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Experience Music City

Grand Ole Opry Martina McBride Chris Hollo

Photo by Chris Hollo

Martina McBride performs at the Grand Ole Opry.

Many of Nashville’s music shrines are located within walking distance in an area of downtown known as The District, including the historic Second Avenue, Printer’s Alley and Lower Broadway.

RYMAN AUDITORIUM: Known far and wide as the “Mother Church of Country Music,” this particular shrine earned its title the old-fashioned way. With its stained-glass windows and rows of wooden pews, the Ryman is an imposing venue that originally hosted revival meetings. But it’s the Grand Ole Opry that will forever be identified with the Ryman; the program was broadcast here from 1943 until it relocated to the Opryland complex in 1974. Spend a few extra dollars to get the backstage tour and see where legends of country music waited in the wings; spend a few more bucks and you can “Make a Record at the Ryman,” a CD of yourself singing a classic track. But to appreciate the full shrinery of the Ryman, you must sit in a church pew and hear the incomparable acoustics of the auditorium during a live show. Concerts are booked several nights every week, so check the listings before planning a visit.

TOOTSIES ORCHID LOUNGE: A longtime fixture of Lower Broadway, Tootsies was Nashville’s foremost gathering place for the country music pantheon and the songwriters struggling to join it during the 1950s and ‘60s. These days the ramshackle tavern is as lively as ever, though the brisk trade is mostly of the tourist variety. The décor at Tootsies is a museum unto itself, with autographed headshots of country music stars covering the walls from floor to ceiling, every face time-faded and coated with an authentic varnish of nicotine.

HATCH SHOW PRINT: Established in 1879, Hatch is among the oldest working letterpress print shops in the country, having produced iconic showbills and posters for everything from the tent shows and vaudeville entertainments of the early 20th century to the personal appearances of stars from the golden age of country music. When you visit the shop, browse among the wide array of signature Hatch items for sale, including recent editions of vintage posters and cards; but the most interesting activity is to watch the presses at work. On most days you can see print jobs in production, using type, photo plates and hand-carved wood blocks pulled from the drawers and cabinets that line the walls. Today, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum owns and operates Hatch Show Print, ensuring that the letterpress tradition that was so much a part of the culture of the South, and of country music, remains alive and well.

ERNEST TUBB RECORD SHOP: It opened in 1947 and has been in continuous operation ever since. Tubb (AKA “The Texas Troubadour”) was a Grand Ole Opry mainstay for five decades, and his record shop has hosted the “Midnite Jamboree” radio program—which airs Saturdays after the Grand Ole Opry—for more than 60 years. In addition to its historic place in the lore of Lower Broadway, the original Record Shop (other locations in Nashville’s Music Valley area, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and Fort Worth, Texas) is a gold mine of hard-to-find recordings by many of country music’s one-time superstars.

COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM: The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum presents the story of country music with a fine balance between reverence for tradition and technological wizardry. The Hall of Fame rotunda is a permanent display of bronze plaques depicting every inductee to the Country Music Hall of Fame since 1961, along with Thomas Hart Benton’s last painting, the heroic canvas “The Sources of Country Music.” Exhibits include stage outfits, musical instruments, audio and video displays, and memorabilia tracking the history of country music. The core of the Hall of Fame, literally, is its astounding permanent collection of manuscripts, photographs, artifacts and recordings. Pay a little more to tour the Historic RCA Studio B, where more than 35,000 songs were recorded, including Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.”

THE BLUEBIRD CAFE: The cafe has launched the career of many a Nashville tunesmith, including Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift, and you never know who among the lineup on any given night will make it to Music Row. The Bluebird is famous for giving newcomers their first shot at glory, but it’s equally famous for hosting in-the-round song swaps by veteran singer-songwriters. Although the Bluebird is an eating and drinking establishment that features live music, be aware that it is a listening room, not a bar. Loud talkers are not tolerated.

GRAND OLE OPRY: The current Opry House is far away from its humble beginnings downtown. Ever faithful to its roots, the new Opry stage features a circle of floor carefully transplanted from center stage at the Ryman and hosts the live radio show every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday night. The lineup of entertainers on any given night contains a reliable cast of country’s aging royalty, along with guest spots by hot new acts bent on proving they can play the Opry.

This article has been adapted from the original, which was published by MSP Communications.

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