By Kathie Farnell
Nashville’s reputation as a tourist destination was made by the Grand Ole Opry and other icons of country music, but today its attractions include a rapidly-expanding cultural scene.
Two downtown institutions sum up the new Nashville—the state of the art Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which opened in a new building in 2001, showcases artifacts from country music icons including Bob Wills, the father of Western Swing, and Elvis, whose gold Cadillac occupies a prominent spot. The Museum’s collection includes more than 3,000 stage costumes, original song manuscripts and personal items on display. Spanning an entire city block, the Hall of Fame includes high tech exhibits and a 214-seat theater.
The 130,000 square foot facility is within sight of the old Ryman Auditorium which housed the Grand Ole Opry until 1974.
The Frist Center for the Visual Arts, located right next door to Nashville’s enormous old depot, now refurbished into the Union Station Café and Hotel, is designed to showcase traveling exhibits from some of the world’s most notable museums as well as private collections. It occupies a beautiful old Art Deco post office, following a thorough renovation which resulted in 24,000 square feet of gallery space and a state of the art interactive center.
A new attraction, the Musicians Hall of Fame, will open in June near the Country Music Hall of Fame. Dedicated to the largely-unknown session musicians who helped create the Nashville Sound, the Hall of Fame will include a movie theater and performance space. Exhibits include the stage from the famous “Jolly Roger” nightclub where Jimi Hendrix played and instruments from Nashville’s “A Team” of session musicians whose ranks included pioneers like Lightnin’ Chance, the bass player who is heard on recordings by Patsy Cline and the Everly Brothers.
The Grand Ole Opry, 80 years old, now features Friday and Saturday night shows in a 4400 seat broadcast studio at Opryland; its Museum includes tributes to Patsy Cline, Tex Ritter, Garth Brooks and Minnie Pearl, Broadcast live over WSM AM-650 since 1925, the Opry is the world’s longest-running live radio show. Each January and February the Opry returns to its roots with shows at the Ryman.
Nashville continues to lure those who plan to strike it rich in country music. Aspiring songwriters show their stuff at the Bluebird Café which has gained a worldwide reputation for presenting original country and acoustic music nightly. Garth Brooks and Kathy Mattea are among the stars who appeared at the Bluebird before they were discovered
Honky tonk row in downtown Nashville includes such venerable institutions as Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and the enormous Wildhorse Saloon, which hosts concerts by big-name stars including LeAnn Rimes, and serves barbecue, steaks and chops at lunch and dinner daily.
RCA’s Studio B, on Music Row, is one of the oldest recording studios downtown. Regular tours allow visitors to sit at the grand piano where Elvis recorded “Heartbreak Hotel” and more than 250 other hits. The studio closed the day after Elvis died. Coincidence?
Other music-related sites in the area include Gruhn Guitar, founded in 1970, where vintage and new guitars sell for up to $200,000, and the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, specialists in hard-to-find country recordings.
The Nashville arts scene is expanding. The Schermerhorn Symphony Center, which will open in September, 2006, will be the only major concert hall in North America to use natural light, thanks to the thirty soundproof windows above the hall.
A number of private galleries scattered throughout town showcase new and established artists. Chestnut Commons, a former torpedo factory, is home to Atelier 427 which features the work of artists Michael McBride and James Threalkill, two of Nashville’s most well-known contemporary African American artists.
Cheekwood, the stately home built in the 1930s by Maxwell House (Good to the Last Drop) founder Leslie Cheek, houses a variety of collections including paintings and English silver; the grounds are home to contemporary art installations in the former stables and to a woodland sculpture trail which blends in with the beautifully-landscaped 55 acre botanical gardens.
Other outdoorsy attractions in Nashville include the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, which features a three-acre elephant habitat and a lorikeet enclosure where visitors can mingle with the brightly-colored little birds. The zoo has been featured on Animal Planet’s “Ultimate Zoo” for its beauty and ability to immerse visitors into the animals’ natural environment.
A collection of another order can be found at the Lane Motor Museum, which houses 250 vintage vehicles from 1922–2003 including a 1932 Helicron “propeller car” and a series of teeny mini-cars.
Restaurants in Nashville range from the down-home (the wonderful Swett’s Restaurant and Neely’s Barbecue) to uptown. The Yellow Porch and the Acorn both offer elegant food and fabulous desserts.
Accommodations in downtown Nashville include the conveniently-located Doubletree Hotel on Fourth Avenue North. All 337 guestrooms have high-speed internet, and the hotel has 21,000 square feet of public space for conferences and conventions.
The area is served by a number of airlines including US Airways, via Nashville International Airport.
For more information on Nashville, call the Nashville Convention and Visitors’ Bureau at 1-800-657-6910 or visit the website at www.visitmusiccity.com