This year began with a bang for Nashville with events that set the tone for many months to follow. Almost literally kicking off a whirlwind year, a deadly and costly tornado outbreak swept through Tennessee in early March, covering several counties and residential neighborhoods and ripping through whole sections of Music City, leaving historic music venues in ruins and more than $1.6 billion in damages. With a rocky start to what would prove a challenging year for Nashville, the city began pulling itself upright by its backbone — the locals. Immediately following the natural disaster, a website dedicated to rebuilding the city crashed several times as thousands of residents flooded the page, signing up to support their city and rebuild after the tornado.
Mere days later, coronavirus touched down in a big way in the United States, shuttering once wall-to-wall-packed bars and restaurants, shops, sporting and music venues and everything in between. For the first time in a long time, Nashville was a ghost town.
However, the silence wouldn’t last. This is Music City, after all — there’s a draw simply too strong to keep groups and parties away. Nashville’s musical soul, history and present attract partygoers, live-music lovers and brides-to- be in droves … so much so, the city snatched the title of “Bachelorette Capital” away from Las Vegas in 2019 — an impressive feat. Even while rebuilding from a tornado and proceeding with caution during a pandemic, Nashville soon saw tourism pick back up.
Despite its moniker and reputation, Nashville wasn’t built on music alone, but it had an early, meaningful and lasting impact, as evidenced by the city’s inhabitants. Music’s presence in Nashville dates back to the late 1700s, without all the bright lights and amplified speakers of today, when locals played fiddles and danced on the shores of the Cumberland River.
Drawing crowds as early as the 1800s to Ryman Auditorium and establishing an ultra-popular WSM Barn Dance radio program in 1925, country music was a multimillion-dollar operation headquartered in Nashville by the 1950s and ’60s. While music coursed through the city, carving an eclectic mix of sounds, neighborhoods and a local culture, new businesses began to boom in its wake. In an attempt to keep up with Nashville’s musical allure, homegrown flavors representing the city’s vibrant culture began popping up, becoming mainstays for locals and tourists alike — big business was building in Nashville.
Music undoubtedly made the city famous and remains one of Nashville’s top five industries to this day. According to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, music and entertainment shares the city’s wealth along with health care, corporate operations, advanced manufacturing and supply chain management. Offering the best of both worlds, Nashville is a mecca for business and leisure travelers, inspiring meeting planners to flock to the city for a mix of the two.
One factor that makes the city so appealing and successful in its many business ventures has been — and always will be — its location. The well-placed land even lured early white settlers, James Robertson the leader among them, in establishing their own community after the Revolutionary War amid a Native American hunting ground, calling the settlement Fort Nashborough. A few years later the community grew and became known as Nashville, just before Tennessee entered the union as a state and Nashville became its capital — fast-tracking the region to national significance.
The much sought-after location proved worth its salt and remains a cornerstone of the city’s success — Tennessee is one of the top 15 exporters in the country, with roughly one-third from Nashville’s Metropolitan area. With the Cumberland River connecting various regions, offering fruitful port trade and renewable commerce (an impressive achievement for any non-ocean-connecting waterway), and the vast landscape offering a blueprint for a future railroad system, Nashville was destined to become a city of industry.
Once Nashville carved out a name for itself as a top exporter, industry shifted over time. With a hand in nearly every fiscally significant pot, the city would be known not only for its musical talents and incredible nightlife with a burgeoning culinary scene but also for health care services, electronics, machinery and automobile production, as well as higher education — many proved sustainable industries with undeniable growing and staying power.
Offering so much opportunity, from college degrees to startup positions and ample medical and manufacturing industry prospects, it’s no wonder the city boasts a young population. With a population of more than 665,000 and a median age of 34 years old, according to Data USA, Nashville is still a land of opportunity.
The city cornered the market with a diverse portfolio, both with ample export offerings and attractive inbound revenue. With an old soul and a young mind, Nashville is one city with a whole world of historic venues, neighborhoods and traditions while boasting new developments around every turn.
Nashville fights the odds time and time again, with a young draw, historically deep-seated roots and endless personality. Don’t be surprised to see new hotels and tourism ventures open and ready for business in Nashville by your next visit — this city refuses to stay down and packs a punch on its way back up.
CHECKING IN WITH BUTCH SPYRIDON
President and CEO, Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp
How did Nashville handle the one-two punch of a deadly tornado followed closely by the pandemic, and do you still see a change in the city today?
Just six days after the tornado, Nashville faced shutdowns due to COVID-19, and a few days later we had our first case. Because of the tornado, we were already in recovery mode. In an odd way, that helped us get a jumpstart on responding to COVID-19. Nashville responded extremely well in sheltering, putting restrictions in place and in getting our health department, Office of Emergency Management and other industries functioning at a high level. We are still recovering from both the tornado and COVID-19. Construction crews throughout Middle Tennessee continue to repair businesses and homes; and while those people struggle to get some semblance of normalcy, the entire community is also attempting to survive and recover from COVID-19. The current health numbers are encouraging as we are easing restrictions and trying to jumpstart the hospitality economy. We are a long way from normal, but we finally feel there is light at the end of a tunnel.
Is Nashville ready for an influx of seasonal domestic travel? How has the tourism industry adapted to the pandemic?
I don’t know that you can ever adapt to a pandemic. Our industry has always proven resilient and flexible, and we are seeing that now as much as ever. Virtually everything except our small, live music clubs are back open, and we are seeing a gradual increase of leisure visitors on the weekends. We are focused on making sure our independent live music venues stay alive and that our locals support our businesses until we see a significant increase in visitation. Our Love Thy Neighborhood campaign encourages locals to support our businesses. We also launched Music City Bandwidth, hosting 30 virtual concerts from 15 independent music venues, streamed globally online in September and October. Thanks to the state, we obtained CARES Act marketing dollars and are finalizing plans for legitimate marketing efforts.
In recent years Nashville became a hot spot for bachelorette parties and big groups congregating on Broadway. Do you see this returning?
We have not done any marketing for the last six months. However, both bachelorette parties and reasonably sized crowds already returned to Lower Broadway. While these crowds are smaller than we are used to, they provide some welcome relief for the downtown businesses. Masks are required, and the requirement is enforced.
Do you feel Nashville is a sustainable city, and what measures will Music City take to keep up or rise ahead?
Based on the pent-up demand for Nashville and the volume of people who have chosen to visit during this pandemic, I would say we are sustainable in terms of our business. Leisure visitors want to come, and our meeting planners are ready to return. We believe Nashville will recover quicker than other cities. A significant reason for that optimism is our geographic location in addition to our brand and our offerings. Our future looks bright as you look at the number of new restaurant and hotel openings and the fall opening of the National Museum of African American Music. Development has not stopped.
Nashville is considered a great city for business-meets- leisure travel. What industries will put the city on the map for big business?
Our brand and our reputation make us a successful destination. The growth in airline service will keep us ahead of the curve in the near term. Based on what we have seen, relocation-wise, technology and finance along with the ever-expanding health care industry will impact our growth in terms of business.
What most excites you about the future of Nashville, and what’s your favorite aspect of the city?
Our evolution as a destination has carried a sense of pride and accomplishment. How our culinary and music scenes evolved gives us the most confidence that we can sustain our momentum and our success.
Anyone seeking a true Music City experience should expect to eat and drink well, dance a little and see a lot. Start with breakfast at Milk & Honey in The Gulch neighborhood, where many hip restaurants reside. Fill up on savory, sweet or refreshing Southern fare, and grab a coffee for a walk to Music Row — if you want a snack for later, get a biscuit from Biscuit Love before making your way to the heart of Nashville’s country music scene. Stroll along streets lined with iconic radio stations and music label offices — maybe even take a tour of RCA Studio B, where legends like Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley laid some tracks, and get into the spirit of the city.
From Music Row visit one of the many museums, like the Country Music Hall of Fame, or make your way to Broadway and head north to all the downtown fun and live music action. Stop in local bars and restaurants or find open-air performances to tap your feet to on the street, at any point of the day.
Make your way to Printer’s Alley for quirky photo ops or, even better, some historic jazz and blues bars. Over in Centennial Park tourists marvel at the Parthenon, or keep moving toward John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge for a view of the city from the Cumberland River.
When hunger strikes again, head to Prince’s Hot Chicken Food Truck at 423 6th Ave. S., after which you’ll have to cool off with a drink at any one of the local pubs and listen to some more live music.
With a little extra time, take a ride to the Grand Ole Opry or see a show at Bluebird Café for truly iconic Nashville moments. For any sports fans with a little more time, check out the Nashville Predators’ schedule to really feel like a local — and a walk right into the city’s bustling nightlife laid out at your feet.
The Hermitage Hotel
For quintessential old-world Southern elegance in the heart of the city’s Art District, this 5-star stay boasts world-class amenities in a landmark establishment, dating back to 1910.
231 Sixth Ave. N.
The Joseph, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Nashville
New kid on the block The Joseph offers a luxury stay in the heart of country music history. Enjoy easy access to tourist attractions or relax by the pool with rooftop views.
401 Korean Veterans Blvd.
Union Station Hotel Nashville, Autograph Collection
This restored train station on Broadway is steps from all the action and home to stately guestrooms boasting incredible views of downtown, with uptown furnishings and service.
Bob’s Steak & Chop House
Take in the Texas-style, woodsy ambience of Bob’s Steak & Chop House, located in the Omni Nashville Hotel. Choose from large portions and classic Southern cuisine paired with an exceptional wine list.
Omni Nashville Hotel
250 Fifth Ave. S.
For a seafood dining experience, The Optimist offers a variety of tempting cuisine. Think customizable seafood towers and family-style oysters, chicken and dumplings, and innovative pork dishes.
1400 Adams St.
Located downtown in The Smith House, The Standard offers an elevated steakhouse menu with a private club and traditional décor.
The Smith House 167 Rosa L. Parks Blvd.
INFO TO GO
Nashville International Airport is the main air hub in the city. Taxis, car rentals, public transportation and ride shares are all readily available.
JUST THE FACTS
Time zone: GMT -5
Phone code: Country code: 1
City code: 615
Currency: U.S. dollar
Key industries: Music and entertainment, health care, advanced manufacturing, corporate operations and supply chain management.
COMING AND GOING
Due to the pandemic and a national emergency declaration, the Department of Homeland Security extended the REAL ID enforcement deadline for all U.S. domestic travelers to Oct. 1, 2021. All non-U.S. citizens need a passport and possibly other documents to enter the United States.
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Are you looking for a truly unique travel experience and considering a new vehicle? The Volvo Overseas Delivery Program is the perfect solution to create your own refined adventure of a lifetime. You can custom order your new Volvo, tailored to fit your needs and desires. They will fly you to Sweden to pick up your Volvo so you can drive and explore Scandinavia and Europe on your terms for up to two weeks.
Step right up to the greatest show on Earth as FXExpress Publications, Global Traveler, trazeetravel.com and whereverfamily.com celebrate their 2020 award winners! Join the big top on Dec. 14 as we virtually award the winners of the 17th annual GT Tested Reader Survey awards, including the Airline and Hotel of the Year; the 17th annual Wines on the Wing Airline Wine Survey; the eighth annual Leisure Lifestyle Awards; the sixth annual The Trazees; and the third annual Wherever Awards.