Music City has certainly earned its nickname. Nashville lives and breathes country music, and if you don’t arrive a fan, it’s likely you’ll leave one. On my recent trip back to Tennessee, I was lucky enough to experience the history and the magic of country music in three very special ways, and left with a deeper love and understanding of the city than I had before.
Want to feel the music too? Read on!
Attending The CMT Music Awards
My last trip to Nashville involved attending the CMT Music Awards, an exciting moment for me as my very first awards show. For this trip, within hours of landing at BNA Airport, my girl Kristin had whisked us downtown for another round at CMT, this time from the red carpet.
Kristin was covering the event for People Magazine, and I was basically her tag-along. And tag-along I did, silently geeking out over being within feet of Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman, Reba McEntire, Jason Derulo, Little Big Town, Florida Georgia Line, Kellie Pickler, basically the entire cast of Nashville (minus Rayna — RIP!) and about a billion other country dreamers that I’m not hip enough to know yet.
We didn’t stick around for the show this time (we decided to get a jump start on getting down to Bonnaroo, instead), but if you’re a country music fan, nab yourself tickets to this amazingly fun celebration of all things modern country music next year. Keep in mind Nashville can be a little crazy on this particular weekend, but it’s all part of the fun!
Catching a Show at The Grand Ole Opry
For true country fans, attending The Opry might not be something they do when they go to Nashville. It might be the reason they come to Nashville. Making a pilgrimage to “The Show that Made Country Music Famous” and the longest-running radio broadcast in US history is quite simply a must for anyone with a love of country music, music history, and live performance.
The Grand Ole Opry House is a short drive outside Central Nashville, and we took advantage of the location by stopping in East Nashville for drinks and bites at Urban Cowboy en route. I fell in love with East Nashville on this trip, and heading to The Opry is the perfect excuse to check it out before or after a show.
And then, we were off to the main event! There isn’t a person on the planet I’d be more excited to bring there than my cousin Kirsten, who had arrived in town a few days early for her Nashlorette Bash that weekend (more on that coming soon!). She is a country music fan to the rabid degree — I think even the staff at The Opry were giving her silent nods of respect for her level of enthusiasm.
While I might not be totally in the loop on the latest artists or super knowledgable about music history, I have always had a love for country music. I love the storytelling, the celebration of all things good and simple, and the strong sense of community that tends to come from artists performing in cowgirl boots.
My big Opry tip? Arrive early! It’s super simple to get going (will call is a breeze and there’s copious free parking, woop woop!) but you’ll want plenty of time to order drinks and snacks — the bar is stocked with local Tennessee treats like Arlington Vineyards wine and Pickers Vodka, and there are healthy options like hummus if you’re feeling peckish.
Plus — the place is beautiful! You’ll want plenty of time for pictures — assuming you’re photoshoot addicts like us, that is.
And then it was time for the show. Between its several shows a week, The Opry hosts more than a million country fans per year. Shows run every Friday and Saturday year round, with Tuesday shows added in from February to October and Wednesday shows joining the fun from June through August. And believe it or not, they still sell out all the dang time!
The cool thing about The Opry, which dates back to its roots as a radio broadcast in 1925, is that each show features a diverse lineup of artists who each play a few songs — it’s almost guaranteed you’ll be caught off guard by someone new, regardless of how country savvy you are. If you’re not a crazy country fan but still want a taste of the Nashville magic, it’s a great way to sample a wide variety of artists without committing to listening to one particular style all night long.
Opry tickets start from $38 and the theater is intimate enough that there’s really not a bad seat in the house. However, you might want to consider getting out of yours for a while, as we did.
There are three ways to get backstage at The Opry — well, four, if you count performing. Assuming none of my readers are up-and-coming country stars — though what the heck, you never know! — you’ll want to consider Daytime Tours ($26 for adults and $21 for kids), Post-Show Tours ($29 for adults and $24 for kids), and Behind the Opry Curtain VIP Tours ($150).
Personally, I’d stick to the latter two and combine with an actual performance, as you’d be crazy to miss one of those! However, if you have kidlets 11 and under in your crew, you’ll have to stick to the first two options, as the VIP tour is adults only. And if you happen to be in town on one of the rare days there isn’t an Opry performance, Daytime Tours do run seven days a week to whet your appetite for your next trip.
We were lucky enough to take one of the VIP Tours and wow, it really was VIP! We started out walking through the artist’s entrance, stopped by the artist’s mail room, and then took a stroll though a few of the eighteen plush dressing rooms performers prepare in (a few of which have doubled as sets for my beloved Nashville — come back Rayna!)
We even spontaneously got pulled into one dressing room to watch a live Periscope performance by the incredibly charming Charlie Worsham, who was on the Opry stage that night. Walking by rooms where bands were warming up to go onstage, hearing the rich history of this community from our tour guide, I really felt the allure that has been in the air of the Opry, in its various forms and homes, for nearly one hundred years.
Arguably the best part of the VIP experience? Standing onstage as the curtain rises! You’ll stand at side stage for the first performance of the evening, getting a similar perspective you might from the mic stand. After, you’re led back to your seat to enjoy the rest of the night from the floor.
You’d be hard pressed to find a country music legend that hasn’t played The Opry. And there are very few honors as special to a country artist as being asked to be a member of The Grand Ole Opry. Even being booked to perform on the stage is a career-changing moment, but being asked to join the Opry family as a member? That’s one of those humbling, mama-I-made-it moments.
One of my favorite parts of the evening was learning how strong the Opry family is, and all the beautiful stories that have gone into making this community of artists the magical phenomenon it still is today. If you want to hear stories sweet and salacious about everyone from Johnny Cash to Carrie Underwood, this is your spot!
It was the perfect Nashville night. We may have had to drag Kirsten out of there, but I was quite thrilled at the thought of keeping this promise: we’ll be back.
Touring The Ryman
So, I wasn’t exactly planning to tour the Ryman Auditorium on this trip. But after leaving The Opry House, I was itching to see the most famous prior home of the Grand Ole Opry.
Okay, bear with me here, it took me a minute to get it straight, too. The Ryman Auditorium is in downtown Nashville and hosted the Grand Ole Opry for 35 years. In 1974, the show had outgrown the smaller theater and relocated to its new home in the The Opry House, which we’d toured the previous evening.
However, the two are forever connected — an eight food circle of hardwood was taken from the Ryman to The Opry House, so artists stand together throughout time. And in the winter, The Grand Ole Opry makes a foray back to its home for a three month stretch while The Opry House dedicates itself to holiday happenings.
The Ryman is known as The Mother Church of Country Music, and it’s hard not to feel an almost spiritual connection to the music and the history of this Nashville legend built in 1892.
While seeing a show here is now at the very top of my Music City bucket list — the calendar is packed with artists of all genres, comedians, and conversations between famous speakers — this time around, we settled for one of the daytime tours. Here, you can get backstage with post-show tours ($25 for adults and $20 for kids), self-guided tours ($20 for adults and $15 for kids) and guided tours ($30 for adults and $25 for kids).
Our tour kicked off with a seriously impressive interactive theater presentation, followed by a guided journey through several dressing rooms and the stories of the artists they were dedicated to, rounded out by a walk through the grand theater itself.
Don’t miss the amazing posters lining the walls from past shows, designed by Hatch Show Print. Hungry? Grab a bite or a drink in the cute onsite cafe. Feeling a little more interactive? You can literally record a record here! What a fun gift for music lovers, no?
I don’t want to spoil too many surprises for the music fans headed here themselves, but I will say that I was once again blown away by the long and storied history of this theater, especially its greatest champion, Lula C. Naff. The tale of how this single mother and small town secretary secretly saved The Ryman in the early 1900’s, when for most women working outside the home was unthinkable, is one of my favorite stories of female entrepreneurship, ever.
Suffice it to say, I was feeling the music. Yes, there’s far more to Nashville than just country — much of which I’ll be highlighting in my upcoming posts — but it’s a rich part of what makes up the fabric of one of America’s most iconic cities.
What a way to kick off a week in Nashville! Are you a country music fan like me?
This post was brought to you by The Opry. As usual, I maintain full editorial control and as always all thoughts, opinions, and country music musings are my own.