Calling all Country Music Fans: If you’re a little more Team Blake than Team Adam then guess what? Nashville should be your next must-go destination. Wanna know why? Because live music in Nashville is where it’s at.
Widely known as a country music Mecca, Nashville is so much more than its legendary Grand Ole Opry, honkytonks, Goo Goos bars (a yummy chocolate, marshmallow and peanut cluster), and eponymous ABC TV series. Taylor Swift calls it home, as does Third Man Records producer Jack White, and the indie band Kings of Leon.
Nashville is hot, and I’m not just talking about its chicken, which explains why nearly 100 people are putting down stakes there each day. It’s hip, foodie-friendly, innovative and so daw gone friendly it melted the heart of this die-hard New Yorker. And if you happen to be blessed with more than a lick of talent, you might just get discovered there!
Getting Discovered in Nashville
Experience some of Nashville’s world famous honkytonks where many country music artists got their start. One of the great things about these “Music City” bars is that folks of all ages can mix and mingle while listening to live music of all genres, day or night. Go on the early side if you want to get a bar stool and don’t want to get two-stepped on by the swelling crowds. And don’t forget to support the local talent by putting some cash in the tip jar because there’s no cover charge and these troubadours literally play for their dinner. Customers have been known to drop $50 and $100 bills in the jar—that’s how much people love their country tunes.
THE BEST PLACES TO HEAR LIVE MUSIC IN NASHVILLE
1. Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, 422 Broadway, 615-726-0463, www.toosies.net
One of the oldest and most famous honkytonks in Nashville, Tootsie’s was named after its owner who was known to slip cash into the pockets of struggling musicians. Legend also has it that Charlie Pride gave Tootsie a jeweled hatpin that she used to stick unruly patrons and that Roger Miller wrote Dang Me there. Just a few of those who got their start (and beers) at Tootsies include Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Patsy Cline. The tri-leveled bar has a Wall of Fame displaying photos and other memorabilia and music in all genres.
The night I was there I saw an adorable singing cowboy. His band collected quite a stash of cash from appreciative customers, including one who paid $50 for Lynyrd Skynyrd’s anthem to Dixieland Sweet Home Alabama. Want to see who’s playing tonight? Go to Tootsie’s webcam to stream in real time.
2. Robert’s Western World, 416 Broadway, 615-244-9522, www.robertswesternworld.com
If you’re looking for traditional country music, Robert’s is your spot. You can even buy one of the many pairs of cowboy boots lined up behind the bar. The honkytonk is open to all ages until 6 pm, at which time you must be 21 or over and not carrying a backpack (huh?).
Check out the website for merch and for who’s playing when, or just mosey on in whenever the spirit moves you. And speaking of spirit, check Robert’s website to listen to Matt Campbell sing The Night I Found Jesus Down at Robert’s Western World. While I didn’t see Jesus the night I visited, I did hear some great music and tasted my first Yazoo, Nashville’s famous homebrew.
3. The Bluebird Café, 4104 Hillsboro Pike, 615-383-1461, www.bluebirdcafe.com
If you’re serious about launching a career as a singer/songwriter or you simply appreciate the talented writers who work with the artists in the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Bluebird is the place where world-renowned Heroes Behind the Hits was born. Located in a small strip mall, the 90-seat venue is unassuming in appearance but performers also include up-and-coming country, pop, rock and contemporary Christian songwriters.
Garth Brooks played at the Bluebird’s Open Mic and Sunday Songwriter’s Show, after which he was signed to Capitol Records. Unlike the Broadway honkytonks, you’ll need a reservation for the early and late shows. Shows on Sundays and Mondays are first come, first served, which means lines snaking around the block, so go online to make a reservation at least a week in advance.
At a SiriusXM taping of Heroes Behind the Hits, I heard Marc Beeson, whose songs have been recorded by Reba McEntire, Kenny Rogers, and LeAnn Rimes; Marcus Hummons, who wrote “Bless the Broken” for Rascal Flatts and “Cowboy Take Me Away” for the Dixie Chicks; and Tony Arata, who composed the award-winning hit The Dance for Garth Brooks, as well as chart-toppers for Emilylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt and Trisha Yearwood. The show was recorded in a studio above the Nashville Convention & Visitors Center, and is open to a limited number of SiriusXM subscribers. If you’re not a member, go to the Bluebird.
4. Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium, 116 Fifth Avenue North, 615-889-3060, www.ryman.com
Now celebrating its 90th anniversary, the Opry is the world’s longest running radio show and you can catch it on WSM 650 AM or stream on wsmonline.com. Performing at the Opry is still considered the pinnacle of any country musician’s career, and no visit to Nashville would be complete without going to either the landmark Ryman or the original Opry House on Opryland Drive.
Either way, you’lll feel like you’ve been transported to another decade as you listen to announcer’s baritone readings of commercials for Cracker Barrel and other down-home products between sets and watch the Opry Square Dancers do-si-do in full costume. I saw headliners Mel Tillis, a visibly nervous Ashley Campbell (daughter of Glen Campbell), and Vince Gill. (Reservations needed for nightly shows at 7 pm and 9:30 pm).
Jodie Gould is an award-winning writer and author of nine books, including HIGH: Six Guilt-Free Principles for Pleasure and Escape (Hazelden) and co-author of DATE LIKE A MAN: To Get the Man You Want (HarperCollins). She has contributed to numerous magazines and blogs, including Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Redbook and Showtime.com, where she wrote a monthly column. Jodie has appeared on Oprah, CNN, Extra and other national TV and radio shows.