Gracing The Big Stage

16 June 2016

We were sitting in a honky tonk bar where Jagermeister came cheap with a beer purchase and the cover band was performing a mix of dirt-road-driving songs.

At one point I stood up and started shouting, 'Zeppelin! Play some Zeppelin!'

In my defence we'd just seen Robert Plant live at the three-day Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, another good reason for visiting Tennessee in June. I was also a rookie when it came to knowing exactly what a honky tonk bar entailed.

Nashville street with neon-lighted honky tonk bars Follow the neon down Broadway (Image: Getty)

The bar in question was Honky Tonk Central, a three-story hall of fame to Nashville's favourite pastime sitting on Broadway, the city's main entertainment area.

They never played Led Zeppelin that night, but I quickly learned after a medley of Hootie and the Blowfish, Zac Brown Band, Elvis, CCR and Rascal Flatts covers that 'honky tonk' is grounded firmly in country music.

Perhaps that was the reason for Nashville's surplus of cowboy hat and boots stores, something I pointed out to my partner, Chelsea, the next day as she tried on her 17th hat in the fourth store.

While Chelsea browsed, I waited outside amongst squat Westernised saloons covered in neon, listening to songs played from a roadside jukebox. There's a jukebox for almost every famous country musician along Broadway – Elvis, Johnny Cash and even Keith Urban all have one.


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Dolly Parton performing on stage at the Grand Ole Oprey Dolly Parton performing on stage at the Grand Ole Oprey in 2005 (Image: Wikipedia)

It's hard to determine whether Nashville has more honky tonk bars, BBQ restaurants or Western apparel stores. Deciding on a place to eat can open up a rabbit hole, so we didn't over think it, going with BB King's Blues Club for live music and cheap Southern food.

We laid Nashville's music history and culture on thick that afternoon, visiting the Johnny Cash Museum, Country Music Hall of Fame and Music City Walk of Fame Park. Fans of Cash should give themselves half a day at the dedicated museum. I felt rushed with only 90 minutes to explore his memorabilia, live shows, writing and life story.

"Actors go to LA; musicians come to Nashville," said our Uber driver on the way to the Grand Ole Opry, where he'd performed the night before.

After our tour of the historic country-music venue it seemed farfetched that a part-time Uber driver could perform on the same stage as such icons as Dolly Parton and Alan Jackson, but that's exactly what happens in Nashville.

We waited in line for 80 minutes at the famous Bluebird Cafe to see a band we didn't know, because there's never a bad performance at the Bluebird. It's why Taylor Swift, Steven Tyler, Sheryl Crow and other international artists will happily perform to a packed room of 50 here.

This is true of anywhere in Nashville, whether its boot scootin' in the bars, cooking baby back ribs or remembering lost legends. The city knows how to put on a show, Zeppelin or no.


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Ben Stower

I love the kind of travelling that is one part strategic planning and two parts spontaneous adventure. Whether I'm exploring my local city or a small town in the middle of nowhere, I'm always hoping to find something no one else has discovered.