middle of ‘Sweet Home Alabama’.

Live Music at Nashville Crossroads
Live Music at Nashville Crossroads

So anyway, the PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon, get us huh? Like proper rednecks) flowed in various containers, the music played and we wandered. It was exactly as I’d expected and hoped and we had an awesome night.

At one point Kate had the sudden realisation that ‘We’re more Sunday night Nashville people, aren’t we?’ … ‘Yes. Yes, we are’ I conceded before attempting a very English, muffled ‘Whoop

Bless you” said the guy next to me at the bar and we wandered out into the neon and honky-tonk….

Nuts and Bolts

Where to stay in Nashville

As with most of our trip around the USA, we stayed in an Airbnb in Nashville. We rented a bedroom with attached bathroom on the ground floor of a great house, sharing with the owners and their pets. Far cheaper than hotels, it was comfortable, clean and very friendly. We paid about £60 a night.

The link to the property is here: Historic Suite in East Nashville. If you are new to Air BnB, you can get £32 off your first stay if you use our link.

Getting around Nashville

Nashville centre is small enough to walk around. There are bus routes into the centre, and a free bus that does a circuit of the main sites. The Nashville MTA website gives all the times and routes.

If you want a more guided route around Nashville, there are some cool hop on, hop off type tours. The Nashville Trolleybus Tour stops at 15 places around the city, and there’s also a Nashville night tour which would be cool.

Live Music at Layla's Nashville
Live Music at Layla’s Nashville

At night, we used Uber Pool. Download the app and enter where you want to go. It pairs you with other passengers going the same way and you share the fare. We met some interesting people during our journeys, including members of bands coming home after a gig. The drivers were fun and chatty too.

What to do in Nashville

You can’t miss the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. I mean, come on, they have Shania Twain’s jumpsuit! Honestly, though, it’s really interesting. We didn’t book tickets in advance, and the queue was huge. We’d recommend booking in advance so you can jump the queue.

Another famous Nashville Dame is the Ryman Auditorium, home of the old country music radio show ‘The Grand Ole Opry’. The backstage tour sounded really fun, but unfortunately, when we got there, it was closed for a concert You can even book to see the concert yourself.

Nashville Ryman Auditorium
Nashville Ryman Auditorium

Just down the hill from the Grand Ole Opry is Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, the honky tonk bar where the likes of Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline played. Kris’ namesake Mr. Kristofferson used to be a patron so we were treading famous boards when we visited. There are stages on the different floors playing live music, and a terrace on the top with views over the famed Nashville Skyline.

Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, famous Nashville bar
Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge

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Nashville - Home of Country Music, is also full of music from many other genres. We headed there as part of our USA trip to visit where the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash started out, playing in Nashville bars overlooked by the Nashville Skyline

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