Nashville: Musical Journey

Images courtesy of Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau

Nashville, I learned during a recent weekend visit, isn’t nicknamed Music City for nothing.

There is great music to discover everywhere, from the honky tonks downtown to the state-of-the-art Schermerhorn Symphony Center to the old school Grand Ole Opry.

I started my musical journey with a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame, which features everything you ever wanted to learn about the genre via cool, interactive exhibits; guitars, sheet music costumes and other memorabilia; and historic video clips. The “Bakersfield Sound” exhibition, which runs through the end of 2013, offers a worthwhile window on the music of Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and other so-called California country performers.

For any six-string picker –– or if you share my love of guitars ––  no visit to Nashville would be complete without a stop at Gruhn Guitars. Located in an unassuming storefront at the bustling corner of Fourth Avenue and Broadway, the showroom offers one of the world’s premier collections of new and vintage fretted instruments.

If you’re also like me, you’ll want to leave the strumming to the professionals. Fortunately, it’s easy to find places to hear live music –– you just look for signs shaped like guitar picks.

There are so many rowdy honky tonks that it’s difficult to recommend just one, so plan to travel the circuit, by stopping at places like Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Layla’s Bluegrass Inn, Robert’s Western World and the Wildhorse Saloon.

All feature bands and solo artists playing covers, originals and everything from pop to country to rockabilly. Raucous crowds sing along and dance to the high-energy performers. The venues are more than welcoming –– just squeeze on in –– and don’t charge a cover. However, plan to tip, to show your appreciation for that hard-working act.

It’s not far, for an audience member, anyway, to go from the honky tonks to the big time –– the legendary Grand Ole Opry, where I got to see a show headlined by country veteran Crystal Gayle.

I made my base the Opryland Hotel, a sprawling 3,000-room property that features nine acres of indoor gardens featuring cascading waterfalls and an artificial river.

Having planned my visit around the Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival, which is held each April, I also had the good fortune to see songwriters performing material they have penned for major artists.

I got to hear Chas Sanford, who wrote “Missing You” (a hit for John Waite, Tina Turner and Brooks & Dunn) and “Talk to Me” (made famous by Stevie Nicks), as well as Doug Johnson, a writer for big-time country acts like Randy Travis, Rascal Flatts and Patty Loveless.

The next time you’re craving a fun weekend of great live performances, look to Music City.

I know I’ll be back.