|Nashville's High Notes
Come for the music. Stay for the culture...and the history...and the shopping...and the architecture...
By Sally Moe
Music City. Athens of the South. Cashville and Nashvegas. The Protestant Vatican. The Buckle of the Bible Belt. Nashville gets called a lot of things because it is a lot of things.
Above: Frist Center for the Visual Arts is itself a stunning work of art. Scott Thomas/Nashville CVB photo
Below: The Grammy Award-winning Nashville Symphony performs at the lavish Schermerhorn Symphony Center.
It’s a center for the arts, entertainment and higher education, as well as a live-action history book with sprawling plantations and diverse architecture. Nashville is a historic Southern capital that values its past, and yet is a modern, livable metropolis that embraces the cutting edge.
However, Nashville is all about the music–all kinds of music. Raspy blues, stompin’ honky tonk, rock, pop, gospel, jazz and classical.
The City of Music
The Grammy Award-winning Nashville Symphony rivals symphonies of much larger cities, as does its home, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, named after the symphony’s erstwhile conductor who made it his mission to raise the company’s profile to its current level. Once my group settled down from neck-straining overload as we viewed the Viennese-style opulence of the interior, we were wowed by the symphony’s performance of Rachmaninoff’s evocative Symphonic Dances, honored with two enthusiastic standing ovations.
The center’s design is so beautiful that you shouldn’t miss the free 50-minute tour, which is offered at 1 p.m. most days of the week. The tour provides a prime opportunity to see the center’s 3,617-pipe Martin Foundation Concert Organ, a masterpiece of engineering that took more than 13,000 hours to construct and finish.
Obviously, Nashville takes its Music City reputation seriously. Serving as a subtle reminder of where you are, Music City hits are streamed via speakers on downtown streets. Throughout the city, guitar-pick-on-a-stick signs identify live music venues where you can catch in-person performances at least four days of the week. Chances are good you’ll find something you like. The list of participating places is about as long as your arm and includes spots like Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, The Stage and B.B. King’s Blues Club. Many of them are conveniently located within walking distance of one another on Broadway. Just north of the intersection of Broadway and Second Avenue is the Wildhorse Saloon that reopened June 5 following flood damage repairs. North of Broadway on Fifth Avenue is the Ryman Auditorium, aka the “Mother Church of Country Music” (née the Union Gospel Tabernacle, built 1892), which was home sweet home to the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974. While the Opry House is currently closed for repairs due to the spring flood damage (see sidebar), he Ryman hosts Grand Ole Opry performances.
Speaking of convenience, if you head over to the Green Hills shopping district to pay your respects to the retail gods, you’ll be a stone’s throw from the legendary Bluebird Cafe, tucked away in an unassuming strip mall. This is a can’t-miss spot for the quintessential Nashville experience. Here, songwriters strut their stuff while singing their own songs that other performers made famous or performing and talking in the round during open mic or writers’ nights. The main requirement: it has to be their music. Garth Brooks got his start at the Bluebird. Faith Hill, Bonnie Raitt, Keith Urban and countless other luminaries have performed here as well. The Bluebird is snug, friendly and accessible, but everybody in the room is serious about the music so hit the mute button during performances.
The art of architecture
If you’re an art lover or an architecture buff–or you’re simply in search of a shot of visual caffeine–be sure to spend some time at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts next door to the Union Station Hotel on Broadway. Established in 1934 as Nashville’s main post office, this Art Deco gem was repurposed in 2001 as a museum of the highest caliber. It continues to house the post office’s downtown branch on the lower floor, while retaining its eye-popping Gotham-style deco splendor throughout. The aluminum and marble terrazzo and sleek, spare embellishments of the period greet you everywhere, from the humblest interior corner to the soaring lobby and magnificent entry. Modern-day renovations to the museum have enhanced functionality and blend seamlessly with the original structure to provide a complete experience. The building is every bit as fabulous as its exhibitions, concert series, interactive Artquest Gallery, gift shop and café.
While in the mode of exploring historical, redefined buildings, pop in next door to the Union Station Hotel. From its completion in 1900, this Richardsonian Romanesque landmark with its Mercury-topped spire served as Nashville’s train station for roughly half of the 20th century until the decline of rail travel eventually led to its closing. After much civic discourse on the subject, the beloved building was reopened as a hotel in 1986. Numerous details have been preserved from the original structure, particularly the stunning domed, paneled 65-foot stained glass ceiling in the lobby, as well as massive stone fireplaces, the train schedule board, stained-glass windows and Romanesque columns and arches.
In 2005, $11 million worth of renovations further polished this gem to reflect its current status as a Wyndham Historic Hotel, so the comfort of the interior fulfills the promise of the exterior. Through December 2010, a perk of staying overnight at the hotel is free admission for two to the Frist Center.
It’s Greek to me
Nashville hosted the World’s Fair in 1897, and in homage to its “Athens of the South” reputation, built a reproduction of the Parthenon as the fair’s visual centerpiece. In keeping with World’s Fair structures, it was built to inspire but not to last. However, it was so admired that it was re-created in more permanent materials some 20 years later. Due to painstaking attention to detail and proportion, Nashville’s permanent Parthenon took 10 years to build, and yet, there was something missing: the statue of Athena Parthenos.
Fast forward to 1982, the year that Nashville artist Alan LeQuire, then just 27 years old, was commissioned to build Athena. This would be a massive undertaking and proof not only of LeQuire’s talent, but his sheer audacity. All told, Athena took eight years to complete. At nearly 42 feet in height—said to qualify her as the largest piece of indoor sculpture in the Western World—she is gilded with 8.5 pounds of 23.75-karat gold leaf, and (I hope she will forgive me for sharing this) her weight is estimated at 12 tons. A statue of Nike stands atop the flattened palm of her right hand, and to give you a sense of scale, Nike is 6 feet 4 inches tall. This may be the hardest thing of all to comprehend as you behold the finished product: That deceptively petite Nike statue perched on the palm of Athena’s hand is probably taller than you are.
But it’s not hard after visiting Nashville to understand that there’s much more to this city than wonderful, varied music. It’s a tall order for any traveler to experience all that Nashville offers.
Sally Moe is senior copywriter/graphic designer at AAA Going Places magazine and is based on Tampa, Fla.
|Jul/Aug 2010 Issue
|BEFORE YOU GO
For more information, contact the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau 800-657-6910 | www.visitmusiccity.com.
To visit Nashville, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.
“What’s for dinner?” Glad you asked.
The taste lives up to the promise of the aroma, which awakens your appetite like a fire alarm, even when you thought you weren’t hungry. Ultra smoky barbecue and sides are served cafeteria style. Several sauces are available but seem unnecessary—the meat is that good.
No calories have been harmed in the production of the Southern-style comfort food offered at this beloved local landmark. Meat loaf, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, cobbler–all the really good stuff that Mom used to make (you wish).
Billed as “an authentic New York delicatessen,” this place has a huge menu, lively atmosphere, and its Midtown location is a hop and a skip from Music Row (the hub of Nashville’s entertainment industry). You might see somebody famous, so be cool, don’t stare...chew, swallow, and repeat. Try the sweet and sour cabbage soup.
Minimalist, modern décor and great view of the downtown skyline are here, as is a wonderful menu. The Red Onion Goat Cheese Tart is sublime, from the buttery, fresh-baked crust to the decadently rich filling.
Special occasion dining combines with a spa-like, almost ethereal atmosphere. Classic martinis, inventive cocktails and delicious food (the creamy grits are heavenly) are to be savored. It’s Southern style with an innovative twist. It’s pricey, but worth it.
A few attractions remain closed following spring flood
Damaging floods hit Nashville the first weekend of May, and while most of the city’s hotels and attractions have been open for business, two landmark attractions–the Grand Ole Opry House and Gaylord Opryland Resort–remain closed for repairs.
The ground floor of the Opry House was damaged. As a result, the stage, pews, dressing rooms, mechanical and power systems and store are being replaced. Gaylord Entertainment, the parent company, has targeted Oct. 1 for reopening.
Gaylord Opryland Resort had damage to public areas and 117 guest rooms, plus the majority of electrical, mechanical and information technology systems. Some can be repaired or renovated but most will be replaced. Nov. 15 is the targeted date for the resort’s reopening.
The company estimates the cost to restore these two properties to be close to $190 million. Because the resort isn’t scheduled to open for five months, more than 1,700 employees were released.
During the first week of June, the General Jackson Showboat and Wildhorse Saloon reopened in time for the CMA Music Festival.