There’s a vibe about the city of Nashville. It pulses with a heartfelt beat that hums to the rhythm of everyday life, extolling both its pains and pleasures. As the epicenter of country music, the city of Nashville, Tennessee, is a dream destination for every fan of the genre. Assuming you’re a fan, Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum needs no introduction. If you’re not a fan, however, we think we might be able to convert you with the stories told in country music ballads and convince you to visit this landmark to experience history in living color.
Immigrants coming to America from Europe in the early 1900s brought with them only their dearest possessions as they embarked on the journey. Many of them brought instruments – guitars, fiddles, banjos, mandolins and harmonicas and the like. Without the luxuries of pen and paper, many of life’s stories were passed down through oral tradition in the form of simple songs. Poorer areas of the country, such as Appalachia and the Southern United States, recorded their lives almost solely through music, telling the stories of their lives and histories – the joys, the pain, the hardship and the beauty of the land. Thus, country music was born.
Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum celebrates those roots, as well as all its branches and sprouts, giving a place for these stories to live on into future generations. In 1967 the first museum opened with a modest exhibit and much fanfare. Due to the genre’s booming popularity, a new $37 million museum opened in 2001, styled with windows representing ebony piano keys, towers mimicking vinyl records and a concrete sweep representing a Cadillac fin.
The strong profile of the building punctuates the skyline set against the banks of the Cumberland River, and visitors faithfully flock to its doors. Many are fervent about their affiliation with this music, but even those entering with indifference are often moved by the stories told within.
The Sing Me Back Home exhibit will plunge you into the lives of country music stars through films, photos, artifacts, recordings and interactive media from its beginnings through the 1960s. Covering two floors, the exhibit is a chronological, self-guided tour that sings a story shared by many American lives of that period.
Dreaming My Dreams showcases music from the 1960s to the present, exploring the explosion of country as a popular style, with the advent of stars like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Elvis and Patsy Cline. The exhibit pays homage to later stars like Rascal Flatts, George Strait, Brad Paisley, Luke Bryan, Sheryl Crow, The Dixie Chicks and Taylor Swift, with praise, punishment and a little bit of juicy gossip all mixed into an interesting historical exhibit.
Currently in the museum, the Archive Spotlight Series exhibit details the lives of Lee Greenwood, Hank Williams and Terri Clark, along with special attention to the art and artifacts of the television series named after Twang Town. An exhibit titled The Bakersfield Soundtrack: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and California Country, tracks the Western style of country music. In a feature all her own, Reba: All the Women I Am, gives an in-depth look at the star’s rise to fame in her multimedia career. The museum’s artifact collection includes 800 stage costumes and 600 musical instruments, along with other memorabilia from the lives of country music’s royalty, including Elvis’ solid gold Cadillac.
Extras include a trip to Studio B, the recording location for many of country music’s greatest hits. If you’re packing talent, you can even arrange to record at the studio with advance reservations. You can also dine on some fine Southern cuisine at the Two Twenty Two Grill, enjoying house-smoked meats, made-from-scratch sauces, salad dressings and soups. Tickets for the museum and Studio B, as well as package options, can be purchased online. If you keep an eye on Groupon, you may even find a link to half-off admission.!
While you’re here, you may want to stop off at the Grand Ole Opry for a concert, or head to the Station Inn on 12th Avenue South to catch an impromptu jam session with surprise guest stars and some good, authentic country music. It’s where the locals go to catch a glimpse of the best in town.
If you’re into the instruments themselves, you won’t want to miss a tour of Gruhn Guitars, recently moved from downtown to the south on 8th Avenue. George Gruhn’s collection of vintage instruments, along with his valuable knowledge of them, have grown by virtue of spending more than 40 years building, repairing and customizing the instruments known and loved by country music stars. Some of his work includes Gibson, Fender, Gretsch, Epiphone and Martin, among others.
Getting to the Hall of Fame is easy, either by car off of I-40 or via the free Music City Circuit Bus that runs a roundabout route to all the important music city destinations in the central business district. The Nashville MTA transit buses run throughout the city to the suburbs, making the trip convenient and affordable, even from the airport.
There’s truly no better way to enjoy the nuance of country music than exploring this city, where you learn about its roots in bluegrass and Americana, to the splashy “rhinestone cowboy” in the ’70s, to its new influences of pop, rock and blues. Country music is a melting pot of musical influences, mirroring the history of the U.S. itself — so grab your boots and your finest cowboy hat, and head to music city soon!