Nashville is “Music City” for more reasons than its famous country roots. I mistakenly assumed country music was all Nashville had to offer when, in fact, Nashville has historically been and still is the city of a diversity of musical tastes. From world-renowned country music establishments to hidden honky tonks, Nashville has it all. Nashville is the place to go if you’re a music lover and want to have an experience that leaves you saturated with musical knowledge, talent, and memories.
Here’s a brief rundown of 6 must-dos in this musical city.
1. Must-see music city icons
Two iconic establishments that can’t be missed are the Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman Auditorium, both of which have made an indelible impact on making Nashville the Music City. The Ryman was constructed in 1897 as a tabernacle and became the home to the famous Grand Ole Opry in 1943 where it remained until 1974 when it moved to the Grand Ole Opry House. There will be a handful of performers taking the stage each night. You’ll hear a wide assortment of music that throughout a two-hour concert, becomes more of a variety show than a country music concert. You can also book a behind-the-scenes tour backstage to see where the careers of many country music favorites were launched. The museum is packed full of unique artifacts, exhibits, and displays from the early days of the Opry. It features the history of legends such as Minnie Pearl, Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins, Jimmy Dickens, and Tex Ritter. It’s the perfect way to spend an hour or so before the show starts.
2. Hit the Honky Tonk Highway
If you want to pack in a lot of live music all in one spot, head down to Lower Broadway, aka Honky Tonk Highway and pop in, and out of legendary clubs like Tootsie’s World Famous Orchid Lounge and Robert’s Western World. Honkytonks is Music City’s answer to a public as hungry for its free country music as it is for its booze.
Honkytonks are bars with stages for live musical acts on Broadway in downtown Nashville. Their doors are always open so the music flows out onto the street from 10 am to 3 am every day. You’ll only have to pay for the booze at these joints. Oh!—and whatever you can manage should go into the tip jar that will be passed around during the shows.
3. Dive deep into Nashville’s music history
Learn more about the history of Nashville and music on the RCA Studio B tour which departs from the Country Music Hall of Fame. Nicknamed “The Home of a Thousand Hits,” Studio B became famous in the 1960s for producing what has come to be known as “the Nashville Sound.” It was also Elvis’ favorite place to record. The list of artists who recorded there include Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, and the Everly Brothers. Another must-stop is the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum> which honors the talented musicians who played on some of the greatest recordings of all time. You’ll learn that Jimi Hendrix actually learned how to play guitar while he was living in Nashville and that Roy Orbison wrote “Oh, Pretty Woman” from his apartment near Music Row. Be sure to check out the new GRAMMY Museum Gallery there which offers an interactive look at the history of the GRAMMY Awards.
Get a glimpse inside the lives and careers of two of Nashville’s most accomplished musicians at the Johnny Cash Museum and The George Jones. The Johnny Cash Museum showcases a world-class collection of items that tell both the personal and professional story of the incredible life of the Man In Black. Located just down the street, The George Jones provides a never-before-seen look at the life and career of the musical icon through personal and professional memorabilia of “The Possum.”
4. Sign up at an Open Mic Night
Nashville provides lots of venues where unknown acts, singer-songwriters, and first-timers can try out their stuff. Check out Bluebird Cafe every Monday for Open Mic Night. You never know when you’ll be listening to the next big star. Maybe that star is you? You can always put your name down and give live performing a whirl! You can schedule a performance at the Douglas Corner Cafe which has an open mic night every Tuesday between 1 pm and 6 pm. Check out this Nashville Guru post for more open mic options.
5. Celebrate Music Festivals and Events
CMA Fest is a four-day music festival that takes place each June in Nashville. Fans can see emerging and established artists alike, both day and night. With a multitude of ticket options and some free events and shows throughout the festival, every music fan is sure to find something to love. All of these well-known establishments and events are great, but we’re going to let you in on a little secret . . . the best live shows in Nashville are never advertised. Some of the greatest performances are the ones that just kind of happens. Many Nashville establishments offer free live music 365 days a year and the best advice we can give you is to just wander in and out of them. Bars line both sides of Broadway, The Gulch, Midtown, Music Valley, and more. Some of our favorite places include The BasementThe Listening Room Cafe, Tootsie’s Bluebird Cafehe Stage on BroadwaySwingin’ Doors Saloon; however, the possibilities truly are endless.
6 Take something home; Shop for music
Don’t leave empty-handed. Pick up some uniquely Nashville musical souvenirs at Hatch Show Print, one of America’s oldest working letterpress poster shops. You can get concert posters, original Hatch art, and other cool stationery. If you are a musician of any skill level or have ever even held a guitar in your hands long enough to figure out a G-chord, then you need to make time to stop in at Carter Vintage Guitars. This guitar shop aims to provide “a comfortable place for fine fretted instruments and the people who appreciate them.” Grimey’s Records is an indie record shop where you can find albums from today’s top artists as well as those hard-to-find indie bands.
Also, be sure to check out Third Man Records’ storefront. Third Man, founded by Jack White is a recording studio with a small storefront that sells vinyl albums as well as other eclectic music paraphernalia.
Nashville has an eclectic bunch of music options that are so numerous, there’s almost too much. It’s impossible to see and hear it all, especially on a short visit, but I hope this article- A music lover’s guide to Nashville, Tennessee enables you to have the music experience during your vacation. All in all, Music City truly lives up to its name. If you ever visit, you will most certainly be able to find your favorite genre in the mix.