When we first arrived in the States and people asked me which American cities I wanted to visit, Nashville was always in my top three. I love live music, I’d got quite into the ABC show ‘Nashville’ which had encouraged me to explore country music, and it just seemed like Nashville would be a cool place to visit.
I chose Midtown as our base for the two nights we would be there. Nashville’s official tourist website advertised the area as full of bars and places to catch live music, as well as being the home of the famous music row, where the recording studios can be found.
Because R had to work we were flying in from different places and meeting at the hotel. I arrived first and so had some time to wander around and check out some bars/restaurants for later. As I walked around Midtown in the afternoon sunshine I was thoroughly glad we’d chosen to stay there. Midtown’s bars and restaurants are clustered around a square of about three or four blocks, so it’s a pretty compact area. Most of the restaurants had outside space, or open frontage, and people were hanging out and generally enjoying themselves. At the end of these streets is Vanderbilt University, which is a beautiful, very green campus. And then there was music row. Not really a row at all, but a few blocks of cute, suburban-looking houses that you wouldn’t know were recording studios except for the signs. It’s a lovely, and peaceful part of Midtown.
Of course, when evening falls, it’s a different story. Nashville is a party-town, and Midtown, with its compact area of bars, restaurants, and reasonably priced chain hotels is a hot spot for bachelor and bachelorette parties – especially, we discovered, on Memorial Day weekend. From very early in the evening there were groups of young people on the streets, looking for a good time. I found a space at the bar of a place called the Corner Pub, which it turned out was usually a college bar, but was quieter that night because school was out. Immediately a couple of things struck me. First, people here were out to get very drunk, and second, you can smoke in bars in Nashville. I’d forgotten how cigarette smoke just completely puts you off eating anything – even though I knew the wings and pickle chips would taste amazing with my laguintas and bourbon, I just couldn’t get over the smell of the cigarette smoke.
But it was a fun bar. For the first time in my life a waitress came over with a shot and told me it was from ‘that guy over there’. I had no idea what to do! As I sat, trying to work it out, I observed as they embarked on a mission to get drunk – they and the rest of the bar. The bar staff decided that every time they rang a bell, certain shots would be on offer, and that’s how I ended up with an untasted jaegermeister sitting in front of me for the rest of the evening. Eventually the guy who’d sent it to me came over and made conversation, so I was able to thank him and explain that I was waiting for my husband. But I think he was probably too drunk to really understand. It was in this bar that I learnt the American rhyme for drinking order: ‘Liquor before beer, in the clear; beer before liquor never sicker.’ Which seemed to me to be the opposite of the English version I was brought up with: ‘Beer before wine, you’ll feel fine; wine before beer, you’ll feel queer’? But that’s all by the by.
When R arrived the evening started properly – we found food and then live music at a great place called The Row, which we discovered the next day also did really great brunch. That evening it was really good, old-fashioned country – the singer, Heidi Jean sang her own songs but also things like the Dixie Chicks to a very appreciative audience.
The next day we set out to see the rest of Nashville. Although it was certainly an experience, we weren’t that struck by Honky Tonk Alley in downtown. Very touristy, it’s just a street of bars with bands and shops selling boots and hats. It didn’t feel at all authentic, and in fact reminded us of Blackpool. We did enjoy the Johnny Cash museum though. It’s a really amazing collection of items owned by Cash, and especially tells the story of his fan club. It also showcases Cash’s art work, and has a video recording of Cash reciting Ragged Old Flag, which was cool. One thing I was slightly disappointed by was that the museum didn’t really explain what place Nashville had in Cash’s story – whereas an article in the hotel’s guide book had done an excellent job of this. But a good alternative context was provided by an exhibition on Cash’s contemporaries like Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins. Most excitingly we saw Perkins’s actual blue suede shoes!
Later in the afternoon we caught a bit of Nashville’s live music festival at Centennial Park.
This was just perfect. Music, beer and ice cream in the sunshine. Getting the beer was a bit of a performance – we had to queue for the police to see our IDs, then we had to queue to buy tickets, and then we could queue to exchange these for actual beer. But I think this all added to the experience.
We had time between the festival and dinner, so we stopped into a bar for sliders and beer – and got free Koozies!
While at first we found this bar unusually quiet, a guy with a guitar soon arrived on stage and started singing some Johnny Cash.
Then it was time to try Nashville’s speciality of Hot Chicken (more on this another time!) and hit the hay. We had a long day’s drive ahead of us!
Read on: Southern Road Trip – Atlan’a
Read about the rest of our Southern Road Trip and our adventures with Southern food: