|Cumberland River, Nashville|
Until this week I hadn’t, but it had been a dream, since my seven year old self began listening to music, to one day head to Music City.
I visited the southern US city during the annual shindig known as CMAFest, where for one week each June an additional 400,000 visitors are drawn into the streets of the Tennessee capital. And there is room for everyone at the live music festival, where country fans celebrate, and are celebrated by, country artists and the country music association. I mean celebrated to the point of free pizza slices (thanks, Hunt Brothers!) and shots EVERY DAY during the four-day festival (thanks to the pop up Flora Bama bar).
With 12 hours of amazing line ups across the exaggerated weekend (it’s officially a Thurs-Sun thing, but the wise ones turn up the week before, and leave the week after to make sure they don’t miss any of their favourite artists) there are over 300 musicians in town, with headliners taking over the Nissan Stadium every night.
Each artist performs for half an hour, with lots of guest appearances. Some musicians were generous, like the Brothers Osborne, and shared the floor with other acts (Brooks and Dunn and Ashley McBryde) others will manage to play 20 songs in 30 minutes (Eric Church).
But hang on - you don’t need to love country music to pop down to Nashville.
Country music as a genre has widened so much over the last five years that there aren’t line blurs as much as different perceptions. Country has always worked well with rock and blues, and now embraces R 'n' B.
Quite simply, if you like music, you’ll love Nashville, where outrageously excellent music pours out of every bar, on every floor, all day long, from five decades.
I've never been anywhere else quite like it, and can't wait to return.
Fly: Although British Airways now offer direct flights from the UK to Nashville, these were double the price of our flights which brought us in via Chicago (try to avoid Dallas; that route was cancelled on both legs of our journey). Depending on airlines and deals flights range from $500-$1000.
Stay: We stayed at the DoubleTree (part of the Hilton family) in downtown Nashville, which was on 4th Avenue, North. It is also only a 15-20 minute walk (even in flip flops) to the Nissan Stadium (home of the Tennessee Titans football team) where you’ll spend all your nights, if you buy show tickets. It cost $25 each way in a taxi from the airport to the hotel. You can Uber/Lyft. You can look for the $1 bus that will take you nearby, and there’s a free circular bus (either green or blue route).
Play: Eating and Drinking
Nashville hot chicken is a thing, but not for my Korma-can-tingle taste buds. Pulled pork and briskets are popular, as are staple beer foods, like fried catfish, fries and any kind of chicken. Beer is very popular; I went for cocktails and they went for me.
Slay: we bought four-day passes, for around $300 dollars, which gives you access to the evening shows (acts are on from 7:20pm until around 1:00 am and excellent value for money). The four-day pass also allows entry into the indoor Music City Center where there were three official stages (which handily offered shelter from the storms and heat). You could buy a separate pass for this venue, if you didn’t want to do the Nissan Stadium shows.
There are free shows around the Bridgestone Arena and the Cumberland River, and all shows have tight security.
ONLY small clutch bags, or small clear see-through bags, which is understandable. What I couldn't understand was the absolutely NO SNACKS rule (the agony of watching your unopened peanuts fly into the trash can were real) and no water in the venue (although I appreciate people could bring in the gin in the Evian). There are refillable stations at most of the stages, in one of the most creative marketing ideas I have ever seen:
Well, JD is (Lynchburg) Tennessee.
The only exception to refillable-stations-everywhere was the Forever Country stage, where you could have died from dehydration if you didn’t fancy a beer at 11am. And by day 4 I couldn't have even contemplated a Kamikaze before lunch.
What if I don’t like music and I’ve just gone with my family or friends who do?
There are plenty of historical sights to keep you occupied in Nashville, most of which are country themed, such as the Ryman Auditorium, the Johnny CashMuseum and Old Town Trolley tours. You can travel the 10-12 miles out to visit The Grand Ole Opry, or if fixtures are on your side catch the NHL Predators at Bridgestone Arena. If you’re into craft there is a large Joann’s store in Hendersonville – about $20 each way in an Uber.
Nashville sits on the Cumberland River, and there are some lovely nature walks to be enjoyed, I expect; the only time I crossed the river was for the Nissan Stadium. Maybe I'll save the natural parks and recreation for my next visit?
So, have you ever been to Nashville? Were you at CMAFest this year?
Disclaimer: Aside from the free pizza and shots, which everyone at CMAFest was able to enjoy, I paid for this trip myself (I am THAT dedicated to country music) and all opinions and suggestions are my own.