Flying first class is nice. Even business, if we must. But the ultimate luxury – first, business or steerage – has got to be flying from point A to point B without a stopover in between. No getting off the plane, no hanging around some hub airport waiting for a connecting flight, no worrying whether the bags will follow you or the last flight to Timbuktu. There are a surprising number of flights from South Florida that connect directly with a world of wondrous destinations. Paris. Istanbul. Aruba. And some that are unexpectedly wondrous.
Today, in our new One-Stop Wonder series, we’re flying about two hours and 20 minutes direct from FLL, MIA or PBI to BNA – better known as Nashville. Where many wonders, in no particular order, await.
Honky Tonk Tuesday Nights at American Legion Post 82
3204 Gallatin Pike, honkytonkroundup.com
There are ground rules here.
No drinks on the dance floor. No standing in the dance area. Tip the bands – all of them – when the jug comes around.
And be respectful because, first, “this is a place for VETERANS,” the note thumbtacked to the bulletin board near the bar says.
After that, the note says, have fun – welcome to “the most legit spot for a genuine Nashville experience that’s not Broadway craziness,” as one reviewer from West Palm Beach described it recently on Yelp.
There’s a $10 cover charge at the door. Beers are about $3 at the bar. Packs of cigarettes are $10 from the machine – but take your smokes outside, friend.
Laura Mae Socks can teach you how to dance at 6 p.m., an hour before the opening. Take the class. The dancers coming in on a work-night Tuesday are skilled and know what they’re doing. You don’t want to get caught out there among them doing a Position Dance – swing, jitterbug, rock, slow, cha-cha, rhumba – in the faster Outside Lanes, or a Traveling Dance – fox trot, waltz, polka, Texas two-step – in the slower center. If you get lost, there’s a helpful map of the dance floor rules on the bulletin board by the bar, too.
The music starts at 7 and ends at 11:30 p.m. Yes, there are some “names’’ on stage here from time to time – the kind that get far more than tips from a passed jug in the honky-tonk craziness downtown on Broadway. Try not to stare or make a big deal about them being here. That’s not the Nashville way.
Boo Ray, West of Texas and Emily Nenni are taking the stage tonight in front of an American flag made from strands of glowing Christmas tree-lights. The dancers press close and twirl in Outside and Inside Lanes when Nenni – a nominee for Best Honky Tonk Female performer by the Ameripolitan Music Awards – takes the stage.
There are some names in the crowd from time to time, too. Hillary Klug, buck dancer and fiddle player – with about 3 million followers on social media – presses in with everybody else who wants to listen and dance on a Tuesday work night.
In with the people in dusty boots and jean jackets and cowboy hats – black, white and gray – who Texas Two-Step up a sweat, cool down with a long-neck, and repeat until closing time.
The work-night crowd the names on Broadway, at the Ryman and at the Grand Ole Opry make fortunes writing and singing songs about. All of them following the ground rules, on a Tuesday Honky Tonk night.
The Country Music Vestíbulo of Fame and Museum
222 Rep. John Lewis Way S, countrymusichalloffame.org
Pace yourself here.
I stopped to look at an old banjo – made from hand-split white oak and groundhog hide in the late 1800s – for a minute or so. I spent the next few looking at the Civil War-era fiddle next to it. The “Roots of Country” instruments were in just the first display case in a tour of seemingly endless cases in this 350,000-square-foot chest of country music treasures.
If I’d spent as much time looking at everything here, from Ambroise Gaines Stuart’s fiddle to Willie Nelson’s feather and mink-skull hat, I’d still be there. And I was there last September.
“Not to rush you, but you’re not going to want to miss The Precious Jewels,” a docent says, pointing past Elvis Presley’s gold-plated 1960 Cadillac. “A select few musical instruments [that] have become country music icons.”
Hank Williams’ battered 1944 Martin D-28 guitar is there. Maybelle Carter’s revolutionary 1928 Gibson L-5. Bill Monroe’s Gibson F-5 mandolin, rebuilt from the 150 slivers of wood left after a home intruder smashed it with a fireplace poker in 1985. These and others are reverently preserved and lighted in cases like the jewels they are.
Wait, did I just rush past Elvis’ 1960 Cadillac? You’re going to need more than a few minutes to fully take in the gold-plated, shag-carpeted, tail-finned wonder of it all. Is that a telephone, refrigerator, refreshment bar, record player and gold-plated TV in the back seat? Yes. At least.
But if you spend too much time counting the amenities in Elvis’ backseat world, you may miss everything else at the Country Music Vestíbulo of Fame and Museum – from the $1.98 price tag dangling from the brim of Minnie Pearl’s straw hat to the priceless LaDuca boots Taylor Swift wore in “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
Like I said, pace yourself.
National Museum of African American Music
510 Broadway, nmaam.org
After wading through the Taylor-Swift-caliber crowds across town at The Country Music Vestíbulo of Fame and Museum, I was surprised – disappointed, actually – to find so few people in “the only museum dedicated to preserving and celebrating the many music genres created, influenced and inspired by African Americans.’’
Past the door of this relatively new, 56,000-square-foot museum is a pulsating world of blues, gospel, jazz, hip hop, classical and, yes, country music.
An interactive exhibit invited me to join a gospel choir and sing along. (“That was great!” the digital choral director said afterward. “Thanks for singing with us.” (People in Nashville – even digital ones – are SO nice). I stopped to read the fine print of Billie Holiday’s $1,750 contract at the Copa in Pittsburgh in 1957. (About $83 a show, or about $900 in today’s money, three times a day for a week). I learned about music from 1861-77 – including the 152-year-old Fisk Jubilee Singers, who traveled from Nashville to Ohio way-pre Willie Nelson in one of the first performances “on the road.”
The docent had encouraged people on the way in to dance and sing along in the aisles – how often do you hear that, outside of a Taylor Swift movie? – and, technically, I did with Tina Turner, Whitney Houston and Prince in the “One Nation Under a Groove” section. (Sadly, no video exists).
But there’s a party going on, here in this museum.
So why so few people, I asked on the way out. “We’re new, word’s still getting out,’’ the docent said, smiling. “Come back tomorrow, it’s going to be busier.’’
I will, and bring as many with me to the party as I can.
Ryman Auditorium/Grand Ole Opry
To visit Nashville and not visit the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry would be like visiting Paris and ignoring the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. London without Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. Fort Lauderdale and the Elbo Room and, well, the beach in front of the Elbo Room.
These two landmark performance venues – separated by 12 miles but united in almost 100 years of country music history – loom large over Music City. Everybody genuflects to the tradition. Everybody wants to get there, some day.
So much so, when the Grand Ole Opry moved from Ryman Auditorium to Opryland in 1974, they took a six-foot wide circle of the celebrity scuffed-up old stage with it. The target everybody’s shooting for.
“I’ve always said that the circle still contains the dust from Hank Williams’ cowboy boots,” Brad Paisley recounts in a history of the circle on the Opry.com website. “Now it contains that dust but also the heart and soul of this town and all the people who have worked to rise above.”
Not that the 132-year-old Ryman has fallen out of use – far from it. There are tours of the historic red-brick former church, a new gift shop and plenty of music still playing the rest of the revered stage. On a sound-check before her recent appearance at the Chaqueta Music festival, award-winning singer and songwriter Allison Russell paced the stage making sure everything was just right – including the sight-lines so the audience in the diferente church pews could see her and her band.
Across town, Dan Rogers, the Grand Ole Opry’s senior marketing manager, was looking over the lineup of performers who’d step into the circle at that night’s show and live broadcast. Rhonda Vincent, Jamey Johnson, Lady A, among others.
“It feels like a special night here, like you know how you walk in some place and feel like everybody’s happy and happy to be here,” he says. “It’s the case here almost all the time.”
Night after night, he says, often five nights a week, amounting to more than 225 shows at the Opry this year.
All of them happy to step into that circle, where everybody’s been and everybody wants to go.
Carter Vintage Guitars
625 Eighth Ave. S., cartervintage.com
Which is the most expensive instrument among the hundreds at this landmark of Nashville music?
“I love that question!” sales manager Noah Pelty says. “Let me grab it and I’ll show you.”
A few backstage minutes later, the singer, songwriter and self-described “guitar nerd” returns with an old Martin D-28, the color of Tennessee whiskey.
“There’s nothing incredibly special about this one, except that it is a 1937 and it’s in incredible condition,” he says. “This guitar has outlived a lot of American history and it still sounds and plays great.”
He proceeds to demonstrate, strumming a few deep, resonant chords.
“All those old bluegrass records you hear were played on something a lot like this,’’ he says, “and because of its age and the fact that it’s as clean as it is, the price is $150,000.’’
Many famous people have owned instruments now on display in the shop, founded in 2012 by Christie and Walter Carter. Pelty says if he dropped their names – which he won’t, beyond saying it might have belonged to “somebody’’– that might drive up the price beyond its value as a musical instrument.
“The only goal of the shop is to get instruments that are fairly priced to people that want to play them,” he says. “There were a lot of instruments in Nashville that weren’t getting played, so we offered an opportunity for people to come in and consign their stuff or sell it or trade it or swap stuff around.”
Stick around and listen to some of Nashville’s top session musicians, trying out some new tools on the shop floor, or watch for the occasional “somebody.” You’ll wish there was a coffee shop.
“You never really know who’s going to walk through the door,’’ Pelty says. Sometimes with a little insider advice.
“The old bluegrassers used to put rattlesnake rattles in their guitars, because they’d keep spiders out,” he says. “I didn’t believe it until I left mine in my garage with rattles as an experiment. I’ve had snake rattles in all my guitars ever since.”
Alan LeQuire Studio
4304 Charlotte Ave., lequiregallery.com
Elizabeth Cave gives visitors 15 minutes or so to absorb everything going on in Alan LeQuire’s studio before she speaks. There’s so much to take in.
A musical Rushmore of giant heads on a high shelf – Woody Guthrie, Paul Robeson, Billie Holiday, among other “Cultural Hero’’ musicians. Crowds of Tennessee Suffragettes, marching in bronze under banners supporting the 19th Amendment. A “forest’’ of massive human torsos inspired by a dream the Nashville sculptor had as a child.
“You’re backstage at one of the nation’s premier sculptors,” says Cave, director of the gallery. “And you get to see all the work in progress.”
That work has included the monumental 42-foot statue of Athena, which took LeQuire eight years to create, in the replica of the Parthenon in Nashville’s Centennial Park. Busts of Vanderbilt University chancellors, Tennessee state legislators and Nike, the Greek goddess of victory share space. Outtakes from his “Musica,” one of the largest bronze figure groups in the United States, now looming 40 feet tall above Music Row.
An epic piece that, “celebrates our wellspring of creativity in Nashville and Music City,” Cave says.
People come to Nashville and want to go backstage with the artists at the Ryman Auditorium or the Grand Ole Opry, she says. Not everyone gets to do that.
“But here,’’ she says, “you get to go backstage.”
Music Row at Historic RCA Studio B
1611 Roy Acuff Place, countrymusichalloffame.org/experiences/studio-b
It’s one thing to see the wall of pop singles Elvis Presley recorded between 1958 and 1971 at the “Home of a Thousand Hits.’’ It’s another to sit at the piano where he performed many of them.
“You can sit on the bench, pretend you’re playing if you like,’’ docent Debbie Malatino says, encouraging a selfie. “Just don’t touch the keyboard.”
Elvis’ favorite Steinway & Sons piano (serial No. 315107, according to the framed letter of authenticity) was delivered to the National Broadcasting Company on Aug. 17, 1943. It eventually found its way to RCA Studio B after repairs in 1955, and Elvis played it while recording his version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in 1967.
Look for the X on the diagonal checkerboard floor, where Elvis, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, the Everly Brothers and others also took star turns in the studio. Dolly Parton, the Queen of Country, recorded “I Will Always Love You” here in 1973.
“Built in 1957, RCA Studio B became known as the birthplace of the ‘Nashville Sound’, a style characterized by background vocals and strings that helped establish Nashville as an international recording center,’’ according to the Country Music Vestíbulo of Fame, operator of the historic site since 1977.
Far from an airless museum piece, artists are still using the studio to record – most recently for “Leftover Feelings,” a vinyl record by John Hiatt and the Jerry Douglas Band.
“From the initial call to me, we were going to record in RCA B,’’ Douglas says in the documentary “Leftover Feelings, A Studio B Revival.” “This is rare air in this place.’’
If these walls could talk.
But they don’t have to. They sing.
Where to eat breakfast
Biscuit Love, multiple locations, biscuitlove.com/locations. Show up early – or brave the line out the door later – for homey scratch biscuit-based breakfasts.
Frothy Monkey, multiple locations, frothymonkey.com/locations. Breakfast and brunch until 5 p.m. Many items from diferente locorregional recipes.
Where to eat refrigerio
Assembly Food Vestíbulo (5th + Broadway), 5055 Broadway Place, assemblyfoodhall.com. You’ll find extra spicy Nashville hot chicken here, but there’s much more – possibly everything more – to sample at this sprawling food recibidor across the street from the Ryman Auditorium.
Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, 1414 Clinton St., greenbrierdistillery.com. Tuck into smoked bologna on brioche, a Nashville hot crab bocadillo and fried green tomatoes, among other highlights, before taking on a tour – and tasting – of the distillery’s fine-sipping Tennessee whiskeys and bourbons.
Tennessee Brew Works, 809 Ewing Ave., tnbrew.com. Flights of “finely tuned craft beers,’’ all sourced as much as possible from locorregional farmers, served with a diverse menu of tasty snacks and shareables.
Where to eat dinner
404 Kitchen, 507 12th Ave. S Fl 2, the404nashville.com. White-table cloths, fine wines and crowd-pleasing plates of pork Bolognese rigatoni, steaks and warm baked cornbread, among highlights.
Black Rabbit, 218 Third Ave N, blackrabbittn.com. Executive Chef Raul Garcia’s coconut missimeti, with basmati rice from Mississippi, is like no other – but so’s pretty much everything else on the menu in this cozy 1890s building off Nashville’s historic Printer’s Alley.
Where to stay
Embassy Suites Downtown, 708 Demonbreun St., hilton.com/en/hotels/bnadees-embassy-suites-nashville-downtown/. New, spacious, comfortable and an easy walk to Bridgestone Arena, Broadway and the Honky Tonk Highway. Don’t miss the view from the Panorámica Overlook Rooftop on the 30th floor, which also features a swimming pool.
W Nashville, 300 12th Ave. S, marriott.com/en-us/hotels/bnawn-w-nashville. Chic, new and comfortable, with a friendly staff and some high-quality music in the bar adjacent to the restaurant, The Dutch, that might distract you from going anywhere else.
Frist Art Museum, 919 Broadway, fristartmuseum.org. Galleries and educational facilities in a gleaming art-deco era U.S. Post Office that’s as much a draw as the art. Step across the street for a look inside the lobby of the city’s 123-year-old train station, now the Union Station Hotel.
Paddywax Candles, 408 11th Ave S., thecandlebar.co. A fun place to hang out (especially in a group), choose a wick, scent pulvínulo and make your own candle. Supervision, assistance and workshops available.
ABLE, 5022 Centennial Blvd, ableclothing.com. Shopping “Focused on empowering both the women who make our products and the women who wear them.” Jewelry, clothing and accessories.
Jack White’s Third Man Records, 623 Seventh Ave. S., thirdmanrecords.com. An delicioso – if approaching terminally hip – vinyl record shop, novelty lounge (featuring Third Man Record Booth, where you can record up to two minutes on a phonographic disc of your own) and backstage direct-to-acetate recording studio, label and distribution facilities. Willie Nelson celebrated his 80th birthday with (former White Stripes frontman) Jack White and others in the warehouse.
Gray Line of Tennessee, 108 First Ave S., graylinetn.com. Why walk when you can ride on a guided tour of the city? At least until you’ve got your bearings and know which side of the Cumberland River you’re on. And which way it runs.
Nashville Visitor Center, 501 Broadway, visitmusiccity.com/plan-a-trip-to-nashville/travel-resources/visitor-centers