Nashville In 15 Minutes
The SO’s brother got married in Nashville this past weekend. We’d never been there before, somehow, and were therefore more than willing to trek down to Tennessee. However, this also meant that our sightseeing time was incredibly limited because of family events. I drafted a top-down list of must-sees/must-do’s so that if circumstances dictated we had to cut some things, we’d still have gotten the most important things out of the way.
When I say “most important” I mean “most important personally.” This is where you have to do enough research to be able to know what that is. If you just ask people or rely on lists (even the helpful list supplied by the bride in the welcome bag) you will see someone else’s concept of what is important. Luckily, for Nashville, this was not difficult.
A couple of logistical notes: We didn’t rent a car, because it would have been more expensive / more hassle to have it then to rely on a combination of Lyft / taxis. (So this is why we did not go to Loveless or Pancake Pantry, before you even start.) Also, we stayed in the West End because one of the wedding hotels was there so we could hop the shuttle to and from the wedding, which was out at a plantation about 10 miles away.
After ditching the bags at the hotel, our first order of business was lunch. We walked, because the restaurant was less than a mile away, and we are New Yorkers who just get frustrated at having to drive everywhere, and we also had to pick up passes generously arranged by a friend at the CMA building. A couple of blocks from the hotel, we turned right on Roy Acuff Place and there was Studio B, a very unassuming building just sitting there on the corner that pretty much defined a certain Nashville sound. You can only see the inside if you take a tour as an add-on to the Country Music Hall of Fame. That would have been nice, but required way more time than we had. So we had to make do with a walk-by and a few photos, as well as resting my hand up against the bricks to try to feel some of the vibe.
We then walked over to Arnold’s for lunch. Arnold’s is a “meat-and-three” place, which means you get one meat serving and three sides. Literally, I found this place by poking around on Chowhound, because I was totally overwhelmed by looking at Eater, and in asking around, I got way too much information about places that were too involved to deal with given the limited amount of time we had. It wasn’t until we were standing on line that I saw the TWO James Beard awards on the wall and realized I had inadvertently picked a real gem. The people in front of us said they drove 9 hours to get there and had been doing that for 10 years. It was the best meal we had the entire weekend, hands down; we both had the roast beef, which absolutely was to die for, and fried green tomatoes and mac and cheese and green beans. I wouldn’t have had the green beans, but the people in front of us raved about them nonstop so I felt like I kind of had to try it. We had one piece of chess pie between us because the place was so crowded that the staff got backed up and couldn’t cut up the pies to keep up with demand.
I skipped Third Man Records, which is just a couple of blocks away from Arnold’s, because our entire weekend got rearranged once I arrived and saw the wedding schedule. I will leave out the painful details, but it involved family photos and needing to be at the wedding facility hours earlier than originally expected. To be honest, I don’t even LIKE Jack White, and was going because I kind of admire his enterprise and because I was in Nashville. But family obligations scuttled all but 90 minutes of Saturday for sightseeing so we had to get the essentials in on Friday. Again, this is why the priority list is important.
From Arnold’s, we grabbed a cab to the Ryman. It was a walkable distance, but it was warm, and we were trying to save time. We took a cab and didn’t use Lyft because someone got out of a cab in front of the restaurant just as we were walking out. (The rest of the time we used Lyft. It was great, but I can’t see myself ever doing this in NYC.)
At the Ryman, we opted for the self-guided tour. The big difference is that with a guided tour, you get to see the dressing rooms, so you decide if that’s something you need. Me, I just needed to walk into the place and I instantly teared up and got goosebumps. There’s an intro film that’s worth seeing, but after that, you’re on your own. You can take photos and walk around as long as you want; there are a couple of glass cases and vitrines with artifacts and costumes, and upstairs in one of the hallways is a selection of Hatch Show Prints posters signed by artists who have performed there.
The building is lovely and breathtaking and definitely one of those venues that lives up to all of the hype and then some. I could just imagine the resonance with all that ancient, ancient wood. Once we were done sightseeing, we literally took another 20 minutes to assess seating options for the day we come back here for an actual show we care about. I got a shot glass from the gift shop; there are generic Ryman Hatch posters but I passed those up for the day I get to come back here etc. If you want to get your photo taken onstage at the Ryman, there are various packages you can buy, starting at $18, which I felt was kind of a bargain. But that’s the only way you can make that happen. It was kind of fun to sit up in the balcony and watch various groups–many of whom arrived very dressed up indeed–get their photos taken.
Next, we walked down Broadway to get a sense of the spectacle. It is literally lined with bars that on this gorgeous, sunny, 70-degree day had all of their windows open and every single one had live music going on. I wondered what the most over-performed song would be, and in the time I was there, it was “Jackson,” which I heard three times in less than 40 minutes.
Hatch Show Print was next. It’s now located in the same building as the Country Music Hall of Fame, but you don’t need to have a ticket for the HOF to visit Hatch. It’s now located in what’s essentially the lobby of the HOF, and that big ugly AT&T building looming over downtown displaced its original location. There’s a gallery on the outer edge but the print shop and larger store is located on the other side of the lobby (we originally walked into the gallery and thought “this is it??” before I asked someone). You can take a tour, which allows you the opportunity to print your own poster, or you can stand there watching the print shop operate and listen to the tour before you decide that you do not need to take the tour. There are lots of lovely things available for purchase; I got a mug and some postcards, but there are all sorts of reprints and fun posters and t-shirts and hats and books on letterpress. This was less monumental to me because although they are trying to make it feel authentic, and you can see all that ancient original typeface on the wall, it’s in the corner of a brand new shiny building. But, still, it was well worth the visit.
I then tried to go boot shopping on Broadway. It only took me 10 minutes and 2 stores before I realized that this was like someone shopping for electronics on Fifth Avenue back home. I am sure there is a great place in Nashville to shop for boots, but it is not on Broadway, and I would not have time to figure out where I should go and be able to go there on this trip.
Friday night was the rehearsal dinner, which I only mention because it was at Union Station, which is now a hotel — but they’ve retained all the original features of the old, statuesque train station. It was absolutely gorgeous.
Saturday we were up very, very early so we could get to the HOF when the doors opened. (This will also explain why we didn’t go out to hear any music on Friday night.) As soon as we got off the elevator on the first exhibit floor, we opened up the maps and made very brutal decisions about what we were and weren’t going to see, e.g. we skipped right by the Kenny Rogers and Miranda Lambert exhibits. We still had more than enough time, I thought, for people who are not huge country fans; we went through at a brisk pace, with stops for things like Hank Williams’ suit, Carl Perkins’ shoes (yes, those shoes) and Maybelle Carter’s guitar. On the third floor, we wandered through an exhibit about Bakersfield and its connection to Route 66 and the Dust Bowl, which ended up being more interesting than I would have envisioned (and very relevant due to our travel earlier this year) before turning a corner and seeing a thing in a case that drew me to it like a tractor beam.
My god, Gram Parsons’ Nudie suit! Be still my beating heart.
I did not know this suit was there. I would have paid full admission just to see this one thing alone. I had no idea it even still existed and wasn’t lost with the rest of the Parsons estate in its tangled mess. Every photo I took is out of focus because my hands were shaking with excitement.
This is why these places are important, because everyone who visits it can have a moment like this.
At the end, you walk into a rotunda with the actual Hall of Fame nominees, and here it resembles Cooperstown more than it does Cleveland because it is a room with the plaques which is ringed by ‘WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN’ and if you know even the tiniest bit about the history of this music you will feel reverent and respectful.
As much as I enjoyed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when I visited it, the truth is that you do not get that feeling in Cleveland. I think that is largely a function of how disjointed that building is, and the crazy escalator setup, and the odd spaces in the building. I really loved that you can see the library and archive in the CMHOF, it’s got clear walls facing the main exhibit area, and it gives you a sense of the weight of the collection behind the building, if that makes sense.
We then made a trip back through again, at a slightly slower pace, to revisit some of the exhibits we wanted to spend a little bit more time with. And, yes, I went to visit Gram’s suit one more time.
At 10:30, we grabbed a cab back, I got my hair done, and then met the SO up the street at Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, which had a location 5 minutes’ walk from the hotel. Hot Chicken is one of those ‘unique to Nashville’ things and although we couldn’t go to any of the original places, Hattie B’s is highly rated enough that I felt like we had an authentic Nashville experience. I could drink sweet tea all day, and the mac and cheese with pimiento was awesome. FWIW, I went for medium, and I could have definitely done hot and still enjoyed it.
This left us enough time to get dressed and head out to the wedding. Not nearly enough time for Nashville, but at least I saw the things I had to see, and saw enough to know we’d genuinely like to come back. But I am glad for the intense planning that I did, so that we got to make the best use of every minute we had, and were fearless in cutting things out when we had to.
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