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  • Writer's pictureJeff Epps

Music City USA

I grew up about 200 miles, or about 3 hours from Nashville, Tennessee. Growing up in the southern Midwest (or Upland South), I have always been partial to both country music and Southern culture. For those not familiar with the Upland South, here is a map to illustrate just where it is in the USA.

Map of the Upland South in the United States

Nashville was always like a Disney World or Grand Canyon kind of place to the folks who grew up within a 300-mile radius of it. Since there are at least 7 country music radio stations in southern Illinois, Nashville has always been an ideal place to visit for those in my generation who grew up listening to Garth Brooks, George Strait, Reba McEntire, Faith Hill, and many others.

Garth Brooks at the Grand Ole Opry

Nashville is the largest city in the State of Tennessee with about 1.9 million people (metro) and has a very wide variety of attractions for everyone.

Nashville Skyline

These attractions include the Grand Ole Opry (Opryland), Ryman Auditorium, the Parthenon, Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, Cheekwood, Belle Meade Plantation, the Hermitage, Riverfront Park, Music Row, and my personal favorites Second Avenue (Market Street) and Broadway Street. I'll discuss these more later.

My last trip to Nashville was special because it was a part of my "Around the World in Two Weeks" travel campaign, which was a journey that marked my first time circumnavigating the world. I left Wuhan, China traveling west and came back to Wuhan, China from the east. What an amazing trip I had!!

My last trip to Nashville would be the fourth time that I'd visited the city. I visited once with three friends, two from Illinois and an Army buddy of mine in 1998, while we were soldiers stationed at Ft. Riley, Kansas, and then again with the same Army buddy and my brother later the same year. The third visit was on the Greyhound bus en route to Tampa, Florida in 2005. But the first three times just didn't add up to the fourth time for several reasons.

First of all, I was with a very special friend of mine and second, I was able to finally see the Grand Ole Opry for the very first time. Also, I experienced Broadway Street for the first time and WOW!! It was SO much fun!!

Grand Ole Opry House

Broadway Street near the Cumberland River

These three factors made my fourth trip to Nashville much more special.

I arrived at the Nashville International Airport from Miami and I knew within 5 minutes after disembarking the plane where I was. It was pretty obvious.

Nashville International Airport

The wall decor near baggage claim was a nice confirmation that I was indeed in Music City USA in the beautiful State of Tennessee, a land of great music, great food, great people, and the good ole Southern hospitality that every person needs to witness at least once in their lives. I was set to have one of the most most memorable and exciting experiences of my life.

Americas Best Value Inn

I booked a cheap hotel because I had been doing a lot of traveling the two weeks prior, throughout Asia and Europe, and I wanted to keep expenses low and within my planned budget. But you usually do get what you pay for.

I don't mind staying at these cheap places, as they are especially good for short stays and when I travel I tend to spend just a couple of days in one place. This gives me a chance to cover more ground and to see the best of the best in a short amount of time. Don't get me wrong, some places (most places) warrant a much longer stay but I only had so much time to spare.

The only bad aspect of staying in these cheap hotels is that like most hostels, they tend to attract cheap people. I don't just mean price-conscious people, I mean people who are drunks, druggies, criminals, etc.

This is no disrespect to price-conscious travelers, I am one of them.

But to give one a better understanding of what I'm talking about, I challenge people to stay at a budget hotel, like Hotel 6 or Americas Best Value Inn, in a large U.S. city of their choice, and then take a trip to the vending machine from your hotel room between 10pm and 2am and take a look around yourself and observe what you see. Make sure you're careful.

Do this and you'll understand why I don't like these kinds of places.

But, nonetheless, I was aiming for a great time and that's what I got.

Day 1 (Grand Ole Opry)

As a kid growing up in southern Illinois (with Texas roots), the Grand Ole Opry was the mecca of all musical shows. That is, for those of us who liked country music. Many country musicians would sing about the Opry, stars such as Hank Williams, Jr., George Strait, George Jones, and many other have sang about (and performed at) the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

(NOTE: George Strait is not a member of the Grand Ole Opry).

Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee (USA)

The Grand Ole Opry is a weekly country, bluegrass, folk, and gospel music stage concert that started on November 28th in 1925 by George D. Hay. It was originally a one-hour program that began airing on WSM radio. It is the longest running radio broadcast in U.S. history. It is currently owned and operated by Opry Entertainment, a division of Ryman Hospitality Properties, Inc. Nowadays, it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors around the world and millions of radio and Internet listeners as a world-famous show.

"The Show that Made Country Music Famous" is the primary slogan of the Grand Ole Opry, other popular slogans include, "Home of American Music," and "Country's Most Famous Stage." Regardless of which slogan is more popular, the Grand Ole Opry is synonymous which legendary country music.

Ryman Auditorium on 116 5th Avenue North (near Broadway)

By the 1930s the show had grown in popularity and more money was being made from the performances, therefore, production became more sophisticated. The show had expanded to four hours and by 1939 it was being featured on NBC Radio. The Grand Ole Opry moved to the Ryman Auditorium in 1943, a Nashville landmark that still stands and is still used today. However, the Grand Ole Opry moved to the Grand Ole Opry House in east Nashville in 1974. But since 1999, the Grand Ole Opry has a three-month annual winter venue back at the Ryman Auditorium.

Grand Ole Opry

The Grand Ole Opry is the reason why Nashville is considered the "country music capital" and is also why Nashville is called, "Music City USA."

Grand Ole Opry in Nashville (at the Grand Ole Opry House)

I believe that even for visitors who are traveling to and through Nashville, who aren't country music fans, an evening at the Grand Ole Opry is an experience like none other that anyone can appreciate and remember for the rest of their life. It's a world-famous venue that always offers a great time.

Grand Ole Opry in Nashville (at the Ryman Auditorium)

I had actually booked my Opry tickets in advance while in Lisbon, Portugal. They were $100 apiece (not including tax) for the balcony Premium Mezzanine seats, which were excellent seats because of the view on the edge of the balcony. In fact, I believe that these seat were probably better than the Platinum seats, which were the seats directly in front of the stage. At least from a photographer/videographer perspective, I was able to get better footage with my camera on the edge of the balcony. Our seats were in Section 18 in the D Zone of the Mezzanine seating area.

Grand Ole Opry House Seating Map (refer to the link for show seat pricing details)

Since I was meeting up with an old friend, a special old friend, I wanted it to be a special and memorable night and so by having great seats at the Opry, I knew that it would help make the night that much better. And it couldn't have been a better night, especially with the likes of Carrie Underwood, Mark Wills, Jillian Jacqueline, among others, taking the stage that evening.

Carrie Underwood at the Grand Ole Opry

Mark Wills at the Grand Ole Opry

Jillian Jacqueline at the Grand Ole Opry

Krista met up with me at the hotel a couple of hours before showtime and we headed toward the Gaylord Opryland Resort to do some sightseeing before the show. We were both excited as neither of us had ever been to the Grand Ole Opry before. There were many highlights to my world tour last summer, but this particular night would be hard to beat. This was the Gran Ole Opry.

We were going to see the Grand Ole Opry!!

40th Anniversary Celebration at the Grand Ole Opry House in 2014

We arrived at the Grand Ole Opry House around 8pm. We were going to see the second show of the evening, which began at 9:30pm. The first show was from 7pm to 8:30pm. We needed to get there early enough to find a decent parking place and also, to check out some of the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. We walked through the shopping mall toward the Grand Ole Opry House to manage our time and to "kill two birds with one stone." The shopping venue alone is almost second to none.

Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center

This place, altogether, is amazing and is a top tourist attraction that brings people to Nashville from all over the globe. Two days in Nashville just isn't enough and I strongly recommend to any visitor to Music City to at least spend a week there. Nashville has so much to offer. We had to wait outside of the Grand Ole Opry House until they opened the doors to let patrons in for the second show of the evening. They needed to clean up from the first one.

I can't explain the feeling that I got when we arrived at the Grand Ole Opry House, but the goosebumps began to take place on my skin and I could feel the butterflies inside my stomach. I grew up listening to the country stars who made the Grand Ole Opry famous and now, I was about to witness some of these same stars, first-hand. We had excellent seats, an awesome view, and an hour and a a half of star-studded performances coming up.

What made this night so special for me, other than being with an old friend, was the fact that I was back home, in America, and was around people who were like me. People who shared the same interests as me, who came from families like mine, and who grew up with the culture of the Upland South, which hears the sounds of Nashville loud and clear.

This was all special to me.

Not to mention, I am so used to being around Asian people from my 7 years of being in China that the reverse culture shock that I was experiencing was bittersweet and heart-warming and I wish it could have lasted longer.

I would have never imagined, from all my travels, that a vacation so close to home could mean so much to me and create so many great memories.

We enjoyed our ice-cold Bud Light beers along with our country tunes.

That night at the Grand Ole Opry House, I felt pure heavenly nirvana.

Grand Ole Opry (slideshow)

Grand Ole Opry at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee (video)

After the show was over, Krista gave me a ride back to my hotel.

We said our goodbyes, as we had before, and parted ways once again.

The next day was going to be just as good, but at a different Nashville locale.

Broadway Street in Nashville, Tennessee (Honky Tonk Highway)

Day 2 (Lower Broadway Street)

I woke up the next morning, not too bad of a hangover, and I had a cup of coffee and grabbed some cheap hotel breakfast. I then pointed my sights toward another top Nashville tourist attraction, one that is perfect for the bar hopper, the music lover, the hell raiser, and the lover's extraordinaire.

I had never been to Broadway Street (AKA Honky Tonk Highway).

And I was in for a real treat.

Hard Rock Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee

First stop, Hard Rock Cafe, of course, because it was the closest place to where the taxi dropped me off AND because I love Hard Rock Cafe. Just about every city I travel to I always look out for this place. It's a great place to dine and drink and make new friends, and listen to great live bands play.

I also needed a good lunch to soak up all the alcohol that I was about to consume on my all-day bar-hopping journey down the Honky Tonk Highway.

My plan was to start on the north side of Broadway, work my way west, and then cross the street to the south side and head back east.

I did just that and my first stop after the Hard Rock Cafe was Cotton Eyed Joe.

John Rich, from the band, Big & Rich

The next stop was my favorite, by far, because of many reasons.

If you know John Rich, from Big & Rich, then you know he's not afraid to speak his mind about any subject, including politics. And that's one reason why I was looking so forward to visiting the Redneck Riviera.

John Rich's Redneck Riviera, Broadway Street, Nashville, Tennessee

While at the Redneck Riviera, I ran into a fellow SIUC Alumnus who was from Chicago. He said that he loved Nashville, and I was surprised that he was from Chicago. He seemed to have assimilated into the Nashville culture.

Big & Rich, Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy (video)

Next up was a Hank Williams' Jr.-themed bar.

Whiskey Bent Saloon, Broadway Street, Nashville, Tennessee

Whiskey Bent Saloon hosts weekly musical performances, record release parties, corporate dinners, wedding receptions, among other events.

The Frontier Room, located on the second floor, is great for private parties and can accommodate up to 150 guests. It has a bar and separate restrooms.

One can even rent the first and second floors of the Whiskey Bent Saloon, which can accommodate up to 300 guests!! The first floor features a large main bar, a small bar, a private stage, separate restrooms, and a VIP room.

Next stop, Crazy Town. It was a good time. A unique kind of place.

Crazy Town, Broadway Street, Nashville, Tennessee

Crazy Town is a great place to bring groups of people, as it features three levels of live music, six custom bars, three stages, two outdoor patios, and a great view of Broadway Street. No reservations are required!!

The Valentine was my next stop on the north side of Broadway Street.

The Valentine, Broadway Street, Nashville, Tennessee

The Valentine is a 4-story upscale saloon that has a large rooftop patio and numerous private event spaces. It has a 1920s/30s Prohibition Era theme.

There is a wide selection of food and drinks on the menu and musical performances weekly. The 3rd floor and rooftop hosts DJs on the weekends.

The next stop was Tin Roof.

The original Tin Roof opened in 2002 near Nashville's Music Row to give musicians of all levels and ambitions a place to relax when they weren't performing, writing, composing, producing, or recording music.

However, the one that I visited was on Lower Broadway.

Located at 316 Broadway, this venue features two floors with its own stage and entertainment lineup, as well as a 3rd level patio for patrons to enjoy.

There is live music every single day from 11am to 2:30am.

The hours for the Lower Broadway venue are from 11am to 3am.

Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, Broadway Street, Nashville, Tennessee

The Nashville venue is similar in many respects, though it does have its own unique flavor. I didn't stay in there long, but I had a beer and checked it out.

Margaritaville has live music on the weekends, a menu that offers a variety of eats, a retail store for souvenirs, and even hosts groups and events.

The hours for Margaritaville are Friday to Saturday, 11am-2am and Sunday to Thursday, 11am-12am. Margaritaville is always worth a stop.

Maybe you will get lucky and catch Jimmy Buffett there.

Five O' Clock Somewhere, Jimmy Buffet, Alan Jackson (video)

Dierks Bentley's Whiskey Row, Broadway Street, Nashville

Dierks Bentley

Dierks Bentley is a world-renowned country music star who made his 2003 debut with his self-titled album and hit song, "What Was I Thinkin."

Bentley's studio albums have accounted for 25 singles on the Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay charts, in which 16 have reached number one.

Dierks Bentley's Whiskey Row, Broadway Street, Nashville

Whiskey Row offers a variety of options for its visitors, including a full menu of food and drinks, private events and VIP flight service, and live bands and DJs.

Dierks Bentley's Whiskey Row, Broadway Street, Nashville

The Nashville establishment is the fourth establishment, aside from the previous three establishments in Arizona, where Dierks Bentley is from.

Dierks Bentley's Whiskey Row, Broadway Street, Nashville

The first floor is a place to relax and enjoy some great food, drinks, and the latest country tunes. The second floor is where one can enjoy the sounds of the DJ and practice their dance moves. The rooftop is also worth seeing.

Hours are Monday to Friday, 11am-3am and Saturday & Sunday, 10am-3am.

What Was I Thinkin', Dierks Bentley (video)

Next stop was Bailey's Sports Grille.

Bailey's Sports Grille, Broadway Street, Nashville, Tennessee

Bailey's Sports Grille prides itself on being a local bar without all the glitter.

This was another one of my one-beer, stop-and-go visits.

There is a huge selection of beers and "good grub" to go with them.

You can also plan and host private events at Bailey's Sports Grille.

The hours of operation are 11am-3am, everyday.

The Stage, Broadway Street, Nashville, Tennessee

The Stage is open from 11am-3am, everyday.

Layla's Honky Tonk, Broadway Street, Nashville, Tennessee

Layla's Honky Tonk offers several different musical genres, including Country, Hillbilly, Rockabilly, Western, Americana, Bluegrass, Newgrass and many different musical styles that appeal to music fans, worldwide.

Notable musicians such as Jypsi, Dean Alexander, BR549, Hank Williams III, Th' Legendary Shackshakers, Drive-By Truckers, Gail Davies, Chris Scruggs, Ralph Stanley and more have performed at Layla's Honky Tonk.

Musicians of all varieties, from unknowns to legends, have been known to show up at Layla's Honky Tonk. It's an everybody kind of place.

Layla's Honky Tonk is available to host private events.

Garth Brook made a surprise performance in February of 2018.

It was his smallest venue to play at in 30 years.

The hours at Layla's Honky Tonk are 12pm-2am, everyday.

The Second Fiddle, Broadway Street, Nashville, Tennessee

There is live music 7 days a week.

Corporate events can also be booked at The Second Fiddle.

The Second Fiddle, Broadway Street, Nashville, Tennessee

The hours for The Second Fiddle are Monday to Wednesday, 2pm to 3am and Thursday to Sunday, 11am to 3am. You must be 21 and up to enter after 6pm. There is great music and good times at The Second Fiddle.

Tootsies Orchid Lounge

Tootsies Orchid Lounge, Broadway Street, Nashville, Tennessee

Tooties Orchid Lounge began in the 1960s and early notable patrons include Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Mel Tillis, Waylon Jennings, Patsy Cline, and more. Tootsies is most definitely worth stopping by and checking out.

Tootsies is a world-famous Honky-Tonk that has operated across from the Ryman Auditorium, almost non-stop, since 1960. From 1960 to 1978, Tootsies proprietor, Hattie Louise “Tootsie” Bess, bought the lounge called “Mom’s” and named it for herself. According to tradition, a painter painted the exterior orchid purple, by accident. The color stayed and became Tootsie’s signature color. A part of Loretta Lynn's biopic, Coal Miner's Daughter, was filmed inside of Tooties, featuring Tommy Lee Jones and Sissy Spacek, was released in 1980 and was the 7th highest-grossing film that year.

Tootsies Early Famous Customers (slideshow)

Tootsie Orchid Lounge is open from 10am to 3am, everyday.

Legend's Corner, Broadway Street, Nashville, Tennessee

Legend's Corner is a traditional dive bar that offers a full-service bar, live music, private parties, and corporate event space. It has something for just about every occasion. It's located near the corner of 5th Ave & Broadway.