Nashville is a very special place for many of us in country music, and I am no exception. I’ve frequently visited Music City and love the history, the vibe, and the people. I thought I would recount three of my favorite places to visit there for anyone who’s thinking about going, or who just wants to learn a little more about the home of country music.
The Ryman is one of the oldest buildings still standing in a comparatively modern city, but it almost didn’t survive to the present day. Built in 1892 by Christian convert and successful businessman Thomas Ryman, he constructed what was initially known as the Union Gospel Tabernacle, as a place for Nashvillians to attend large scale tent revivals. It took seven years to build and cost an astonishing equivalent of $2.7 million today, leading it into considerable debt from the beginning. While used as a place of worship in its early years, it was frequently leased out for secular purposes to tackle the debt, and throughout the first quarter of the twentieth century became a home for cultural and performing arts. It was also renamed the Ryman upon its founder’s death in 1904.
It wasn’t until 1925 that the Grand Ole Opry was conceived, and after hosting its live performances at several local venues, in 1943 the seminal radio show moved to its natural home at the Ryman. The reverent, church-like space still with its original pews and stage served to bring countless country music superstars to Nashville and the world, but by the 1970s was significantly deteriorating and facing demolition. The Opry was moved to what now stands at The Grand Ole Opry House, and the Ryman lay dormant for the next 20 years, although from time to time filming took place in the dilapidated building.
In the 1980s Gaylord Entertainment acquired the Ryman as one of its assets, and it’s the main reason the Auditorium is once again available for public use. They conducted restoration on the century-old structure throughout the 1990s, and it now lives as an historical performance space fit for modern use. It lies in the center of Nashville’s Broadway district, and frequently plays host to shows, public tours, and filming, with just as much charm and magic as it always had.
Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum
The Hall of Fame is one of the largest non-sports buildings in modern Nashville, and is nowadays quite a sight to behold. However, it had fairly humble beginnings, initially conceived in 1961 by the fledging Country Music Association. Together with the cultural non-profit Country Music Foundation, a structure was erected at the top of Music Row, housing a small number of artefacts and a library, while various icons from decades past were officially recognized as honored members of this new institution. The building itself first opened in 1967, with further expansion works occurring throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The collection continued to grow, and in 2001 it was decided that the museum would move to a much larger space at the heart of Downtown Nashville. The move was a rousing success, and visitors now enjoy substantial and thorough guided tours or free roaming. In 2014, a further $100 million expansion doubled its size, incorporating retail stores, classrooms, and much more, making it an all-rounded record of and tribute to country music in all its glory. It is a must-visit, and there is always more to experience there every time.
The district of Music Row may seem unassuming at first, comprised of a number of seemingly residential avenues and decorated with mostly traditional southern houses. However, look closer and you realize that many of these innocuous buildings play host to some of the most well-established publishing houses, record labels, songwriting offices, recording studios, radio networks, production houses, and licensing companies in the entire country music industry. The streets are often quiet during the day, and it’s a peaceful but magical walk around the quietly influential neighborhoods as well as the grand sites of ASCAP, BMI, and at the far end, Belmont and Vanderbilt Universities.
More recently investment has reached the area, and upscale restaurants and bars have encouraged the creeping in of gentrification, although there are equally local efforts to fight it and thus preserve the district’s rich history. Some of that history remains in the form of RCA Studios A and B, known as legendary recording houses for some of country music’s biggest stars as well as their similarly-statured peers from every other genre. There are studio tours that run regularly, and they are well worth it to stand where so many incredible events occurred and experience those spaces for yourself.
There is so much more to visit in Nashville than just these three places, but they are excellent places to start, and guaranteed informative and entertaining experiences that’ll leave you feeling richer.