You hear “Nashville” and the first thing that comes to mind is country music. Although I wouldn’t count myself as a big modern country music fan, I’m a “when in Rome” kind of person so I took the opportunity to sample of bit on my recent trip. Making things very easy for me was that it was the last day of the CMA Music Fest when I arrived. My plan for my first afternoon in Music City USA was a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum followed by hopping from stage to stage downtown to listen to a pretty solid lineup of free entertainment.
My one word of advice to the true country music fan when it comes to Nashville? “Go!” In particular, don’t miss the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. They had a host of interesting displays: the set from Hee Haw!, the black Trans Am from “Smokey and the Bandit” (not sure what that has to do with country music, but it’s pretty cool!), and this – a 24 karat gold leaf covered piano given to Elvis by Priscilla on their first anniversary:
Something I loved about the museum were the displays honouring some of the country music pioneers. Here’s one with some Nova Scotia ties – Hank Snow!
One of the fascinating things about the museum was the displays focused on the outfits worn by musicians. There was a whole case of dresses worn by Reba McEntire on stage, and a great series of “outfits through the years” worn by performers at the Opry. Another neat display was this one of gold and platinum record awards:
As a football fan, this one caught my eye. It’s of the outfit worn by Carrie Underwood when she recorded the NFL Sunday Night Football intro song and video. Looking at this I could hear: “All right, Sunday night, where are you…” I think I’m now ready for some football (to mix my Monday and Sunday football night lyrics).
Leaving the air conditioned comfort behind, it was time to venture out to listen to some music. You really couldn’t walk more than a couple of blocks downtown without running into a stage. If there’s one thing I’ll take away from the live music I heard in Nashville, it’s that the musicianship was outstanding. Not one place I stopped had anything less than a perfectly tight band. First stop was for five or six songs from Jenny Leigh. Loved what I heard during her set (also captured by someone else here… take a listen):
I walked around the corner and came upon a huge stage outside the Bridgestone Arena (home of the Nashville Predators and referred to in these parts as “Smashville” – catchy!). Up on stage when I sauntered past was Jamie Lynn Spears (sister of that famous “Spears”) and I stopped for a few songs.
She’s got a great voice and many in the crowd around me were really impressed. Listen for yourself – first song of her set and a bit off key in places until she got warmed up, but great expression and tone. Later she even mashed up one of her songs with “Oops, I did it again” in a very creative way.
The main stage for the free shows was down along the river and I arrived in time to catch only one song by Lonestar (it wasn’t the one Lonestar song I know from attending a host of Cape Breton weddings in a previous life). After a short stage changeover, I got to listen to Lorrie Morgan and Pam Tillis. I really enjoyed their set. The fiddler in their band was superb. Again, in this age of iPhone cameras, I can relive the experience through someone else who had a much better vantage point compared to where I ended up:
The music didn’t stop on that one afternoon. I made sure to give myself some time one evening to do some bar hopping in and out of joints downtown and along Broadway. One place I really enjoyed was Robert’s Western World. The band was great and the music was all old-timey country. The place had a resident dancer – a guy in his sixties who would ask for a dance with any woman who made eye contact (he’s in the white shirt in the photo below, near the stage, beneath the bass player). It sounds creepy, but it brought a smile to all who accepted his dance invitation and all of us in the bar.
As a fan of live music in all its forms, I loved Nashville and the spirit of music that runs through the city. The only shame is that I didn’t have more time to pull up a bar stool, order a local Yazoo beer, and feast my ears on whoever was playing.