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Which came first: Nashville, Indiana’s name or its diehard love of all things country? The world may never know. But this cozy town doesn’t seem to care either way, and embraces its nickname, “Little Nashville.” Located in southern Indiana about a half hour from Bloomington, Nashville was previously known for the Little Nashville Opry, which hosted stars such as Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Toby Keith, and Emmylou Harris before the building tragically burned to the ground in 2009. The disaster cut deep, but Nashville stayed true to its countrified personality and remains a perfect family-friendly getaway.
Song and Dance
According to folks on the ground, the Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival is one of the world’s oldest. Bill Monroe, otherwise known as the “Father of Bluegrass,” began recording in Indiana in the 1930s and started the Bean Blossom festival in 1966 to capitalize on the country’s folk revival. This year (June 8–15) is the event’s 47th birthday, and organizers will celebrate with more than 50 bands, instrument workshops, and a kiddie bluegrass camp.
Just five miles north of Nashville is the Bluegrass Hall of Fame & Country Star Museum, started in 1984 by Monroe himself to memorialize country’s most enduring stars. The museum features everything from self-guided tours to instruments to memorabilia donated by country legends like Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash.
Maybe the best part about country music is dancing to it. And some dance barns are still kicking, including Mike’s Music and Dance Barn, located between Bloomington and Nashville. Not only can the whole family try out line dancing that goes beyond the “Electric Slide” (note to America: please stop doing the “Electric Slide”), but Mike Robertson and his saxophone fronts the house Smooth Country Band for weekly shows.
Brown County Playhouse—home to the inaugural Brown County Music Awards, held in March, and the second annual Finger-Style Guitar Competition (July 27)—is a small but mighty show venue. See everything from Nashville Dance Studio’s take on The Wizard of Oz (May 23 & 24) to a John Denver tribute Concert (June 22) and a rare performance by Texas-based cult-favorite folk musician Bob Cheevers (June 29).
The Great Outdoors
Located at Nashville’s Valley Branch Retreat, the 1,000-acre eXplore Brown County retreat ranch is basically an adrenaline-themed Disneyland. Hop on one of their 14 zip lines, which range in difficulty from beginner (the “Bunny Run”) to advanced (the “Screamer,” so named because it’s Indiana’s fastest). And for those who enjoy hurtling through darkness, eXplore also offers nighttime zip line tours. Paintball fields are available for more hawkish visitors, or you can explore graveyards, pioneer homes, and Indian campgrounds from the late 1800s on an ATV tour. And when you’re finally tuckered out from all that extreme awesomeness, settle in for the night at one of the Retreat’s rustic cabins.
For a slightly more genteel activity, try horseback riding at Rawhide Ranch, a family-friendly hotel and barn in the middle of Brown County. The ranch is a full-service family fun emporium, offering hayrides, fishing, and geocaching—a real-world treasure hunt using GPS coordinates. Sleep in one of the ranch houses or inn rooms, or—if you’re extra adventurous (or curious)—bed down in Tipi Village, a campground with lodges “styled after the Sioux design.” Each tipi sleeps eight—just make sure that you actually like your family.
After your exhausting day of thrilling activities (or terrifying activities, as the case may be), grab a bite to eat at Muddy Boots Café, known for its from-scratch dishes (including an all-day breakfast menu), live music every night of the week from March through December, and unique artwork created by the employees themselves. Order up a chicken artichoke wrap, salmon burger, or BBQ pulled pork sandwich, and don’t leave without trying a glass of lavender lemonade. The kids’ menu has small-fry favorites like mac-and-cheese, pasta marinara, cheese quesadilla, and that old standby, PB&J.
Originally published in the April 2013 issue