Going Country: 8 Musical Venues to Visit in Nashville

City Travel, Destinations, Ideas, Nashville, North America, Tennessee, United States — By on May 12, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Appropriately nicknamed “Music City, USA,” Nashville is home to a number of musical venues worth visiting. Country may lead the way but bluegrass and other genres have earned a following in Tennessee’s capital city. Here are eight places to learn some history, be surrounded by legends and up-and-comers, or just take in the local sound.

1) The Grand Ole Opry

The Grand Ole Opry, Nashville’s most recognized tourist attraction, is an American institution for country music veterans and chart-toppers. The Grand Ole Opry House hosts more than 150 stage performances annually, giving the Opry the recognition as the one of history’s longest running, live radio programs. Based in the Music Valley region, on Nashville’s east side, the Opry is also the site of taping TV specials and even weddings and funerals.

This location has housed the Opry since 1974 (it began in the twenties in a radio studio), and reopened to audiences last September after building repairs due to severe damage from flooding in May 2010. Daily tours are available February through October, though schedules can vary, and on evenings when there’s only one scheduled Opry performance. Adjacent to the house, the Grand Old Opry Museum contains artifacts from performers such as Patsy Cline, Reba McEntire, Alan Jackson, and Garth Brooks.

2) Ryman Auditorium

If the walls of the Ryman Auditorium could talk, this National Historic Landmark would have plenty to say. Founded as a tabernacle in the 1880s, the auditorium became a popular venue for holding everything from political rallies to community events. In-things to do for turn-of-the-century entertainment and the who’s-who of actors and performers such as Harry Houdini and Bob Hope graced the stage.

In 1943, The Ryman welcomed in the Grand Ole Opry, and for just over 30 years its stage hosted the Opry’s live radio shows featuring greats such as Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Not just all about country, the Ryman has also been recognized by the State of Tennessee as the birthplace of bluegrass music. In 1994, an $8.5 million renovation project brought this landmark back to its original glory with modern additions to transform it into a state-of-the-art performance hall. It’s been featured on TV with American Idol and in films such as Coal Miner’s Daughter.

3) Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Further enhance your knowledge of country music with a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. This block-long museum contains permanent artifacts ranging from lyric sheets and instruments to rhinestone costumes and Elvis’ solid-gold 1960 Cadillac limo. A theater screens a digital film on the industry.

The museum’s collections also encompass a library of 200,000 recorded cylinders and discs, a moving image depository of more than 23,000 images in nine different video formats, and an ongoing Oral History Project, which obtains interviews with performers, recording artists, songwriters, and a wide variety of business personnel.

From the museum, pay to take a tour of RCA Studio B. More than 35,000 songs were recorded here, including more than 1,000 top ten American hits, and over 150 Elvis recordings.

4) Music Row

Nashville’s Music Row district is the center of the country-music recording industry, comprised of recording studios and record companies, around the corner from 16th Avenue South and Demonbreun Street. Take a walk or drive through this neighborhood. See stately homes that have been converted into business offices of country music publishers and public-relations agents, and perhaps a gated recording studio.

Through tourist shops have moved out of the neighborhood (the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum departed from here about a decade ago), Music Row still can remain hopping with bars and upscale restaurants serving the area.

5) The Bluebird Cafe

Just outside of downtown Nashville, The Bluebird Café carries a good reputation as a listening room for acoustic music and is noted as a songwriter’s performance space. Noteworthy performers had their starts here–Kathy Mattea and Garth Brooks–and still come around today.

At The Bluebird, a 100-seat venue, a nighttime performance can feature about three or four songwriters, taking turns playing their tunes and joining in on each others’. Featured performers could be up-and-coming songwriters along with current chart-holders, whose music genre could consist of pop, rock or contemporary Christian. The café hosts a Monday Open Mic night and a Sunday Writers Nights series, with performers having to pass an audition to perform at them. Tuesday through Saturday, the café’s Early Shows feature the best up-and-coming songwriters selected from the Sunday night series.

6) The Station Inn

Don’t let The Station Inn‘s humble setting fool you, as this little listening music hall has been around for many years. It’s a year-round venue of choice for top-tier bluegrass acts and local country swing favorites.

Nashville’s Bluegrass community convenes here, and Dolly Parton and Reba McIntrye are among the stars that have performed here. Don’t be surprised if local stars such as Vince Gill show up to jam.

7) The District

A neighborhood known as The District is the heart of Nashville’s nightlife and is home to countless bars and clubs. Loveable dives for nighttime entertainment and occasional rabble-rousing can be found here.

Legends Corner is sited as a local treasure in this district’s Honky-Tonk Row as some of the Nashville’s finest contemporary acts make their mark onstage. If lucky, visitors might spot celebrity crooners such as Kid Rock stopping by.

Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, another must-see dive, welcomed in Grand Ole Opry performers (back when the program was at the Ryman) for drinks. Check out the autographed photos of these artists that grace Tootsie’s walls. A few doors down from Tootsie’s is Robert’s Western World, a honky-tonk centered venue that takes visitors back in time with music from crooners such as Patsy Cline and Hank Williams. Bands, many of which get noticed here, that are heard at Robert’s play music from what’s called the golden era of country and hillbilly music.

8) Wildhorse Saloon

Anyone familiar with country line dancing can kick up their heels at the Wildhorse Saloon, where lessons are offered in between the house band’s sets. Once a three-level warehouse, the 66,000-square-foot saloon is simultaneously a restaurant, bar, concert site, dance venue, and TV studio. While it continues to enjoy success as a bar and line dance venue, the saloon has become a concert venue in recent years for all genres of music.

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