Nashville: The Heart of Country


Above photo: Partiers fill the floor at Nudie's nightclub in Nashville.

Story and photos by Tom Uhlenbrock

Tom is an award-winning travel writer and journalist based in St. Louis.

The city thrives on its casual vibe, lively clubs and rich music history.

The singer onstage at a Nashville club knew his audience.

“How many bachelorette parties we got out there?” he yelled.

The answer was three, and they were from Maryland, Pittsburgh and New York.

He invited them all to the dance floor, which was soon filled with about two dozen dancing, singing, drinking young women. The three brides-to-be were easily identified by their tilted tiaras.

Nashville, Tennessee, has always been known as Music City because of its rich country music heritage and bounty of clubs along Lower Broadway and Music Row that keep the sound alive.

But in recent years, the city has added the title of “Bachelorette Party Capital of America,” a reputation formerly held by Las Vegas.

The evidence is everywhere. Groups of brides and their friends, often wearing the same T-shirts or tank tops, crowd the streets and dance floors, and party on the open-air trolleys with their own bartender/DJ.

Why Nashville? That’s easy. The town has quality live music at clubs that charge no cover. The vibe is casual, with cowboy hats and boots replacing dresses and heels. And the city is centrally located and affordable, although hotel rates rise into the $250-$300 per night range on busy weekends.

While the singers onstage often do covers of the “new country” stars like Chris Stapleton, Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean, they also add in the hits of Willie and Waylon to maintain Nashville’s reputation for honoring its country music legends.

Whether or not you’re a bride-to-be, many visits to Nashville start with a stop at the Ryman Auditorium, where it all began and still goes on, and to the Country Music Hall of Fame, where the biggest stars are enshrined.

In fact, the newest attractions along Lower Broadway bear the names of George Jones, Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline, the brightest of the country music constellation.

The George Jones Restaurant and Museum is on Second Avenue North, just off Lower Broadway, and features a restaurant with a stage, plus a second stage at the rooftop bar. The rooftop offers a sweeping view of the Cumberland River that is gorgeous at night.

My favorite exhibit in the museum was the enclosed “Sing Along” booth where you could sing along to a video of George doing one of his hits without embarrassing yourself. I did a fine version of “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” which many agree is the best country music song ever. Me, too.

There was a line at the entrance to the Johnny Cash Museum on Third Avenue North and, appropriately, the video viewed by those waiting featured Cash doing, “I Walk the Line.” One of the exhibits inside showed footage of Cash doing a concert for the inmates at San Quentin Prison, with a real prison door nearby.

A small theater featured snippets of Cash’s movie and television appearances. Most of his movie roles cast him as a tough guy, but he was off character for a bit on “Saturday Night Live,” in which he wore a mask with pink feathers while introducing Elton John.

The new Patsy Cline Museum is on the second floor of the same building as the Johnny Cash Museum. (The museums have separate admission fees.)

The first exhibit in Patsy’s museum features a jukebox playing “Crazy,” which has been voted the best female country music song — and the most played jukebox song of all time. The last exhibit tells of her tragic death in a plane crash in 1963. She was 30, and at the height of her career.

After paying homage at the museums of the stars of the past, visitors to Nashville can enjoy the stars of the future onstage at the nightclubs along Lower Broadway, and help the brides-to-be celebrate the end of their bachelorette days.

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