Music City: The Heart of Country Music

By Ann Ross Westermann

Downtown Nashville. Photo credit: Mary Pollard (’19).

One of the fastest growing cities in the Southeast. Largest metropolitan area in the state of Tennessee. Population over 1.75 million. Home to countless country music stars. Nashville is the place to be in 2018. There is construction happening all over the city, and it seems never to stop growing. It has been in the headlines of many news articles and has been the background of many TV shows, including CMT’s Nashville.

Born and raised in this dynamic city, my dad, local bankruptcy lawyer Robbie Westermann, grew up in Nashville with his two brothers and lived there until he went off to college at the University of Virginia and then on to law school at Washington and Lee. He attended high school at Montgomery Bell Academy, where he was involved in many activities and sports. He is “truly amazed by the growth of the city” and says it is “becoming a destination spot for both tourists and new residents, young and old – while still maintaining its feel and spirit of a friendly and welcoming southern town.”

Many aspects of Nashville make it such a popular place. Some of these include its professional sports teams, countless landmarks, its incredible food, its prominent religious presence as it is part of the “Bible Belt,” and of course, the music.

While country music originated in the southern United States in the early 1920s, Nashville, along with its neighbor, Memphis, were the major cities that helped turn country music into a multimillion-dollar industry in the 1950s; the city eventually became the center of the industry. The music scene in Nashville has brought many people to visit and to stay.

The Bluebird Cafe. Photo credit: Ann Ross Westermann (’19).

One place of interest is The Bluebird Cafe, a 90-seat music club famous for its intimate acoustic music performed by local songwriters. Many well-known artists were discovered at this popular venue, including Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, Garth Brooks, and Faith Hill. This cafe has become so popular that reservations must be made over a month in advance. However, this is not the only place to hear live and local music when visiting Nashville. If you’re a fan of honky-tonks or just want to see what they are all about, visit Lower Broadway between 2nd and 5th Avenues downtown to hear the best live country music and really get a feel for what a honky-tonk is all about.

The Frothy Monkey location in The Nations, or West Nashville. Photo credit: Ann Ross Westermann (’19).

In addition, the Ryman Auditorium is a live performance venue that seats more than 2,300 people and is the place where country music truly took off and went beyond the city, where record deals were signed on napkins and paper scraps. Now, tours are given and visitors are taken throughout the entire auditorium, including backstage, and shows still happen today with current music stars.

The Ryman is best known as the home of the Grand Ole Opry, a weekly stage concert which began in the 1920’s and showcased musical performances of country, bluegrass, folk, and gospel music, along with comedic performances and skits. This show introduced stars such as Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Minnie Pearl, Patsy Cline, and Roy Acuff to the public and truly helped them form their careers in the music industry. The show continues today and has grown tremendously since it began. It now has its own location not too far from the Ryman, only nine miles east of downtown, where visitors can go backstage and get the true performer experience. The Opry has a partnership with the Ryman and offers shows and events at each location every month.

Visiting Lower Broadway can be overwhelming. My first time visiting this part of town when I was younger was quite terrifying. Hundreds of people walking about and live music playing from all around is a great deal to take in for an 11-year-old. However, as I have grown up, I have come to love the downtown scene and being able to take in the true Nashville experience. My family and I visit Nashville every year after Christmas and each year that we go, I grow more fond of the city and all that it has to offer. Even if the downtown, crazy tourist scene seems overwhelming, I strongly recommend to spend a little time in Lower Broadway when visiting Nashville. Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, The Stage on Broadway, or Acme Feed & Seed are some great venues to start with if you’re visiting Nashville to see some live music. Many of these places offer live music almost every day, and many have two or even three stories, with multiple music stages. 

The Bridgestone Arena near Lower Broadway. Photo credit: Mary Pollard (’19).

Maybe music isn’t your thing, but are you a sports fan? Nashville has multiple professional sports teams, offering numerous chances to catch a game. Nashville is home to the Tennessee Titans, a professional NFL football team that competes in 70,000 capacity Nissan Stadium, conveniently located within walking distance of Lower Broadway. The NHL’s Predators play in the Bridgestone Arena (capacity 17,000), which is also conveniently located on Lower Broadway. Both Nissan Stadium and Bridgestone Arena also serve as music venues for large acts, including Keith Urban, Jimmy Buffett, and the CMT Awards. Just recently announced in December 2017, Nashville will be the future home to a Major League Soccer team, which plans to begin playing in 2020. The city, along with the team, plans to build a 27,500-seat stadium just south of downtown, with an estimated cost of $275 million. Why Nashville? MLS commissioner Don Garber states that, “This is a city we’ve really fallen in love with. Everything about it fits our brand. We’re young. We’re on the rise. We’re very diverse. We’re very interested in trying things a bit differently than the other pro sports leagues have done. We recognize that we’ve just finished our 22nd season. We’ve got generations of growth in front of us.”

Nissan Stadium, home to the Tennessee Titans. Photo credit: Ann Ross Westermann.

Nashville is also known for many great and iconic foods, including hot chicken, biscuits, and fruit tea. Hot chicken can be found at multiple spots around the city, the most famous being Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in East Nashville and Hattie B’s in midtown. Biscuits can be found all over Nashville; try out Nashville Biscuit House, Loveless Cafe, and Barista Parlor, all of which constantly have lines out the door. The South is known for its love of sweet tea, but Nashville is known specifically for its fruit tea. Try out The Frothy Monkey Coffeehouse, Baja Burrito, and Bread & Company, whose tea is said to have just the right amount of orange juice, lemonade, and pineapple.

If you are visiting Nashville to get a true tourist experience and are interested in sightseeing, there are countless landmarks to visit. In the heart of Nashville stands a replica of the Greek Parthenon in Centennial Park. The structure was originally built for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition and serves “as a monument to what is considered the pinnacle of classical architecture.” Tours are offered, but visitors can walk around inside the Parthenon and see permanent displays of American paintings from the Cowan Collection and the history of the Parthenon dating all the way back to 1897. Many come to the Parthenon, however, to see the re-creation of the 42-foot statue of Athena. There’s also The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Belle Meade Plantation, Belmont Mansion, and a walk across the Cumberland River Pedestrian Bridge to get a breathtaking view of the city; all serve as a great places to immerse yourself into the Nashville culture. 

The Greek Parthenon, located in Centennial Park. Photo credit: Ann Ross Westermann (’19).

Nashville has grown tremendously in the past few years, and many locals are shocked by its growth and the new construction popping up all over town. My own grandmother, Bettye Westermann, has lived in Nashville her whole life, and it is where she found her love for teaching at Vanderbilt and raised her three sons. She states, “It’s been an excellent environment in which I’ve grown, raised my sons and continue to enjoy. Yes, it may take longer to navigate in traffic, but Nashville continues to have a ‘small town’ feeling. Having lived here most all my life, the greatest and fastest changes have occurred in the last several years. The population is growing at an amazing rate, new restaurants announced weekly, new construction of homes, hotels and office buildings is widespread, universities remain strong and more diversified, and to be recognized as a native Nashvillian is something that I will always be proud of.”