Anyone who is into country music knows Nashville is a place they must visit sometime during their days here on Earth. Getting to Nashville is half the battle, but once you’ve arrived in Music City, then what? Here’s a guide to experiencing the best of the heart and soul of country music, from the nightlife to the history (and sometimes both at the same time).
9. The Johnny Cash Museum
This museum tour offers an interactive narrative of the life of The Man In Black. The story begins with his humble beginnings working the cotton field with his family, to his success and the trials and troubles that came with it, and everything in between. You’re given an iPad that allows you to take the tour at your own pace, a more interactive version of an audio-guided tour – they even play music videos relevant to the exhibition you’re viewing.
For any Cash fan, the museum is a must. There are many artifacts, handwritten letters and memorabilia that you wont find anywhere else. The museum covers all eras of Cash’s life and career, and you’ll likely walk out learning something you didn’t know before, even if you thought you knew it all.
8. Robert’s Western World
There are many bars on the Broadway strip in Nashville, but which offers the one of the most authentic country music experience? Look no further than Robert’s Western World. It’s where the locals go when the locals venture to Broadway, and that’s always a good sign. Six nights a week there’s nonstop live music, so come ready to dance the night away.
The walls are lined with boots, as Robert’s originally started as a Western wear store, but once they installed a stage for live music, things just escalated and the rest is history. Come on down for some good old-fashioned country music and a crowd that welcomes all walks of life.
7. Country Music Hall of Fame
Any country music fan should make their pilgrimage here at least once in their lifetime. All you could ever want to know about country music is packed in between these walls. The history of country is told through the displays of country music stars’ old guitars, guns, outfits, cars, other memorabilia, and video, audio and photographs. The museum leads you from the very beginnings up to country music as it is known today.
Different exhibitions come and go here, like an entire floor dedicated to Hank Williams and his family tree, or The Bakersfield Sound: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and California Country. There are timeless relics of country music in these cases, such as Alan Jackson’s father’s radio that he sings about he sings about in Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow.
Layla’s is a favorite of locals in Nashville, so that’s how you know it’s the real deal, but that doesn’t mean that tourists are equally as welcome to come out and dance the night away to down-home fiddle tunes. Every night of the week, Layla’s packs the house with tourists and locals alike. Layla’s has been called one of the only true Honky Tonk’s left in Nashville, but you’ll have to come see for yourself. Either way, it’s a great time with great live music, so what’s not to love?
Layla’s is one of the most boot-stompin’, yee-hawin’ spots on the strip, and of course that’s a good thing. Not to mention that there are plenty of Nashville-local beers to sample while you’re here, to top off the Nashville/Broadway experience.
5. The Bluebird Cafe
The Bluebird Cafe is an intimate listening room that has gained worldwide recognition as a place where heroes behind the hits play unplugged versions of their songs. It is unassuming at first glance, but this 90-person venue could provide one of the most up-close and personal experiences with your favorite singer/songwriter ever.
Since 1982, names like John Prine and LeAnn Rimes, and Garth Brooks have sat at this stage-in-the-round to perform to those lucky enough to get tickets to this once-in-a-lifetime performance. The Bluebird Cafe is very songwriter-centric, and although it’s not one of the biggest names in country every night, many country singers got their start here. Today’s up-and-coming artists are tomorrow’s names in lights.
4. The Station Inn
The Station in has become internationally as THE place to go to hear Bluegrass and Roots Music. Big names in country, bluegrass, roots music, and rock are known to drop in at times to sit in with the musicians or just come by to enjoy a brew and the evening’s entertainment. The Station Inn has been a factor in launching the careers of many popular musicians today, for example, Alison Krauss frequently played The Station Inn in the 1980s as she was rising to the fame, and it isn’t unusual for her to still drop in today.
For the past 40 years, The Station Inn has given many performers the opportunity to showcase their talent. Every Sunday night, there is an informal Bluegrass Jam, where many people come out to play whatever is in their heart, and everyone is welcome to come watch. Big names in Country, Bluegrass and Roots music are known to wander in on Friday and Saturday after playing the Grand Ole Opry, and it isn’t unheard of for them to join the band that’s playing.
3. Grand Ole Opry House
For the past 40 years, The Grand Ole Opry House has been home to the historical and legendary Grand Ole Opry show. The Opry brings to the stage a showcase of country legends and contemporary chart toppers. Every Friday and Saturday night, country music stars are brought to the stage for “The Show That Made Country Music Famous,” one of the greatest honors in country music.
The Grand Ole Opry offers backstage tours during the daytime, post-show tours, and VIP tours. Get behind the scenes and walk in the footsteps of country music stars. The tour gives you an up-close look at the 18 dressing rooms of the Opry. You may even have a chance to step on stage into the famous wooden circle. Tours often make a stop in Studio A, a live television studio and the former home of Hee Haw.
2. Sun Studio
This recording studio was a springboard for the careers of many famous country, rock & roll and rockabilly artists, including Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Charlie Feathers, and many more. Tours of the historical Sun Studio take you through the original recording studios, complete with the original equipment. During the 90-minute tour, you’ll have the opportunity to sing into the same microphone Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley once sang into, and learn more than you could ever think there was to know about the history of rock and country.
The studio is still in use as a recording studio by night, but the tours by day are worth the visit. If you find yourself in Memphis, don’t leave without visiting this hallowed ground of the roots of country and rock & roll. It’s an priceless, hands-on experience of Americana and music history. The studio was originally called Memphis Recording Service, and many blues and R&B artists such as B.B. King and Howlin’ Wolf recorded here in the early 1950s.
1. Ryman Auditorium
Known as “The Mother Church of Country Music” and “The Carnegie Hall of the South,” if the Ryman’s walls could talk, it would have many stories to tell. The Ryman’s stage was once home to the Grand Ole Opry radio show in the 1940s, once the show became too large and rowdy for other venues in Nashville. (The Grand Ole Opry Show still takes the stage at the Ryman between the months of November and February to this day). Over the next 30 years, the Ryman was the premier stage for the Opry’s live radio shows, which included legends like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Patsy Cline, Minnie Pearl and more. Currently, it’s a venue with rich history and great acoustics that packs the house almost every night with musicians of all genres, although there are plenty of country singers that still take the stage. Everyone from Willie Nelson to Bob Dylan to Diana Ross to The Flaming Lips have been drawn by the allure of playing the Ryman.
The Ryman was constructed in the 1880s as the Union Gospel Tabernacle. Steamboat captain and prominent businessman Thomas G. Ryman found salvation in the words of Reverend Sam Jones and vowed to build a great tabernacle that would project his fiery words. After Ryman’s death in 1904, the auditorium became known as the Ryman. The Ryman Auditorium is recognized by the state of Tennessee as “The Birthplace of Bluegrass:” in December of 1945, Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe on stage for the first time and gave birth to the definitive sound of Bluegrass.
Featured Image Credit: Tammy McGary