In mid-April I went to a work conference in Nashville, TN. Okay, enough about work, let's talk about the trip! Here is my top five countdown of what I experienced and enjoyed the most in Music City.
5. Country Music Hall of Fame
One afternoon the conference got out early, and I decided the Hall of Fame would be the best use of my time. Seeing the progression of country music from minstrel shows to Elvis to today was quite the musical education! As soon as you get off the elevator and emerge into the museum space, you see the "Taylor Swift Education Center". For those who think like me, no, it is not a place to learn everything there is to know about T. Swizzle (too bad), but instead, it's an interactive space to engage children in the museum. There was also an interesting exhibit about Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash's relationship with each other and Nashville. The museum was really well-done and interactive, and ended at the prestigious Country Music Hall of Fame Rotunda, which only has 130 inductees to date. The best part of the afternoon was when the ticket lady told me to "boot scoot" around the corner to start my tour.
4. Opryland Hotel
I was staying about 20 minutes outside the city center at the gigantic Gaylord Opryland complex, where the conference was being held. With almost 2900 rooms, it is the largest hotel in the U.S. that does not have a casino. As the airport shuttle driver, Al, drawled through missing teeth on the way in, "You will get lost." And I did.
I called the place "Disney Tennessee". You can hang out in one of its many lands: The Cascades, Magnolia, Garden Conservatory, or the Delta. Below is the Cascades, my hotel rooms' land, unto which I had a balcony view. Each land is atrium style, with thousands of panes of glass letting light in for the lush interior landscaping (they don't just have gardeners, they have horticulturists). There's a golf course, a spa, multiple pools, and even a country radio station on-site. And there's a boat ride on the Delta that passes by a steakhouse modeled after a Louisiana plantation home and around a "street" that mimics New Orleans, complete with restaurants and shops.
3. Food, obviously
Nashville is nowhere to go on a diet.
May I present Hot Chicken, chicken that is fried and then dipped in hot sauce. I ate this at The Stillery while sitting at the bar, watching the Giants game and getting the low-down on the music scene from a local couple.
At Puckett's (below), I ate what they called "Piggy Mac", which is essentially BBQ pulled pork covered with macaroni and cheese and baked in a skillet. I think you can sense a trend in my culinary leanings.
2. Talking to strangers at the bar
At Puckett's, I sat down at the bar to order dinner, and ended up in a wonderful conversation with the man next to me. Before you get any ideas, he's a 60-something married black man from L.A. We connected immediately and had an extremely pleasant, real conversation for well over an hour. By the end of the meal, Freddie and I were sharing cobbler (he said I can call him by his "family name"-most people just call him Fred, but by then we were besties). I learned a lot from my time with him, and we've kept in touch since! It's amazing how a chance encounter can have such a positive impact on your life. I sound super corny, but seriously-Freddie's the man.
In general, traveling alone, I was forced to step outside my comfort zone for socialization. It was great to push myself to start conversations with various people, and reminded me how much we can learn from breaking our circle and engaging with new people that differ from us.
1. The Grand Ole Opry (and the live music scene in general)
Everywhere you go in downtown Nashville there is live music. Bars, restaurants, street corners-music is pouring out from every crevice. I even heard a twangy rendition of Tupac's California Love. To check out the different scenes, I visited several bars throughout my stay, including Robert's Western World, Layla's, Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, and a couple others. What they all had in common was extremely talented musicians! And the people watching was pure gold.
For Tuesday night, I had bought a ticket to The Grand Ole Opry, which essentially felt like a music church. It's auditorium style, with cushioned benches reminiscent of pews. And once the music starts, you feel completely on board with the spiritual musical journey they're taking you on.
Beforehand, I was very ignorant of the Opry, and didn't know the whole thing had started as a radio show 90 years ago, and is still a live broadcast today (650 AM WSM)! When the curtain went up, my jaw dropped. To the left of the stage there was a podium behind which stood a radio announcer who was our host for the night, narrating the entire show for radio, complete with advertisements ("Our next performance is brought to you by Cracker Barrel!"). It was an epic concert concept.
A veritable pu pu platter of country music, there were seven different performers in one night. Among others, Maggie Rose, Chris Janson, Brothers Osborne, and Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers performed, all culminating in the headlining set by Rascal Flatts. It was a fun mix of more traditional fiddle and banjo with modern pop-country.
(my favorite performance-he's adorable and has an unlimited store of energy)
Nashville was a boot-tappin' good time with such friendly, welcoming people! It felt very come as you are and kept me well-fed. Now if only I had had more time to eat and two-step my way through more venues!