A lit­tle bit coun­try

Kick up your heels in honky-tonk heaven

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - KA­T­RINA LOBLEY

HEART AND SOUL: Nash­ville, in Mid­dle Ten­nessee, is also known as Mu­sic City. Delve into its DNA at the Coun­try Mu­sic Hall of Fame and Mu­seum. Ex­hibits show­case the likes of the coalminer’s daugh­ter, Loretta Lynn, and Cana­dian crooner Sha­nia Twain, whose per­sonal life fea­tures more ups and downs than the roller­coast­ers at Dol­ly­wood (a 3½-hour drive away in East Ten­nessee). Peer at a pair of Dolly Par­ton’s me­tal­lic pumps and Gram Par­sons’ slim-hipped stage suit em­broi­dered with mar­i­juana leaves on the front, a rhine­stone-trimmed scar­let cross on the back and busty naked women on the lapels. Ad­mire the rose in­laid on Em­my­lou Har­ris’s black 1955 Gibson J-200 gui­tar, the Nash­ville-made Gibson be­long­ing to Steve Earle and the princess-like corseted gown Tay­lor Swift wore in the video for her 2008 hit Love Story. More: coun­try­mu­sichallof­fame.org.

SHOWS OF SHOWS: Billed as “the show that made coun­try mu­sic fa­mous”, the Grand Ole Opry live ra­dio pro­gram is a Nash­ville in­sti­tu­tion. Af­ter de­but­ing in 1925 and mov­ing to var­i­ous lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing down­town’s Ry­man Au­di­to­rium ( known as the Mother Church of Coun­try Mu­sic), its home is now the Grand Ole Opry House at Opry­land, a 15-minute drive from down­town. Shows fea­tur­ing new coun­try stars through to su­per­stars, punc­tu­ated with old-fash­ioned ad­ver­tise­ments, usu­ally take place at the Opry House on Tues­days, Fri­days and Satur­days, and at the Ry­man on Thurs­days. Over win­ter, the show moves to the Ry­man. The Opry­land com­plex in­cludes Mar­riott’s Gay­lord Opry­land, where you can take an in­door river­boat ride and dine on clas­sic Amer­i­can fare (steaks, burg­ers, key lime pie) or Ja­panese at the Cas­cades Amer­i­can Cafe. If the Opry is sold out, rein in the heart­break un­til you check with the re­sort’s concierge, as last-minute tick­ets may be avail­able. Opry tick­ets start from $US38 ($49). More: opry.com; mar­riott.com.

CASHED UP: Nash­ville is home to its fair share of mu­sic-themed mu­se­ums but fans of the Man in Black will be drawn to the red-brick Johnny Cash Mu­seum (a mu­seum ded­i­cated to songstress Patsy Cline opened up­stairs in April). Ex­hibits chron­i­cle Cash’s ca­reer, in­clud­ing his 1956 Grand Ole Opry de­but, as well as his arty side. On a more poignant note, the mu­seum in­cludes a stone wall ex­ca­vated from Cash’s lake­side house, north­east of Nash­ville, which went up in flames in 2007 dur­ing ren­o­va­tions by new owner Barry Gibb. More: john­ny­cash­mu­seum.com; pat­sy­mu­seum.com.

ROCK IT, MAN: Nash­ville’s mu­si­cal cre­den­tials stretch way be­yond the coun­try genre. Rocker JackJ White — one half of the White Stripes — moved to town in 2005 af­ter work­ing with Loretta Lynn. His Third Man Records out­post in­cor­po­rates a record store, live-mu­sic venue and a record booth where you can cut 2.5 min­utes of au­dio on to a 15cm disc for $US20. Bor­row an acous­tic gui­tar for your record­ing or turn a lit­tle more creative. Out­pour­ings in the booth have in­cluded mar­riage pro­pos­als, one-act plays, jokes, and last wills and tes­ta­ments. More: third­man­records.com.

W WEL­COME TO NASHVEGAS: Point your­self (and your ID, no mat­ter what your age) to­wards the neon lights of Lower Broad­way’s honky-tonks to see why Nash­ville is nick­named NashVegas. Sidestep the af­ter-dark bach­e­lor and bach­e­lorette par­ties by vis­it­ing in the af­ter­noon to catch an ear­ful of twangy tunes while sip­ping on frosty brews. Toot­sie’s Orchid Lounge is the most fa­mous of the lot (Wil­lie Nel­son scored his first song­writ­ing job af­ter singing in the orchid-coloured venue). Last month, its rooftop hosted a pop-up gig from home­grown star Mi­ley Cyrus. On the same block is Robert’s Western World, a honky-tonk where the walls are lined with cow­boy boots and there’s never a cover charge. Both places sit across the al­ley from the Ry­man Au­di­to­rium where vis­i­tors take a tour or cut a CD. More: toot­sies.net; robertswest­ern­world.com; ry­man.com.

ROOFTOP WITH A VIEW: Down­town Nash­ville is b boom­ing. See the lat­est sky-scrap­ing ad­di­tions f from the rooftop bar LA Jack­son at the Thomp­son Nash­ville, a hip ho­tel in The Gulch. Mu­sic City at­tracted 13.9 mil­lion vis­i­tors last year, up 45 per cent from a decade ear­lier. New prop­er­ties in­clude The Westin Nash­ville, opened last year, and a JW Mar­riott is set to open in SoBro (south of Broad­way) next year. Back at the Thomp­son, sam­ple the fare of James Beard award­win­ning chef John Besh at the ho­tel’s ground-floor fine diner, the Marsh House, which serves seafood with a South­ern twist. LA Jack­son dishes out fun with ice­cream sand­wiches such as the Melvis (roasted marsh­mal­low, peanut but­ter, ba­nana ice-cream and choco­late fudge). Pop across the street to Bis­cuit Love if you’re in the mood for bis­cuits (what we call scones) with fried chicken or sausage gravy. Start­ing out as an Airstream food truck but now with two bricks-and-mor­tar lo­ca­tions, the busi­ness does a play­ful riff on South­ern brunch. Or­der the bonuts (fried bis­cuit dough with lemon mas­car­pone and blue­berry com­pote) for a sweet fin­ish. More: thomp­son­ho­tels.com; bis­cuit­love.com.

BACK TO ROOTS: Oc­cu­py­ing the same plec­trum-shaped block as the Thomp­son is The Sta­tion Inn, a revered blue­grass and roots venue that’s show­cased the likes of John Prine and Ali­son Krauss over the years. Six pick­ers started the club in 1974 near Cen­ten­nial Park (home to a full-scale replica Parthenon) be­fore it moved, un­der a new owner, to The Gulch in 1981. Lis­ten to a clas­sic “pick­ing cir­cle” at the free Sun­day night blue­grass jam. Fans of TV drama se­ries Nash­ville might pre­fer the Blue­bird Cafe, a cosy “lis­ten­ing room” in the ’ burbs where song­writ­ers typ­i­cally per­form col­lab­o­ra­tively in the round. More: sta­tion­inn.com; blue­bird­cafe.com.

A ALL IN THE TIM­ING: Nash­ville de­liv­ers live mu­sic year-round but Amer­i­cana fans should time their visit when Amer­i­canaFest un­folds (Septem­ber 11-16 next year). This year’s six-day ex­trav­a­ganza fea­tured more than 300 per­for­mances in dozens of venues around the city. The high­light is the an­nual hon­ours and awards show at the Ry­man, where a who’s who strolls out onto the hal­lowed stage to per­form or to pair up for in­trigu­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions. Those look­ing for value fes­ti­val ac­com­mo­da­tion can park them­selves at the well-po­si­tioned Best Western Plus Mu­sic Row. More: amer­i­cana­mu­sic.org; nashvillebest­west­ern.com.

OUT OF TOWN: A half-hour drive south of Nashv ville is Franklin, an af­flu­ent town so pho­to­genic i it’s won ac­co­lades such as Amer­ica’s Most Ro­man­tic Main Street and Best Small Town in Ten­nessee. The Franklin Theatre, which closed in 2007 but had its glam­orous art deco lines pre­served and pol­ished through a $US8 mil­lion restora­tion, hosts movies, mu­sic and live theatre. Re­cover from read­ing the real-es­tate prices (man­sions can reach eight fig­ures) with a cock­tail at Gray’s on Main, a restau­rant that hosts reg­u­lar gigs lo­cated within a for­mer Vic­to­rian-era phar­macy. Franklin is also known for three key Civil War sites — Carn­ton Plan­ta­tion and its Con­fed­er­ate ceme­tery are on the out­skirts, while bul­let-rid­dled Carter House is in town, across the road from Lotz House. The town doesn’t only at­tract his­tory buffs. Last month’s hip two-day Pil­grim­age Fes­ti­val (on a for­mer Ten­nessee walk­ing horse stud farm, which you could pad­dle to along the Har­peth River) was head­lined by Justin Tim­ber­lake (who bought land in nearby Leiper’s Fork), Ed­die Ved­der, Ryan Adams and Mavis Sta­ples. Leiper’s Fork is blink-andyou’ll-miss-it but Puck­ett’s Gro­cery is famed for its “meat and three” lunches and Thurs­day open-mic night. Also worth vis­it­ing is an­tiques and mer­can­tile store Seren­ite Mai­son, which fea­tures a “pick­ing cor­ner” sup­plied with vin­tage in­stru­ments. Keith Ur­ban is among those who’ve made sweet mu­sic here. More: franklinthe­atre.com; grayson­main.com; boft.org; lotz­house.com; pil­grim­age­fes­ti­val.com; puck­ettsofleipers­fork.com; seren­itemai­son.com; vis­it­franklin.com. THERE IN SPIRIT: Don’t be un­nerved by the Union Sta­tion Ho­tel’s Broad­way ad­dress or its h haunted sta­tus. Lo­cated a de­cent dis­tance from the city’s honky-tonks, the stately prop­erty, near the Frist Cen­tre for the Vis­ual Arts, of­fers respite from the city’s more rau­cous charms. The land­mark build­ing, a gothic railway ter­mi­nal built in 1900 (pic­tured), was rescued from dis­re­pair and to­day fea­tures 125 gue­strooms with touches such as cowhide head­boards, wal­nut fea­ture walls and leather ac­cents. All but one gue­stroom is con­tem­po­rary in style. The ex­cep­tion is No 711, which chan­nels a vin­tage vibe in hon­our of its res­i­dent ghost, Abi­gail. Even if you’re not check­ing in, swing through the lobby to ad­mire its bar­rel-vaulted, stained-glass ceil­ing and the glit­ter­ing cas­cade of chan­de­liers. From $US199. More: union­sta­tion­hotel­nashville.com, frist­cen­ter.org.

Ka­t­rina Lobley was a guest of Travel South USA.

Mu­sic bars on Lower Broad­way, above; Coun­try Mu­sic Hall of Fame and Mu­seum, top right; rooftop bar at LA Jack­son, above right; record­ing booth at Third Man Records, be­low; The Johnny Cash Mu­seum, bot­tom

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