If you happen to be in Nashville for the day, there’s actually quite a lot you can do and all within a short walking distance. For first time visits, we recommend sticking close to The District and Broadway Street east of Interstate-30 where you’ll find such attractions as the historic Ryman Music Auditorium, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the Frist Center for the Visual Arts.
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. 222 5th Ave. South St. Nashville/(615) 416-2001. The Hall of Fame is a giant, three-story club sandwich filled with country western music history and culture that’s enough to really sink your teeth into. See performance gowns worn by Dolly Parton and guitars played by Gene Autrey. Thankfully, the museum is more than a collection of music artifacts in display cases. At one of the many listening booths, I got to hear to rare country recordings: one of Dizzy Dean’s “The Wabash Cannonball” from Colonial Records and another rare recording of Gene Autrey singing “I’ve Got the Jailhouse Blues” from Rex Records. The sound was tinny and beautiful. At another kiosk was a giant LCD touchscreen flipped on its side, which played at least 65 songs by Buck Owens. The listening station allowed you to hear not only the original recording, but watch a TV clip and listen to the old 45 recording. All in all, it’s well worth the visit. You’ll leave the museum with a smile on your face and a song in your heart.
The Ryman Auditorium. 116 Fifth Ave., Nashville/(615) 889-3060. If you visit the Ryman, there’s a good chance you’ll recognize it on TV. Nashville’s most storied live music venue is a popular location where TV shows, concerts and commercials are filmed. But the true brilliance of this music hall is not measured by what you see but by what you hear. The auditorium’s solid wood form and amphitheater shape makes for superb acoustics. As for the touristy stuff: yes, you can take the self-guided tour and look at all the memorabilia; and yes, you can take the back stage tour and see where the singers and celebs hang out before and after a show. Country western music fans will delight over the stories and trivia the guide imparts. But, the best way to experience the Ryman is to take in a music show there, then follow it with a tour the next day. The site of the Grand Ole Opry until 1974, the Ryman was restored in the mid 1990s and now takes in such popular and diverse musical acts as Wilco, Keith Urban, Coldplay and Yo-Yo Ma. For $17, a tour guide takes you around to the back stage dressing rooms and back stage, which is nice, but is no replacement for the raw energy of a live music show. Our advice: take the tour after you attend a show.
Frist Center for the Visual Arts. 919 Broadway, Nashville / (615) 244-3340. Art fans will get their fill at this delightful art center, which is actually one of those Art Deco-themed post offices built during the 1930s. The Frist Center doesn’t maintain a permanent collection, but rather hosts exhibits from around the world. When we were there, the museum features a collection of photography and videography by renowned artist Carrie Mae Weems on the first floor and an exhibit on German expressionism up the escalator on the second floor, both of which were fascinating and challenging. The museum is free to visitors 18 and under. Seniors pay half price the third Monday of each month and college students get in free on Thursday and Friday evenings. Call ahead for current exhibits.