“If you’re travelin’ in the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lived there
For she was once a true love of mine.”
Both Bob Dylan and the Nashville skyline have changed since he wrote those words for the Nashville Skyline album in 1969. I loved the record (yes, it was a record in those days), and I loved his surprising shift from folk-protest to traditional country music including an off-pitch duet with Johnny Cash. Beyond that I didn’t know much about the city except that it was the home of the Grand Ole Opry. I had never been there and neither had M, but a chance meeting with a young couple at a Peter Cetera concert in Seattle got us thinking about a visit to their hometown. So, on impulse, with an Alaska Airlines companion ticket to burn, we booked the flight as just the right destination for an escape from our long wet winter in Seattle.
Based on recent events – United Airlines dragging an injured, bloody, paying passenger off its airplane, an American Airlines flight attendant pushing and verbally abusing a young mother and Delta booting a family off in a dispute over a seat they had paid for… it looked like the home team – Alaska Airlines– was the right choice. And, it was.
What a treat, a non-stop flight from the Emerald City to Music City. Wide cabin 737-900. No intermediate stops. No physical or verbal abuse. Cordial gate agents. Friendly flight attendants. On time departure. A real surprise.
And, Nashville itself was an even better surprise – a lovely city with giant tulip poplar trees shading well-manicured lawns and stately homes set back from the street. I don’t know what I expected but it didn’t include this kind of genteel understated residential elegance. To be sure there are portions of the city that are not so well maintained but we admired many homes and neighborhoods like this one near our Airbnb home.
What I did expect was lots of music and I wasn’t disappointed. Broadway is the main drag for the younger crowd; bars and honky-tonks cheek by jowl within throwing distance of Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the iconic Grand Ole’ Opry. But, there are better less crowded venues like the Bluebird Cafe in Green Hills and Third and Lindsley in The Gulch, where local session musicians play with emerging talent every night.
I was never a fan of the old Nashville country music scene with its sequined suits and twangy rhythms – Porter Wagoner and Roy Acuff – but I’m a big fan of later trends starting with Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson and on to Keith Urban and Sheryl Crow. Today, the city offers music of every genre and every taste. On Friday night of our weeklong stay we made it over to Musician’s Corner in Centennial Park to hear five talented singer-songwriters take the outdoor stage and sing their hearts out while families picnicked, kids ran around on the lawn and food trucks dished up catfish tacos, salted caramel ice cream, and other treats.
Nashville was everything we hoped it would be – a connection to the American past (Civil War history and Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage), a musical odyssey (Country Music Hall of Fame and new talent), food choices from BBQ (Martin’s) to upscale modern (Henrietta Red), and the best lattes east of the Mississippi (Frothy Monkey).
M and I thought one week would be plenty of time to see and experience Nashville. We were wrong and I think we’ll go back. In addition to a dynamic roots music scene there is the Nashville Symphony, a thriving visual arts community, the Predators ice hockey team (currently in the NHL Stanley Cup finals), craft breweries, 200-year-old whisky (Scottish spelling) distilleries, and a renowned letter press typesetting shop (Hatch) – all worth visiting. We’ll be back.
Here’s a view of that “other” Nashville skyline, the one that Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan could never have imagined 48 years ago.
PS: It’s worth mentioning that in spite of its location in the Bible Belt, Nashville is a blue city. In 2016 it voted 59% for Clinton 34% for Trump and 4% for Gary Johnson while the State of Tennessee went overwhelmingly for Trump. For Left Coast liberals, like us, it’s a safe zone though we did hear there are still a few Confederate generals standing on pedestals.
PSS: Bob Dylan delivered his Nobel Prize acceptance speech yesterday (June 5, 2017) – right on deadline.