Nashville has changed immensely in the last decade, and although certain elements of the city remain intact, there are a lot of misconceptions about the vibe (and for my readers, the music industry). I’m mainly going to touch base on things to do and see should you decide to visit (later I’ll write an article on what to expect if you’re moving there for music).
Nashville is labeled “Music City USA”. Notice that it’s not “Country Music City” or “Contemporary Christian Music City”. Nashville’s music industry runs the gamut in styles despite it’s stereotypes. A lot of artists from different backgrounds have recorded in Nashville (with contemporary country music falling in line with a lot of pop/rock styles).
Undoubtedly the buckle of the “bible belt”, Nashville is surprisingly progressive (at least within Davidson County). What you will just have to accept is that there are literally churches on every corner, and quite blatant religious advertisements on billboards (it’s just the way it is). To balance it out, there are plenty of bars, strip joints, and adult oriented shops (with all kinds of scandal to boot).
So a couple of things if you’re an aspiring musician, and you decide to make a visit. Don’t be a gurm! It is quite possible that you will see celebrities (music or otherwise) and the accompanying industry people out and about, but they tend to be incognito (and you should respect their privacy). It’s best not to broadcast your aspirations (they’ve all heard it before, and no one is going to be impressed). Nashville is a respectable metro area (over 1.5 million) but thrives on small town gossip, so just be respectful, laid back, and never ask for autographs or photos.
Most visitors check out Broadway and 2nd Ave (downtown isn’t as big as you might think). This where the famous honky-tonks and a lot of the bigger clubs are, along with landmarks like the Ryman Auditorium. It’s not really a happening place except on the weekends. Check it out for sure, but don’t spend your entire visit here as it’s quite the tourist trap.
Attractions: Printer’s Alley, Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman Auditorium
Bars: Wild Horse Saloon, Tootsies, The Stage, Decades
Restaurants: Big River Grille, Hard Rock Cafe, Joe’s Crab Shack
Nashville may seem easier to break into than Los Angeles or New York, but the industry is airtight. Yes, the big labels have a presence here on streets lined with old houses converted into smaller music production, management, publisher, and other related businesses. Be cool here. No singing on the street corner with your guitar. No futile attempts to visit the big wigs, or trying to woo the lower level employees. Demonbreun St has a stream of shops and bars that are worth checking into.
Bars: Tin Roof, Dan McGuinness Pub, Flying Saucer
I’m generalizing this area as West End, Church St, Division St, and The Gulch. Basically anything that’s adjacent to the downtown bridges. Plenty of upscale restaurants, clubs, bars (don’t worry there are plenty of dives too) make up this trendier area of Nashville.
Attractions: Frist Center for the Visual Arts
Restaurants: Lime, Virago, Sambuca, Noshville
Bars: The Red Door Saloon, Losers Inc
This transitioning area across the Cumberland River from downtown has seen a surge of urban hipsters, yuppies, and just overall cool people in the last 12 years. The largest concentration of historic homes in the area, there has been a lot of restoration of these gypsy jazz shoes neighborhoods since a tornado ripped through downtown and then east in the late 90’s. Lots of great restaurants and bars line these old streets.
Restaurants: Mad Donna’s, Rose Pepper, Batter’d and Fried, Marché
Bars: The Red Door Saloon, Alley Cat Lounge, The Lipstick Lounge, Mad Donna’s
Coffee: Bongo Java East
Personally one of my favorite areas (attending Belmont University and having lived here on and off). Plenty of historic character, mature neighborhoods, great restaurants, and botique shopping. Walking through some of these areas on a warm day is about as good as it gets.
Attractions: Belmont Mansion
Restaurants: Mafiaoza’s, Mirror, Boscos, Pancake Pantry, Provence, Sunset Grill
Coffee/Tea: Fat Straw, Bongo Java, Fido, Frothy Monkey
Ok, I’m not a big fan of suburbia, but I did live in Franklin for a significant part of my 9 year tenure.The oldest town in Tennessee (est. 1799), Franklin has a lot of historic character. Just be aware that it’s located further out in adjacent Williamson County, and far more conservative in nature (for those of you who want to know). The area’s suburban mecca of shopping is Cool Springs which joins Brentwood and Franklin in this mega cluster of shopping malls and business parks. Downtown Franklin is about as charming as a small town can get, with plenty of boutique shopping and killer eateries.