Dreamin' of Nashville
Two Sacramento, Calif., couples are headed for the country music capital, and they're looking for hot tunes and good eats.
Dale and Vicky Blackwell and Chuck and Joyce Maltese, of Sacramento, Calif. The Blackwells (wearing black hats in the photo) met 25 years ago when Vicky went to work for the equipment and party-rental company that Dale and his family own. "I always say he married me because I'm cheap labor," jokes Vicky. They still work together every day, albeit in separate parts of the business. The Blackwells' friends, Joyce and Chuck, have decided to join them on the trip to Nashville.
Where They're Going
"Dale and I are big fans of country music," says Vicky. "We're going to a trade show in Atlanta, so I figure we can extend our trip and drive up to Nashville." Along the way, the couple plans to stop at two Civil War battlefields: Lookout Mountain, outside Chattanooga, Tenn., and Stones River, near Murfreesboro, Tenn. "My great-great-grandfather is buried at Stones River," Dale explains. Chuck and Joyce will meet the Blackwells in Nashville. "We've traveled the world together and like to do a lot of the same things," says Vicky. "On our last trip, to Albuquerque, we rated all the different salsas and tequilas we tried. It was great fun!" Joyce adds that this will be the first visit to Nashville for her and Chuck, too. "We'll need to do the highlights of the touristy stuff, but then we want to go where the locals go."
How Can We Help?
History lessons: The couples agree that they'd like to experience a little history while they're in town. Dale already has The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson's home, on his must-see list. "Are there other mansions or plantations worth visiting?" Joyce wonders.
Hitting the right note: "We like country, jazz, and blues--in that order," says Vicky. "Where should we go to hear live music?"
Good eats: Chuck asks for the scoop on the best restaurants. "I'm not sure what the cuisine is down there, other than good old Southern food. We love that. Can you suggest some local hangouts?"
Beyond city limits: Though they plan to spend most of their time in Nashville proper, Vicky points out that they'll have a rental car. "What day trips would you recommend?"
A little splurge: "We'd love a nice dinner on our final night in town," says Joyce. "Know any places that'll knock the guys' socks off?"
When people think of Nashville, they think country. Music Row--the area southwest of downtown where labels like Sony BMG and Universal have offices--is where today's stars sign their multimillion-dollar contracts. But any music-history tour should start downtown with the thousands of photos, costumes, and instruments on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame (222 Fifth Ave. S., 615/416-2001, countrymusichalloffame.com, $18). Pay an additional $13 for the 30-minute bus tour to RCA Studio B, where everyone from Elvis to the Everly Brothers recorded in the '60s and '70s. After the tour ends back at the Hall of Fame, zip south to Arnold's Country Kitchen for a "meat and three" lunch, which includes one main, like fried chicken or ribs, and three sides (605 Eighth Ave. S., 615/256-4455, from $7, open weekdays till 2:45 p.m.).
Northeast of the Hall of Fame is the honky-tonk heaven of Lower Broadway. Robert's Western World has Pabst in a can and live music at most hours of the day (416 Broadway, 615/244-9552; no cover, but tip the bands). At Hatch Show Print, $10 will get you a reproduction of a Hank Williams or Patsy Cline promo poster (316 Broadway, 615/256-2805). A $16 tour of Ryman Auditorium--the Mother Church of Country Music and the original home of the Grand Ole Opry--includes a look backstage (116 Fifth Ave. N., 615/254-1445, ryman.com).
Luxury apartments and slick restaurants are popping up in the trendy Gulch area, the name given to the "valley" that the railroad system cuts through town. At Watermark, seasonal entrées include osso buco and rack of lamb, and tables have views of the skyline (507 12th Ave. S., 615/254-2000, entrées from $21). On Tuesday nights, there's a chance that some incarnation of the MuzikMafia, a posse led by country's biggest showmen, Big Kenny and John Rich, will be putting on a show nearby at 12th & Porter (114 12th Ave. N., 615/254-7250, cover from $5).
South of the Gulch is the up-and-coming 12South district, which is full of fun boutiques like Bloke, a men's clothing shop housed in an old body shop (2900 12th Ave. S., 615/292-5653). Among the vintage western wear at Katy K's Ranch Dressing, you might find great deals on original rhinestone suits or jackets by Manuel, Nashville's most famous tailor (2407 12th Ave. S., 615/297-4242). A protégé of the infamous West Coast "rodeo tailor" Nudie Cohn, Manuel is credited with making Elvis's flashy jumpsuits and with being the first to put Johnny Cash in black. At Manuel's own atelier downtown, custom-made shirts start at about $750 (1922 Broadway, 615/321-5444).