Music City, U.S.A.
The world epicenter of country music, Nashville is a town like no other in spring.
Whether it’s inspiring a joyfully raucous line dance or helping to heal a broken heart, summoning a wistful memory of a simpler time or praising the blessings of friends and family, the music created in Nashville, Tennessee, touches the ears and hearts of millions of listeners around the world, every single day.
Visitors to Nashville can experience, firsthand, the atmosphere that birthed the worldwide phenomenon of country music. “Nashville is called ‘Music City’ and, as soon as you arrive, you can really feel why it’s earned that name,” says Lena Thornton, a San Francisco-based marketing professional who recently visited Nashville for the first time during the springtime. “Because of all of the music and musical history, there’s a certain magic to the city. You can tell that you’re surrounded by a ton of creative talent.”
Perhaps the most well-known musical mainstay of Nashville is the Grand Ole Opry, a country-themed live entertainment show that has been running since 1925 and features a line-up of new stars, superstars and legends of country music, from Bill Anderson and Dolly Parton to Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood. Visitors can purchase tickets to live performances, schedule backstage tours and get a taste of the music ahead of time by live-streaming shows at opry.com.
Those looking to delve into Nashville’s creative history shouldn’t miss the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Its core exhibit, “Sing Me Back Home: A Journey Through Country Music” traces the evolution of country music from its folk roots in the 19th century to its current level of global popularity. The museum also features exhibits on current country hitmakers like Trisha Yearwood and Luke Bryan. For visitors who want to experience the music firsthand, the museum offers performances and discussions with local songwriters every Saturday, as well as instrument demonstrations on Sundays. Guests can also go for daily tours of the historic RCA Studio B, Nashville’s oldest surviving recording studio, where artists like Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Dolly Parton created music.
Nashville’s musical identity is as vibrant with up-and-coming artists as it is with legends like Dolly and Elvis. Thornton describes one of her favorite experiences there as walking through the city’s bars and following her ears. “I saw a lot of live music and it was a lot of fun, because you can go from place to place and hear high-quality music everywhere,” she says. Visitors should check out Nashville’s “Honky Tonk Highway,” located on Lower Broadway, and jump from one free venue to another to hear live music from early in the morning to late at night. Honky-tonks are nightclubs that feature country music. The SoBro and The Gulch neighborhoods are also known for their nonstop live music and free performances. Smartphone users can plan their excursions ahead of time with the Nashville Live Music Guide app, available free for iOS and Android devices.
The spring season brings with it Tin Pan South, one of the world’s largest songwriters’ festivals. In addition, visitors can participate in Record Store Day, which celebrates independent record stores and classic vinyl, and St. Jude Country Music Marathon and 1/2 Marathon, in which runners, walkers and spectators tread the streets of Music City lined with 28 stages, as live bands perform the soundtrack of the day.
Nashville’s attractions aren’t all music-related. In addition to restaurants and art galleries, Opry Mills and the Music City Marketplace offer enticing shopping options. The Cheekwood in Bloom festival of Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art celebrates the thousands of tulips that begin to bloom in spring. Visitors can also enjoy the Nashville Fashion Week, East Nashville Beer Festival, Nashville Film Festival, Wild West Comedy Festival, Iroquois Steeplechase and Tennessee Craft Fair, among others, during that time.
Located in the beautiful Centennial Park is one of Nashville’s most unusual and striking attractions—a full-scale and meticulously-crafted replica of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. “The Parthenon is a must-see,” says Thornton. “I’ve been to the real Acropolis in Athens and this replica is what it would look like if it were not in ruins.”
“The contrast was really interesting,” she continues. “It’s not the sort of thing you’d expect to see in the middle of southeastern United States, but it’s an amazing sight.”
Wherever your explorations of Nashville may take you, Thornton recommends carving out as much listening time as you can, especially in some of the city’s smaller performance spaces. “You may stumble upon an artist that nobody has ever heard of but who’s amazing,” she says. “And in five years, when that singer is a star, you can say that you saw him or her in Nashville, right at the beginning.”
Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.