Nashville, Tennessee: the Country Music capital of the world. For music-lovers and plain old life-lovers, this city is the place to be, and I was superbly incredibly excited by the prospect of three days in the city with my good gal pal Rachel. I wouldn’t call myself a massive country music fan but that really didn’t matter, and there’s no way that a visit to Nashville should depend solely on whether you can name all the country singers of the moment or not. Yes, you’ll definitely be hearing a massive amount of guitar music and seeing a lot of people strutting around in cowboy boots- but that is to be EXPECTED AND APPRECIATED, you guys! Can I get a ‘yeehah?’
Southern hospitality is a true thing!
Some friends of Rachel’s- the Rogers family- had very kindly offered us a place to stay while we were visiting (doubly kindly since they’d never actually met me before), and so we jumped into an Uber when we reached the airport and headed straight there. As we approached the house, I realised this was an extremely lovely kind of a neighbourhood to be staying in, filled with big and beautiful houses complete with immaculate lawns and USA flags displayed out the front. Good job on your lawns, Nashville.
We knew the family would be out when we arrived, so we had instructions from Jen (the Cool Mom of the bunch- and she truly is a Cool Mom in every way), to let ourselves in and make ourselves at home until they arrived. Too bad we accidentally set the security alarms off within mere minutes of entering. After a joint heart attack moment for Rachel and me, both envisaging an entire fleet of police cars arriving on the scene within mere minutes of the alarm being triggered- due to this being an Extremely Lovely Neighbourhood- Rachel managed to switch it off with phone assistance from Jen, and all was well in the world again.
Pals, I will tell you this, Southern hospitality is a real life thing and I appreciated it to the max. A bag of goodies was waiting for both of us in our room, filled with treats galore, plus a copy of ‘Garden and Gun’ magazine for a true take on life in the South. CLASSIC Nashville! I’ll be honest, from this moment on my main goal in life has been to have a house so I can invite people to stay and give them bags of treats. The Rogers Family are Good People, and true Nashville people as well due to the fact that music seems to run in their very veins- those are some truly talented teens!
Exploring 12 South
Once she got home, Jen gave us a lengthy list of things to do and places to go whilst we were in town, so first on our agenda was to visit 12 South, an up-and-coming neighbourhood filled with restaurants, bars and boutiques, plus walls that are renowned for their colourful street art.
Bartaco was our choice for lunch, because the promise of amazing tacos and even more amazing margaritas was something that really rang true in our souls, and then it was onwards and upwards (literally just up the street) to Five Daughters Bakery. This little gem was set up by five sisters, and their doughnuts are famous across Nashville so if you feel like going here for a round of doughnuts it’s a good idea to get here earlier in the day so you have a bigger selection of doughnuts to choose from. Mine was approximately the same size as my head, so it’s also a great idea to not fill up too much before your visit.
Feeling suitably stuffed from such gargantuan quantities of food, we spent the afternoon strolling around in the Spring sunshine, looking for the best, most colourful murals, and checking out some of the boutiques. Naturally we had to make a stop in Reese Witherspoon’s shop, Draper James. You won’t miss it because it’s blue and white and covered in stripes; and the most brilliant thing about it is that they offer you sweet tea as soon as you enter the door. Honestly that’s really the main reason I was interested in visiting, although I was highly tempted to buy literally anything in there that had a classic Southern word or phrase emblazoned across it.
Back in the day, Printers Alley was home to newspapers and print shops galore- hence the name- but these days this tiny alleyway is filled with a gaggle of blues and jazz bars, threads of music wafting out whenever a door swung open. Maybe it seems odd that we bypassed all the country music on our very first night in Nashville, but whateves Trevs, Jen said it was good and so we were going.
We ended up in a little bar which basically looked like a miniature New Orleans, which is basically one of my favourite cities in the whole wide world. That night there were three different acts playing, and we stayed for them all as the bar slowly became more and more packed with people of all ages.
A sweaty man with shiny eyes stood not so far away from us and at about the same moment we realised that he had been staring intently in our direction for quite some time, a woman next to me leant over and remarked loudly ‘what a CREEP. Can’t he take the message?? If he asks, you’re with US.’ And the group collectively shifted to block the man from coming any closer. ‘A nice evening out with your mom and her pals!’ She winked theatrically. What a good lass.
When we had had enough of the shiny-eyed sweaty-skinned man, we headed on outside to an Uber, driven by the world’s number one expert on Coca-Cola. True story. After opening the conversation with ‘Have y’all seen that commercial for the new flavour of Co-Cola??’ our lovely and fanatical driver lass launched into a monologue which lasted the entire journey, all about her life-long relationship with Co-Cola and other sodas.
‘If there’s anyone who knows anythin’ about Co-Cola, it’s me. I done a whole project on it in high school, my teachers joked that I was the number one expert on it even then. Now I like Dr Pepper too, but Co-Cola, I can really tell you anythin’ you need to know. Have you seen that YouTube video where they put Co-Cola on some meat and it makes worms come out of it? Well that just about killed me, but still I love Co-Cola. Have you seen the experiment where they put a mint in a bottle of Co-Cola and the Co-Cola turns into a volcanic eruption? You can really do a lot with Co-Cola!’
This was just a small sample, and much to Rachel’s horror I fuelled the fire by asking more and more questions about Coca Cola. I just couldn’t resist, you guys! I had never met anyone like this, and I doubt I ever will again.
The Coca Cola Expert went on to tell us how she had befriended an elderly couple when she began taking their shopping inside for them after driving them to and from the grocery store, and eventually they left her their home which she now rents out on Airbnb. What a world we live in.
Getting on down to Franklin town
The small city of Franklin lies just over twenty miles away from Nashville, so the next day we headed on over with Jen to have lunch and a casual wonder. Tennessee as a state prospered hugely in the days of slavery, and Franklin is a hugely significant place in the story of slavery, the American Civil War, and the fight to end racial segregation. Although the Ku Klux Klan was founded in the Tennessee town of Pulaski, they had a chapter in Franklin, and horrific violence against, and murders of, African Americans were frequent. To put it bluntly, pals, some pretty terrible things have gone down in Franklin, TN. Filled with historic buildings and monuments, although nowadays it’s a lovely place for an afternoon wander, I feel like it’s important to note the city’s dark place in history.
Local leaders have in the past few years worked hard to offer up the whole history of Franklin, as opposed to just the Conservative white narrative, and plaques and statues are being put up across the town to publicly acknowledge and inform about Franklin’s true history and role in the history of the USA. So, pals, whoever said the United States doesn’t have a history clearly hasn’t done their research! Franklin is an intriguing place to wander and get a sense of the past.
We had lunch at the Franklin Mercantile Deli, which is a beaut family-run place in the centre of town, and then had coffee at the Frothy Monkey. (GOOD COFFEE IS HERE.) Wandering the town made for a very cute way to spend the day, and if you’re looking for somewhere less hipster and more historic than 12 South, this is a great solution. Those Southern slogans can also be found in all the shops here, and this time it was a ‘Y’all need Jesus’ tea towel which I came severely close to buying but decided against at the last moment. Sorry, Jesus.
We didn’t spy any celebrities in our wanderings, but Franklin is home to a high quantity of superstars, don’t you know. Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman, Faith Hill, Miley Cyrus, and Justin Timberlake have all been spotted on the regular in town. So keep your eyes peeled, but keep it casz.
Honky Tonk bars
Last but not least, it was finally time to hit the honky-tonks of Broadway. That’s Broadway, Nashville, not Broadway NYC. And what is a honky-tonk, I hear you ask. Well my friends, that is a bar that plays live country music for all within its walls.
Broadway is a wide street framed with gloriously gaudy neon signs announcing each and every bar’s existence. Some bars have open windows in which a band is strategically placed so that a crowd can gather round on the street outside as well as inside the sticky-floored buildings, while other bigger establishments have bigger bands playing further inside. In between the honky-tonks (of which every country music star seems to own one), are stores selling records or cowboy boots- rows and rows of cowboy boots- and amongst all the hubbub a whole crazy selection of people mill about, dotted with wandering guitarists and cowboys in full Stetson, boots and spurs get-up. It’s quite an atmosphere, I’ll tell you that for free.
After checking out a few different bars, we spent most of the evening in one mahoosive place with an awesome band inside, LOVING LIFE. The thing that I really appreciated about Broadway is that their were really people of all ages enjoying themselves here; it’s not a young persons place or an old persons place, just a place to have fun if you feel like it.
Ps, if you want a great place to see Broadway from up high, head to Acme Feed and Seed. Downstairs is a ginormous honky-tonk bar, but there are several levels to this warehouse-sized building- we had food on one level and went up to the rooftop for an awesome view just as the lights were starting to twinkle.
The next morning bright and early, I headed back to the airport in another Uber, ready for another strange but fascinating conversation with the driver en route. This time it was a man in his fifties who decided it was very important that he explain to me his opinion on guns and the right to bear arms. Naturally, I asked him all the questions in response.
‘I used to be strongly anti-guns, but I got two daughters ya see. And one day I was in my car, parked at the side of the street, when a fella comes and asks me directions through the window. So I give him directions and he doesn’t move, just keeps starin’ at me all funny like. And I said ‘go on!’ And he didn’t move, just kept with the starin’. And from that day on, I knew, I needed to get a gun.’
‘But did he do anything?’
‘Well, he stared at me funny. I was scared for my life. I drove away and I thought of my daughters and the next day I drove straight to the store and I bought myself a gun.’
‘So he didn’t try to hurt you?’
‘No but he could’ve done. And that’s the point. Now I have five guns.’
Nashville is a unique city, you guys. On this very short trip, we bypassed most of the classic tourist attractions like the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry; we didn’t head over to the Bluebird Cafe or another listening room for a more chilled approach to country music. (But you really should reserve ahead of time for that little gem). BUT- I feel like by exploring the city and its different neighbourhoods at our own pace, and with the help of Jen’s local knowledge and amazing hospitality, we saw so much more of it than your average first-time visitor would. I LOVE this place, and can’t wait to go back and explore more.
- Nashville International Airport is about 15 minutes drive from Downtown Nashville (as long as there’s no traffic). There is also a public bus- the number 18- which takes a lot longer (almost an hour).
- We used Ubers to get around the city- there are tonnes of Uber drivers and it worked out as the easiest and most affordable option.
- It’s only legal to carry open containers of alcohol on one block on Lower Broadway.
- Remember the drinking age in the USA is 21.
- Taxes for anything you buy are added on at the counter, and are currently (Dec. 2019) 9.25%
- Don’t forget to tip!