Full disclosure: Although I am an occasional listener of the genre, I’m not what anyone would consider a rabid country music fan. In addition, the “feels like” temperature each day was over one hundred degrees. These facts may color my takeaways from my visit to the Capitol of Country Music.
I, however, have nothing but respect for the country music genre. Although it is closely associated with the South, I believe country music appeals to a state of mind rather than any particular state of the Union.
As a final introductory note and caveat, the fact that I visited mid-week rather than over a weekend may have impacted my experience.
Nashville, Tennessee, is a sacred place to country musicians and their fans. It is a common pilgrimage destination for those fans nearly on par with completing a Hajj to Mecca for Muslims. To speak ill of it is a form of apostasy that may bring down the thunder on my head from its devotees; therefore, I fully understand my need to tread carefully with this essay.
I recently spent three days and nights in Nashville. The changes in the city since my previous visit some twenty-six years ago were stunning. At that time, Bridgestone Arena, the current home of the Predators of the NHL, was still under construction; the Country Music Hall of Fame was yet to open in its current location, and Broadway Street had yet to become the tourist magnet it is today. Although I feel like a bit of an outlier in my impressions of the city and expect many of those who read this to disagree wholeheartedly, I returned home equivocal, at best, regarding my experience with the negatives more or less equaling the positives.
Because I’d like to finish my review of the city on a high note, I’ll begin with what I consider the Negatives:
- The commercialization of Broadway Street. Populated by a large number of bar/restaurants named for country music artists – the vast majority of whom have merely licensed their names and rarely, if ever, set a boot in the bar bearing their name – this locus of tourist activities is as authentic as a Dolly Parton impersonator’s boobs. As most New Yorkers avoid Times Square at all costs, you’d be hard pressed to find a native of Nashville on or near Broadway, except for the homeless of which there are many and who seemed a bit more threatening than those I’ve encountered in other large cities across the country.
- Although the talents of the musicians were obvious and impressive, the lack of original material played in Broadway Street bars was disappointing to me, and although it’s a brilliant song, if I had to hear Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey” covered one more time, I may have gone all Oedipal on my ears.
- The only thing more disappointing regarding Broadway Street than it’s inauthenticity was it’s rancid smell, especially at night, some combination of sweat, spilled alcohol, and garbage that takes your breath away.
- The constant contrived “Wooooos!” from the incessantly circling pedal bars and party busses. I know. This is a petty complaint.
- I never complain about paying the various taxes I owe as I consider them my duty as a citizen; however, I found the 7% prepared food tax to be somewhat onerous in restaurants, especially when added to the appropriate 20% server’s tip.
- This is a personal bugaboo that’s not meant to offend, but I find country and western fashion choices to be so boring and unimaginative for both men and women.
- A lack of diversity. The several blocks that comprise Broadway Street may comprise the whitest and straightest few blocks among popular tourist hotspots in America. I realize that some may find this quality comforting. I found it disheartening.
- The trolley tour of major attractions was both entertaining and educational, but most importantly, it served to help us scout out and to choose the locations we hoped to visit during our stay.
- The willingness of the few locals we encountered to offer suggestions for the best off-Broadway attractions.
- The Basement, one such off-Broadway venue – literally in a basement – where musicians play original material for small, standing room only crowds. We had the great pleasure of seeing Matt Fowler perform.
- The moonshine tasting at the Marathon Motor Works. I’m really not much of a drinker, but I’ve long been curious to try moonshine. It wasn’t quite the same as “the sort your cousin Jethro might make in his bathtub,” as our bartender apologized, but it was 120 proof and as strong as the government would allow the distillery to make.
- The many rooftop bars are cool places to hang out.
- The availability of eclectic musical genres. If you’re not a fan of country music, there are plentiful options for whatever style of music waves your baton.
- Hot chicken and waffles!
- The lack of prominently-displayed Confederate-pride paraphernalia.
- The number of baseball caps far outnumbered the cowboy hats.
- The lack of people — among both workers and visitors —with Southern accents.
- For better or worse, I didn’t see a single police officer or car in the Broadway area over the three days.
- Although the youngest in my group was 58 years old, we were regularly carded at the entrance to bars.
- The surprising number of children who were accompanying their parents in the various bars. At one very popular saloon/dance hall/concert venue, the dance floor was populated almost entirely by line dancing, middle school-aged girls, dressed like the Bradley sisters of Petticoat Junction (I seriously dated myself with that pop culture allusion.).
- The iconic Bluebird Cafe, a launching pad and frequent stop for a number of country music stars, is located inside a shopping plaza away from downtown and quite small and unimpressive from the outside.
In my final analysis, I would return to Nashville but only if I knew a local resident who could guide me to the best music venues and food stops frequented by the city’s full-time denizens. The carnival that is Broadway Street is worth experiencing once in the way of most popular tourist destinations, but once was more than enough for this Ohio Yankee.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Nashville or on my thoughts on Nashville. If so inclined, leave them below in the comments section.
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