Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Gettin' a little taste of Nashville

Oct. 26-29, Nashville, Tennessee

We arrived in Nashville with ambitious plans to go walk around downtown to the see the local honky tonk scene on Broadway Friday night, but we underestimated how chilly it was going to be here. With temps in the low 40s and damp winds blowing about 15 mph, we chose to stay cozy in our motorhome the first night hoping for warmer temperatures that were forecast for the rest of the weekend. Neither of us had been here before and our main goal was to get a taste of the music scene, see the Grand Ole Opry and visit the Country Music Hall of Fame. (Vic is big on Halls of Fame as he has been to the baseball and basketball halls of fame and we have been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.) Based on a suggestion from some folks from Nashville we met at the Crown Villa RV Resort in Bend, we decided to stay at what they said was the best park in Nashville—the KOA. We typically don’t like KOA’s but it turned out to be reasonable compared to other parks in the area ($34) and in a great location just a couple miles from the Grand Ole Opry.

After researching our sightseeing options, we decided not to splurge on $55 tickets for a show at the Grand Ole Opry and we even nixed the plan to do a pub crawl on Broadway in favor of catching the local talent scene in a few less touristy venues.Thanks to a tip from bloggers John and Sharon (On the Road to Retirement), we decided to make going to The Bluebird Café on Sunday night a high priority and checking out the scene at Mr. A’s club, another place where local stars supposedly show up, which was only a mile away from our park.
During the day on Saturday, we made a quick visit to actually see the Grand Ole Opry building and found it a little disappointing. The Opry is part of a huge complex including a hotel and extensive shopping mall. We had both imagined it to be downtown in a grand old building with southern architecture. Instead it looks like a fairly new building that is obviously designed to draw in convention attendees and lots of Grayline tourist buses.

Our next stop was downtown, about a 15 minute drive, to the Country Music Hall of Fame, for a two-three hour self-guided tour. We felt the cost of the tickets, $20 each, was worthwhile even though neither of us is an avid fan of country music. The best part of the display was following the historical and technological developments that led to changes in country music styles from the folk roots of the nineteenth century to the present. My step-father was a huge country-western music fan. He played a 12-string Gibson guitar and sang many of the songs we heard in the tour, especially those by Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, Ray Price, and Eddy Arnold. Listening to these artists’ records made me nostalgic for the times he would play the guitar and sing at family gatherings with my mom years ago in their restaurant in Upper Michigan. Music sure has the power to transport you back to a particular place and time—almost as much as the way smell can trigger a memory. Time marches on and now my mom too is gone, but the memories of those times together never fade. Sometimes it doesn’t feel real that certain parts of one’s life are gone forever. Somehow reliving the popular songs of each decade made the passage of time more distinct and dramatic.

On Saturday night we followed a tip from the RV Park office that there was good local talent nearby, so off we went to John A’s—“where the stars come out at night to enjoy good food.” John A’s was a spin-off from the more famous Nashville Palace, which looks almost defunct now. The place reminded me of some of the bars with shows in Mazatlan, Mexico—a little cheesy, a little touristy, and a q-tip crowd. We did enjoy the music and cheap drinks but decided we should check out at least one other place before calling it a night. Just down the road was a place called the Opry Backstage Grill which also advertised live music on the weekends. The fun part about this place was the waiters and waitresses got up and performed impressively well.  Again, being so close to the Opryland Resort, the place was definitely touristy, but these tourists had a good time listening to a variety of talent. 

We saved the best for last: Sunday songwriter’s night at The Bluebird Café. The Bluebird’s website describes their place as “one of the world’s pre-eminent listening rooms.” The only challenge for this no-cover charge show on Sunday is seats are on a first-come, first served basis. The doors opened at 5:30 for the 6:00 p.m. show.  We arrived at about 5:45 to find a line streaming out the door. We made it to spots #5 and #6 in line when they declared the place full.  Being so close in line, we thought the chance of getting in eventually would be pretty good–it was—but we ended up waiting until the first show was over at 7:30 before some seats opened up. I am not one to wait in lines and it was quite chilly out in the 40s with a biting wind, but we were entertained by outdoor speakers letting us hear the live music from inside and by visiting with others in line.

The other reason this place has gained more popularity is the new tv show called Nashville where one of the main characters works in The Bluebird Café. The wait in line turned out to be totally worth it. We snagged two seats at the bar where a highly attentive bartender took care of us throughout the show for the next three hours. The up and coming songwriters each played three original songs and then moved on for the next guy or gal. As a “listening room,” the audience was asked to be turn off cell phones and refrain from having side conversations, but somehow the wait staff managed to mingle among the crowded tables taking orders and quietly delivering them while the music played on. We thoroughly enjoyed the acoustic guitar playing and varied styles of the performers. Near the end of evening, the emcee of the show said we were in for a special treat as an established songwriter, Paul Sikes, recently featured on the Today show, was going to close the set.  His songs were highly entertaining, especially one that Billy Dean was about to release called “A Seed.”  (He was also easy on the eyes—ha-ha.) The song chronicles the many ways a piece of wood that started as a seed ends up being used in the world. I am a sucker for lyrics that make you appreciate the small miracles in life. What a great way to wrap up our first experience at The Bluebird; now we are interested in seeing how the cafe is portrayed on Nashville.

Monday marked departure day with plans to head east to the Smokey Mountains and on to Asheville, North Carolina. One major crimp in the plans involved the megastorm, Hurricane Sandy, which was about to hit the whole eastern seaboard with effects ranging as far as 500 miles inland. The western edge of North Carolina looked like it was going to be on the edge of the storm and possible snow was forecast for the Smokey Mountains.  We decided to leave Nashville and head east as far as Crossville, Tennessee, where I wanted to visit with some relatives I hadn’t seen in twenty years. We are sad that we may not be able to get to the mountains but, considering what the residents of New Jersey and New York are facing with this storm, we are lucky to be able to change plans so easily.  Until then, y’all be good now hear.


  1. Omigosh...great post! I love Nashville and the Bluebird...glad to hear you had a great time. What a fun read!

  2. So glad to see you enjoyed the bluebird but am a bit saddened that it is being featured on TV - hope it doesn't screw things up...

  3. What a great time! We didn't pay $55 for Oprey tickets in Spring 2011. That does sound high but the show we saw was fantastic. But then I admit to being a lover of country music. It's my second favorite. Motown and classical are tied for first. After the Oprey, we went on to Graceland, all Elvis all the time. :-) Both were great fun.


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