Confession: we love country music. Really love it. Like for real. It’s our biggest guilty pleasure and I’m not even ashamed of it. Ever since we met during our time at Harvard in 2010 we have been keeping up with the country charts, listening secretly to our country playlist on Spotify. So I guess you can understand the excitement when in 2012 the TV show “Nashville” premiered; a show about the country capital of the world. Yeehaw! It’s been our favorite TV show right from the start and I have no trouble admitting that we flew out to London last June to see the cast members perform on their first international tour. Like I said. We love country music.
So obviously we were super stoked to visit Nashville and see the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Grand Ole Opry, Music Row and all the honky tonk bars on Lower Broadway. And even if you don’t really like country music (which I would find fundamentally strange, but okay) I’m sure you definitely wouldn’t mind to spend a weekend in Music City Nashville.
Since we were on a coast to coast campervan honeymoon road trip, we obviously needed a place to park our beloved house on wheels. We set up camp at Two Rivers Campground which is basically just a good ol’ boring RV park, but its location is pretty convenient. And since we had all we needed in our little honeymoon home, we were more than happy to stay here for a few days while exploring Nashville.
Honky Tonk Highway
Okay, first things first: what is a honky tonk? Well, basically just a bar where they play (live) country music. It’s as easy as that. And on Lower Broadway, smack in the middle of downtown Nashville, you can find rows and rows of these honky tonks, which is why it’s commonly referred to as the Honky Tonk Highway. Most of these fine establishments on Lower Broadway are pumping live country music from as early as 10am to as early as 3am. Yup. Sleep is overrated on the Honky Tonk Highway.
What is especially cool about these bars is that practically every country musician has played at these honky tonks at least once in their lives. A lot of the crazy big country stars who are now in the Country Music Hall of Fame, like Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Roger Miller, played on Lower Broadway in their early careers. So you might catch a glimpse of the next big thing in country music while having a beer.
And what is a street filled with bars without all the necessary blinking neon lights to lure people in? I recently discovered I have this things with (vintage) neons. And I may or may not have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to these shiny objects that represent fun and good times all over the world.
John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge
If you follow Broadway all the way down to the riverfront, you will see this very cool industrial pedestrian bridge. We knew there would be a nice view over the Nashville skyline from this bridge, thanks to our favorite TV show. We grabbed a vitamin boost from the Juice Truck that is parked at the riverfront, and made our way to the bridge. It’s definitely a nice place for a little break while looking out on the river and the Nashville skyline.
We walked back to the heart of Music City by taking a little detour through some quiet side streets. I highly recommend doing this because the old buildings in this neighborhood, filled with the coolest murals, are pretty rad. The Johnny Cash Museum is also housed in one of these beautiful industrial buildings.
Boots, Boots, Boots
If you’re looking for a nice pair of proper cowboy boots, Nashville is the place to be. There is Betty Boots, Boot Barn, Big Time Boots, Broadway Boot Company, and many, many – oh so many – more. Yes, it’s a cliche, but country music is loved by many cowboys and -girls, and they sure love their boots.
Truth be told, I didn’t succeed in finding my perfect boot in Nashville, but I bought an amazingly comfy pair of Ariat boots (one of the best brands in the USA) later on in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Side note: I also bought a pair of handmade Boulet boots in Canada last June – and don’t tell the Americans but these might actually be my favorites.
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
This is obviously a must do when you’re in the country capital of the world. Even if you’re not a fan of country music. It is a fantastic museum, with so much information on the history of the country genre. There are a lot of cool items on display, including cars, shiny outfits (I LIKE), and walls filled with golden records.
In the heart of the museum you’ll find the Hall of Fame Rotunda, which is a big circle surrounded by all the inductees of the Country Music Hall of Fame. This is sacred ground and the walls are filled with plaques dedicated to country music legends, like Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.
I think my favorite part of our visit to the museum was the Hatch Show Print shop. This amazing letterprint studio was founded in Nashville in 1859 (not in this location). It flourished in the 1920s as a print shop for all kinds of country concerts. To this day it is still used for the coolest show posters, as I was told by the girl who gave me a haircut in a hipster barbershop in East Nashville. Like many young people in Nashville she’s in a band, and one of her bandmates works at Hatch Show Print so they get a huge discount on all their show prints. It’s still considered as a sign of pure awesomeness if you have your posters printed at Hatch Show Print. Pretty damn cool.
“I don’t like tacos” – said no Juan ever
Pro tip: get some tacos at Bajo Sexto Taco, inside the museum building. I am a big – VERY BIG – taco lover and therefore I am not easily impressed with just any other taco. But the tacos here are freaking delicious. And cheap. Such a winning combo. Good food: good. Cheap good food: better. Look how happy I am with my tacos! #tacoloverforlife
Grand Ole Opry
Our campground was very close to the Grand Ole Opry – country music’s most famous stage. It all began in 1925 with the first radio broadcast and it’s basically a live showcase. And for country stars it’s a serious privilege to perform on this stage and be called a part of the Opry family.
On our first evening in Nashville it was raining like crazy so we thought we’d check out what was going on at the Opry. The reception desk at our campground told us that there was a special Pink Ribbon concert tonight which was all sold out, and had already started. We tried our luck anyway and boy, did we got lucky. When we arrived we asked if there were any tickets left, even though we knew it was sold out. The nice lady at the desk told us she had two tickets that hadn’t been picked up and since the show had already started she gave them to us. I repeat: she GAVE them to us. We didn’t have to pay for them! And we hadn’t even played the honeymoon card. So kind!
The seats were amazing and the second we sat down – I kid you not – they announce Clare Bowen to the stage. Wait what?! Clare Bowen! For those of you who have no idea: she is one of the big stars of the aforementioned TV show “Nashville”. Our favorite show! Yessssss! So cool. We also saw Cassadee Pope (who won The Voice US in 2012) and my favorite Kacey Musgraves (seriously check her out!). Such an amazing night. We like you, Nashville.
Another Free Concert
The next evening we were treated to another free concert. Yes. That’s right. It is not uncommon for country artists to do a free street concert in the heart of Nashville. We were lucky enough to be in town for a street concert by one of country music’s current super stars. Oh, and he is actually also pretty famous outside the US, and even outside the country genre. Well hello there, Sam Hunt! Again: we like you, Nashville. We like you a lot.
Hipsterville in East Nashville
Being from Amsterdam, you know The Netherlands’ hipsterville, we obviously had to check out the hipster scene in Nashville. Even though you might not expect such a scene in the country music capital of the world, it’s a big thing here. Well, mainly in East Nashville. A lot of young musicians who came to the city to start their music career live in this neighborhood, which gives it its cool and edgy vibe. Just for the record (pun not intended): country music is not only about cowboys, farm life, banjos and fiddles, you know. There are a lot of cool singer-songwriters that are crossing over into other genres and try to broaden the country music spectrum. Kuddos to them.
Anyway, back to East Nashville. We found a cool barbershop and since it’s almost tradition that at least one of us gets a haircut when we’re abroad, I left some of my wild hairs in Nashville (don’t worry, I have enough left). I mean, how cool is the vibe at Scout’s barbershop?
Another big draw in any hipsterville around the world is obviously a crazy cool coffee place. And in East Nashville you can get your fix at Barista Parlor. And if you ask me, they not only score a 10 out of 10 for their amazingly good coffee (go for a cold brew), but they also score major points for the coolness of the old warehouse it’s located in. Can we move here please?
We like you, Nashville. A lot.
We were very excited to go to Nashville, and I’m glad to say that it did not disappoint. At all. The husband has actually been nagging me about when we’re going back to Nashville. I think it’s also a perfect place for a city trip, even from Europe. If you’re into music, and it doesn’t have to be country music, this place is perfect for you. There’s so much music history here, from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, to the Johnny Cash Museum and the music studios on Music Row. And I love that it still is the heart of country music with its honky tonk bars, the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium and of course the open mic nights at the Bluebird. We’ll be back. For sure.
Oh and just fyi, all four seasons of “Nashville” are available on Netflix (in Europe at least). Enjoy!
From Nashville our crosscountry honeymoon road trip continued to Memphis, home of the blues. If you’ve missed any previous posts about our epic honeymoon adventure, you can catch up here.