Experience Music City

Nashville masterfully mixes history with musical wonders
By Greg Seiter // Photography by Denise Seiter and Courtesy of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.

The melodic draw of Nashville, Tennessee, is mesmerizing, both musically and historically. After all, these are sacred grounds, frequented by ghosts of the past, walking legends and future stars.

Somehow, Nashville, aka Music City, has mastered the art of blending musical genres while preserving the integrity of individualistic style. We’re not talking about fusing various genre elements together simply for the sake of creating new sounds, although that often happens in Nashville, as well. Rather, Tennessee’s capital city thrives on allowing all forms of music, from rock, jazz and country to blues, hip hop and gospel, to coexist without question or conflict.

A four-and-a-half-hour drive from Indianapolis, Music City is easy to navigate while staying at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. Located on the banks of the Cumberland River, Gaylord Opryland boasts over 2,800 guest rooms, over 15 restaurants and lounges, over 14 retail shops, both indoor and outdoor swimming pools and more. In fact, nine acres of indoor gardens, easily navigated on foot or while aboard Delta flatboats that carefully pass along a winding waterway which provides up-close access to cascading waterfalls, beckon for dedicated exploration time. In addition, you also want to experience the facility’s four-acre, three-level, luxury, indoor/outdoor water experience and recreation zone known as SoundWaves.

Aside from Gaylord Opryland’s extensive list of features and amenities, the facility is only a short drive from downtown Nashville, and within walking distance of the Grand Ole Opry, the General Jackson Showboat, Opry Mills Mall and Gaylord Springs Golf Links. However, be aware that the resort also offers shuttle service to those nearby destinations.

The Grand Ole Opry, a cannot miss it while visiting Nashville, began as a simple radio show in 1925 and is now radio’s longest-running program with dedicated listeners from all around the world. But to experience an Opry show live is to take in a piece of history. Many still associate the Grand Ole Opry with its historical moments from inside Ryman Auditorium, and why wouldn’t they? It’s where Hank Williams made his debut, and where Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Jeannie Seely and Dolly Parton performed their first shows.

The Grand Ole Opry left Ryman in 1974 and moved to its current 4,440-seat “house.” Since that time, a few of Opry’s well-known performers have played there, including The Gatlin Brothers, Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley, Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton and Keith Urban.
River cruising just seems like the right thing to do while in Music City, and the General Jackson Showboat provides daytime and evening cruises that entertain guests of all ages. Cruise lengths vary, but most excursions last between two and a half hours to four hours. Onboard show productions also vary, but those who purchase a dinner cruise will enjoy a buffet-style meal before the entertainment begins.

Located in the city’s downtown area and described by some as music’s most iconic stage, Ryman Auditorium earned its nickname as the “Mother Church of Country Music” thanks, in part, to the fact that when it was originally built, more than 130 years ago, its purpose was to serve as a grand tabernacle for religious gatherings in the city. As the facility slowly transformed into a music and entertainment hall, it played host to the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Charlie Chaplin and Harry Houdini between 1920 and the early 1940s.

When the Grand Ole Opry left Ryman, the city landmark sat largely vacant for almost 20 years until renovations began in 1989, thanks to the new owner, the Gaylord Entertainment Company. Ryman reopened in 1994, and has since hosted musical stars ranging from Bob Dylan, Garth Brooks, and Harry Styles to Taylor Swift and Johnny Cash.

Tours are available and strongly encouraged.

Not far from Ryman, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum helps tell the ever-evolving story of country music through exhibits, publications and educational programs. It first opened in 1967 in Nashville’s Music Row. The facility, in its current location since 2001, now encompasses 350,000 square feet of exhibition galleries, archival storage, retail stores and event space.

While there, be sure to carefully examine Elvis Presley’s “Solid Gold” 1960 Cadillac.

The museum also operates the historic RCA Studio B — nearby, but not within walking distance, that sells tickets to those interested in visiting the oldest surviving recording studio in Nashville and even provides transportation as part of their coordinated group tours. Visitors should know that Studio B is not open to the public for unscheduled visits and even though escorted tours are brief, they are priceless in historical value.

RCA Studio B was built in 1957, and today, it is recognized as the birthplace for the “Nashville Sound,” a style characterized by background vocals and strings that helped establish Nashville as an international recording center.

Inside the small, somewhat underwhelming studio, guests can see vintage items and learn about how they were used and stand in the same room where music royalty once presided. Artists like Chet Atkins, Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers recorded some of their greatest hits in that very space.

Don’t be surprised by the simplicity of the piano in one corner of the Studio B recording room. It goes back a few years. In fact, it’s the exact instrument — a 1942 Steinway — Elvis used to warm up prior to many of his recording sessions there. The King cut more than 200 sides at RCA Studio B, which is still a functioning studio today.

Those yearning for a taste of something not quite as historically relevant as the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum or RCA Studio B are encouraged to visit the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery, also found in Music City’s downtown area. Guided distillery tours are available, but guests can also buy Ole Smoky Moonshine tastings and YeeHaw beer flights. The merchandise options are spectacular, and the white duck tacos are enticing, as well.

Of course, live music can always be found in Nashville’s clubs, bars and honky-tonks, some of which can be found on or near Broadway Street in the city’s downtown area.

Visitors should also be aware that many spots in the city now require a phone app to pay for parking.

More information on Nashville can be found at https://www.visitmusiccity.com