by Tt Shinkan
The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinion of Byte or Byte’s editorial board.
Ever since my freshman year of high school, I’ve always wanted to visit Nashville, Tennessee not because I love country music, but because I wanted to see and learn the history of what makes this city “Music City”. After five years of waiting, I was finally able to go, and my experience was nothing short of amazing. Not only did I learn a little bit about the history and evolution of country music, but I felt like I learned a lot about myself as a person as well. So with that short introduction, here’s what it’s like to experience the music culture of The Music City!
The Honky Tonks of Nashville
Nashville is one of those cities where you can do most of your touristy things in one day and have time to go to a bar later in the evening, but even then there’s still plenty to do that won’t cost you a $27 admission fee. I do admit visiting Fort Nashborough, Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, and even the Belle Meade Plantation was amazing, and I could go in depth about each one, they all didn’t leave a big enough impact on me as Nashville’s music and bar scene.
Located on Lower Broadway, between the AT&T building and Bridgestone Arena, the row of bars and brightly lit neon signs fittingly called the “Honky Tonk Highway” is probably the most well known destination in Nashville. Each bar is uniquely themed, but all have two things in common: great atmosphere and amazing music. Every night we were there, my parents and I (unfortunately my sister was not able to go due to the fact she was competing at the Speech and Debate Nationals in Fort Lauderdale) spent our nights sitting in one of the many bars, enjoying drinks and listening to musicians.
My first impressions of the strip was kind of overwhelming. Bright, flashing signs illuminated the road around me, and dozens of sober and intoxicated people filled the streets and sidewalks. Any one who knows me knows I don’t do well in crowded places; I get a little uneasy, but walking around the crowded streets of Broadway didn’t faze me at all. I actually felt alright there, and everyone was really nice and welcoming. Even groups of drunk bachelorette girls waved and hollered at us from party trucks. It was a lot of fun!
We weren’t able to go into all of the bars since there were so many of them. I’m also two months shy of my 21st birthday, so that also played a factor, but the ones we were able to go into were amazing. The first night we got there, we went into Jason Aldean’s Kitchen and Rooftop Bar, and since both of my parents know I’m a huge Jason Aldean fan, we decided to make that the first Nashville honky tonk we went to.
The bar was three stories tall with a main eating area on the ground floor, what looked to be a smaller eating area and dance floor on the second floor, and the third was the rooftop bar. It reminded me of a cross between a restaurant in Florida and a bar in Chicago. Actually, the bar did suit Aldean’s vibe of downhome country and just having a good time.
The band that was setting up when we were getting our drinks played everything from 80’s rock to today’s country. When the band played a cover of Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309”, I started to dance, and a woman who looked to be in her late 20’s or early 30’s dragged me out onto the dance floor, and the two of us danced. I’m still not sure if she was hitting on me or not, but at that moment, the sugar rush from my Coke and the catchy tone of the band’s cover made me push that thought out of my mind for an instant. It was there that I realized that everyone was just there for a good time. No matter who you were, how old you were or where you were from, everyone inside these bars were all friends. I’m sure alcohol had a lot to do with how people were acting, but it was nice to be in a positive, fun environment.
The other bar we spent a lot of time in was, as basic as this sounds, Margaritaville. As “non-Nashville” as this sounds, Jimmy Buffett’s chain had just as much atmosphere as all the rest. As my parents and I were enjoying drinks from the upstairs bar, my mom made an interesting observation: there was a stage set up for musical acts on every level of these bars. So you could be listening to one band on the first level and walk upstairs and be listening to a totally different band!
Before you say “Tt, I don’t like country music, so why would I want to go to a place that only plays country music?”, well a lot of these musicians covered songs from different genres from different decades. Of course they all put a little “country spin” on some of the songs, but listening to acoustic versions of heavy rock songs was very enjoyable and something people need to check out at least once in their lifetime.
The experiencing Lower Broadway is otherworldly. It’s similar to seeing a picture of Niagara Falls or Alaska and then actually experiencing it in person. A simple two-dimensional image is nothing compared to the real thing. This one road strip was probably one of my top experiences in Nashville. I even scored some cute cowboy boots from one of the many Western Wear shops they had.
The Country Music Hall and Walk of Fame
Cleveland has the Rock and Roll and Polka Hall of Fame, Memphis has the Blues Hall of Fame, and Nashville fittingly has the Country Music Hall of Fame. I’ve been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before, so I wanted to sort of compare the two. However, just as every music genre is unique, the two Hall of Fames were just as different.
On the exterior of the building, you can see how it is shaped to look like a piano that curves in an upward slope. I’m a huge fan of architecture, and seeing the design of this building and how they incorporated a piano on the outside of it made me excited.
Walking inside, the lobby felt like a luxury hotel, and the use of huge windows made it feel bigger than it actually was. A water feature stood at the center, and a little snack bar was positioned on the opposite side. This was exactly what I thought a museum dedicated to country music would look like. Bright and simple.
The museum has two floors, three if you count the bottom level with the lobby and gift shop. The top level begins the story of country music and how it evolved over time. Projections of old “music videos” of people performing the earliest forms of country music played on the walls overlooking a balcony to the second floor, behind them were mementos and information about that early period in country music history.
When we were there, they had Elvis Presley’s suit and “solid gold” Cadillac, Wanda Jackson’s dress and guitar, and leather jackets from the Everly Brothers. Right before heading to the second level, a wall made up of gold and platinum records lined the walls.
Another notable feature on this floor was a little display about Shania Twain, which displayed outfits she had worn throughout her career as well has her awards. I was surprised to find out that I was almost as tall as her, and if you know me, I’m not the tallest person.
The second floor housed memorabilia from the 70s to now. My dad is really into old school things, and he got really excited about the old concert posters that adorned the walls seemingly paving a path to the gigantic poster of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. This floor seemed more familiar to me since I’ve heard of a lot of these performers. Some of the performers and memorabilia included a dress from Dolly Parton, shoes and a bandanna from Willie Nelson, an Army jacket from Kris Kristofferson, a guitar from Johnny Cash and a dress from Reba McEntire. It was pretty cool to see things from legendary country musicians and be just a display window away from them.
The last display before exiting the museum was an exhibit about country music now. Since this is the music I’m more familiar with, I knew all of the musicians who had things on display. I was especially excited to see dresses and a guitar from Taylor Swift, since she was my introduction to country music and her “Sparks Fly” album helped me through a rough time when I was 13. Now I do have my favorites, so excuse me if a particular musician isn’t mentioned or not shown from the pictures I took, but other musicians I was just as excited to see was a few jackets from Jason Aldean, some button downs from Luke Bryan, and a dress from Carrie Underwood.
I was, however, surprised to find that they didn’t have anything from Kenny Chesney or Tim McGraw on display. They’re both big names in the country music field and not seeing memorabilia from them was actually shocking. They did mention them in a little blurb on the wall, and if they did have a display for them, then I must’ve missed it. The museum was filled with so many artifacts that it was hard to take in everything in just one visit.
The museum also had a little “Walk of Fame” just across the street. They included names from people inside the building and new ones. The two that stood out was the group “Little Big Town” who actually was getting an exhibit inside the Hall of Fame that was set to open a week after we left. The second star was Kid Rock, who put on the first concert I ever attended.
The Hall of Fame was worth the pricey admission fee and nothing like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I actually enjoyed this Hall of Fame better than the one dedicated to my other favorite genre of music.
The Grand Ole Opry
This section is probably going to be a lot shorter than the others since we weren’t able to get a tour of The Opry, but we were able to walk around outside and go inside the gift shop. It actually took us a while to get to it since the signs were a bit confusing, but after driving around the Opry Hotel for a half hour, we were finally able to figure out the right path.
All three of us were actually shocked to find out that the famous auditorium was bigger and more elaborate in person. Colorful flowers decorated the pathway up to the building and gigantic guitars were conveniently placed as a makeshift gateway, a perfect photo spot. The building itself reminded me of Wilderness Lodge in Disney World and banners that showcased famous country singers who have had the chance to perform at The Opry adorned the top and sides of the front area of the building.
The gift shop was just an ordinary gift shop, with huge window doors that looked into the front lobby of the auditorium. I wish I would’ve gotten a picture of the lobby but since we didn’t pay for a tour, I felt weird taking one.
Nashville has been on my top spot of places I wanted to visit since I was 15 years old, and after five years I was finally able to go. The city was everything I hoped it would be and more. During my short time there, my appreciation for country music grew, and I discovered that I want to get a job and move down here after I graduate. I still have big plans to work for Rooster Teeth, but after spending three days down there, I fell in love with the city and its atmosphere. Everyone was very nice everywhere we went, and I actually felt right at home among these people. I might be a girl from the north, but I was born with a southern spirit, and Nashville helped me awaken it.
Photography: Tt Shinkan
Tt is a Journalism Graphics major. Whether it’s for Ball Bearings Magazine, the Daily News or right here at Byte, not a day goes by where Tt regrets her passion. She taught myself how to draw at the age of 9 and ever since then, has had an affinity for art. She’s experimented with different art forms because it’s always good to be well versed in everything. Tt always tries to keep a positive attitude with everything that she does and has fun doing it. After all, life’s too short, so we might as well have some fun with it.