Enjoy the Sights and Sounds in Music City USA
words and photos: Rachel L. Miller
country music reigns supreme in Nashville, you
don't have to live and breathe it to enjoy the
city's many attractions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
view of Nashville's downtown and the Capitol Building
(on the hilll).
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.
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.
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.
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.
bloom below the BellSouth Building - often referred
to as the "Bat Building" by locals.
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.
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.
AT THE HERMITAGE HOTEL
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
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.
The Hermitage Hotel)
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.
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.
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.
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.
the Cumberland River on General Jackson Showboat.
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.
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.
The Hermitage's David McArdle, bearing an uncanny
resemblance to Andrew Jackson, welcomes visitors
just oudside the mansion.
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.
Cheekwood's Japanese Garden
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.
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.
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.
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.
Oliver and Christy Quick, who we happened across at The Stage,
played happily to a half-dozen patrons, most of whom were friends.
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."
asked how Oliver, originally from Alabama, liked living in Nashville,
he exchanged a knowing look with Quick and stirred his coffee.
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.
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."
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