By Rick & Sandi Griffin & McKenna, on August 31, 2013

Experiencing Music City USA

As country music fans, we had visiting Nashville on our bucket list for a long time. So when the opportunity arose, we hopped on an airplane faster than a smoke cloud appears at a Willie Nelson concert. We knew we landed at the right airport when we saw just about as many guitar cases coming out of baggage claim as rolling suitcases.

Intent on making the most of our stay in Music City USA, we checked into the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Resort. The resort has three enormous atriums, complete with waterfalls, exotic foliage, and even a river! It is like walking through a tropical rainforest, minus the creepy insects and critters. Whether you stay at the resort or somewhere else, a visit to the property should be a part of your Nashville checklist. But we had people to see, places to visit, and food to eat!

First stop: Lower Broadway. Lower Broadway is the hub of Nashville nightlife. It’s home to the bars and clubs where many country music artists paid their dues and honed their craft. After parking a couple of blocks away, we just followed our ears and the flashing neon lights to the honky-tonks. At the corner of Broadway and 2nd Avenue, we were greeted by a street performer singing, “You ain’t much fun since I quit drinking.” You’ve got to love country music lyrics. We made our way up one side of the street and back down the other popping in and out of various live music establishments. Whether it was bluegrass, rockabilly, country, or old-time rock ‘n’ roll, the talent level of the musicians we encountered was incredible.

A Twitter friend suggested we stop by Big Bang Dueling Pianos on Broadway. The bar features two pianists facing each other on stage, taking requests, telling jokes, and leading the audience in sing-a-longs in every genre imaginable. As a joke, we submitted a request for Bohemian Rhapsody with a $5 tip. One of the guys said that he needed at least $300 to attempt the song but the other guy said that he had no shame and that his rent was due. He nailed it and got a standing ovation from the audience.

The three-story Wildhorse Saloon is the ultimate dance destination. The saloon has been featured in over 4,000 TV shows and movies. Country line dancing lessons are offered nightly between the live band sets. Even if you have two left feet, like Sandi, or wear flip-flops and can’t follow instructions, like Rick, then you’re bound to have a blast. The band was energetic and engaging and didn’t miss a beat in spite of our dance floor antics.

Viewfinder Tip: If you plan on partying on Broadway, use your hotel’s shuttle service as your designated driver.

Our next stop, the Ryman Auditorium, was home to Grand Ole Opry broadcasts from 1943 to 1974 and is a must for any old school country music fans. The tour begins with an eight-minute video chronicling the auditorium’s history and ends with an opportunity to purchase pictures of yourself on the famous stage. Exhibits of some of the legends who helped forge the Opry into the iconic institution it is today are featured throughout the auditorium. Of notable interest was Johnny Cash’s black suit, guitar, and boots; Mini Pearl’s famous hat still sporting the $1.98 price tag; and Dolly Parton’s dress that clearly shows just how big her…err…umm…personality really is.

If you can only catch one live show in Nashville, make it the Grand Ole Opry, no matter who is performing. Since moving from the Ryman Auditorium, the show is now broadcast live on WSM-AM from the 4,400-seat Opry House, adjacent to the Opryland Hotel. The live broadcast makes for an exceptionally nostalgic experience as local commercials are read for the audience listening on the radio. Each of the performers only did a three-song set, making it feel like we were attending 12 concerts in one evening! The Grammy-winning Gatlin Brothers and Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, Connie Smith, were among the performers we saw.

We had mistakenly only budgeted a couple of hours for the Country Music Hall of Fame, but could have easily spent the entire day there. It’s like walking through a country music time machine with exhibits featuring famous artists from Hank Williams to Carrie Underwood. For another unique piece of country music history, there’s the Willie Nelson and Friends Museum and General Store, which has plenty of country music memorabilia and video presentations. We were tickled by the display of a braille edition of Playboy Magazine, made especially for six-time Grammy winner, Ronnie Milsap. Guess he really did read it just for the articles. The general store is one of the few places in the world where you can purchase Willie’s “Blazin’ Rectums” BBQ Sauce.

Dukes of Hazzard fans rejoice at Cooter’s Dukes of Hazzard Museum. It may be a bit cheesy, but it has free admission. If you were a fan of the show, then the museum is definitely worth a visit, if for nothing else than just to see the General Lee and Daisy Duke’s shorts hanging on a clothes line.

Finally, to make the most of Music City, you’ve got to eat. We asked several locals that if we could only eat at one place in Nashville, where would it be. The Pancake Pantry on the edge of the campus of Vanderbilt University was mentioned time and time again. Their signature sweet potato pancakes sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon then topped with cinnamon cream syrup was worth every one of the forty minutes we waited in line for.

What’s on your musical bucket list?