Music City dazzles with its honky tonks, hot chicken and hip southern vibe.
Hyped for its 24-7-365 mother lode of live music and nightlife energy, “Nash-Vegas” goes beyond simply putting a Southern spin on Sin City. In fact, it’s tough to sidestep the southern vibe since tunes are pumped into lounge-lined neighborhood streets with intriguing tags like Honky Tonk Highway, SoBro and The Gulch.
Even if you’ve avoided the country bandwagon, you’ll still find your harmony thanks to more than 160 venues running amok with indie, pop, rock, soul, blues, gospel and jazz. To avoid missing a beat, arm your Smartphone with the free Nashville Live Music Guide app (visitmusiccity.com) or gawk for guitar pick sidewalk signs marking these hot spots.
Nashville’s concert scene also goes gangbusters with music changing its tune in a flurry of settings. Headliners range from Tony Bennett at Schermerhorn Symphony Center and Bryan Ferry at Ryman Auditorium to The Goo Goo Dolls and Cheap Trick at the new Ascend Amphitheater.
A regal institution resonating country’s soul, the legendary Grand Ole Opry (opry.com) continues to grab the spotlight as it has for nine decades. Rocking the prototypical concert hall formula by showcasing up to 15 acts in a single show, a night at the Opry may team a superstar and Country Music Hall of Famer with newbies making their Opry debut. Kick it up a notch with a backstage VIP tour where you can walk in the footsteps of Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert or Tim McGraw.
Here’s a look at how to spend three days in “The Songwriting Capital of the World.”
DAY 1: TUNE INTO MUSIC CITY
To hone your navigation skills, board the Music City Trolley Hop On/Hop Off Tour. Stretch your legs at the Tennessee State Capitol, and then mosey through the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (countrymusichalloffame.org) that celebrates the genre’s dynamic personalities. Check out RCA Studio B where music titans like Elvis, Dolly, Roy and Waylon recorded literally hundreds of hits.
Other top stops include the Johnny Cash Museum, Green Brier Distillery, Vanderbilt University and Marathon Village (which is home to Mike Wolfe’s Antique Archaeology shop featured on the History Channel’s American Pickers). Or opt for the offbeat Hick Chick Tour with Honky Tonk Pub Crawl that shares brews, tunes and tales of Nashville’s seedier brothels and gambling past.
For a mid-day breather, Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant (puckettsgro.com) satiates with Southern staples like BBQ pulled pork sliders, fried catfish, hot chicken sandwich and fried green tomato-infused fare. Other noontime nosh picks include Th e Farm House, Etch, The Southern Steak & Oyster, Jack’s Bar-B-Cue and Honky Tonk Grill at Robert’s Western World. Bands serve tunes from 11 a.m. daily.
After lunch, stroll a few blocks to praise the Mother Church of Country Music. Both shrine and stage, Ryman Auditorium hosted stellar talents from James Brown to Patsy Cline and Bruce Springsteen. Get in touch with your inner songbird by cutting a CD at this original home of the Grand Ole Opry.
Refresh your vocal chords with local suds at Tennessee Brew Works, Black Abbey Brewing or Hops + Crafts before refueling with dinner at Acme Feed & Seed (theacmenashville.com). An updated take on the classic honky tonk, this “funky tonk” lures crowds with eclectic, fast-casual cuisine, 28 beers on tap, communal tables and live music, naturally.
Nightcaps stir the mood at Lower Broadway’s regaled watering holes like Legends Corner, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and Layla’s Bluegrass Inn that pays homage to hillbilly, rockabilly, bluegrass and even newgrass— a blend of bluegrass, folk and rock performed in a jamband style. Or wander to Wildhorse Saloon to scoot your boots and boost your line-dancing swagger and Lonnie’s Western Room to croon your signature karaoke anthem.
DAY 2: STEP BACK IN TIME
Retail reaches a fever pitch at Hillsboro Village’s collection of shops, boutiques and eateries near Vanderbilt and Belmont universities. You may even spot Taylor Swift at Fido, a cool coffeehouse blurring the lines with organic, exotic and junk foods.
Regroup over lunch at Pharmacy Burger Parlor and Beer Garden—aka “Nashville’s Wurst-Burger Joint”—that rocks taste buds with its coveted kraut, horseradish mustard and German suds combo. Then take a spin through famed vinyl stores like Third Man Records and Grimey’s New & Preloved Music, a legendary independent record store with limited-edition releases.
As shopping slips off the radar, Nashville’s historic past forges into the agenda. In December 1864, the city’s south and west sides raged during the Civil War’s two-day Battle of Nashville. Accessible heritage sites are maintained by its namesake preservation society. Nashville’s largest and wealthiest private estate, Belle Meade Plantation (bellemeadeplantation.com), still retains cannonball imprints on its front porch.
For a longer, more spirited adventure, motor 70 miles southeast to Jack Daniel’s Distillery (jackdaniels.com) in Lynchburg.
The nation’s oldest registered distillery now offers daily sampling tours revealing the spirit-making process perfected by Daniel himself in 1866. Arrive early for this hot ticket.
If timing is tight, sip on “Hand Crafted Small Batch Ultra Premium Booze for Badasses” at Marathon Village’s Corsair Distillery. Stay on theme at The Gulch’s Whiskey Kitchen (mstreetnashville.com/whiskey-kitchen), a chic tavern spinning spirits with Bourbon Glazed BBQ Poppers and Sweet Bourbon BBQ Wings. Or check out Little Octopus, a new restaurant that dishes out wholesome, clean and fresh food “people can feel good about eating every day.”
Switch up the night by hitting multi-genre clubs like Mercy Lounge, The 5 Spot, Exit/In, 3rd & Lindsley and The Basement. With a cool underground vibe, the latter delivers a consistently strong lineup of classic jazz, blues, rock and solo acoustic performances.
DAY 3: CHEER FOR THE HOME TEAM(S)
When the Tennessee Titans (titansonline.com) selected former St. Louis School and University of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota with the second pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the franchise distributed 10,000 lei rewarding diehard fans at LP Field. To catch Hawai’i’s local boy in action, check the team’s website for the 2016 home game schedule.
Gridiron aside, this city’s pro sports roster thrives with Nashville Predators NHL hockey, Nashville Sounds minor league baseball and Fairgrounds Speedway NASCAR action revving up at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds (thefairgrounds.com).
For a pre-game warm-up, check out the game hype in typical sports bar frenzy mode at Th e Southern, Baily’s Sports Grille, Merchant’s, Tin Roof Broadway and Pub5. For post-game reenergizing, nothing beats the South’s version of Hawai`i’s plate lunch.
“Meat and Three” lets you gorge on a heaping helping of savory Southern entrées like fried chicken, meat loaf or pork chops, accompanied with choice of three sides that range from mac and cheese, green beans, fried okra or mashed potatoes. Grazing classics include Loveless Café, Arnold’s Country Kitchen and Monell’s. At 417 Union, an upstairs dining room adds a nostalgic touch with its Civil War theme emphasizing the battles of Nashville and Franklin.
WHERE TO STAY
While sleek and chic sleeping can be found in every nook and cranny, consider downtown’s swanky and stylish options like Hotel Indigo Nashville, Hotel 315, Union Station Hotel and legendary Hermitage Hotel (thehermitagehotel.com)—Tennessee’s only Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond property.
Towering onto the scene in October, the 454-room Westin Nashville will indulge with its Rhapsody Spa and 27th-floor rooftop lounge with craft cocktails and private cabanas. On the other end of the scale is 404 Hotel (the404nashville.com), a five-room boutique “urban hideout” created from a former mechanics garage.
Making Music in Memphis
Tucked into the southwest corner of the “Volunteer State,” Memphis changes channels as the birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll, home of the Blues and starting point of soul. You’ll still hear the influences of legends like Elvis, B.B. King, Johnny Cash and Otis Redding, who each made their marks in this city. To plug into the medley, visit Sun Studio, Graceland, Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum (memphisrocknsoul.org) and Stax Museum of American Soul Music.
More recently, craft beer has caught “The Bluff City” by storm as small-batch breweries flow throughout the city. After all, what goes better with Memphis barbecue than hops and barley? High Cotton (highcottonbrewing.com) and Wiseacre (wiseacrebrew.com) brewing companies pour a rocking lineup of local suds, while Pyramid Vodka serves tastings and 30-minute tours of its distillery.
For culinary pursuits, East Memphis’ Hog & Hominy is a quirky merging of Southern soul with Italian heritage. Try a John T. Edge burger or a cheddar dog with a Ghost River beer for a culinary fest that locals describe as “Delizioso Y’all!”
Night owls can “audio check” along Beale Street or slip into afterhours bars like B.B. King’s Blues Club, Jerry Lee Lewis’ Café & Honky Tonk (jerryleelewismemphis.com), and Coyote Ugly Saloon, which gained notoriety in the movie sharing its moniker.
For overnight luxury, check into the iconic Peabody (peabodymemphis.com), Madison Hotel, Westin Memphis Beale Street or River Inn of Harbor Town.