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"A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch." - James Beard


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Southern USA Road Trip - Nashville, Music City

For once I’m not going to talk about the food.  We planned this road trip to Nashville even though we’re not really country music fans.  We’re big fans of music in general though.  The impetus behind this trip was an Arcade Fire concert.  We wanted to see the band and they were playing in Toronto and Detroit, each about two hours away from home, but since the concerts were on weeknights we’d have to take a couple of days off work to drive to the concert in time and then stay overnight and get home.  So we figured if we’re going to take time off work, let’s go somewhere fun!  We’d wanted to check out Nashville for a while because we’d heard it was a great city to visit.  So it seemed like the perfect place to check out a band we like, and see a bunch of other music too.

Nashville has fantastic food, great shopping and attractions but the best, most unique thing about Nashville is the honky-tonks.  In Nashville, a honky-tonk is a bar that has live music all the time.  There is no cover charge and the musicians don’t get paid so they pass around a tip jar.  I’d read all about the honky-tonks in planning our trip but I wasn’t prepared for the amazing quality of the music and the fact that it cost practically nothing. 

On our first night in town we visited Robert’s Western World.  I’d read this place was popular with locals and not too touristy so that’s why I picked it.  Well, it was full of tourists – the people at the next table lived an hour away from us – but it was still our best experience of the trip.  When we walked in at around 7pm the place was packed but we were able to sit at a table right up front.  A female singer was singing an old country ballad and an old couple was dancing the two-step.  Between the amazing music and the couple who had obviously spent many years dancing together, we both had a tear in our eye.  It was wonderful.

The band, we found out later, was Rachael Hester and the Tennessee Walkers.  Rachael sings and plays guitar and her dad’s on the fiddle.  They also had an incredible guitarist whose name we didn’t catch, a stand-up bassist and a drummer.  These were some of the best professional musicians we’d ever heard and they were playing for free!  Of course, when the tip jar was passed around, we showed our appreciation.  The band played mainly traditional country music, which we loved, and a few originals too.  They played for four hours straight, with only occasional breaks where a couple of musicians would grab a smoke or a drink and the rest would keep playing.  Once their time was up, another band took the stage right away.  This time it was a rockabilly band who were talented and energetic, but a little more showy than Rachael’s band.  We stayed a while longer.  We had many, many drinks and some cheeseburgers and our bill was laughably cheap.  We headed back to our hotel after a perfect first night in Nashville.

The next day we went to Third Man Records, Jack White’s record store in The Gulch area of Nashville.  The shop is really neat. Lots of vinyl records and trinkets, plus a recording booth where some young musicians were recording a song!  It is a neat place to visit. 

Tonight we went to Layla’s Bluegrass Inn on Broadway for some more great bands.  After a while we walked out onto the street and just popped in and out of bars when the music tempted us.  We heard some girls singing TLC’s Waterfalls and ran in but unfortunately they were just finishing their set of current hits sung in a country style.  

We really enjoyed popping in to the honky-tonks and hearing so many different bands. Several of them used the pedal steel, an instrument we'd never seen before, a kind of slide guitar.  The talent on display was so impressive everywhere.  

The next day we visited the Johnny Cash museum, a newer attraction in Nashville.  It is small but very well set up with tons of pictures, costumes and videos from his long career.  One of the first exhibits was stations with headphones to listen to music from each decade of his career.  

We spent about an hour in the museum, then popped back over to Broadway to see it in the daytime.  We were shocked to find out the honky-tonks are open in the daytime too!  This is the time when kids and families are welcome.  It wasn’t as busy as the night before, but the musicians were just as talented.  So, there's free live music from 11am until 2am every day.  You can’t beat that!

That night was the Arcade Fire concert and our last night in Nashville.  There are tons of fantastic restaurants in Nashville but we decided to forgo fine dining in favour of another session at Robert’s Western World.  We had $5 cheeseburgers again and some drinks before our concert at the arena across the street.  I’m so glad we returned here because we saw the most amazing guitarist we’ve ever heard and he was only 19 years old!  His name is Daniel Donato.  I think he’ll have big success in the future.

Our concert  at  the Bridgestone arena was great.  The staff there was so friendly and it was a great venue.  People couldn’t believe we’d come all the way from Canada to see Arcade Fire, but it was well worth it to see all the great musicians in Nashville.  

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