Looking for a long-weekend getaway? Nashville’s it. A mere one-hour-and forty-minute flight on Delta Airlines from LaGuardia Airport arrives in time for a lunch of real southern cooking. And boy is there ever a lot of it and music! Music City, as the locals tag Nashville, is chock full of every kind of melody, although country and western reigns supreme. The Grand Old Opry started here, and C&W stars, including Sheryl Crow, live here now. It’s also the “it place” for a few big companies, with Alliance-Bernstein relocating its corporate headquarters there, and Amazon erecting a massive office tower in the Nashville Yards Development.
We opted to stay near the airport and then Ubered everywhere. Our drivers were a hoot—one woman performed at the Grand Old Opry the night we arrived, and the next day we were driven by a comfortably retired 1980s nighttime soap heartthrob, still gorgeous after all these years, who drives to learn the city’s layout. Both were transplants to Nashville, drawn by temperate weather, ease of living, and the absence of a state income tax.
Dining on Nashville’s local specialty, hot chicken, was tops on our list. Another Uber drive told us to stay away from the tourist traps and go to Party Fowl instead. The food was unbelievable. Chicken is fried in a mix of spices of various degrees of intensity, from mild to ‘poultrygeist.’ We selected medium heat, and were glad we did—it was plenty hot. Washed down with an ice-cold Sauvignon Blanc and accompanied by a goodly supply of handi-wipes to chase away the hot sauce, we then shared a divine dessert: deep-fried fudge pie. Tiny, flaky empanadas, oozing with warm bittersweet chocolate, were topped with a generous scoop of the best homemade vanilla ice cream on the planet. Sated to the gills, we made ourselves walk the two-and-a-half miles back to our hotel to work off the calories and collapse for a nap before heading downtown to explore options for music and dinner.
Broadway, Nashville’s music thoroughfare, boasts one music venue after another, and there is no need to pay a music cover charge, we discovered. In the summer weather, windows and doors at each establishment are wide open, and we heard several bands as we strolled the strip. We took a walk on the Pedestrian Bridge (recently renamed the John Seigenthaler Bridge), which spans the Cumberland River and connects downtown Nashville with Nissan Stadium, where the NFL’s Titans play. A local boy, John Seigenthaler began as a cub reporter for The Tennessean before resigning to serve as Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s administrative assistant. During the Freedom Rides in the early 1960s, he was badly beaten by members of the Ku Klux Klan. He then returned as editor of the paper and continued his lifelong quest to defend civil rights. The bridge is a stunning tribute to the man who did so much to preserve our First Amendment freedoms.
We selected Liberty Commons for dinner—a quiet, upscale restaurant whose soft lights and music were a welcome respite from the din of the music strip. The wait staff was attentive but not obtrusive, and our steak frites, moules frites, and a pickled beet salad with Chevre were excellent.
A visit to The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s home, is a must do in Nashville. Purchased in 1804, the 425-acre plantation’s Federal-style house was built using wood from the property’s tulip trees and from bricks manufactured on the premises. After a devastating fire in 1834, the mansion was updated with Corinthian columns, Greek Revival-style mantels, and a glorious, cantilevered staircase. The French wallpaper that had been ruined in the fire was replaced with wallpaper that resembled the scenes from Greek literature that Jackson’s beloved wife, Rachel, selected. The property grew to 1,000 acres, and its cotton crop was produced by the labor of slaves, numbering 150 at the time of Jackson’s death. It is a cruel twist of fate that a president who was born in poverty, defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 (the Treaty of Ghent which ended the War of 1812 had already been signed, but word did not reach our shores for a month afterward), and became a populist and somewhat polarizing hero went on to support states’ rights and slavery.
No trip to Nashville is complete without a visit to the Ryman Auditorium, considered the home of country and bluegrass music. Originally built as the Union Gospel Tabernacle, it delivered up evangelist Sam Jones’s fiery sermons for the would-be saved. Thomas G. Ryman, a wealthy Nashville businessman was among them, and he devoted his life and fortune to creating a suitable venue where all could worship. The Grand Ole Opry began here in 1943, and the Ryman went on to host Elvis Pressley, Johnny Cash, and Patsy Cline (among others) for years, broadcasting into the nation’s homes every Saturday night. And it wasn’t just country stars: Major Broadway actors performed, such as Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story, as did Nat King Cole, sharing the bill with Duke Ellington and Sarah Vaughan. Falling on hard times, the Ryman was restored in the 1990s and has been named Theatre of the Year from 2011 through 2015. Its church pews remind us of its early calling, and a feeling of reverence envelops visitors to this day.
We could not leave Nashville without tasting another local specialty, BBQ, which we did, twice. First, Bar-B-Cutie’s, within walking distance of our hotel, delivered on its reputation for being the best in Nashville. Thick ribs, smothered in sauce, with crisp cold slaw and feathery biscuits, hit the spot. Later in our visit we ambled into Martin’s BBQ Joint downtown. Initially put off by the long line snaking out the door, we decided to stay. It was a smart move—the line moved quickly to where we placed our order and picked up a tracker, and by the time we walked upstairs to our sunny, rooftop table, a smiling waiter delivered our “lite” ribs. This part of the country isn’t known for svelte bodies, and we pored over the menu options to find healthy sides to go with the succulent ribs, settling on broccoli salad and collard greens, washed down with iced tea.
Another stroll was on tap to balance the calories, leading us to the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, the Nashville Symphony’s home since 2006. The neoclassical structure boasts a 3,500-pipe concert organ, and offers performances ranging from classical music to pop, jazz, and rock concerts, where Tony Bennett, Diana Ross, and Boyz II Men have sung. It stands in stark contrast to the sometimes raucous sounds of Music City’s strip, and was a fitting end to our visit.
We were drawn to Nashville for its music. We left having found it to be that and so much more. We’ll be back.
Photos by Merry Sheils
Top photo: View of city from Pedestrian Bridge (renamed John Seigenthaler Bridge)