When the name Nashville, Tenn., pops up in conversation, most folks think of country music.
Story by Edward Thomas
Savannah/Hilton Head International (SAV) to Nashville International Airport (BNA)
Duration: 1 hour, 25 minutes
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Even if country music isn’t your thing, the city known as “The Athens of the South,” since the mid-19th century and more recently as “Music City,” will warm you up with its attractions, fabulous food and nightlife scene.
Better yet, the riverfront Tennessee capital is just a short flight from Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport and can make for a quick getaway weekend of pure fun.
The Athens moniker is the result of the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition when Nashville’s city fathers honored the ancient Greeks by building a full-scale replica of the Parthenon.
Nashville’s Parthenon is the centerpiece of the 1897 Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition and features a 42-foot statue of the goddess Athena, the largest indoor sculpture in the Western world. The park is at the west end of West Avenue, two miles from downtown.
The 130-acre Centennial Park is a great place for walking, and is across the street from Vanderbilt University. It also serves as home of the annual Nashville Shakespeare Festival in late August/early September.
There’s also dark history associated with the park, which was home of the Confederate Private Monument. A memorial statue erected in the early 1900s by Confederate Army Veterans and The Daughters of the Confederacy honors the everyday Confederate soldier. Members of the Ku Klux Klan pushed for the statue’s erection. The KKK, which derives its name from the Greek word “kyklos,” (meaning cycle) was founded in Nashville as the city was once a hotbed of Klan activities well into the 1900s. Centennial Park served as the site of KKK rallies. Jim Crow laws forbade African Americans from walking on park grounds until the late 1960s.
Many historians trace the moniker “Music City” not to the birth of the country music scene, but rather to a troupe of African American singers from Nashville’s Fisk University in the late 1800s who were known as the Jubilee Singers. The troupe toured in the U.S. and Europe to raise money for the needs of newly freed slaves. The singers visited Great Britain in 1873, which included a concert for Queen Victoria. Word is the Queen remarked the singers “must come from Music City” because of the beauty of their voices. The singers are best known for popularizing the Negro spiritual song “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.”
Ryman Auditorium is best known as the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974. Referred to as the “mother of country music,” the venue hall was built in 1892 by riverboat captain Tom Ryman. Over the next 60 years, it attracted many of the world’s greatest musical performers including Caruso, Louie Armstrong, John Philip Sousa and Nat King Cole.
The Grand Ole Opry started as a radio show in another part of the city in the late 1920s and began performing live at the Ryman in 1943 because of its popularity on radio stations. Country stars Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Charley Pride and even Elvis Presley all performed on the Ryman stage, thereby lighting the flame for Nashville to grow into a global center for music and recording.
Bluegrass also began at the Ryman in 1945. Many of the music world’s greatest stars including Bruce Springsteen, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, the Foo Fighters and Garth Brooks have performed at the 2,362-seat venue when they could easily fill stadiums.
As a visitor you can stand on the famous stage, watch a film of the building’s history, view clothes of Opry performers and Ryman memorabilia.
The Music Scene
Nashville is the nation’s hub for pop, rock, jazz, classical, contemporary Christian music and soul music, so much so that Rolling Stone magazine recently gave Nashville the title of “America’s Best Music Scene.”
Today, you can find live music every day and night in Nashville. The renowned “honky tonks” on Lower Broadway offer free live music 365 days a year. There are more than 180 music venues around town, ranging from large arenas and concert halls such as the Bridgestone Arena and the more intimate Schermerhorn Symphony Center, which recovered from devastating floods in 2010.
VisitMusicCity.com is a good place to start planning for your visit to Nashville, or check out the Nashville page on TripAdvisor.com.
Lower Broadway (5th Avenue to the waterfront) is the hunting ground for country music bands, great bars and clubs.
Our top rated honky-tonks among dozens of choices includes Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, with its three stories of live bands on each level plus a rooftop lounge. It’s always crowded and always fun.
The Tin Roof or the Tequila Cowboy, which has the only mechanical bull on Lower Broadway, can do no wrong.
Nashville Hot Chicken is legendary. It’s a way of life in Music City and has now grown a reputation around the country. Typically a marinated chicken breast with spicy sauces packed with cayenne pepper, it is a rite of passage for visitors especially for late eating after a night on the town. Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack is the original, but it has challengers like Hattie B’s Hot Chicken and Party Fowl.
Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop Don’t leave Nashville without stopping by this iconic record store at 417 Broadway. Established in 1947, this place is a treasure trove where nostalgia of country music rests. Stacks and stacks of CDs and original vinyl records occupy tables and shelves above the creaking hardwood floors. The selection includes both current stars like Taylor Swift, as well as long gone forgotten artists like Mel Street.
Where To Stay From motels to five-star accommodations, Nashville has it all. For downtown luxury, The Hermitage, which was built in 1910 but is up to speed with all of today’s luxuries, offers spacious rooms with classic Southern décor.
Marriott’s Autograph Collection Union Station Hotel also is a fine choice. The impressive lobby has a Victorian-era motif, glimmering chandeliers and massive stone fireplaces.
Those looking to stay closer to the airport should check out Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. It’s one of the 30 largest hotels in the world with 2,882 rooms, 220 suites and 15 restaurants.
Suggestions from a Local…
Skye McCaskey grew up on Hilton Head Island. As a young boy, he enjoyed exploring the Sea Pines Forest Preserve with his father, Glen McCaskey, who had a large part in the Preserve’s design and amenities, and his mother, Ginny. Skye also liked to tinker with electronics and music. By age 13, he was running the sound system of Hilton Head Island’s Grace Community Church. Skye moved to Nashville in the late 1990s and now lives there with his wife, Leslie, and their 8-year old son, Britain. As a programmer and app designer, Skye has been tangentially involved with the Christian music scene in Nashville and was part of the team that produced the soundtrack for the 2018 movie “I Can Only Imagine.”
Country Music Hall of Fame Home to more than 2.5 million artifacts about country music with both permanent and limited time exhibits. Sign up for the historic RCA Studio B Tour ($40.95) where you will see where Elvis Presley recorded more than 200 songs and contemporary performers such as Carrie Underwood make special recordings. Guides will enhance your experience.
12th South District Nashville residents will tell you south of downtown along 12th Avenue is a popular area with a lot of locally operated eateries to choose from. The Frothy Monkey is a great coffee spot and Las Paletas is known for its refreshing gourmet popsicles.
Riverfront Concerts Opened just three years ago, Ascend Amphitheater is an open-air event venue alongside the Cumberland River inside Riverfront Park. A series of concerts are available all summer. There are 2,300 fixed seats with room for 4,500 more on the lawn. The band Foreigner highlights this summer series on July 6. Visit ascendamphitheater.com for the full schedule.
Catbird Seat It’s rumored that celebrities arrive in their private jets just to eat here at this intimate 22-seat restaurant. This place is Michelin guide quality and tough to snag a reservation. Meals are prepared as you watch and Chef Ryan Poli insists every dish is prepared flawlessly for flavor. Items like sunflower seed risotto with Italian summer truffles as well as kelp ice cream with bitter chocolate oranges for dessert are great choices. Outstanding wine list to boot.
Loveless Café It’s about a 30-minute drive from downtown, but locals will attest that it’s well worth the trip. Chicken and biscuits with homemade jam is the featured item. Marvelous discovery.
The Pharmacy Burger Parlor and Beer Garden If you like to relax with a great burger or bratwurst this is your place. Modeled after a traditional German biergarten, the Pharmacy is across the Cumberland River from downtown. It has a huge selection of inventive burger choices including some oddities like falafel burgers and chili burgers, plus deliciously crisp sweet potato fries, salads and a large selection of beers.
Bluebird Café This intimate legendary spot is on the bucket list of most country music lovers. Several contemporary music artists got their start here. Reservations are a must for the 9 o’clock seating. A typical nightly performance features three or four songwriters perched in the center of the room taking turns playing their songs and accompanying each other instrumentally. Famous artists pop in regularly. It’s an experience few forget with many of the songs eventually turned into platinum hits by top recording artists.
Bridgestone Arena The premier all-purpose venue in downtown Nashville is in its 21st year. It the home of the NHL’s Nashville Predators and also is used for arena concerts. The summer’s schedule includes Shania Twain, Josh Groban, Paul Simon, Bruno Mars and Cirque du Soleil.
The Station Inn Nashville claims to be the birthplace of bluegrass and the best spot for authentic bluegrass sits here behind a bright red door in a nondescript weathered brick building. Open 7 p.m. to midnight. No frills and no wine, but plenty of beer.