Dallas wasn’t really about Dallas, it was about J.R. Ewing. But the real star of ABC’s Nashville is Nashville, from those gorgeous skyline shots to The Grand Ole Opry. Nashville is a mecca of multiple sounds, from gospel to Americana to blues and it’s home to more than a dozen venues (including The Bluebird Café, seen weekly on TV) where hundreds of careers were launched. The city isn’t as glamorously soapy as the series, but the show gets two things exactly right: the sound and the energy. It’s a little like Old Hollywood, packed with thousands of young hopefuls, working to make their dreams come true.
1. The Country Music Hall of Fame and MuseumIf The Ryman Auditorium is country music’s Mother Church, welcome to its Vatican. Rhinestone stagewear shares space with iconic instruments, such as the guitar Maybelle Carter used on “Wildwood Flower.” There are new exhibits devoted to Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and, yep, Nashville, and a major Reba McEntire retrospective opening in August. Weekends regularly feature performances and panels with country legends. Plus there’s a lunch café with tableside music by guitar ace David Anderson, and the gift shop has Hatch Show Print posters. It’s a great way to spend the day before honky-tonkin’ the night away. 222 Fifth Ave. South, (615) 416-2001, http://countrymusichalloffame.org/
2. Third Man RecordsYou’ve got to bring home music from Music City, and nothing embodies New Nashville like this record boutique owned by the White Stripes’ Jack White. This is the home of small-batch, limited-edition, beautifully-packaged vinyl, much of it recorded right here in Third Man’s performance studio. 623 Seventh Ave. South, (615) 891-4393, http://thirdmanrecords.com/
3. Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack Nashville’s signature dish is Hot Chicken and this is the place to try it. It’s a foodie destination in a run-down strip mall where the lines are long and the sides are irrelevant. The draw is that gloriously incendiary mess of orange-crusted chicken, topped with pickle slices and piled onto white bread. Everything’s fried to order and takes time, but it’s quintessentially Nashville. Don’t even think of ordering Extra Hot. 123 Ewing Dr., (615) 226-9442
4. 3rd & LindsleyEveryone in town plays and sings, so those at the top of the heap are just ridiculously good. Every Monday—an “off night” in ordinary cities—the peak of that heap is at this downtown bar and grill named after its location. You’ll catch the 11-piece Time Jumpers, Nashville’s premier western swing outfit, featuring Vince Gill and 10 other singers and pickers of equal caliber. Everyone from Jimmy Buffett to Bonnie Raitt has sat in. Plus the food’s good and drinks are cheap. Come early; doors open at 5:30 p.m. but the line starts around 4. 818 Third Ave. South, (615) 259-9891, http://3rdandlindsley.com/
5. Battle of FranklinYou’re in Civil War country, and one of the most important—and bloodiest—melees was the Battle of Franklin (today a Nashville suburb) on November 30, 1864. When it was over, 2,300 were dead, most Confederates, including six generals. The Rebel army never recovered. Nearby, the Carnton Plantation served as a field hospital (blood still stains the floorboards). Carnton Plantation, 1345 Carnton Ln., Franklin, (615) 794-0903
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