American Culture

Kick up dem boots, Nashville

It’s 95 degrees and humid. We cannot stop sweating. I’m in shorts, a tank top and flip flops, so I cannot imagine what the people wearing cowboy boots must feel like. Maybe they’re all just more accustomed to this Nashville, Tennessee weather than we are.

Nashville may be the happiest place on earth for someone whose favorite things include alcoholic beverages and country music. Most of the city’s entertainment revolves around bars and live music, so anyone who enjoys this combination has a good chance of enjoying Nashville. Non-country music fans can still enjoy relaxing with a cold beer (or double jack and coke, as the middle-aged gentleman next to me ordered yesterday) among the various age groups of bar visitors along Lower Broadway, a four-block part of town lined with bars, restaurants and businesses.

I realized Nashville was a drinking town after our lunch server struggled to recommend city “must-sees” that didn’t include alcohol or money. The prices of food and entertainment are mostly reasonable, but the city involves a bit of spending cash to get the best experience. Most bars keep their doors open, probably to entice country and alcohol lovers like ourselves to stroll inside and listen to the live music. The voices of an elderly man and young woman singing Old Crow Medicine’s “Wagon Wheel” first sucked us into a bar called “Whiskey Bent Saloon.” We had been on our way to take pictures of the river, but found it nearly impossible to pass a crowd that somehow made a concert hall out of a cozy bar at 4:00 pm.

Later, we made our way to Tootsies, a famous bar on Broadway in which well-known country stars often make unexpected visits. The bar sits just behind Ryman Auditorium, a popular performance venue and original home to the Grand Ole Opry. Between sets at the Ryman, artists used to walk through a connecting alley to grab a few drinks and “wet their whistles” at Tootsies. We found a quote by Willie Nelson, while visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, that described artists as taking “17 steps to Tootsies and 34 steps back” to the Ryman. Yes, Nashville is a drinking town.

In one afternoon, I witnessed two different drivers cruising the streets with open beer cans in their truck cup holders. We found countless others scattered around hotel and gas station parking lots enjoying a few brews among friends. These sightings all took place between the hours of 11:00am and 4:00pm on a Thursday, but if the seemingly unfazed local business owners welcome midday boozing in their establishment parking lots, then so do I.

I can best compare Lower Broadway in Nashville to summertime in Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood. People sit and enjoy mid-afternoon drinks, while others wander the streets drinking from brunch until bar close. That’s just what people do in Wrigleyville…and it seems this is just what people do in this part of Nashville.

Nashville holds a deeper history than I realized. When standing among the visibly older buildings along Lower Broadway, the modern developments of the city’s surrounding high rises becomes apparent. Nashville continues to develop, but history shines from the heart of it. Music Row also holds established significance to the city, as it’s considered the core of Nashville’s entertainment industry. Various record labels, publishing houses, recording studios and other music industry businesses fill the Row’s numerous side streets just southwest of downtown.

We’re almost ready to hit to road again, this time to head west toward Memphis. We northerners have our flip flops ready for another day of driving the countryside and counting how many more confederate flags we pass along I-40 West. Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and other various country legends have been riding along with us, their tunes overtaking many of Tennessee’s radio stations picked up throughout our journey.

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