The Row Kitchen & Pub, a restaurant in Nashville, features Southern cuisine such as fried pickles. // © 2015 Mark Edward Harris
Feature image (above): Johnny Cash vinyls on display at Johnny Cash Museum // © 2015 Mark Edward Harris
Anyone who’s ever heard the rich cacophony emanating from the honkytonks lining Broadway, or has been an audience member at Grand Ole Opry, would likely agree that “Music City” is a well-deserved nickname for Nashville.
The Opry, the world’s longest-running radio show, began broadcasting on station WSM from a studio in the National Life & Accident Insurance Company Building on November 28, 1925. The Opry had several homes in Nashville before settling in at Ryman Auditorium in 1943. Despite being known as the “Mother Church of Country Music,” the Ryman — now a National Historic Landmark — has hosted musicians from James Brown to Bruce Springsteen.
On March 16, 1974, the Opry opened at its current location, a 4,000-seat state-of-the art structure which also includes a major television studio. Former U.S. president Richard M. Nixon played piano and sang as part of the inaugural show.
Beyond Grand Ole Opry, a number of museums throughout the city give visitors the opportunity to better understand the history of Nashville’s music scene.
At the top of the list is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which unveiled a $100 million expansion in 2014, doubling its size to 350,000 square feet of archival storage facilities, retail stores and special event space. Tours of RCA’s Studio B, located on the historic Music Row, have hourly departures from the museum between 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. each day. Studio B, Nashville’s oldest recording studio is home to hits including Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel),” the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and 250 songs by Elvis Presley, including “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”
But, these music legends could never have made their monumental climbs to the top without a strong foundation of back-up musicians, writers and producers. Musician’s Hall of Fame & Museum in the historic Nashville Municipal Auditorium is allows visitors to get the inside scoop on the people behind the music. Its recent deal with the Grammy Museum to open a Grammy Gallery in the Municipal Auditorium will expand the scope of the venue even further.
Another must on the Nashville music museum trail is Johnny Cash Museum, which tells the story of Cash’s life, starting from childhood and throughout his entertainment career.
Across the street from Johnny Cash Museum is a great spot for a post-museum pick-me-up: a shop selling all things Goo Goo Cluster, the world’s first-ever combination candy bar dating back to 1912. If the concoction of caramel, marshmallow nougat and roasted peanuts covered in milk chocolate doesn’t quench the chocolate fix, the nearby Olive & Sinclair creates what Southern Living magazine considers “America’s Best Chocolate,” a combination of slow-roasted and stone-ground beans and pure brown sugar.
Since one cannot live by music and chocolate alone, Nashville’s eateries — like its music — show fantastic range. One restaurant worth splurging for is the AAA Four Diamond-rated Capitol Grille inside the lavish Hermitage Hotel, Tennessee’s only Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond hotel property.
Cheaper, but worthwhile, is Nashville favorite Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, with chicken options ranging from mild heat to the extra-spicy option titled, “Shut the Cluck Up!!!” Those who take on the latter should come prepared with a fire extinguisher.
Schedule your food-and-music vacation around special music events. Consider summer’s CMA Music Festival (which started as Fan Fair in 1972) and spring’s Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival, where some 250 artists — who create the lyrics and melodies behind the hits — have their turn in the limelight, stepping up at venues throughout the city.
Nashville truly is a city where music, history and food combine to form a perfect harmony.