Whether you are coming unbridled to simply explore the wonders of Music City or making a road trip to see your favorite band at the Ryman, there are tons of music-related activities you can cram into even just a weekend trip to Nashville. And don’t forget, it’s been a dang long time since Nashville music meant only country. That base has now broadened to include Americana, and you will also find Music City friendly to all genres.
So, here’s some things to consider when planning your Music City experience. (Follow the links where noted to get some of my further details.)
Concerts: If you don’t already have your main music event selected, or are looking for another show to catch while your here, consult Pollstar, NowPlayingNashville.com or the Nashville Scene calendar for info about upcoming concerts. You can also check the venue websites from my Nashville Music Venues page where you will also find helpful hints about each.
Historic Venues: If you can’t find a specific concert that you are keen on, there are three famous venues in town to consider going to just for the sake of going. The Ryman Auditorium may be the world’s best place to see a concert so seeing anyone there could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If all else fails, they offer daily tours which are a better-than-nothing alternative. You can also try to check off these bucket list items: an evening with four songwriters in the round at the Bluebird Café or a cavalcade of country stars both young and old at the Grand Ole Opry. Be sure to book in advance since you most likely won’t get into either on short notice.
Music Clubs: If that’s your thing, or you are looking to stay flexible, a trip over to East Nashville will bring you to rooms like The Five Spot, Family Wash and Basement East where you can most likely just walk in and hear some find local talent for only a few bucks. These rooms often feature early 6pm gigs that can be a fun starter to a longer evening (e.g. Tim Carroll’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Happy Hour on Fridays at The 5 Spot). If you find yourself with a free Monday night, catching The Time Jumpers at Third & Lindsley is a must, and if his Predators aren’t playing hockey that night, you have about a 90% chance of getting up close and personal with Vince Gill. Finally, if bluegrass is your thing, then make plans to visit the Station Inn in the Gulch, but plan on getting there early to secure your entry.
Tours & Museums: If country music history is your thing, I would book Bill DeMain’s Walkin’ Nashville Tour even before your plane ticket. It will be the highlight of your trip. The tour concludes around lunch time and lands you right at the famous Hatch Show Print inside the Country Music Hall of Fame. After visiting these two must-see places, if you have extra time, or perhaps another day, the Johnny Cash Museum (now with a Patsy Cline annex) and the fantastic under-appreciated Musicians Hall of Fame are also well worth a visit. There is also a George Jones museum downtown on the 2nd Avenue strip which if you are museumed-out allows you a quick free view of some neat memorabilia in its lobby while offering a fab outdoor bar patio with a beautiful view of the Cumberland River.
Record Stores: Grimey’s New and Preloved Music is the local spot for new record releases and is also fun to browse for used vinyl, CDs and books as well. Check their website since they probably have more live afternoon in-store performances than any other record store. If browsing for used stuff is your thing, take a trip out to Charlotte Avenue where you will find thousands upon thousands of items at both The Great Escape and McKays. Take it from a record geek, these are two of the best places anywhere if you like digging through used records, CDs, videos and books. If this isn’t enough, Phonoluxe on Nolensville Road is noteworthy although they keep short hours. Finally, seeing all the cool artifacts on display inside Jack White’s Third Man Records is a treat whether you are a White Stripes fan or not, and it’s just a short hop from Grimey’s.
Guitars: If old guitars are your thing, after visiting Grimey’s and Third Man, stay on 8th Avenue and visit Gruhn Guitars and Carter Vintage Guitars. While looking through their incredible collections of rare vintage guitars, you’ll just never know who you might see playing one! It’s become quite common to see a touring artist complain from the stage how they dropped a big chunk of the paycheck for their gig at one of these places before their show.
Lower Broadway: If you are reading this you are likely a serious music fan who does not need to hear cover versions of bad country songs at the tourist-laden honky-tonks of Lower Broadway. However, the history of both Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge (the famous watering hole for Opry performers) and Robert’s Western Wear (where BR5-49 shows became legend) make these joints worthy of at least one beer and a few photos. Ernest Tubb Records across the street is also a good spot to buy some country records or see some cool old artifacts.
Photo Ops: In between all the above, you may want to take your camera to some of these quick sites. The Walkin’ Nashville tour starts at the made-for-photos Chet Atkins statue. There is also one with Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl in the lobby of the Ryman which is open most of the day along with their neat gift shop. Across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame is the Music City Walk of Fame Park which will surely start you complaining about whose star you didn’t see. Finally, just off downtown is a nice bronze tribute to producer Owen Bradley.
Well, those are some ideas for a fun musical adventure in Nashville. One last thing to consider and something I have yet to research is a visit to the local cemeteries where many of the great country stars are laid to rest.
As for the necessities while you are here, the city is in the midst of a major building boom, and there are many fine brand-spanking new hotels where you can stay. To dine, there are world-class restaurants and lots of hip local places featuring delicious Nashville hot chicken and barbeque and some hip artisan coffee shops. There’s even great pizza!
Mass transportation stinks so make plans to either rent a car or go the Uber/Lyft route. But, while you are in that rent car, let the dial stop at two of the best radio stations your ears will ever hear: Americana on WMOT-FM (89.5) and rock on WRLT-FM (Lightning 100 at 100.1).
Finally, if you ask, I might tell you where Jack White’s house is or where Keith and Nicole or Vince & Amy go to lunch! In general, keep your eyes open for you just never know who you might see out in the wild! Most of all, welcome to Nashville and have fun while you are here!