Musings on Music City

From previous visits to Nashville, we had always considered ‘Music City’ one of our favourite US towns and were pretty excited about returning.  Our main intention was to see some live music, and if possible, visit the Grand Ole Opry for a live radio broadcast.

But before arriving, we visited the nearby towns of Bell Buckle and Franklin; the latter just 10 miles south of downtown Nashville.  Bell Buckle is small but very quaint and is widely known for its annual Moon Pie Festival.  Moon Pies are made in Chattanooga, but for some reason, have been adopted by Bell Buckle as their hometown symbol and local source of pride.  Every store in Bell Buckle sells Moon Pies, shelves and shelves of them.  A Moon Pie is a round chocolate (or vanilla) covered marshmallow and wafer sandwich.  Despite all the hype, they aren’t very good, kinda like a Wagon Wheel – the Canadian equivalent – which is also crappy…

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Franklin is much bigger than Bell Buckle and is also a great place to visit (and thankfully, there’s no preoccupation with Moon Pies).

Later, we found a decent campsite near ‘Opryland’, then toured around the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, a mammoth multi-hotel complex under a glass roof, complete with riverboat cruises, a garden conservatory and over 10,000 tropical plants.

We went next door to the Grand Ole Opry House to see if we could get tickets.  Unfortunately, the Grand Ole Opry show had shifted back to the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville for the Christmas season and there were no good tickets available for the weekend performances.

That was a bit disappointing as we’ve been to the Opry before (albeit 20 years ago) and it was the best 3 hours of music we’d ever seen.  But not to be discouraged, we re-grouped back at the campground and decided to head into Nashville the following day to visit some of the honky tonk bars along lower Broadway.  We met a new Aussie friend at the campground – Don Mc, who had just bought an RV and was waiting for his wife to arrive from Oz – joined us for the daylong tour.

We took the shuttle in and began our crawl along the ‘Honky Tonk Highway’ at 11am.  The first bar we visited was The Stage.  It was early so there was only one other table of people in the bar.  The Stage featured a 4 piece band that was absolutely excellent.  We stayed for a set, then the lead singer (a young gal from Wisconsin with a terrific voice) came around with the tip jar and thanked us so much for staying, telling us: ‘It makes me nervous when people walk out and I start to think we’re playing the wrong songs.’  Wow, this band was phenomenal and didn’t seem to know it…

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It was getting busier so we moved on to Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.  Tootsie’s is an institution in Nashville and most country legends have played there, either before or after becoming big country stars.  It featured a pretty good two piece band…

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We quickly visited Robert’s Western World then moved over to Rippy’s Smokin’ Bar & Grill for a bbq lunch and some more live music.

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We finished our lunch (not bad pulled pork but we’re waiting for Memphis) then moved over to the Tin Roof.  Tin Roof had a good 4 piece band playing and at the end of a song, the lead singer asked the crowd, ‘Where’s everybody from?’  Impulsively and perhaps somewhat ill-considered (or maybe it was the 6+ beers talking), Don shouted out ‘Australia!’  The singer shot back, ‘Wow, here’s a special song for you mate’ and proceeded to play a rousing version of Men at Work‘s ‘Down Under.’  Don smiled and then looked bewildered when he was suddenly yanked out on the dance floor by an absolutely crazy woman for a wild hoedown session, best described as a cross between the Texas two-step and a scene from Dirty Dancing.  We all had tears watching Dancing Donny bust a move…

We finished up by visiting the 3-level Nashville Crazytown for a final beverage before catching the shuttle back to the campground.

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To top off a really good day, after returning home, Papa Bear and Don sneaked into the adjacent campground for the opening night of the Dancing Lights of Christmas at Jellystone Park to check out the radio-synchronized extravaganza.  It was a spectacular light show set to Christmas country tunes.

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So reflecting back on our short visit, we saw and heard incredible musical talent, mostly for free, which just seems to be the norm in Nashville.  Music City definitely deserves its name…

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