Before heading to my dad and step-mom's place on the west side of town, we took a quick tour of East Nashville, a newly-gentrified and hipsterized former semi-ghetto. When I lived there 20-odd years ago, it was where the producers of Cops came for hot police action. Now it's likelier to attract a crew from House Hunters. Today's East Nashville is a bit like the Heights, if the Heights was as Austin-y as some would like it to be. While you are in the area, head over to the ungentrified side of East Nashville to Prince's Hot Chicken. This venerable Nashville institution offers a Music City specialty: mind-blowingly, psychedelically spicy fried chicken. When comedian Marc Maron visited town a year or two back, he likened the experience of eating the medium-grade yardbird here to taking drugs, and also reported that he was told that white people were not allowed to order the spiciest chicken on the menu. Prince's is just off Dickerson Road, Nashville's funky, seedy answer to Telephone Road.
After a whirlwind trip through downtown, we passed through Elliston Place, one of my former haunts. Here you will find the Gold Rush, a fantastic and enormous two-story dive bar / Mexican restaurant favored by rowdy songwriters; the fly-in-American-Graffitti-amber Elliston Place Soda Shop; and the Exit/In, one of the city's oldest and most famous music venues.
Nearby is Centennial Park, site of Nashville's Parthenon replica, which houses an awe-inspiring statue of Athena. It's free and a can't-miss. While there grab some Tennessee 'cue with unusual white sauce at Hog Heaven across the street and a cold one at Springwater, another of the top dives in the southeast.
Another must is the Tennessee State History Museum downtown. A current exhibit showcases the life's work of the late LaMarque-bred David Schnaufer, the foremost performer and historian of the mountain dulcimer, and there's also this:
Sam Houston's ex-wife's guitar, on which Eliza Allen Houston likely performed only blues, at least in the few weeks of her marriage to our city's flamboyant founder. Houston, you'll remember, was once the governor of Tennessee before fate beckoned him southwestward. In fact it was this divorce that propelled him from Nashville and off into the Indian Territory for one of his epic whiskey-jags.
A few years back Nashville repurposed its old art deco downtown post office as The Frist Center for the Visual Arts, and it's always worth a visit. Current exhibits include American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell and 30 Americans, an excellent overview of contemporary African-American art.
Above: Kehinde Wiley. Equestrian Portrait of the Count Duke Olivares, 2005.
My dad was once an archivist at the Country Music Hall of Fame, so I spent a good bit of time in that institution's old building and was sorry to see it go. Thankully, it's replacement betters it in pretty much every way, from the Hatch Show Print shop and press in the lobby to the exhibit halls and Taylor Swift-donated music education center.
Current exhibits include a fascinating history of the rise and rise of the Bakersfield Sound made famous by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard (and later reprised by Dwight Yoakum among many others). There's another on the many incarnations of Reba McEntire and a display of testosterone-addled relics belonging to Lee Greenwood of "God Bless the USA" fame.
Don't miss the cars: Elvis's gold-plated Cadillac complete with backseat TV set, a marvel of the time, and even better, Webb Pierce's gun- and horn-bristling, silver dollar-encrusted '62 Pontiac Bonneville. The historical exhibit Sing Me Back Home guides viewers and listeners on a voyage from country music's origins in the British Isle and Africa through to Luke Bryan et al.
Other exhibits give shout-outs to various C&W subgenres like bluegrass, Western swing and the Outlaw Movement of Waylon and Willie. There is also lots and lots of sparkly stage attire, like this Gram Parsons Gilded Palace of Sin jacket (designed by Nudie) that my stepmother Melanie Wells has loaned to the collection:
You'd be a fool not to take in the current Music City scene in the flesh and on the streets. Songwriter hangs all over town (The Bluebird, in Green Hills, is basking in the glow of its exposure on the TV show Nashville) but for a quick dip in the real deal, head to Robert's Western World on Lower Broad, Nashville's Sixth Street. If Don Kelley is playing, you're in for a treat. Kelley is a repository of traditional country and always, always has a rising star picking guitar at his side in his hard-charging band. Robert's is also the home of the Nashvegas / Rio de Janeiro fusion Brazilbilly, which sounds enticing but that we can't vouch for personally.
Take it away Don Kelley...