Travel within the U.S.

Nashville — Country Music and So Much More

January 30, 2011
By Kim Calvert

Visit this Southern gem and discover the magic that waits behind every window and door.
Riders in the Sky, a trio that specializes in old-time cowboy music, backstage at the Grand Ole Opry just a few minutes before their performance. Photo by Kim Calvert.
When it comes to cities that offer a generous slice of pure Americana, Nashville takes the cake. Named after a Revolutionary War hero who built a fort on the banks of the Cumberland River, this 200-year-old Tennessee capital grew from there, providing a colorful stage for Civil War heroes and villains, Gone With the Wind–like plantation mistresses and a slew of characters onward including moonshiners, musicians and millionaires.Today, when you walk along the restored riverfront area downtown, you can almost see and certainly feel the ghosts of ladies with petticoats and parasols, and men with top hats and canes, watching from the high, narrow windows of the dark-red brick buildings.

The Belmont Mansion, home of Southern belle Adelicia Acklen during the Civil War.
Farther out, in the rolling green hills that surround Nashville you’ll find evidence of its rich history at the Belle Meade Plantation, with its mansion’s front porch columns pockmarked by Yankee cannonballs. Docents at the Carnton Plantation will passionately tell you the grim details of the battle that left some 1,500 Confederate soldiers dead or dying on the estate’s front lawn. And at the Belmont Mansion, you’ll learn how Southern belle Adelicia Acklen saved her plantation by exercising feminine charms that left both Yankee and Confederate officers bending over backward to accommodate her wishes.

Of course, Nashville is best known as the home of country music, and certainly much of the tourist traffic is there for that reason alone. The downtown area near the river, one of the oldest parts of Nashville, is where you’ll find the Ryman Auditorium (the original home of the Grand Ole Opry). Just steps from the old Opry’s stage door are the honky-tonks of lower Broadway, like Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, where legendary artists like Patsy Cline and Hank Williams got together for after-Opry jam sessions.

Lower Broadway, with its iconic honky-tonks, is just a stone’s throw away from the Ryman Auditorium, home of the original Grand Ole Opry and the new Country Music Hall of Fame.
The Country Music Hall of Fame, located just a stone’s throw away from the Broadway strip, offers an enormous display of country music artifacts, archives and theater space. The archive collection includes more than 800 stage costumes, over 600 instruments and hundreds of other objects from microphones to vintage automobiles woven into a quilt-work pattern of country music history.

Strolling among the memorabilia, country music fans from all over the world are joined by young and not-so-young musicians and songwriters, their guitars slung over their backs and their eyes full of stardust and the dream that one day they too may be part of the country music legacy. Yet country music is only one facet of the music that thrives in this city there’s jazz, pop, and classical – including the elegant Schermerhorn Symphony Center, home of the Nashville Symphony orchestra.

The Schermerhorn Symphony Center, home of the Nashville Symphony orchestra.
Other arts thrive as well in Nashville, with its rich map of art museums and galleries, including the stunningly renovated Frist Center for the Visual Arts, a 24,000-square-foot Art Deco facility that once was a U.S. Post Office building. Local artist Alan LeQuire has his own gallery located under the same roof as his workshop and studio. And Cheekwood, once the Maxwell House coffee family’s estate, is open to the public, with 55 acres of botanical gardens, a museum of art and a sculpture trail all nestled in Nashville’s lush green, tree-rich hills.

The mix of cultural offerings is so eclectic in part because not only does Nashville have a rich history, it’s also home to Vanderbilt University, once known as the “Harvard of the South.” This 330-acre campus and national arboretum is located in Nashville’s tony West End, which offers great shopping, beautiful homes, trendy restaurants, and entertainment venues. Head a bit farther west and check out the Mall at Green Hills with its upscale stores and shoppers, many of whom have platinum records hanging on the walls of their nearby mansions.

A sunset skyline view from the Cumberland River, which runs through the center of Nashville.
The cuisine in Nashville is as varied as its population. It’s a great place to discover the classic Southern plate lunch special, home-style cooking that isn’t concerned with calories or cholesterol. A typical offering could include fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, corn bread, string beans cooked with bacon, and a slice of chess pie (sugary goo and crust). One of the best places to imbibe is the Elliston Place Soda Shop, which has been there forever and is located on a two-block strip on Elliston Place that includes the iconic music showcase club Exit In.

There are also upscale restaurants that can hold their own with those found in big cities like New York and Los Angeles. Try dinner at Watermark, located next to the swanky high-rise condominium development Icon in The Gulch. At Watermark, the chef creates seasonal menus where nouvelle cuisine meets Old South. Unexpected delights await, like wild boar with grits and North Carolina American red snapper with Georgia white shrimp and a basil emulsion updated and refined for sophisticated palettes.

A lush, green garden view at Cheekwood, once the Maxwell coffee estate and now an art museum and botanical garden that is open to the public.
Since Nashville offers such an elegant and eclectic mix of cultural offerings, is downright gorgeous and has no state income tax, it’s an attractive place for millionaires to call home. Yet, it’s surprisingly affordable. Peruse the property listings in the local real estate guides, and you’ll consider staying for more than just a vacation especially if you’ve been looking for property in Los Angeles.

In Nashville, prices for a brand-new 4-bedroom, 3-bathroom 3,000-square-foot home on an acre of land go for under $600,000. So once you’ve sampled the food, fun and beauty of this Southern city and checked out the real estate prices there’s no way you’ll plunk down the same amount for a one-bedroom condo in Santa Monica.

The best way to discover Nashville’s charms is to go there for a week for so. A direct flight from LAX to Nashville takes about four hours. A good place to stay, for its proximity to all the city’s attractions, is the stunning Union Station Hotel (once the city’s train depot). It’s just steps from the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and a short drive to downtown Nashville and, in the other direction, all the trendy shopping, upscale restaurants and fascinating antique stores near Vanderbilt University.

The beautifully restored lobby of the Union Station hotel, once Nashville’s train depot.
The best time of year for a visit is in spring or fall. In the spring, you’ll see wild yellow daffodils blanketing lush green meadows and enjoy the heady scent of honeysuckle blossoms. In autumn, the leaves on the bountiful hardwood trees turn brilliant orange and red, clashing against Nashville’s azure skies.

However, be forewarned. All it takes is just one visit to this sweet Southern city, and you’ll be rethinking where you want to call home.

Copyright © Kim Calvert / 2011 Singular Communications, LLC

STAY / DINE / VISIT

Alan LeQuire Gallery – Workshop of sculptor Alan LeQuire and gallery for changing art exhibits.

Belle Meade Plantation – “Queen of the Tennessee Plantations,” this 1853 mansion was a renowned Thoroughbred racehorse farm.

Belmont Mansion – Built by one of America’s wealthiest women and one of Tennessee’s most colorful characters of the 19th century.

Bluebird Café – This intimate venue is the place to enjoy songwriters performing original material in an “in the round” setting.

Carnton Plantation – Home of The Widow of the South, the New York Times best-selling novel, and the location of one of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles.

Cheekwood – Once the private estate of the Cheek family (Maxwell House coffee fame), it is now home to botanical gardens, a museum of art and a sculpture trail.

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum – Collection of historical costumes, memorabilia, instruments, photographs, manuscripts and other objects that tell the story of country music.

Exit In – Live music venue featured in the Robert Altman film Nashville that has showcased up-and-coming country, pop and jazz talents since opening in 1971.

Frist Center for the Visual Arts – A nonprofit art-exhibition center, with approximately 24,000 square feet of gallery space, dedicated to presenting the finest visual art from local, state and regional artists, as well as major U.S. and international exhibitions.

Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center – Located outside of Nashville, this is the location of today’s Grand Ole Opry and is a mega entertainment complex and hotel system.

Jack’s Bar-B-Que – Located on lower Broadway near the Ryman Auditorium, this restaurant serves “pit to plate” Tennessee pork shoulder, Texas beef brisket, smoked turkey, Texas sausage, St. Louis style ribs and smoked chicken with secret recipe sauces.

The Parthenon– World’s only full-sized reproduction of the Greek Parthenon that houses Athena, the tallest indoor sculpture in the Western world, and four fine art galleries. It’s the centerpiece of Centennial Park, Nashville’s premier urban park.

Ryman Auditorium – This National Historic Landmark is the “mother church” of country music, since it was once the home of the Grand Ole Opry.

Schermerhorn Symphony Center – Named in honor of the late maestro Kenneth Schermerhorn, who led the GRAMMY Award–winning Nashville Symphony for 22 years. The center is home to the symphony, which performs more than 100 classical, pop and special concert events each season.

Studio B – Located on historic Music Row, RCA’s Studio B is Nashville’s oldest recording studio and the place where such hits as Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely” and Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight” were recorded. Ask to see the dent where Dolly Parton’s Cadillac “kissed” the outside cinderblock wall.

Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge – The honky-tonk bar where many country music legends got their start and partied after their performances at the nearby Ryman Auditorium, once the home of the Grand Ole Opry.

Union Station hotel – Revisit the excitement and anticipation of turn-of-the-century railway station restored and converted into a tony hotel.

Vanderbilt University – This private university has a 330-acre campus and national arboretum located in Nashville’s trendy West End.

Watermark – Upscale restaurant in The Gulch area that features seasonal ingredients prepared in a nouvelle cuisine style for modern palates.

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