Thousands of country fans visit Nashville each summer, with tube socks pulled high and fanny-packs cinched tightly. But where do the cool country fans go for fun? Here are 10 suggestions:
Bluegrass at the Ryman — On balmy Thursday nights, settle into an uncushioned pew at the Mother Church of Country Music for a vigorous bluegrass show. Vince Gill, the Del McCoury Band, Ricky Skaggs, Ralph Stanley and Marty Stuart are on the roster this year, ensuring the circle will not be broken. 116 5th Ave N. (615) 889-3060
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum — The treasure of downtown Nashville, the ambitious museum honors the legends. Don’t bypass the screens in the exhibit hall, because every film is worth watching. With a waterfall providing the ambience, the mighty good Sobro Grill serves a Southern lunch. 222 Fifth Ave N. (615) 416-2001
Ernest Tubb Record Shop — Strictly country and bluegrass albums fill this historic downtown store, along with cookbooks, souvenirs and cardboard stand-ups. Longtime country listeners will find Toby Keith right next to the Kendalls. This location was also featured in the film Coal Miner’s Daughter. 417 Broadway. (615) 255-7503
Katy K Designs at Ranch Dressing — Why settle for a souvenir T-shirt when you can buy the whole outfit? A woman with a keen eye for Western wear, Katy K serves the Nashville music video and hillbilly hipster community. On my last visit, they were playing a Porter Wagoner CD. How cool is that? 2407 12th Ave S. (615) 297-4242
Lower Broadway — Day or night, somebody’s paying their dues in the honky-tonks of Lower Broadway. Kenny Chesney and Terri Clark both got their start down here, and most of the clubs are cleaner inside than their rustic facades would indicate. Tootsie’s and Robert’s are longtime favorites, but the Stage (once a Roy Acuff museum) looms large.
Midnight Jamboree — The off-kilter audience is just as entertaining as the performer at this radio broadcast, held immediately following the Grand Ole Opry. Carol Lee Cooper emcees the show, often hosted by an Opry member. When things get tedious, walk the floor of Ernest Tubb’s Silver Eagle tour bus. 2416 Music Valley Dr. (615) 889-2474
NashTrash Tour — This pink bus skips the star homes for colorful neighborhoods and local lore. The fearless Jugg Sisters host the hilarious tour, complete with skits, squeeze cheese and prayers for Elvis. Alcohol encouraged. The 90-minute tour departs from the Farmer’s Market at the Bicentennial Mall, each worth a look. 900 8th Ave N. (615) 226-7300
Opry Plaza Parties — On the plaza of the Grand Ole Opry House, twangy bands like BR549 and the Derailers offer free concerts on Fridays and Saturdays. Bring a lawn chair, even if you have to buy it at nearby Opry Mills mall. Refreshments are available — and with our summers, you’ll need a drink. All ages welcome. 2804 Opryland Dr.
Pancake Pantry — A favorite of Garth and many on Music Row, Pancake Pantry is a Nashville classic. Breakfast is busy, but lunch is laid back. This is also where Reba filmed portions of her “Is There Life Out There?” video. Yes, the pancakes are heavenly, but they’ve got the best darn hash browns in town, too. 1796 21st Ave S. (615) 383-9333
Station Inn — Bluegrass dominates this windowless club seven nights a week. It’s in an unassuming building on the outskirts of downtown, and the folks couldn’t be friendlier. The Sunday bluegrass jams are free, and The Sideman on Tuesdays are always a sure bet. No reservations, no smoking, but there is popcorn for a buck. 402 12th S. (615) 255-3307