Cultural Spotlight

Nashville: Music City

Say "Nashville," and country music springs to mind. But the truth is that honky-tonk shares the stage with sounds of all sorts, including rock, gospel, classical, bluegrass, contemporary Christian and Americana. On any day of the week, hundreds of top-notch musicians perform all over town. To catch some of the best acts, try these venues.

Musicians in the round

Big-name artists may give Music City its lustre, but the countless songwriters who reside here constitute its heart and soul. There's no better place to catch some of the finest tunesmiths than at the tiny Bluebird Café. This venue inaugurated the songwriters-in-the-round concept in which four musicians take turns playing their own compositions. The night I was there, country legend Vince Gill sat in.

Bluebird Café, 4104 Hillsboro Rd., 615-383-1461

Bring on the bluegrass

If live bluegrass is your passion, go directly to The Station Inn, for many years the lone cultural sentry in the warehouse district known as the Gulch. The club retains its retro charm, complete with vinyl chairs and old concert posters decorating the walls. Bluegrass favourites like the Del McCoury Band and Larry Cordle are regulars here, making the Station Inn the perfect venue for what some insist is the hottest pickin' in the world.

The Station Inn, 402 12th Ave. S., 615-255-3307

Indie tunes

Over in the antiques district of 8th Avenue South, Grimey's New & Preloved Music ranks among Nashville's top independent music stores. Displayed in a 1916 red brick house, Grimey's vinyl collection is extensive, and its daytime in-store performances by artists in town for night gigs range from jazz to Americana. Downstairs, the gritty speakeasy-like Basement hosts some 150 local and national pop, rock and indie acts every month.

Grimey's New & Preloved Music, 1604 8th Ave. S., 615-254-4801

Real cowboy

Curious as to where many of country's top talents got their start? Head downtown to lower Broadway, home of Nashville's legendary honky-tonks. Eighteen hours a day, live music pours out onto the street from a host of hole-in-the wall clubs. Purple-painted Tootsie's Orchid Lounge is where Willie Nelson used to hang, while at Robert's Western World, patrons can purchase cowboy boots as they listen to cover bands jam.

Both honky-tonks are around the corner from the historic Ryman Auditorium, winter home to Nashville's famed Grand Ole Opry with its mix of country legends like Jimmy Dickens, superstars such as Garth Brooks and up-and-comers like Carrie Underwood. The rest of the year, the Opry's radio broadcasts emanate from the Grand Ole Opry House, north of town. At either place, sparkly, rhinestone costumes are de rigueur and the sounds are as hypnotic as a southern night.

Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, 422 Broadway, 615-726-0463
Robert's Western World, 416 Broadway, 615-244-9552
Grand Ole Opry, 615-889-6611

Dazzling duds

Speaking of rhinestones, you can purchase your own spangled outfits at Manuel Exclusive Clothier's. Located in a former bordello with the sewing machines buzzing upstairs, the midtown shop not only dresses the famous but custom-fits its glittery, hand-tailored designs for anyone who can afford the price.

Manuel Exclusive Clothier's, 1922 Broadway, 615-321-5444

Spa groove

Tiba de Nuhad Khoury

For an inner glow, join some of country's hottest names (sightings include Martina McBride and LeAnne Rimes) at Nashville's high-end health spa, Tiba de Nuhad Khoury in the Mall at Green Hills. The treatments are worldly (Turkish steam baths, Chinese massages, underwater hydrotherapy from Germany); the facials invigorate; and the company is often musically stellar.

Tiba de Nuhad Khoury, the Mall at Green Hills, 615-269-5121

Hotel history

Originally a railroad station, the Romanesque Revival-style Union Station – a Wyndham Historic Hotel – has operated as a downtown hostelry since 1986. This National Historic Landmark is in the midst of renovations, but once it’s completed in autumn 2006, it should be stunning, with tiffany-style stained glass covering the lobby's barrel ceiling.

Union Station – a Wyndham Historic Hotel, 1001 Broadway, 615-726-1001

Late-night nosh

If you're still hungering for tunes after a night on the town, head to The Pancake Pantry near Vanderbilt University. Most weekend mornings, sidewalk musicians entertain the crowds waiting to get inside. Yep, the hotcakes are that heavenly. Plus the grey-haired waitresses who call you "honey" sound like they really mean it.

The Pancake Pantry, 1796 21st Ave. S., 615-383-9333

(Freelance writer Debra Weiner lives with her son Sam in Chicago.)

Getting There

Air Canada Jazz offers the only non-stop service between Toronto and Nashville. Book now. And don't miss out on our great deals on car rentals and hotels (nightly rates starting as low as $46 CAD).

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May 2006