It was actually JC’s* Idea. Since Mr. Wiz* and Big A* would be totally absorbed in the Formula One Races in Austin for the weekend, she thought it would be a great idea to introduce my sister, Maria, and me to the Nashville she had fallen in love with on her first visit.
The capital of Tennessee, Nashville, seems to be changing its tune. Still known as the Country Music Capital and as Dolly Parton’s stomping ground, there’s now an energetic hum to the city.
It was one of seven U.S. cities to be chosen to begin a Google for Entrepreneurs Tech Hub Network. Innovative companies are finding its environs a less expensive, friendlier alternative. Foodies flock there in search of the next great new restaurant. New luxury hotels are springing up while historic buildings and neighborhoods are being revitalized. The city’s new slick sophistication remains in harmony with its long-standing southern charm and welcomes you with open arms.
We can’t wait to put on our cowboy boots and see the town, but it’s too early to check in to our hotel. We leave our luggage at the front desk and decide to reconnoiter in the lobby and plan our day. As we are chatting, we notice a well-dressed woman walk toward two of our suitcases, grab their handles and start walking out the front door of the hotel.
JC and Maria sprang to action! They jumped up and ran after the woman, who halted immediately when she heard Maria yell “…Hold it right there! …” There is something about a New York accent that means business. As little girls growing up in a suburb of New York City, we were trained to always be attentive to what was going on around us and to take care of ourselves. On our 18th birthday, our dad gave each of us Mace spray in the size of a lipstick container to carry in our handbags; an emotional right of passage that gave my dad great comfort in knowing that messing with his daughters would result in stinging eyes and being splashed with blue dye.
Apparently, I was the only one that noticed the well-dressed woman’s name tag. So, as the third member of this Keystone Cops comedy, I began running behind them to make sure that they did not tackle the hotel’s manager.
While it took us two days to be able to make eye contact with the hotel staff, our convulsive laughter set the tone for a great time together. Surprised, yet undaunted to find out that neither Maria nor I had any sense of direction (what other sisterly secrets would be revealed?) JC took over the navigating and we were off.
We enjoyed a free outdoor big band concert at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. We were startled by the sweet-faced youth of Johnny Cash while he was stationed in Europe during World War II in a special exhibit of private photos shared by his family at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Germantown, originally established by European immigrants, has the same vibe as New York’s Greenwich Village and we still cannot decide which entrée was our favorite at Henrietta Red: the braised lamb with pole beans and polenta, the scallops with pistachios, beets, Granny Smith apples, kale and couscous or the cauliflower steak smothered with hazelnut, scallions, shitake mushrooms and nicoise olives.
According to JC, there were two things not to be missed while in Nashville: a mansion tour and an evening at the Grand Ole Opry and she surprised us by planning both. How President Andrew Jackson progressed from a 14-year old orphan to a man of so many accomplishments made his mansion, Hermitage, even more impressive. Though built around the same time, its décor was so much more modern than the Victorian design of the Belle Meade plantation. Known for its horse breeding, racing and deer farm, the original 5400-acre estate became a tourist attraction. So much so that on occasional Sunday mornings, the lady of the house would sneak out and post a hand written closed sign on the front gates for some needed peace and quiet. Touring the homes, then having the time to walk the grounds made the docents’ stories come alive.
It was a Tuesday night and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house at the Grand Ole Opry. A new band, Lanco, was introduced and we wondered how they felt playing for the first time on that famous stage. We tapped our feet and sang along with Trisha Yearwood and Kelsea Ballerini and were surprised to see all 4 foot 6 inches of special guest, Brenda Lee “strut her stuff” around the stage.
One of Nashville’s biggest draws are the country music honky-tonks on Broadway. While many cities have an area where bars and restaurants line the streets and the musicians play loudly on a stage, open to their patrons inside and to the street, Nashville does it with a style all their own. It’s more fun than seedy and everyone from families to seniors to bachelorette parties and every age group in between share in the revelry.
We seemed to be drawn to Nudie’s Honky Tonk daily. Named after Nudie Cohn, a famous clothing designer (think Elvis’ gold lame suit), the historic building houses many of the costumes Nudie designed, rare music memorabilia and Nudie’s $400,000 Cadillac El Dorado hanging from the wall. But, it was the music and the great bands that transfixed us. We danced and sang at night and then found ourselves back during the day. By the way, each time we’d arrive, JC was quickly led to the dance floor by another admirer!
Only in Nashville can you be sitting on a park bench one minute and then see Kenny Rogers ride right by you in a golf cart the next. We agreed that was a great way to end our visit. We chalked up our newfound feeling of relaxation and our mother/daughter/sister bonding to all that dancing and to singing “Sweet Home Alabama” multiple times together at the top of our lungs. Those southerners really know how to have a good time.
*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.