Our first ever visit to Nashville coincided with, unplanned, preparations for CMA Fest, the largest gathering of country music stars and fans on the planet. We spent 3 nights in Nashville in order to have 2 full days to explore, again signing up for a walking tour of historical and interesting sights. Given a few days in any new city, we always try to opt for a walking tour on the first day to hopefully scope out things we want to spend more time exploring on subsequent days. But this time we didn’t book early enough and could only garner a spot on the second day. So, we had the first day to explore on our own.
We imagined Nashville might have some of the same qualities as Memphis, both being southern towns heavily influenced by music and barbeque. Boy, were we wrong. Maybe it was just all the hoopla and preparations for CMA Fest, because the entire waterfront along the Cumberland River was fenced off, almost all the public squares in town were fenced off, large trucks blocked entire city blocks in the central core of downtown, all unloading pallets and cases of equipment, bleachers, portable stages, food equipment, and even portable gift shops. And even though it was a Monday, the streets were packed with redneck tourists decked out in cowboy hats, short-shorts and boots. Yeehaw! I felt like I’d been dropped into a remake of Urban Cowboy and could only ponder to myself “look at all this loose money just walking around!”. PT Barnum would’ve gone nuts. We had to go to 3 different Starbucks to get our chosen flavor of Frappuccino, Green Tea. And the cowboys (and girls, and kids, and babies) were lined up 3 deep to order. And, to boot (pun intended), they ran ½ out of our favorite flavor and had to blend with another to deliver. Sheesh!
We parked at the Nashville Farmer’s Market, open 7 days a week all year, only to find out that not all of it is open 7 days a week. Actually, a very small portion of it is open 7 days a week, and that’s mostly prepared food. But the parking was free, even if it was ½ mile northwest of downtown. We did a self-unguided tour on foot, meaning we didn’t have any direction to go or destinations to reach, we just walked.
Nashville has 2 prime tourist areas, Broadway and The Gulch. Broadway bisects downtown, leading straight away from the river, and The Gulch lies southeast of downtown about ½ mile or so. We didn’t make it to The Gulch, but it wasn’t very hard to find Broadway. When you get within a city block of it, the ambient sound level starts to climb. At first, the traffic noise picks up, amplified by tour buses, trucks, cars seeking parking, and dozens of “golf cart tours”, gas powered 6 and 8 seat golf carts stuffed full of tourists with a bullhorn blaring driver roaring out the significance of each establishment they scoot by. Closer in you start to hear the honkeytonks, live music bars already cranked up to 300 decibels with all their street-side windows open and going like gangbusters at 10AM. On a Monday. I kid you not. It was surreal, and deafening. We’re not big “club people” mostly because we don’t drink, and I wear hearing aids and there wasn’t a setting I could find that could deal with the din. We walked on, and on, and on because the honkeytonks are stacked shoulder-to-shoulder for about a mile along Broadway, starting with Legends.
Kid Rock’s place (the same one he famously foul-mouthed Oprah and Joy Behar in a drunken rant in 2019), Blake Shelton’s Big Red bar, shadowed by Miranda Lambert’s new bar. Blake and Miranda, a big-time country couple, divorced and she decided to open a competing bar next door just to get under his skin. They both got into my ear drums, let me tell you!
We wandered and dodged folk for a couple of hours, and then decided we had enough. We popped into Jacks BBQ on Broadway (exquisitely good) and got a massive platter to take out, headed back to the truck, and made our way back to the quiet of the RV park, and the coolness of the pool. Monday was in the low 80’s, but with low humidity, and it wasn’t too uncomfortable walking our 10,000 steps. We even found a cool magnet to add to our collection. We thought the weather wasn’t unbearable, and that we would be fine for another 2-hour walk with the tour on Tuesday.
That was before the Monday night thunderstorm spectacular. Several hours of one storm after another, with huge booming thunder followed by a torrential downpour that gave a few more much needed baths to the trailer and truck. Behind that weather front came the humidity.
Tuesday morning, with the humidity in place, the temp ratcheted up another 8 degrees or so, and downtown Nashville started to feel like a sauna at 9AM. We had a big group of about 15 folks, and our tour guide Ryan corralled us all into a group and we set off. Ryan’s shirt didn’t start the tour out very dry, and within ½ hour it was all one color again, totally soaked.
He didn’t seem to mind and pumped out the historical stories laced with humor like a tape recorder for 2 hours. Above he is giving us the rundown on Skull’s, an original building whose basement level had a wide variety of adult-only entertainment. Skull, a real guy, was best friends with many of the Mayors of Nashville over the years. Ryan is a very colorful guide, and our tour was highly interactive (he made us all sing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” on one street corner). Did you know the Tennessee State House is the last state capitol building built by slave labor? Did you know there is a Greyhound Bus atop the Bobby Hotel? Did you guess it’s a bar? Do you know who Bobby is? Nobody does, it’s just a name they pulled out of a hat and threw in front of a focus group when they planned the hotel. The bus is cool, though.
Johnny Cash is ubiquitous in Nashville. He has a museum (we didn’t go, it seemed too expensive) and next-door a bar and grill (also didn’t go), and his face is painted or postered all over the town. And there are countless venues, almost all in cavernous buildings, that either celebrate Music or Sports.
One that was supposed to celebrate music is the new AT&T building, designed to look like a radio receiver but instead ended up looking like what it is now nicknamed: the Batman Building.
This is the very same building that some maniac tried to blow up with an RV full of explosives on Christmas morning in 2020 because he thought 5G cellular signals were spreading Covid. It didn’t dent the building but blew the hell out of all the historic buildings on the rest of the city block. And blew up the guy too, they never found all of him. They are still working on demolition and repairs. Well, I suppose he did much of the demolition, but the repairs are a different department.
Next up: Asheville North Carolina, the Biltmore Estate, and The Urban Trail.
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