• Jeff 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.

Hard Rock Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee


I was able have a great lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, while mingling with other tourists, and the food settled better than the cheap hotel breakfast.

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.

Cotton Eyed Joe, Broadway Street, Nashville, Tennessee


I made a quick stop in Cotton Eyed Joe to have a drink and to grab some footage of the place. Cotton Eyed Joe has a variety of events, including MMA fights on the first Friday of every month. Of course, there are musical acts weekly that one can enjoy along with some great food with some great beverages. The "Joe" was recently awarded an ACM (Academy of Country Music) award for best club. The club is under new management and is undergoing some promising renovations. It's worth a stop, for sure.

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.