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Earth, Wind & Power Blog

Nashville: Sophisticated Southern City with a Country Edge

Enjoy the Sights and Sounds in Music City USA

words and photos: Rachel L. Miller

Country Music Landmarks
Although country music reigns supreme in Nashville, you don't have to live and breathe it to enjoy the city's many attractions.

So you say you don't know any country music. You think Faith Hill is some sort of religious landmark, that Garth Brooks is a creek twisting through your grandma's backyard. That's fine; Nashville doesn't care.

You don't have to be the world's biggest country fan to enjoy Music City USA - hell, you don't even have to know the difference between Toby Keith and Keith Richards (although you really, really should). If you've ever caught yourself tapping your foot along with any type of music, whether Mozart or Metallica, you'll enjoy yourself in Nashville. If you love rolling green meadows and old plantations; if you've ever wanted to take a trip on a paddlewheel riverboat; if you like acres of beautifully groomed gardens; if you appreciate art in any of its forms, Nashville is a destination you should seriously consider. And by the time you leave, it's more than likely you'll be humming a country tune.

Although best known for being home to country music, Nashville is a city of many monikers. As "The Buckle of the Bible Belt," Nashville boasts 800 houses of worship; and with most area residents practicing Protestant religions, it's also been termed "the Protestant Vatican." A strong commitment to higher education (16 colleges and universities call Nashville home) paired with a steadfast love for the arts helped Nashville earn the nickname of the "Athens of the South" in the 1800s. The city celebrated that title by constructing a full replica of the ancient Greek Parthenon in 1897, something that definitely needs to be seen to be believed. A 41-foot sculpture of Athena - the largest piece of indoor sculpture in the Western World - has been housed inside the Parthenon since 1990. Also acting as the city of Nashville's art museum with 63 paintings by American artists, The Parthenon is the centerpiece of Centennial Park, a stunning urban park just west of downtown.

Centennial Park, a green respite from city life, is just one of many parks in Nashville, which leads us to yet another nickname: "City of Parks". There are 101 metroparks and two state parks in greater Nashville, offering numerous chances to bond with Mother Nature while not straying too far from the city.

Nashville Skyline
Springtime view of Nashville's downtown and the Capitol Building (on the hilll).

And of course, as mentioned earlier, Nashville is Music City USA, probably the city's most truthful alias. For a music lover, Nashville is a paradise of honky-tonks, clubs and other venues where you can discover a burgeoning artist or a long-time favorite.

Whether or not you're a country fan, the County Music Hall of Fame and Museum is the best place to start your Nashville music experience. Country music was first performed on the radio in 1922, its heritage strictly American and stitched into the fabric of, indeed making it the music of America. Exploring the million-item museum, complete with interactive exhibits, could easily take hours; it's best to allow enough time so you're not rushing yourself. Trace the history of country music through the museum's comprehensive timeline - along the way, you'll find artifacts from artists like Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Presley's gold Cadillac is on display next to Webb Pierce's ridiculously impressive silver dollar-studded 1962 Pontiac Bonneville convertible, complete with ornamental pistols and horseshoes.

One of the most breathtaking areas of the relatively new, $37 million structure is the rotunda, where light streams down from the glass above to illuminate bronze plaques depicting the 88 individuals, duos or groups who have earned membership into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Just a short walk from the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum is Ryman Auditorium, which gained the title of "Mother Church of Country Music" from hosting the Grand Ole Opry show from 1943 to 1974. And since all types of musicians have taken the stage at the Ryman - from Roy Acuff to Lenny Kravitz; the Vienna Boys Choir to Keith Richards; Patsy Cline to Bob Dylan - it's a hallowed ground for any music lover.

Bell South Building
Magnolias bloom below the BellSouth Building - often referred to as the "Bat Building" by locals.

Around the corner from the Ryman is the headquarters of CMT (Country Music Television) and only a few blocks away are Nashville's famed honky-tonks. And towering above it all is the BellSouth building - referred to as the "Bat Building" by locals for its resemblance to superhero Batman - a reminder that not everything revolves around country music in Nashville.

In fact, although music production is a major part of Nashville's economy, there are a number of corporations either headquartered or have a major facility in the metropolitan area, including Saturn, Dell, Bridgestone/Firestone, BellSouth and Nissan. Whether or not you're visiting Nashville on business or pleasure, you have a fair share of options when it comes to selecting your lodging.

WOMEN'S HISTORY
AT THE HERMITAGE HOTEL
In 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th amendment to the US Constitution, giving women nationwide the right to vote. That's quite a milestone in Tennessee and US history.

But did you know that the heated political debate, carried on most fervently by women on both sides, was centered at The Hermitage Hotel?

The Hermitage Hotel gave room to equal causes and drew reporters from New York, Washington DC, Boston and other cities who were in town to report the suffrage fight.

It all began in 1914, when The Hermitage Hotel hosted the National American Women's Suffrage Association's national convention. By 1915, news reports predicted that Tennessee's powerful suffragists might win the vote for all American women.

In 1920, the hotel was the headquarters for both pro- and anti-suffrage forces. The anti-suffrage movement used the hotel as a platform for decrying the loss of womanhood and motherhood, certain results if suffrage passed, they believed.

The final vote came on Aug. 18, when Rep. Harry Burn broke a 48-48 tie in favor of women's suffrage. Its passage was celebrated with as much intensity as the fight to achieve it and mourned with all the drama and sensationalism used to fight it. At The Hermitage Hotel, emotions ran the gamut. In March 1995, a celebration marking the 75th anniversary of women's suffrage was held at The Hermitage Hotel.


(source: The Hermitage Hotel)

Located on Sixth Avenue in the heart of dowtown is The Hermitage Hotel, built in 1910 and restored in 2003 at a cost of $17 million. This hotel is simply gorgeous, from the painstakingly detailed ceiling of the lobby to the luxurious touches in the guest rooms. Some of our favorite amenities include complimentary high-speed Internet connections and DVD players in each room. The Hermitage Hotel is also home to a fine dining restaurant - The Capitol Grille - that is nationally renowned for its menu, with an emphasis on certified Tennessee Black Angus Beef and fresh seafood. The men's restroom near the hotel's Oak Bar is quite a landmark in itself, having starred in a Dixie Chicks video. If at all possible, sneak inside for a quick look at the gorgeous tile work.

Located a few minutes from downtown is The Millennium Maxwell House Hotel, a name which holds quite a legacy not just in Nashville, but also in the coffee industry. Legend has it that President Theodore Roosevelt, while dining at the hotel, commented that the coffee was "good to the last drop," a phrase that was snagged for later use in advertising Maxwell House coffee. The original Maxwell House Hotel burned down in 1961 and reopened later at its current location overlooking the MetroCenter Office Park. The hotel offers free parking, free downtown shuttle and free airport transportation in addition to some of the most comfortable beds around. If you're a fan of package deals, make sure to check out the hotel's website where there are quite a few offered.

And of course, it's impossible to mention Nashville hotels and not suggest Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, the nation's largest non-gaming hotel property. It's also home to the Grand Ole Oprey and an astounding 2,881 guest rooms (and 200 suites). Even more impressive than seeing Gaylord Opryland from the outside is seeing it inside. Soaring glass atriums cover 50,000 plants in nine acres of lush indoor gardens, including a 40-foot waterfall. With a number of restaurants and dozens of shops in the resort, it's no wonder some tourists spend most of their time exploring resort property.

For the die-hard shopper, Opry Mills outlet mall is just a short walk away. Over 200 stores await you (and your wallet), as well as a 20-screen movie theater and an IMAX theater.

General Jackson Showboat
Cruisin' the Cumberland River on General Jackson Showboat.

Also adjacent to the Opryland Resort is the General Jackson Showboat, which offers lunchtime and evening entertainment on a paddlewheel steamboat. The midday entertainment (following a casual lunch buffet) is perfect for all ages - kids especially get a kick out of the entertainment. Currently showing until November is Now That's Country featuring Tim Watson, a sort of smorgasboard of country standards like Hank Williams's "Jambalaya" that will get you tapping your toes (even if you try to fight it - believe me). After the show is over, you have the rest of the two-and-a-half hour ride to explore the 300-foot-long boat, climbing from deck to deck. While there's an activity for children, there's also more live music to be had on the top deck. The boat is large enough that you can find a quiet place to sit and watch the changing landscape on the banks of the Cumberland River. However, make sure to head to the back to catch a glimpse of the huge red paddlewheel.

If the steamboat ride provoked a desire to immerse yourself in history, you've got quite an array of options. Gorgeous, immaculately restored homes such as Belle Meade plantation and Belmont Mansion weave a spell over visitors with their fascinating pasts. You can even see bulletholes on the columns of Belle Meade from a skirmish during the Civil War in 1864.

Andrew Jackson Portrayer
The Hermitage's David McArdle, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Andrew Jackson, welcomes visitors just oudside the mansion.

And as the grand-daddy of 'em all, The Hermitage is not only breathtakingly beautiful with its rolling emerald-hued lawn and towering trees, it packs a whollop in its historical consequence as the home to President Andrew Jackson. The Hermitage's museum was much more interesting than I expected; I wish I had more time to spend exploring what life was like for the Jackson family and their servants. Luckily, The Hermitage's knowledgeable staff does a commendable job in bringing the Jackson family to life - stories of Jackson's dedication to his wife and his affection for his grandchildren really give a sense of the man behind the impressive credentials. Not just a president, not just a general (although it was Jackson's proudest accomplishment), Jackson was a family man and had a great fondness for both The Hermitage and the state of Tennessee.

Statue at Cheekwood Botanical Garden
Cheekwood's Japanese Garden

One of the greatest examples of Tennessee's beauty is the Botanical Garden at Cheekwood, 55 acres of perfectly-groomed grounds, complete with gloriously vibrant flowers and a mile-long sculpture garden. Once the property of the Cheek family (of Maxwell House coffee fame), the decadent house now showcases art - from Worcester Porcelain and American silver to sculpture by local artists. Cheekwood boasts over 170,000 visitors a year and it's not hard to see why - it's simply one of Nashville's best attractions. I could've spent hours in the Japanese garden alone - be prepared to spend a good part of the day exploring...and relaxing.

Once you're completely relaxed, head back into town for a visit to the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, an art-exhibition center housed in Nashville's old post office. The Art Deco archicture and details are breathtaking and manage to compete with the Frist's art for my attention (and admiration). Since it's a non-collecting site, the Frist can easily host large exhibitions from some of the most prestigious collections the museums in the world including Tate and Smithsonian American Art Museum. An exhibition that really struck a chord with me was Real Illusions: Contempory Art from Nashville Collections, 60 realist and narrative paintings and sculptures that depict scenes of everyday life. My reaction to each piece varied so dramatically, swinging from humor to sadness in a matter of minutes.

In an effort to bring kids (and the rest of us) closer to art, the Frist has an exciting and fun area called ArtQuest Gallery, where you can get your creative juices flowing with discussions and interactive projects. Kids just love ArtQuest...and you probably will too.

Another thing you'll enjoy is checking out the honky-tonks on Broadway and 2nd Avenue. Even in the middle of the day, we stumbled across live music at The Stage - struggling artists searching for a break are de rigeur in Nashville, resulting in a plethora of talent at every turn.

Steve Oliver and Christy Quick, who we happened across at The Stage, played happily to a half-dozen patrons, most of whom were friends.

"Here you can be amongst people like you," Quick said. "You can always find wonderful musicians playing anywhere down this strip, playing for next to nothing."

When asked how Oliver, originally from Alabama, liked living in Nashville, he exchanged a knowing look with Quick and stirred his coffee.

"I'm broke, but I love it." His voice, so low, was almost too deep to understand. And when he took the stage, his unique voice sounded like a cross between Barry White and Johnny Cash.

Perched on a wooden stool as light streamed in the front windows, the toe of Oliver's cowboy boot tapped in tune with the strum of his acoustic guitar. He closed his eyes and crooned, "My love for you will never die."

It's a Don Williams tune, perhaps reflecting the true nature of a complex city. Nashville may be a tough city in which to become a star, but it's more than easy to love - for past legends, current visitors and starry-eyed residents alike.

IF YOU GO...

OUR RESTAURANT SUGGESTIONS - [Click Here]

Plan your trip to Nashville using the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau

MORE INFORMATION ON NASHVILLE ATTRACTONS AND HOTELS:

HOTELS & RESORTS :
[Millennium Maxwell House]
[The Hermitage Hotel]
[Gaylord Opryland Resort]

ARTS, ENTERTIANMENT & MUSEUMS:
[Belle Meade Plantation]
[Belmont Mansion]
[Cheekwood Museum & Botanical Garden]

[Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum ]
[Frist Center for the Visual Arts]
[General Jackson Showboat]
[Grand Ole Opry]
[The Parthenon]
[Ryman Auditorium]

SHOPPING:
[Opry Mills Outlet]

 

 

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