US Road Trip Travelog: 19th February 2005

As I walk down Broadway on Saturday morning the gigantic Gaylord Entertainment Center (the Gaylord family seem to own just about anything of importance in Nashville) is emptying. It's hell - thousands of over-excited teenagers on the streets. As they can't go into the bars they just wander around the sidewalk getting in the way and shouting at each other.

The Ryman Auditorium
The Ryman Auditorium, original home of the Grand Ole Opry.

I seek refuge in the Ryman Auditorium, quite appropriate as it was originally a church. The Grand Ole Opry is a fundamental part of the history of music in the US as, apart from the audience who saw the shows, it broadcast on the radio to a wide area and was listened to by both black and white farm workers. The great ambition of many aspiring musicians was to actually play there. The Opry itself moved out of town to the new complex in the early 1970's and the old building was left to deteriorate until ten years ago when it was restored by, you guessed it, the Gaylord family.

Inside the Ryman Auditorium
Inside the Ryman Auditorium, standing on the stage and looking out. You'd need a really wide-angle lens to get the full effect.

The Grand Ole Opry show relocates here in January and February, but during the day you can still pay your $8.50 and have a wander around. It's very impressive old place and the introductory film is very good at recreating the atmosphere it had in its heyday. I must admit, though, that I have no intention of seeing the show that's on tonight - the Opry has a tradition of being very conservative and I'm sure it won't be my kind of thing. The Ryman does host other bands when not on Opry duty, though, and if the band is a good one it should be a great place hear them.

After braving the sidewalks for a bit longer I find the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, a mecca for country music fans. After happily browsing away for a while I end up with Wanda Jackson and Hank Williams Jr CD's, despite currently having nothing to play them on. There are also record shops around selling vinyl LP's but I don't know if I could get them home safely.

After a while spent back in my hotel room, it's time to venture out and see what Saturday night in Nashville has to offer. Strangely enough, even though it's more crowded the atmosphere in the bars isn't as good as it was a few nights ago. I think, also, that I may be getting a bit jaded to the bars on Broadway and 2nd Avenue.

The problem is that most of the bands play for tips and not necessarily what they'd like to play. Most know one or two songs from each famous 50's or 60's artist, some Hank Williams Jr (he's a much bigger star here than I would've ever thought) and a few pop / rock / soul songs that they do in a country style. Ever heard the riff from 'Smoke On The Water' played on banjo? I have, and you're not really missing anything. The bands also keep asking the audience where they're from and for requests, in the hope of bigger tips. It can get quite embarrassing at times, as it did this evening, when no-one replies.

Time, then, for something different. Undaunted by last night's abject failure I walk out of town to the 3rd & Lindsley Bar and Grill (the cue to the location is in the name). $8 to get in, and it seems like a very smart and well-run place. First up on the bill is Andrew Vladeck, a singer-songwriter from New York. He's a young somewhat shambolic artist with an odd dress sense and tousled brown hair, playing guitar or banjo with a harmonica. Remind you of anyone? Despite that he's very good and his songs are amusing.

At this point, and purely in the interest of true reportage, I must say that this place is packed with the most beautiful young women in Nashville (and Nashville is a city that seems to attract or breed an awful lot of attractive women). From my seat at the bar they seem to be passing back and forth between me and the stage the whole time, which makes concentration very difficult. It's a tough life.

Anyway, next up on the bill are Mandalay, a band from Indianapolis in the mid-west. Meat and potatoes flat out rock music, and I'm loving it. This is the perfect antidote to the downtown scene. They start out with drummer, bassist and two guitars but this isn't noisy enough so they bring up a third guitarist. The first time ever, I think, that I've heard a band cover Pink Floyd - a song from The Wall, if memory serves - and they do it well. Very enjoyable.

Whilst the third band are setting-up I'm introduced, by themselves, to two young women who want the seats next to me at the bar. I can't for the life of me remember their names so I'll refer to them as Short Dark-Haired Friendly Tammy and Tall Blond Cheerleader Tammy (there are a lot of women called Tammy in Nashville). SDHFT does most of the talking and tells me where they're from, how often they come here, why they come here and just how much I'm going to enjoy 8 Mile who are playing next. TBCT doesn't say much, but then she doesn't really need to. I'm regaining my enthusiasm for Nashville.

Then two things happen - SDHFT tells me "I think you'll love the band - my parents do!", which puts me back in my proper place, and the band start playing. The band are very tight, and do a great cover of Prince's 'Let's Go Crazy', but basically it's bland jazz-funk rubbish. When SDHFT and TBCT go up to dance I pay my bar bill and scuttle off. Great venue, though, and a good night out.

US Road Trip Travelog: 20th February 2005 >