Well, there’s thirteen hundred and fifty two
Guitar pickers in Nashville
And they can pick more notes than the number of ants
On a Tennessee anthill
The Lovin’ Spoonfull’s Nashville Cats written by John Sebastian
I usually try to write a title to my posts that (I think anyway) is a little bit witty. Nashville, though, seemed so unique and different that its name alone is enough. We left the Kentucky lakes for Nashville and to our surprise passed by Clarksville. Well, I grew up in the sixties on a diet of Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, the Stones and the Beatles so a TV show started in 1966 about a pop group named the “Monkees” was compulsive viewing. Their hit song “Last Train to Clarksville” was catchy but I never thought about its theme. Apparently, an anti-war song about a young draftee who meets his love at Clarksville railway station before going to Vietnam. So, the line “I don’t know if I’m ever coming home” takes on new meaning. It turns out that the song’s writers, Bobby Hart and Tommy Boyce, made up the town’s name but Clarkesville, Tennessee and its nearby army base of Fort Cambell fit the bill nicely – so Clarksville, Tennessee it became.
Nashville itself is a city of contrasts. As you drive in from the ring road the outer suburbs are very comfortable with large pleasant American homes. The city downtown is a continuous cacophony of beating music and partying tourists. We had booked an Air BnB five minutes’ walk from Broadway or party central as it obviously is. But first we drove to 600 Opry Mills Drive and Opryland. The obvious attraction here is the Grand Ole Opry but it is actually overshadowed by Opry Mills Mall and its 200+ dining, retail and museum (think Madame Tussauds) outlets. The Grand Ole Opry sits almost insignificantly alongside the mall, but this is why we along with hundreds of others were here. Nashville is the country music capital of the world and rightly so. It has launched the careers of numerous international country and other music stars. from Jimmie Rogers, Hank Williams, George Jones and Tammy Wynette to Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, Lorretta Lynn then Elvis, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Emmy Lou Harris and so on. More “modern” inductees include Kenny Rogers, Vince Gill, Charlie Daniels, Ricky Skaggs and Kris K. The list goes on. Members of the G.O.O. (as opposed to Hall of Famers) are invited (a couple each year). Keith Urban was invited into membership in 2012. The G.O.O. has been in existence since 1925 and was first started to support a radio show sponsored by an insurance company as a way to introduce its products. The radio broadcast of each performance continues today although now the company behind the G.O.O. is a large international business which includes the Gaylord Hotel chain. Music is big business and not the least in Nashville.
Our quiet apartment turned out to be a non-stop party place with the activity mostly taking place round the pool. It hit 35C on a couple of days so that was no surprise. The schedule appeared to be 1. Party in the honky tonks and bars until 2am 2. hang out around the pool until 6pm 3. Repeat 1. The town was obviously full of birthday, stag and bacherlorette parties. The activity commences around 11a.m. each morning with bands and country singers getting into their work early. The bars were full and the music pumping before lunchtime. The streets were crowded and vibrant all day. We hit a couple of bars (just to experience the atmosphere) but in between did the tourist stuff. What really did strike home was the quality of the performers. High class everywhere and we guessed these musicians were the best who descended the Nashville music scene to try and get the “big break”. No doubt a few do. This is what it is all about. A sad sideline was the very apparent homeless population quietly hoping for handouts outside most of the bars. Mental illness and drug problems were obvious but despite this we never felt unsafe. There is a large security and very interestingly many of these were off duty policemen easily identified by “Police” on their jackets and guns on their hips. It seems the Nashville police force rent them out as a fundraiser.
We spent a morning in the Country Music Hall of Fame which was wonderful. Hours of country music history, videos of stars performing on TV shows or live at the Grand Ole Opry. We soaked it up and left with a newfound knowledge and respect for the performers who forged the country music scene in Tennessee, the US and the world.
But Nashville is not all music. In the city centre are two imposing stadiums which are home to the Tennessee Titans NFL team and the Predators, the ice hockey team which plays in the Stanley Cup competition. For a city that hits highs of near 40C in summer, the Predators have as recently as 2017 played (and lost) in the Stanley Cup finals. The Titans (since 1970, previously the Houston Oilers have played and lost in one Superbowl in 1999. Sited on a hill overlooking downtown is the very imposing Tennessee Capitol building – the home of Tennesse state government. Built of limestone quarried locally the building is as impressive inside as out. Construction finished in 1857 after some ten years and has been the political home of three US presidents – from Andrew Jackson in 1829 to James K. Polk, 1849 and Andrew Johnson from 1865. The parkland surrounding the building is equally as impressive. Tennessee became the 16th state to join the union in 1796 and is characterized by rolling farmland and the Appalachian Mountains in the east which includes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Tobacco, corn, wheat, cotton and soya beans are the main crops grown. Interestingly Tennessee has flipped from Republican to Democrat Governers each election although it has established itself as a Republican state in the last few years.
We left Nashville with the feeling we had left something undiscovered. Musical stardom perhaps? We did, however, discover the Natchez Trace Parkway. The Natchez Trace Parkway is a recreational road that follows 440 miles of historical pathway forged by American Indians, European settlers and army troops going south to engage the British during the American War of Independence. People have walked the Trace for thousands of years starting with the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Nations who lived. travelled and traded along the pathway. It is now a meandering, tree-lined two-lane road that runs through the attractive Tennessee countryside with an historic site or tumbling waterfall around every corner. We could have been driving through New Zealand valleys and farmland except that the heat and humidity suggested otherwise. We were on our way to see The King.
5 thoughts on “Nashville, Tennessee”
We were on our way to see Justin Timberlake….
Enjoyed this Mike.
Thanks. It was a great trip. Probably won’t do it again so took in everything we could.
I’ve been really busy these last few months, so I just finished reading your “Nashville” post. American Indians pathways, secession war, the today city downtown and its “continuous cacophony of beating music”, the place where so much stars were born !! I really appreciated it. it made me want to go there
Merci pour votre mots gentils Fabrice. C’est bon d’entendre de vous et que vous avez ete occupe apres votre visite a Guyanne. Vos voyages etaient tres interessant aussie et tres, tres differents. Nous attendons avec impatience de rencontre avec vous des que possible.
Mike et Margaret