Patrons visit the Country Music Hall of Fame in downtown Nashville
By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE (Reuters) - From legendary concert halls and recording studios to raucous honky-tonks and other clubs that resound with country, blues, rock and jazz, Nashville lives and breathes its reputation as Music City USA.
Your waiters are probably musicians and even bankers have at least one pair of cowboy boots to wear with their power suits. Don't be surprised that the bellhop at your hotel is a guitar-slinging songwriter waiting for his big break.
Here are tips about getting the most out of a trip to Nashville from Reuters, whose 2,600 journalists in all parts of the world offer visitors the best local insights.
Nashville is a free-wheeling music smorgasbord. It's the home of country music but also of rocker Jack White and his Third Man Records, along with a flourishing R&B scene that historically included Jimi Hendrix and Bobby "Sunny" Hebb.
It's the kind of place where Vince Gill performs with a world-class symphony, is accompanied by pedal steel guitars and banjos at The Grand Ole Opry and drops in with his guitar "to pick" with friends at clubs.
When Gill is not on the road, he makes regular Monday night appearances with country traditionalists The Time Jumpers at the 3rd & Lindsley club at 818 3rd Avenue South.
The state capital of Tennessee, Nashville also features a great deal of history - from the recreation of the Fort Nashborough settlement on the Cumberland River and The Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson, to Fort Negley and other Civil War sites. (Map: http://goo.gl/maps/bwI0s)
Experience Nashville by hanging out and tapping your toes to the music. You will quickly realize that in summer's swelter or winter's foggy chill, it is a magical place.
Listings of shows, concerts and events can be found at www.visitmusiccity.com, www.nowplayingnashville.com and www.nashvillescene.com.
MUSIC, ARTS & CULTURE
Music is such a central part of Nashville's identity that it is piped through the crosswalk signs downtown.
But there are other attractions and diversions. The city is also nicknamed "The Athens of the South" and a taste of that can be had by visiting Centennial Park.
The centerpiece of the park - with its botanical gardens, statues and flocks of ducks and geese in Lake Wautauga - is the world's only full-sized replica of the Parthenon in Greece. An imposing structure built for Tennessee's 1897 centennial celebration, this Parthenon now houses an art museum.
Nashville's elegant architecture has been preserved at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, inside the old downtown Post Office building on Broadway. It is a regular stop for touring art exhibitions and a hub for family-friendly activities.
The Schermerhorn Symphony Center, opened in 2006, was designed in part by taking into account the best aspects of the great concert halls of Europe.
On Demonbreun Street at 4th Avenue South, the hall is home to the Grammy-winning Nashville Symphony, which performs classical and pops concerts almost every weekend. It is also a venue for touring bands. (www.nashvillesymphony.org)
Just across the intersection is the one museum in Nashville that no one should skip.
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which nearly doubled in size this year, offers live music in the entry hall, a rotunda filled with plaques of famous performers and floors of memorabilia and interactive displays.
See if your visit coincides with one of the frequent concerts and Q&A sessions with artists and musicians. (www.countrymusichalloffame.org)
The hall of fame is also where you sign up for the shuttle to tour RCA Studio B, where Elvis Presley, Waylon Jennings, Chet Atkins and other giants recorded timeless music. On the tour, you will be in the heart of Music Row, the historic boulevards lined by studios and record labels.
When you return from Studio B, three good museums are within walking distance.
Just across the street from the hall of fame is the new Music City Center. The massive convention space includes the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, a place to learn about the really creative types who fuel the city.
The nearby Ryman Auditorium, on 5th Avenue North just off Broadway, is the former home of The Grand Ole Opry - the "mother church of country music". The guided tour includes the opportunity to pose for photos on the stage where Elvis, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline made their marks.
Two blocks away, on 3rd Avenue South, is the new Johnny Cash Museum with relics from the Man in Black's career.
Take a short taxi ride to another worthy museum in the Municipal Auditorium at 417 4th Avenue North. The Musicians Hall of Fame features instruments and paraphernalia from stars of rock, jazz, blues and country.
BREAKFAST, LUNCH & DINNER
A drive to the southwestern edge of Nashville takes you to The Loveless Café at 8400 Highway 100. Breakfasts of eggs and country ham and lunches of fried chicken accompany the true stars: buttery biscuits. Dinner is also served here.
If you come on a Wednesday night, the radio show Music City Roots is broadcast live from the Loveless Barn behind the restaurant. It's the best $10 ticket in town.
Another breakfast option is the Pancake Pantry at 1796 21st Avenue South in Hillsboro Village. Your taxi driver will know. This is where the stars get their flapjacks.
If the line is too long, go just down the street to Fido for coffee and a breakfast plate that could include chorizo or poblano peppers with eggs.
At lunchtime, venture over to 2413 Elliston Place near Centennial Park to visit Rotier's and enjoy arguably the best cheeseburger in Nashville.
Closer to downtown, there are plenty of options.
Try Jack's Bar-B-Que, which offers Tennessee pulled-pork sandwiches in a casual, cafeteria-style setting at 416 Broadway in the middle of the honky-tonk district.
Arnold's Country Kitchen at 605 8th Avenue South is another favorite. Arnold's has many competitors but it serves perhaps the best meat-and-three in Nashville.
Church Street and Second Avenue, within walking distance of the honky-tonk district, offer an abundance of restaurants.
Two words: Lower Broadway.
This really is the heart of Nashville, with music coursing from the stages of the shotgun-style establishments lining Broadway between 1st Avenue and 5th Avenue. To get into the honky-tonk spirit, start with the buskers on the street and look for Mandolin Mike in particular.
The clubs feature star wannabes and studio musicians out playing for tips and smiles starting at about 10 a.m. every day and continuing until...
Tootsie's Orchid Lounge - a legendary bar where guys like Roger Miller, Kris Kristofferson, Tom T. Hall and Willie Nelson ran up bar tabs four decades ago - may be worth a short visit.
But Robert's Western World, a few doors down, is home to The Don Kelley Band, a top country cover outfit. After a fried pickle and a beer here, wander down the street to hear other Nashville Cats at work in clubs and on sidewalks.
A "must see" is The Grand Ole Opry at 2804 Opryland Drive, even if it may mean a trip to the suburbs.
With shows on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the legendary radio program is a living museum and shrine of country music. It is sure to please all ages.
The Grand Ole Opry runs at its new home for most of the year but returns to its old stomping ground at Ryman Auditorium during the winter. (www.opry.com)
From the suburban Opry venue, wander over to the Opryland Hotel, a monument to Vegas-style glitz with waterfalls, a river, boat rides and observatories filled with exotic foliage.
For entertainment closer to downtown but still removed from honky-tonk, try The Family Wash at 2038 Greenwood Avenue in hip East Nashville. Grab shepherd's pie and a pint at this former laundromat while enjoying intimate shows by top troubadours, most of whom live right in the neighborhood.
Get back downtown to "The Gulch", where new restaurants and bars fill an old industrial area near the rail yard.
Your destination should be Station Inn at 402 12th Avenue South, the venue of choice for top bluegrass stars, beginning back in the days of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe and the like. It's still the best place for beer, popcorn, pizza and acoustic music in Nashville.
Fans of the "Nashville" television series may want to go to the Green Hills neighborhood to visit The Bluebird Café at 4104 Hillsboro Pike, a regular "star" of that show. Plan in advance as tickets are limited.
Catch a professional football game if the NFL's Tennessee Titans are playing at home at LP Field. (www.titansonline.com)
For hockey fans, the NHL's Nashville Predators play at Bridgestone Arena at 501 Broadway. (www.predators.nhl.com)
If you have time and a vehicle, a good place to visit is Franklin, about 20 miles south on Interstate 65.
Drive past the strip malls and chain-food joints into Franklin's historic downtown that has restaurants, music spots, knick-knack shops and folks who will gladly tell you how to find the plethora of Civil War sites in the neighborhood.
(Editing by John O'Callaghan)