Getting My Country On In Nashville

Talk about a hot and trendy destination with its own unique vibe, Music City aka Nashville has just about everything that 4 girls on a BIG bday trip could desire.  My four college friends and I went for 3 nights and we were busy from the morning late into the night (yawn) popping in and out of cool country music venues, shopping in the hippest areas with the most instagrammable street art, having drinks on the chic rooftop bars and enjoying the amazing food scene.

Nashville is a city for everyone, even us 50 year olds. :-). Let me have a go at sharin’ it with y’all.

We stayed at the Westin Nashville which was an ideal location as we were inbetween the world famous lower Broadway, in the heart of downtown, and the historic Gulch District, now a modern and vibrant hotspot. The rooms were clean, modern and spacious and I got an upgrade as a SPG Gold member, so we had quite a view from our room on the 23rd floor.  The hotel had a rooftop Lounge called L27 (on the 27th floor) where we hung out one afternoon by the cool glass-enclosed pool sipping our afternoon cocktails and soaking up the city skyline.

As for the music, I am not really a country music fan, but the TV show Nashville definitely swayed me a bit and then my time in Nashville sealed the deal. I loved the music from the honky tonk bars on Broadway to the intimate acoustics at the Bluebird Cafe to the enormous music stage at the Grand Ole Opry.  The bars that we went to on Broadway were ones recommended to us…Roberts Western World, (Michael B, I couldn’t do the fried bologna sandwich), Tootsies and the Acme, but you could easily just walk on Broadway’s two long blocks and if you hear something you like, you can pop on in.  None of the bars have cover charges and on a Monday night, there were no lines at any of the venues.  Definitely take a line dancing lesson at the Wildhorse Saloon (right off Broadway).  You can look for the times of the lessons on the website.  We did one at 9PM, the night we were hanging on Broadway.  My only complaint-I wish the lesson was a bit longer with some more complicated steps.  I really think I would like line dancing (good exercise!) and may pursue it back here in New York.  Note-Broadway at night is young!  There are many bachelorette parties and it does have a little bit of a Bourbon Street feel in the evening. We walked along the street one morning (most live music starts as early as 9AM!) and I think that is a good option too. You can have lunch in many of the bars/restaurants while enjoying live music.

Photo tip-When you find yourself on Broadway, take a short walk to and over the Pedestrian Bridge.  You can get a cool photo of the downtown skyline and can take a night shot of another bridge spanning Nashville’s Cumberland River.

The Bluebird Cafe was probably my favorite music spot that we went to.  You would never know it when you see it on TV, but the Bluebird Cafe is in a strip mall.  Also, it is about 4 miles from downtown. However, once you are inside, that all melts away.  The small audience (just 90 seats) gets treated to hearing songwriters perform their own songs.  Many of these songs have been recorded by famous artists.  In addition to the songs, you get to hear the stories about how the songs came to be.  The performers (we had 5) sit in a circle in the center of the room, taking turns singing their lyrics and accompanying each other with their instruments.  The night we were there we saw Annie Tate, Phillip Coleman, Jimmy Stewart and Deanna Bryant and a few others. 

As for getting tickets to a show at the Bluebird cafe, you need to plan ahead of time.  ALL reservations have to be made through bluebirdcafe.com.  Most shows become available a week in advance at 8AM CST (weekend shows become available the Monday prior).  When you get on the site, you are randomly placed in a Queue-It line.  When it is your turn, the site takes you to the reservation page and you can reserve up to 6 seats.  You have only one minute to select the seats and go to checkout. When you reserve, you end up paying a $3.00 nonrefundable reservation fee per person.  At the show, you have a $10 per person minimum for food and drinks.  Luckily, I avoided all the stress of ticket purchasing as I was in London the day we needed to buy.  I believe my friends had 2 simultaneous computers going, however, one got up too early because they missed the memo about Central Standard time.  🙂 The night we were there, a group of 5 was on line without advanced tickets.  They ended up being able to sit at the bar (you must be 21 to sit at the bar, but any age can have a reservation at a table).  We were there on a Tuesday night in the summer, it was a quiet week.  I wouldn’t take this risk and would try to reserve in advance.  Lastly, more flexible rules govern on Monday nights.  You can read more about the ticket purchasing details here. I have to admit, before we went to the Bluebird Cafe, I was nervous we were falling into a tourist trap.  Looking back, it was a beautiful night that I will never forget.

Hello Deacon Claybourne

Speaking of a tourist trap…the Grand Ole Opry is also outside of downtown and in an area that looks like Suburbia.  It is across from a shopping mall that houses a Rainforest Cafe and a Dave & Buster’s.  Despite its touristy locale, I highly recommend it.  Yes, we were told to see a show at the Ryman Auditorium (in the heart of downtown) instead.  But unfortunately, we couldn’t book any other tickets until we knew our Bluebird date, and we needed to work backwards from there.  The only night that had a show at the Ryman, was the night we secured our Bluebird tickets.  Next time!

Back to the Opry…the show was a fantastic experience.  One of my friends, who listens to country, actually knew two of the performers.  Also, a last minute add on in the line up was Charles Estes, AKA Deacon Clayborne, that was a fun treat!  The venue itself, was big, and pristine.  We spent about $60 per ticket, for seats in the balcony, but still had a decent view of the legendary stage. There are also two big screens on the side.  A very unique aspect to the Opry is that the show is a live radio show. After each performer, a man is on stage on a microphone touting different product advertisements.  It was weird and funny to hear.  The night we went, in addition to Deacon, we saw Jeannie Seely, Joe Diffie, Larry Gatlin, Craig Morgan, Carly Pearce and Chris Janson.  Each performer performs about 3 songs.  The show lasts about two hours.  I hate to admit it, but I enjoyed the male performers better than the female ones.

As you can see, we had our nights covered.  As for our days, those were spent exploring Nashville’s trendiest neighborhoods and attractions.  In the Gulch, (a mere 5 minute walk from our hotel), we posed with the street art and had fun browsing in some of the stores like Two Old Hippies.  Heads up-there could be a short line to pose with the wings in the Gulch.  Don’t miss having a drink at the rooftop bar of the Thompson Hotel.  It was a beautiful setting with a cool vibe.  It was here that I learned about and tasted my first frose’ (where have I been? ) while enjoying the views of downtown.  Thanks Danielle L and Michael B for the rooftop recommendation and Danielle, thanks for sending us to the best shopping areas!

We visited the County Music Hall of Fame, which was downtown and a two minute walk from our hotel.  We spent a little over an hour in this beautiful, modern space that housed photographs, moving images, sound recordings, printed materials, and objects related to the history of country music.  After the museum, we had fun reading all the posters in the Hatch Show Print store, attached to the Hall of Fame.  We didn’t take the tour of the Hatch Show Print, but we did get a glimpse of the printers in action as they made the letterpress posters in the same way they did in the 1800s.  We were close to Broadway, so went back there to hit up some touristy shops like the Goo Goo Cluster store and Savannah’s Candy Kitchen.

My favorite area/street was the 12 South neighborhood.  Here, we positioned ourselves with even more street art as we walked both sides of the trendy street.  We visited Reese Witherspoon’s shop, Draper James , which was absolutely gorgeous.  I bought myself a bag and a bought a friend a cute wine cooler that said Cheers Y’all!  Stop down the street at the Christie Cookie Company for the biggest free samples I have ever seen.  After cookies, we had ice pops at Las Palettas in lieu of ice cream at Jeni’s.  Luckily, we encountered another Jeni’s location the next day at the Farmers Market.

We did one tour in Nashville and I don’t think I would recommend it.  We did the pink bus Nash Trash tour.  The tour is hosted by two sisters, the Jugg sisters, and it is basically an improv comedy show while exploring the city via the bus.  It was definitely funny at times, especially when the jokes were at the expense of some of the other passengers.  However, I got tired of the banter and was annoyed that the tour stopped at the Country Music Hall of fame for souvenirs, especially because we were there the day before.  The tour departed and returned to the Nashville Farmers’ Market, which was a bit deserted on a Wednesday.  However, the food hall (in every city now) was open and that is where we had our famous Jeni’s ice cream.  Yum!

Now for the chow.  We had an overwhelming number of restaurant recommendations for every meal.  We would have needed well over 3 days to try them all but the ones we did try didn’t disappoint!  We waited on line for 30 minutes (we heard that was short) for fried chicken at Hattie B’s.  Yes I ate it and it was quite a treat!  As for breakfast, we were faced with yet another line (20 minutes) at Biscuit Love in the Gulch but enjoyed the line free Milk and Honey, around the corner, just as much, if not more, for breakfast.  We had two delicious dinners, one at Rolf and Daughters and my favorite one, at Husk.  Put Husk on the top of your list!  Before the airport, we had a country breakfast, complete with their famous skillet fried chicken, at Monell’s at the Manor.  You sit family style, with other guests and enjoy the passed around, all you can eat, smoked sausage, bacon, biscuits and gravy, country ham, fried apples, pancakes, scrambled eggs, hash browns, cheese grits, skillet fried chicken, corn pudding, etc. It is close to the airport, so it is a convenient place to eat before your flight.  You won’t need to eat the rest of the day!

One last thing.  As you can see Nashville is a hot destination, and in the summer it is truly HOT!  The days reached into the mid 90s, and even I, who loves the exercise, didn’t attempt any long walks during the heat of the day.  Instead we EASILY ubered everywhere.  There was never an uber more than a few minutes away.  In the morning and at night we got our walking in.

I have been to many cities, and many times they feel the same to me, like New York”ish”, but not Nashville.  It has a unique vibe that I loved! Maybe I will be lucky enough to go back to look at Vandy for one of my three kids.  I hope there is a show playing at the Ryman upon my return. 🙂

Cheers Y’all