On almost any night, the music clubs in Nashville are overflowing with a bobbing, weaving and dancing crowd of locals and visitors, mostly young, who have come out into the soft Tennessee darkness to check out the newest country music, blues, folk or jazz.
Take a walk down lower Broadway, from Seventh Avenue toward the Cumberland River, and the music blasts out of open doorways — not as an assault on the senses but rather as an invitation to passersby to come in and enjoy the camaraderie and Southern hospitality. Old and new bands crank out music for tips, playing for the most appreciative audience east of the Mississippi.
Nashville’s nickname, Music City USA, is well deserved — it was here that the Grand Ole Opry radio show was born in the 1920s and where dozens of recording studios still line Record Row, where America’s best-known singers and musicians record their latest hits.
“There are probably more people working at Vanderbilt Medical Center than there are working in the music industry in Nashville, and the private healthcare business is probably bigger than the music industry in terms of people employed,” said Craig Havighurst, a Nashville resident and author of Air Castle of the South: WSM and the Making of Music City. “But if the music industry somehow went into a tailspin, and recording studios folded and young musicians started moving out of town, it really would devastate the character of the city, not to mention a tremendous loss of revenue.”
Nashville was settled almost 230 years ago when American colonists arrived in the area on Christmas Eve 1799 and called their riverfront settlement Nashborough, after Revolutionary War hero Gen. Francis Nash. Within a few years the town changed its name to Nashville. In 1824 a book of religious hymns and instructions for singing called Western Harmony was published in Nashville, helping the city achieve its first nickname, “The Buckle of the Bible Belt.”
After the Civil War, four colleges took root in the city, including Vanderbilt University and two well-known African-American institutions, Meharry Medical College and Fisk University. When the Fisk Jubilee singers went on the first around-the-world tour by a musical group, Nashville’s worldwide reputation as a music center was solidified.
The city grew quickly during the first half of the 20th century, but it was in the mid-1940s and early 1950s — after the Grand Ole Opry live radio show moved downtown to the Ryman Auditorium — that Nashville found its soul.
The Ryman first opened its doors as a church in 1892, and during the next four decades hosted lots of big-name entertainers, including Enrico Caruso, W. C. Fields, Helen Hayes and Bob Hope, before becoming the new home of the Opry in 1943. It was early radio broadcasts of the Opry on WSM that brought what was often called “hillbilly” music into the homes and hearts of Middle America.
From the 1950s to the present, Nashville has flourished on the back of its music and recording industry. Singers including Roy Acuff, James Brown, Patsy Cline and Chet Atkins lived in town while recording albums. Elvis Presley recorded “Heartbreak Hotel” on Record Row here in 1956, the Everly Brothers produced “Bye Bye Love” in 1957 and Bob Dylan recorded the tracks for Blonde on Blonde here in 1965–66.
Nashville (population 607,000) is still a mecca for country music aficionados and certainly drives a tourism industry that thrives on the city’s many country music-related attractions. What has happened to Nashville in the past decade is quite startling, however, beginning in 2001 with the opening of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in a beautifully restored 1930s Art Deco post office and the 2006 debut of the stunning $123 million Schermerhorn Symphony Center.
These two architectural icons spurred downtown residential development, with almost 900 condominium units sold in 2008, more than in the five previous years combined. The nat ional economic crisis has caused some condo developers, including the Adelicia in Midtown and the fashionable Encore across from the Schermerhorn, to lower prices in 2009. Others, like the Icon in The Gulch, have maintained their prices, and an additional 400 units are expected to close in 2009 despite the downturn that has hit Nashville’s construction and banking business.
New cafés, art galleries and small businesses have opened as well, revitalizing Nashville’s city center, enticing suburban families to move back to the city and tempting retirees from colder climates in the North to consider Nashville’s new and relatively inexpensive downtown residential housing. A 2008 Forbes survey listed Nashville as the sixth-least-expensive city for owning a home and the 16th-best city in the country for young professionals.
The funded Retail Strategy and Merchandise Mix Plan has identified three areas for extensive retail development: the downtown core, The Gulch district and SoBro (South Broadway area). SunTrust Plaza opened in 2007 with 338,000 square feet of commercial space; Terrazzo in The Gulch has added 75,000 square feet of office, residential and retail space; and The Pinnacle at Symphony Place will add another 520,000 square feet when completed in 2010.
Nashville has no shortage of corporate headquarters, including BellSouth, Caremark, Gaylord Entertainment, Genesco, Nissan Motors USA, Louisiana Pacific and the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), Nashville’s largest corporate employer. Adding muscle to its lineup of corporate residents is the largest development project in the city: the construction of Music City Center, a $635 million, 1.2 million square-foot convention center scheduled to open in 2013. The convention center project, along with new hotel and office development projects downtown and in suburban areas, is expected to stimulate additional retail opportunities citywide.
GAYLORD OPRYLAND RESORT & CONVENTION CENTER
This massive hotel/entertainment complex adjacent to the Grand Ole Opry theater offers 2,881 rooms and plenty of meeting space. $$$$
GAYLORD OPRYLAND RESORT & CONVENTION CENTER
2800 Opryland Drive
tel 615 889 1000
RENAISSANCE NASHVILLE HOTEL
This renovated luxury high-rise connected to the convention center offers a club-level lounge and extensive meeting facilities. $$$
RENAISSANCE NASHVILLE HOTEL
611 Commerce St.
tel 615 255 8400
UNION STATION – A WYNDHAM HISTORIC HOTEL
The converted 19th-century station exudes the ambience of a bygone era while providing the luxury of an elegant hotel.$$$
UNION STATION – A WYNDHAM HISTORIC HOTEL
tel 615 726 1001
Try the crispy crab cake at this attractive restaurant with a second-floor outdoor deck. President Obama dined here during his campaign. $$$
114 28th Ave. N.
tel 615 320 4399
THE CAPITOL GRILLE
Treat a business client to a cozy Southern meal or rub shoulders with local politicos in the adjoining Oak Bar. $$$$
THE CAPITOL GRILLE
Hermitage Hotel, 231 Sixth Ave. N.
tel 615 345 7116
Locals and visitors enjoy piles of fried chicken and the best pies south of the Mason-Dixon Line at this family-style landmark.
8400 Highway 100
tel 615 646 9700
For first-time visitors, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (222 Fifth Ave. S., tel 615 416 2001, www.countrymusichalloffame.com) provides a great introduction to Nashville’s music history and a peek into the city’s heart and soul. The nearby Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum (301 Sixth Ave. S., tel 615 244 3263, www.musicianshallofffame.com) is less grandiose but worth a visit. Continue the country music theme with stops at the Ryman Auditorium (116 Fifth Ave. N., tel 615 254 1445, www.ryman.com) and Historic RCA Studio B (222 Fifth Ave. S.., tel 615 416 2001) — and be sure to reserve seats for a show at the Grand Ole Opry (2804 Opryland Drive, tel 615 889 6600, www.gaylordentertainment.com), a short drive outside of town.
Check out the art exhibit and the exquisite Art Deco post office restoration at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts (919 Broadway, tel 615 244 3340, www.fristcenter.org), and secure tickets for anything taking place at the impressive Schermerhorn Symphony Center (One Symphony Place, tel 615 783 1212, www.nashvillesymphony.org). The Parthenon (Centennial Park, tel 615 862 8431, www.nashville.gov/parthenon) includes an amazing replica of the 42-foot statue Athena, which is housed within a full-scale Parthenon replica. The building, site of Nashville’s permanent art collection, and the statue were originally built for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition.
Nashville has emerged as a true culinary destination, and while the three restaurants listed in the dining guide are time-tested favorites, these trendy spots — all opened in 2008 — should become even hotter this year: Andrew Chadwick’s on Rutledge Hill (37 Rutledge St., tel 615 254 8585, www.andrewchadwicks.com), Lime (1904 Broadway, tel 615 340 0762, www.limenashville.com), Miel (343 53rd Ave. N., tel 615 298 3663, www.mielrestaurant.com), Wild Ginger (101 Market Exchange Court, Franklin, tel 615 778 0081, www.dinewildginger.com) and Crema Coffeehouse (15 Hermitage Ave., tel 615 255 8311, www.cremacoffee.com).
AT HOME WITH LADY ANTEBELLUM
Winner of the 2008 Country Music Awards Best New Artist
AS SUCCESSFUL PERFORMERS YOU COULD LIVE ANYWHERE. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO STAY IN NASHVILLE?
Dave Haywood: Nashville is an amazing city, the perfect combination of everything you’d want. It’s not too big or overcrowded, has great professional opportunities and an active nightlife. And you can head 20 minutes in any direction and be in beautiful countryside. It’s a great place to settle down and, of course, with the country music industry based here, it is where I want to be.
NASHVILLE HAS MANY RESTAURANTS, MUSIC CLUB AND SPORTS VENUES. WHAT ARE SOME FAVORITE LOCAL PLACES?
Hillary Scott: Growing up in Nashville, I have enjoyed so many great places with my family and friends. Charles, Dave and I first crossed paths at 12th and Porter and got our start playing at 3rd & Lindsley. We love eating at Virago and anywhere with good sushi.
IF YOU COULD MAKE A WISH LIST OF THREE NEW BUSINESSES YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE COME TO NASHVILLE, WHAT WOULD THEY BE?
Charles Kelley: I would like more designer clothing stores — there is a high demand for it in Nashville. Maybe a James Perse or an Ikea. I’m looking forward to Trader Joe’s opening in Green Hills.
IS THERE A DISTINCTIVE NASHVILLE “SOUND” THAT YOU CAN IDENTIFY WHEN YOU HEAR IT? WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE NASHVILLE-AREA PERFORMERS?
DH: Nashville definitely has a unique sound, one that has developed for decades and dates back to the old country legends that recorded here. My favorite performer is Keith Urban, who lives just outside Nashville and plays in town a few times a year. He’s an amazing talent, and I am proud to say he’s from my hometown.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN WITH DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT DURING THE NEXT DECADE?
HS: Nashville has seen such great growth in the past few years, but the new convention center and some new hotels will make for an even more vibrant downtown. Exciting ne w restaurants for tourists and locals to enjoy are always a great addition.
INFO TO GO
Nashville International Airport (BNA) is eight miles from downtown, driving time about 15–20 minutes. Major car rental offices are located at the airport. Taxi service to downtown is a flat rate of $25 for up to four persons. Visit www.visitmusiccity.com.
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