Updated: Nov 28
Nashville was one of those places that I had failed to check out for so long that I felt like that guy in 2006 who still doesn’t own a cell phone. Do you quietly just get one and act like you’ve had one for years, or do you proudly own it proclaiming “Why would I need a cell phone? I’m a free spirit!"
The latter option is a tough putt and I'm a poor golfer, so I decided it was time to slink down to Music City, crash in my nephew's spare room and get my Broadway on with the bridesmaids and the tourists in big shorts.
Also, I wanted to see Graceland.
So, I was to be disappointed. Turns out, Tennessee is a big place. And I guess Elvis lived somewhere else. Whatever.
But despite this blot on its musical legacy, there is a lot of music history in Nashville. I mean a whole lot.
Lorretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Kris Kristofferson, Gregg & Duane Allman, Bon Jovi, Jack White, George Strait, Reba, and Jimi Hendrix – have never played there. But like literally everyone else you have ever even heard of has. I mean Johnny Cash’s funeral was held at the Ryman Auditorium. Respect.
It kind of makes you wonder what Elvis was even doing down in Memphis, this clearly being where the action is.
And the music keeps getting made. If you walk down lower Broadway, any day of the week, there is live music every 20 feet. In some of the bars, there is a band right inside the door, another one upstairs, and another one downstairs near the bathrooms. Plenty of acts to choose from. No cover charge. Just walk on in, buy a beer, and throw a $20 bill into the tip bucket (or Venmo them some Bitcoin).
Nashville musicians who work the strip are generally very talented as compared to your run of the mill bar bands doing covers. It’s a proving ground. And while the tractor pulled hay wagons, octa-bikes, and roofless Humvee limos parading bachelorette parties up and down Broadway super duper don’t care if you can play (as long as there is another Pink Bikini Martini in the shaker), the locals will ferret you out right quick and send you packing back to whatever musical backwater you crawled out from. Like Memphis.
One offbeat musical highlight was the Gibson Garage, which is a guitar store, but is more on par with a museum for all the glorious Les Pauls, SG’s, and Es-335s moving around the ceiling on a guitar conveyer belt. We bought magnets and T-shirts instead of guitars. They weren’t giving those suckers away.
Nashville is also home to other famous people, besides musicians I mean.
Like Bruce Wayne (The Batman). I didn’t know this until we were approaching the city skyline and I saw the famous “Batman Building” where he lives. Harder to figure is where the Bat Cave comes out as I couldn’t see anywhere that looked like it could camouflage a rural dirt road for like 20 miles. But the Batmobile is fast. So I guess its just a pretty long tunnel.
Not Just Another Pretty Face
Nashville is also known as the “Athens of the South,” or at least of Central Tennessee, since we’re not sure how Athens, Georgia feels about this. But Nashville can make a pretty strong claim on this having both a) Vanderbilt University which is the doormat of SEC football because apparently they only let smart kids play (dumb) and b) the world’s only full-scale replica of the original Greek Parthenon.
Well played Nashville. Take that Bulldogs.
I'm the Number One Fan of the Man from Tennessee
When my Nephew Sean picked us up at the airport, he had thoughtfully placed nips of Jack Daniel's into our cup holders to help set the right Tennessee tone. For me that was sufficient, just drinking it I mean. But he insisted that the next day we drive way south of town to actually see where they make it. And so we did.
I’ve been known by friends and family to enjoy a bit of whisky now and again, but JD was always a libation that I associated with the more formative stage of C2H5OH experimentation. Meaning, it was typically delivered as a dare and downed as quickly as my gag reflex would allow. Who knew that it was a smooth, mellow, gentleman's sipping whisky? I did not. In fact, while it is a close cousin of Bourbon (popular in these parts) it is not Bourbon, but Tennessee Whisky. And what, pray tell, is that Tom? Basically, it is Bourbon poured through a charcoal filter (10 feet of crispy charred sugar maple) to remove any impurities that would otherwise interfere with a drinking woman’s restorative meditations. Jack learned his craft from a former slave by the name of Nathan “Nearest” Green who was effectively the first master distiller of JD, though he wasn’t recognized as such until 2017, on account of the fact that he was black. And who says social progress is slow?
The tour is lovely. I was expecting industrial not resplendent. The distillery is more like a sprawling farm, with antique whisky-aging warehouses sprinkled throughout the rolling hills and mature trees. They have their own fire department because if one of those suckers starts on fire, well, let's just say JD doesn't just accelerate my loose tongue. The mineral spring that is the liquid bedrock of the whisky still gently bubbles out from under the limestone cliffs where Jack first found it.
There is a statue of him there now, perched on the limestone, and the tour guides invite you to get a picture with Jack on the Rocks. I guess that's a laugh line. I didn't get it. The guides also make much of the fact that Jack was never married – yet was “quite the ladies man” as apparently he had many women friends. These stories now seem very much like the type of coded mythos often cloaking a successful gay man in those days. You can come out now Jack. More social progress.
Despite being the number one selling whisky in the entire world, every drop is still made and aged right there in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Lynchburg is in Moore County, which to this day is still a dry county (no whistling allowed on Sundays either I presume). It’s an enjoyable irony that the largest whisky distillery in the world is in a county with no bars or liquor stores. But the county ordinance preventing liquor sales has more holes in it than the plot of a James Bond film. Let’s just say that after the tour, we exited through the gift shop. No magnets and T-shirts this time.
On Monday, Nephew Sean had put together a carefully curated itinerary for us (my brother, his wife, Lori and I) to take in some of the remaining Nashville treasures while he and his fiancé Chelsea worked – because somebody has to. It began with an excellent back stage Vanderbilt tour where Sean's fiancé Chelsea is the womens' swimming coach. Since she frequently takes recruits around campus for her job, we got to see campus in a 6-pack Vandy Athletics golf cart going wherever the hell we wanted in it. "Hey you kids relaxing on the Quad with a little hacky sack - move it or lose it – Official Golf Cart Coming Through!" Awesome.
Then we went to Pucketts for some Barbecue lunch and a few pints of the local. After that, since Broadway was only a few blocks away, we made a quick stop there to take in a little more music before continuing on the tour. Many hours and buckets of beer later, we called Sean and asked if we could have a ride home. He asked where we were. We replied "Broadway." He said "that wasn't on the tour..."
Mistakes were made. Rules were broken. I never did find out what else was on the tour. Not Graceland obviously. But I think we were probably better behaved than the Bridesmaids (though I may have ordered a Tie Me to the Bedpost at one point). When in Rome as they say. Or Athens.