I have a pretty cool job. I work for a university in their international affairs department and part of my job is planning events and activities for international students. And this last weekend the event that I got to take them on was a tour of Nashville. We started the day with all the usual points of interest with a visit to the Grand Ole Opry, the Nashville Parthenon, and the State Capital.
But the afternoon took us to the heart of downtown Nashville for a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame. We parked our van near the football stadium which gave us a chance to walk across the pedestrian bridge with it’s fantastic views of the city.
Between the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame is the core of what makes this Music City. Every artist hopes to perform at the Opry and have their name written in bronze here.
When you purchase tickets you have multiple options. You can get the basic museum admission ($30/person) or you can add on a visit to the historic Hatch Print Shop which has been making woodblock prints for artists and the city for over 140 years. You an also add on a recording studio tour and even a songwriting session there in the studio. But for my little merry band today we settled just for the museum.
Visitors to the museum are taken up the elevator where you step out with a view of the different floors that make up the museum. This first area takes you back to the very beginning of what would become country music. The early days included a mix of folk music, grassroot music, and gospel and has since moved through different periods and styles.
One of the music industries momentous events was being able to record music for the first time. For a few days all artists across the country were invited to come and record their music onto a record. Artists of all genres of the time from all across the country made their way to Bristol on the border of Tennessee and Virginia for what came to be known as the Bristol Sessions. One of the most popular bands was the Carter Family who were considered the first country music stars and have continued to have a huge impact on the music world. But they would have another impact on the music world when Sara Carter’s daughter June would get involved with Johnny Cash. We visited Bristol a couple of years ago and were amazed to learn the history of the Sessions. To see the link between the birthplace of country music and the hall of fame for country music was really fun.
And of course you can’t come to Nashville without a nod to the King. The museum featured some of his clothing and guitars, but most impressively they had the long white car that belonged to Elvis. It was not uncommon for this car to be so covered in thousands of red lipstick kisses at any of the concerts where it was parked.
The museum showed the progression of the music, the artists, and the instruments. With the electric guitar music was forever changed. Even now country music has much sound of an electric guitar than it does the acoustic guitar.
The next area was dedicated to the change in music that happened in the 70s. This section is called ‘Outlaws and Armadillos’ and looks at the beginning of a new era of country music that blended the sounds of Tennessee with Texas. This section tells some of the unknown stories of the artists who rocked the nation with their music.
As you come to the transition between the different floors you get to see the wall of records. Gold, Platinum, and Silver twinkle from the wall. You can spend a lot of time looking at all the albums and finding favorite artists and the albums that are commemorative of their success. Just be sure that you are also watching your step on the stairs because it is easy to get distracted by the big names and stumble down.
The next floor gives you a look at some of the clothing and costumes that have been worn by all the stars. Some of them are pretty basic attire while others are far more memorable. For instance the leopard print outfit from Shania Twain’s ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’. That video was all the rage when I was in high school so to see it up close took me back.
And last but not least, no visit to the museum would be complete without checking those bronze plaques of those who have been inducted into the country music hall of fame. They are placed within a circular room and it is so fun to walk around and see all the people and think of all the music that has been honored here. I love that there is still a lot of space left for the aspiring artists who are making their way to be part of this elite group.
After the museum we walked through the downtown area. I love the energy and the wild feel of downtown. There is no shortage of music bars and karaoke stands to bring out the country in everybody.
After such a long day, we ended our trip with a visit to the Legendairy Milkshake Bar where they take ice cream to a whole other level. These shakes are epic and will bring out everyone’s s child like excitement. This place has become a Nashville institution and is well worth the visit for something sweet.
As we were making our way back across the bridge we got caught up in a massive crowd of hockey fans making their way to one of many tailgating parties before the game. The Nashville Predators were playing against Tampa Bay Lightning and it was serious business. The hockey arena was packed and so the football stadium was filling up with people wanting to watch it on the big screens. Even more than the museum all the international students seemed impressed with just how seriously sports are taken here.
I would say that we saw a lot of Music City today and that the tour was a great success.
If you need a little more country music then check out these other places:
I had such a blast taking the students around town today. I especially loved that I finally got to see the Country Music Hall of Fame and all the stars that are there.