Vacay.ca occasionally publishes articles on destinations outside of Canada. In this article, co-founder Adrian Brijbassi discusses a trip to Nashville, aka Music City USA.
Story by Adrian Brijbassi
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE — The Johnny Cash Museum is like a song by its namesake. It doesn’t take much time to experience, it makes an emotional impact and it causes you to think. Nashville calls itself Music City and the Cash Museum is one of the institutions that celebrates the importance of the music industry to middle America. In it, you learn about Cash’s life and career, of course, but you also begin to realize how much music means to people here.
Cash’s powerful rendition of the poem “Ragged Old Flag” performed for President Gerald Ford in the 1970s is tear-inducing, because the sentiments are still relevant nearly 40 years later in a country that can never seem to pull itself away from conflict, and its citizens in this part of the country continue to struggle for health and money.
The Cash Museum is poignant. His music, resonating with his throaty voice that coats your ear with the depth of the conviction in his words, is filled with meaning and vivid depictions of life lived by people on the periphery of society — criminals, cowboys, farmers and characters grappling with morality.
Steps away is Broadway, the epicentre of activity in Music City. The music of Cash is sometimes played — usually “I Walk the Line” — but you’re more likely to hear the uptempo songs of Garth Brooks (you’ll leave Nashville either loving or hating “Friends in Low Places”). Broadway is thick with music venues. Most are absent of cover charges. All of them promote the presence of cheap beer and the opportunity for romance. This part of Nashville stamps it a party town. The kind of place where a character from a Cash song would feel out of place.
In that way (and others), Nashville isn’t New Orleans — which is a place for weirdos as much as anyone else. Despite its attempt to market itself as more than the capital of country music, Nashville is still mostly a homogenous travel experience. You’re going to hear country and country rock. And that’s totally fine if it’s what you expect. As much as marketers might want to pull tourists in for an experience other than country music, Nashville is intriguing because you can explore in-depth this genre that originates from the American south. The home of the Grand Ole Opry, which was featured on television in North America for much of the last quarter of the 20th century, is the Ryman Auditorium, a venue that dates to the 1800s and is open to tourists daily. If you’re lucky, you might be able to grab tickets to one of the scheduled concerts when you visit. The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum honours the songwriters, background singers and session musicians — as well as the famous artists — who have been important to the development of the Nashville scene.
There is one unfortunate way in which the Music City name doesn’t ring true, though. More than one musician told me that the lack of cover charges isn’t balanced by a performance fee from the venues. So you’ll see the musicians passing around buckets for cash during the night. That’s a common practice in most places in North America; however, in Nashville the cash doesn’t make it into that bucket as often as either the musicians would like or the Music City moniker would lead you to believe. On a Saturday night in two separate bars — Acme Feed & Seed and Honky Tonk Central — the women passing around the bucket were so grateful for anyone putting in money that they hugged me in appreciation. “People just don’t want to pay,” one of them said in frustration.
It was at Acme where I felt most comfor1table and most intrigued. A 22,000-square-foot multi-storey complex, Acme oozes cool thanks to its airy spaces, sophisticated urban decor, and excellent food and beer choices. One floor is for cocktails and lounging, another area for dining, and the ground floor is where the musicians perform. The Don Gallardo Band strummed through a fantastic set of songs that featured some originals as well as covers of classics, including “The Weight” and “The Shape I’m In,” a pair of favourites from Canadian icons The Band.
Dining in Nashville
If you want to match the depth of music experience at the Cash Museum with a similarly unique dining experience, make a reservation at Husk. It is a fine-dining restaurant whose recipes date to the 19th century, some originating from the first cookbook published by an African-American slave. The flavours burst with texture and earthiness. The rice griddle cakes, served with housemade pimento cheese and ham, is one of those delicious comfort foods originating from an 1800’s-era recipe. Likewise, the sweet potato buttermilk pie is also a traditional dish that’s worth a try, both for the sense of place it provides and because it is simply delectable. Husk’s chef is Sean Brock, who has earned a strong reputation for the quality of his southern cooking. It is elegant fare, served in a building that’s a match for it. The historic house, a former doctor’s residence, dates to 1882 and ripples with opulence and retains the warmth homes from that time period possess.
Husk was by far the best dining experience I had in Nashville. You’ll be tempted to try other regional favourites, such as hot chicken — fried chicken slathered with tabasco sauce — but you may be disappointed. Unlike in New Orleans, where you can find sensational food in a deli or tiny hole-in-the-wall eateries without much effort, I found Nashville lacking in the culinary tourism area. That said, it does have an interesting craft-beer scene. One spot I particularly liked was Jackalope Brewing Company, housed in an industrial building with no-nonsense decor and tasty beer, including a maple brown ale called Bearwalker. Like many brewpubs, four-year-old Jackalope is laid-back and supportive of other young businesses. For example, a local yoga company holds free sessions in the brewery each week. Who says beer isn’t healthy?
Hockey in Tennessee
Despite a disappointing early exit from this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, the Nashville Predators have much to be proud of. Unlike other American cities whose franchises were established during the past 25 years, Nashville has developed both a riveted fan based and a quality on-ice product.
The Predators play an up-tempo style of hockey and have a handful of talented stars, including captain Shea Weber, a member of Team Canada’s gold medal-winning 2014 Olympic team. For Canadians visiting the Tennessee metropolis, seeing a hockey game will be a treat. The Bridgestone Arena has good sightlines and a great location on Broadway, a short walk to the main draw — the live music that has brought this city such fame.
MORE ABOUT VISITING NASHVILLE
Johnny Cash Museum: 119 Third Avenue South (near Broadway); General admission, $16; Hours: 8 am-7 pm, daily; Website: www.johnnycashmuseum.com
Husk Nashville: 37 Rutledge Street; Dinner price range, $25-$30 for entrees on most days (menu changes daily); Reservations: 1-615-256-6565; Website: www.husknashville.com
Acme Feed & Seed: 101 Broadway; Features live music nightly and serves sushi, snacks and locally inspired cuisine, including weekend brunch; Website: theacmenashville.com