Thursday, December 15, 2016 - by Ann N. Yungmeyer
With ever-present merriment in the air, Nashville is a fun-filled destination, and there’s no better time to visit “Music City” than during the holiday season. The city’s hop on/hop off trolleys are aglow with colored lights, holiday concerts abound, and historic homes are adorned in yuletide splendor. New Year’s Eve draws revelers for the annual Music City Midnight – with free concerts, fireworks, and the signature music note drop. Keith Urban headlines this year’s event at Bicentennial Mall.
The iconic Gaylord Opryland Resort is more magical than ever decorated with two million Christmas lights. The Marriott property features “A Country Christmas” and a dazzling parade of trees sponsored by celebrities, along with holiday shows, snow tubing and countless family activities. Opryland’s ICE! presents the story of Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer in an interactive winter wonderland of hand-carved, larger-than-life ice sculptures.
I was thrilled to hear some of country music’s greats during my recent visit, including Christmas at the Ryman with Amy Grant & Vince Gill, and at Grand Ole Opry – the world’s longest running radio show – in a performance featuring Kathy Mattea and Alison Krauss. I skipped the free music along Broadway’s Honky Tonk row for a chance to see the holiday symphony concert, “A Very Merry Pops” at the magnificent Schermerhorn Symphony Center.
My visit was also timely for rediscovering the story of Nashville’s roots in country music, as the years 2016 and 2017 represent milestone anniversaries in the city’s music history. Among them, Ryman Auditorium celebrates 125 years, RCA Studio B (home of 1000 hit recordings) celebrates 60 years, and the Country Music Hall of Fame celebrates 50 years. From numerous museums and facility tours to the Music City Walk of Fame, visitors can learn about the early influencers and convergence of music genres that have shaped Nashville’s heritage and generations of top performing music artists.
When the song lyrics “Baby, its cold outside” ring true, it’s a good time to head for some of Music City’s renowned cultural attractions. Nashville’s unique architectural sites, including the Parthenon and the State Capitol, loom large on the urban landscape, but a downtown renaissance that began more than 20 years ago has brought extraordinary growth and revitalization of historic neighborhoods. With world-class museums, sports arenas, parks and green space, and a lively food scene, Nashville offers a wonderful weekend escape most any time of year.
Top of the list for visitors is the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, which recently completed a major expansion of gallery, education and event space. The multi-level facility is home to the Hall of Fame Rotunda, CMA Theater and the historic Hatch Show Print letter press operation, a producer of show posters since 1879. The museum’s core exhibition examines the legacy of country music from its early origins in folk music through Nashville’s rise as a recording and song writing hub to the evolving contemporary styles of today’s artists. Current exhibitions on view into 2017 include “Alabama,” “Brad Paisley,” “Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats,” and “Zac Brown Band.” With the amazing collection of artifacts and interactive exhibits, one could easily spend a day studying panels and photographs and listening to clips, but 2-3 hours will allow an overall view and a look at select exhibits.
The Johnny Cash Museum is a favorite among fans and curiosity seekers alike, housing the most comprehensive collection of Johnny Cash artifacts in the world. The interactive exhibits provide a personal look into the life of the “man in black,” through photos, video and memorabilia such as clothing, hand written songs and personal notes.
The Frist Art Center, in the former main Post Office building, is currently showing several stunning exhibitions, including a multichannel video installation by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson. Titled The Visitors, the immersive work is shown on panels in the round, as the artist portrays himself and other musicians performing in a run-down country mansion. The exhibition runs through Feb. 12, 2017.
Nashville’s historic homes offer a dose of southern heritage, and many offer special holiday tours. Costumed interpreters at Belle Meade Plantation explain the period holiday décor in each room of the 1800s Greek revival mansion, along with the history of the estate, which was a renowned thoroughbred stud farm with horses such as Seabiscuit and Secretariat tracing their lineage there. Belle Meade now operates a winery and offers wine tastings.
Travellers Rest (c.1799) is the oldest Nashville home open to the public. Owned by the Colonial Dames, it was the home of Memphis founder John Overton and has many original furnishings on exhibit. And Nashville’s crown jewel, The Hermitage, offers evening holiday tours highlighting the Christmas traditions of our nation’s seventh president, Andrew Jackson.
Come for the Music, Stay for the Food
Live music of all genres can be seen and heard in Nashville 365 days/nights of the year. The city boasts more than 160 music venues ranging from state-of-the-art event centers to famous clubs and hangouts like Blue Bird Café, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and The Basement. There is even an app for finding what’s on tap – or one can simply follow the guitar pick signs throughout the city.
Nashville offers an array of lodging options – from the amenity-filled Gaylord Opryland Resort to modern luxury and small boutique hotels. For downtown convenience and a prime location next to Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, the Omni Nashville can’t be beat. And Union Station, the newly remodeled boutique hotel in the city’s former train depot, is a standout for its well-executed blend of contemporary style and original 19th century design, highlighting the antique stained glass and vaulted ceilings.
Foodies will delight in exploring Nashville’s hip neighborhoods with an eclectic mix of restaurants and cuisine. Several that I tried came highly recommended and I gave them all a thumbs up for food and ambience: 5th and Taylor in Germantown serving American classics with a modern twist; Marsh House for seafood, located in the chic Thompson Hotel in the Gulch neighborhood; Chauhan Ale & Masala House – the locals’ favorite, offering a fusion of Indian and southern food (the owner’s craft brew goes down well with Indian spice!); and Husk Nashville – an extension of Husk Charleston located in a historic downtown house, featuring farm-to-table Southern cuisine. Martin’s BBQ does it right in a refurbished warehouse and new downtown location, and for a unique hot-dog stand, head to I Dream of Weenie, serving out of a VW bus in East Nashville. End on a high note with a great coffee at Barista Parlor. www.visitmusiccity.com.