Editor's note: With the CMA Music Festival rolling into high gear this week, many first-time visitors to Nashville will get acquainted with Music City during bus tours that transport fans past the homes of country stars. A CMT.com intern recently bought a ticket and offered her observations.
While visiting Nashville, it's hard to pass up the chance to look at the homes of country music's biggest stars. The thrill of being so close to the homes of the rich and famous is just too strong for most of us to resist.
As a newcomer to Nashville, I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I signed up for one of the tours highlighting country stars' homes. As the 25-passenger bus picked me up, however, I had a feeling I was in for an entertaining time.
The tour started with a brief drive in downtown Nashville discovering the stories behind places like the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and the legendary Tootsie's Orchid Lounge. By the time the tour was over, I learned where many stars live now, where some lived in the past, the history behind the homes and even a little gossip that seemed to make the three hours pass by in 20 minutes. The former homes of Minnie Pearl, Hank Williams, Tammy Wynette and Waylon Jennings are all on the route. The current homes of many stars -- Dolly Parton, Trace Adkins, Kix Brooks, Ronnie Dunn, Alan Jackson, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw -- are just a few we passed.
As for the tour guide, he was a trip all on his own. Talking very rapidly so as to not deprive us of any information we needed, he had a way of slipping in jokes to keep us laughing.
With a fast staccato delivery, the guide noted, "As-we-drive-out-of-town, you-may-recognize-Nashville's-legendary-golden-arches."
"Is there any chance you could speak a little slower?" the woman behind me asked, afraid she had missed important information, not realizing it was a joke about McDonald's.
"Slow down? Sure," the bus driver said while he took a deep breath and roared into the next sentence. "Now-next-we-will-be-coming-up-to ... ."
We were sure not to talk over him because, as we learned quickly, we may miss who owned the house we were approaching. I was sure to ask questions throughout the tour because it appeared that this well-versed guide had more information about Nashville's stars than the books at the local library could hold.
Laws were recently passed to forbid tour buses from stopping in front of stars' homes, but that didn't deter our driver. It was easy to snap pictures in front of the homes. After all, at one mile an hour, the tires are still moving.
It's fascinating to ride past the stars' homes and realize they're not necessarily the biggest houses on the block. Many are like the houses you might see in any town. For instance, Adkins' two-story home is beautiful but rather modest when compared to the four-story mansion on the hill just past his property.
Jennings' home, "Southern Comfort" as he named it, was another place we rolled past on the tour. The green house and matching fence surrounding it set the home apart from the cliché white-pillared homes of many of the other stars.
"You know if I was just driving by some of these houses on my own I would never guess that this is where some of these people lived," one woman told me as we drove by the Jennings' home.
This is not to say that some of the homes are not magnificent. Dolly Parton's six-pillared home sits just off the road, along with her guesthouse and many acres surrounding them. Among the wealthiest women in country music, Parton has many houses to call her own, including ones in Los Angeles, New York City and Nashville, but she has owned this particular one for 25 years. It's the one she calls home.
The driver informed us that many of the houses sat behind wrought iron fences and security gates to keep out intruders. After hearing this, I had the fleeting feeling I was the stalker he was speaking of as we drove past more homes at incredibly slow speeds. He continued to tell us that some stars ask to be taken off the tour to keep some privacy.
Not all the homes sit far back and are closed off. Some stars even enjoy the tour buses and will come out and wave to assure you that this is their residence. One person known for doing this is Grand Ole Opry member Little Jimmy Dickens. Though the guitar-shaped mailbox and musical notes on the balcony give away the fact that a musician lives there, we learned Dickens will come out onto his balcony from time to time and wave at the fans.
Last, but certainly not least, on the tour was a brilliant home that could probably squeeze my entire apartment in the master bathroom alone. This enormous estate includes a garage which houses 54 cars and a cabin for writing those hits we all love. It belongs to none other than Alan Jackson. It took my breath away and was worth the whole trip to see.
"That is unlike any home I have ever seen," said an older woman sitting near me. We wondered what it would be like to live in the cabin on his property. "It's probably nicer than my home," she joked.
So what brought all of us strangers together for this trip?
"I was just looking for a tour where I didn't have to walk," said an older lady from West Chester County, N.Y.
"My wife is in love with Vince Gill, and so we just had to see his house," said a gentleman from Canada.
Me? Well, being new to the area, I wanted a chance to see all that Nashville had to offer. Regardless of our reasons, the tour kept us on the edge of our seats, and we were sad to see it end.
As we made our return into the city, we sat back in our seats and relaxed to the sounds of Alan Jackson's "Here in the Real World." How appropriate.