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"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Travel Report: Nashville Nostalgia.

Nashville Nostalgia.

Nashville Nostalgia.

May 2007 & May 2009.

The American city of Nashville had never been on my radar. And it almost certainly never would have been, had I not befriended a guy called Jon who hailed from Music City. I met Jon in Bratislava way back in the summer of 2002 when we began working at an English language school.

Short stories from Slovakia.

With Jon in Bratislava, late 2002.

We went on to share an apartment together and embark on numerous travel adventures across Slovakia, Austria, Poland and Hungary. This was a wonderful period of my life and one that I’ve documented on these pages via my short story series The Slovak Files.

Nashville Nostalgia 2229 Blair Boulevard

Nashville Nostalgia: Blair Boulevard.

Finally, in May 2007, I got to see Jon in his home city. Naturally I got to crash at his place, a homey bachelor’s pad on Blair Boulevard with an awesome porch. Perfect, as it turned out, for lazing around, drinking beers, snacking and generally not doing very much.

In fact, this was just what the doctor had ordered. I’d arrived in Nashville on the back of an amazing but hectic week in New York City, followed by an equally full on five days in Washington DC.

Nashville Nostalgia banjo time.

Nashville Nostalgia.

Thus I was actually in need of some rest. Suddenly, all that relentless walking and sightseeing gave way to simply hanging out at Jon’s place. For the most part, I lived like a local. I picked up groceries at the supermarket and listened to Johnny Cash on the porch. I also checked out Jon’s decent (to my uneducated ears at least) mandolin skills.

Nashville Nostalgia.

Nashville Nostalgia summer night May 2007

Steve/JFK.

In the evening we had long, lazy dinners in the garden. Jon’s housemate Steve, who looks a bit like President John F. Kennedy, usually joined us. These grand feasts soon attracted the interest of the local possums, who began congregating around the trash cans in the small hours.

Possum hunting in Nashville.

Nashville Nostalgia.

I’d never seen a possum before. Hence I made several attempts, with the aid of a gas lamp, to catch a glimpse of one. Unfortunately, I was not successful.

Brave Little Apple Sauce the cat.

Brave Little Apple Sauce.

However, one animal I saw plenty of was Jon’s antagonistic cat, Brave Little Apple Sauce. Never before or since have I met such an unfriendly, territorial feline. She glared at me with her piercing, distrustful green eyes. She scratched me several times, unprovoked. Heck, she even jumped on my lap to hiss in my face when, foolishly, I fell asleep on the living room chair one afternoon.

In Memoriam a Funeral for a Cat Nashville Tennessee

Apple Sauce and I may not have been best friends. But I still felt a twinge of sadness when I heard she passed away in 2016. And it was almost heartwarming to see her parting words to man and animal kind.

Sam’s Place.

Nashville Nostalgia Sam's Place.

Nashville Nostalgia.

Eventually, we headed out for drinks at Jon’s local watering hole, Sam’s Place, in Hillsboro Village. It was the archetypal American sports bar, with framed football memorabilia, TV screens all over the walls and attractive waitresses dressed in skimpy outfits.

Sam's Place Sports Grill Nashville

Nashville Nostalgia.

The food was great, with burgers, fries, chicken wings, ribs, potato wedges, nachos… all that good greasy stuff. And yet my defining memory of Sam’s is the charged banter between my English friends and one of Jon’s American buddies during my second visit in 2009. The subject was sports and it went something like this:

American dude: “You guys and your soccer! Fifty pounds a ticket and at the end of the game it’s 0-0. Here we got REAL sports, like basketball”.

Steve C: “In England it’s called netball and it’s played by girls”.  

American dude: “We got American football!”

Steve P: “Yes, we call it rugby. And we don’t bother with the helmets or shoulder pads!”

Sam's Place in Nashville.

Nashville Nostalgia.

Ah, Sam’s. They actually have a bunch of locations across Nashville, although I see that old joint in Hillsboro Village is no longer there.

Nashville Nostalgia.

Cowboy busker downtown Nashville

“Howdy, partner”.

I recall how much I loved the sleepy vibe of downtown Nashville. Typified in many ways by the occasional busking cowboy and its soft, predominantly low-rise skyline. Even a certain Bob Dylan seemed charmed by it. So much so that he altered his famously raspy vocals for a lilting country croon on his brilliant 1969 album Nashville Skyline.

Nashville Nostalgia The Batman Building

The Batman Building.

Wherever we went, there was one bona fide skyscraper that seemingly held court over the entire city. Known to locals as the Batman Building, this 188 metre office tower stands as the tallest structure in Tennessee. The cheeky nickname references its resemblance to the caped crusader’s signature mask.

AT&T Building Nashville Nostalgia.

Nashville Nostalgia.

Its official name is The AT&T Building. This is due to the fact that AT&T, the world’s largest telecommunications company, has offices here. The block has also been home to branches of BellSouth, The U.S. Bank and Nissan.

——

Pretty much all my exploring around Nashville revolved around its rich history as a major music industry hub. Home to around 200 recording studios, they say Nashville is the capital of America’s country music scene. As a result, plenty of singers and bands call the city home, including Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Kenny Chesney and The Kings of Leon.

Nashville Music City.

At the time of my visits Nashville was still home to a bunch of legendary record stores, such as Ernest Tubb and Lawrence Record Shop. Indeed I spent an hour or so browsing the shelves at Lawrence, said to be country music star Emmylou Harris’ favourite spot for music shopping.

Nashville Nostalgia.

Nashville Nostalgia Lawrence Record Shop

Nashville Nostalgia.

Opened in 1954, Lawrence was famed for their huge range of vinyl albums. They also had CDs, cassette tapes, signed music posters, instruments, boots and cowboy hats. Sadly, in this digital age of YouTube and Spotify, these kinds of record stores are dropping like flies. Indeed I see that Lawrence closed its doors in 2016.

Lawrence Record Shop 1954 - 2016

Nashville Nostalgia.

Of Nashville’s legendary recording studios, you simply can’t leave town without stopping by RCA Studio B. Built in 1956 in the city’s historic Music Row district, this is where some of America’s biggest stars came to lay down their most celebrated albums.

Nashville Nostalgia RCA Studio B.

RCA Studio B.

Dolly Parton… Waylon Jennings… Willy Nelson… Roy Orbison… they all camped out at RCA Studio B, contributing to the development of The Nashville Sound.

Happily, there’s an exhibit in the studio that sheds light on how this sound developed. Including a tribute to the production wizardry of Chet Atkins, who was influential in brining in harmonious backing vocals and strings. All of which helped create a new brand of country music that was smoother and had a broader appeal.

The Nashville Sound.

Nashville Nostalgia.

Elsewhere, Jon and I got to do some fun posing at sound engineer Bill Porter‘s original 1960s audio console. Amazingly, Porter conducted around 7000 recording sessions at RCA during his thirty year career. Nicknamed “the man with the golden ear”, his work produced 300 chart records. 11 of which hit number 1, 49 went top 10.

RCA Studio B.

Bill Porter's Audio Console RCA Studio B Nashville

Nashville Nostalgia.

Finally, our wanderings brought us into the main recording room. As we entered, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck tingle as Elvis Presley’s Little Sister crackled into life over the sound system.

Nashville Nostalgia inside RCA Studio B.

RCA Studio B.

Photo courtesy of Doug Force Photography.

Elvis was certainly no stranger to RCA. He recorded over 200 songs here. One of his most productive sessions came in the summer of 1970 when he laid down an impressive 30 tracks in just five days. Known as The Marathon Sessions, many of these numbers ended up on his 1970 album That’s the Way It Is.

Elvis Steinway Piano RCA Studio B Nashville Tennessee.

Nashville Nostalgia.

Moreover, I was free to sit and tinkle on the great Elvis Steinway Piano. Built in New York City’s Steinway Factory in 1942, this was The King’s favourite piano. The very one used on a number of tracks with the acclaimed pianist Floyd Cramer. Definitely a highlight of my adventures in Nashville.

Nashville Nostalgia The Elvis Steinway Piano

Nashville Nostalgia.

Another unmissable Nashville musical institution is The Ryman Auditorium. As far as live music goes, this is the city’s most cherished historical venue.

Constructed between 1885 and 1892, it initially served as the Union Gospel Tabernacle, a grand Christian assembly hall. A local businessman, Thomas Ryman, funded the project, which led to the building bearing his name following his death in 1904.

The Ryman Auditorium.

Nashville Nostalgia Ryman Auditorium

The Ryman.

Over the subsequent decades there was an increase in non-religious events, such as poetry reading, boxing matches, political lectures and concerts. Furthermore, Harry Houdini famously performed his milk can escape within these walls in 1924.

Harry Houdini the Milk Can Escape.

The Milk Can Escape.

But The Ryman is best celebrated as the home of the Grand Ole Opry, a live weekly country music stage concert that also broadcast live on WSM Radio. The first show took place here in 1943 and ran through to 1974 when it relocated to a brand new facility, The Grand Ole Opry House.

The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

Nashville Nostalgia.

Losing The Grand Ole Opry was a huge blow for The Ryman. Consequently, the venue sat decaying for nearly twenty years before a full renovation restored it to its former glory in the mid 1990s.

Ryman Auditorium Daytime Tour.

Nashville Nostalgia.

Naturally, I was really hoping to catch a concert here. But alas the show calendar didn’t bring up much while I was in Nashville, so I made do with one of the free daytime tours. It was very cool to take a seat on one of the wooden pews and admire the stained glass windows.

Nashville Nostalgia the stained glass windows at The Ryman Auditorium

Nashville Nostalgia.

WSM Radio still broadcasts out of The Ryman. Indeed there was a show live on air that day while we explored.

Nashville Nostalgia.

WSM Radio Ryman Auditorium.

WSM at The Ryman.

Today The Ryman can pack in over 2300 people for live concerts. It would be a dream of mine to come back one last time and catch say a Ryan Adams show. Who knows, it might just work out one of these years. For a look at what’s coming up at The Ryman, head to the show calendar on their official website.

Nashville Nostalgia live music at Riverfront Park

Nashville Crawfish Boil, May 2007.

Luckily, I did get to see some live music in Nashville. The Crawfish Boil is a music and food event with a main stage in the city’s Riverfront Park. There were some pretty big acts that weekend, with the likes of Papa Roach, Soul Asylum and Cake all playing raucous sets.

Nashville Nostalgia Crawfish Boil 2007.

Nashville Nostalgia.

I remember the particularly wild reaction to Cowboy Mouth (pictured below), an alt-rock band from New Orleans. If memory serves me well they were belting out Jenny Says, a chart hit from 1997.

Cowboy Mouth at the Nashville Crawfish Boil 2007

Nashville Nostalgia.

I also got to see Son Volt, a band formed from the ashes of alt-country trailblazers Uncle Tupelo. This was especially interesting for me, as I’d long been a big fan of Wilco, the other group spawned from Uncle Tupelo’s messy breakup.

——

There was more memorable live music at a number of swingin’ joints across Nashville’s downtown honky-tonks. My Bratislava buddies Bill and Mary had come to visit from Iowa. And so unfolded a fun night of beer, bar food, Slovak reminiscence and country tunes.

Robert’s Western World.

Nashville Nostalgia Robert's Western World

Nashville Nostalgia.

Most of that evening played out at Robert’s Western World on Lower Broadway. Formerly home to the Sho-Bud Steel Guitar Company, Robert’s is one of Nashville’s most popular honky-tonks, the so-called “undisputed king of traditional country music”.

Robert's Western World honky-tonk Nashville

Bill and Mary at Robert’s Western World.

I came away from my second Nashville trip with some very cool vintage style posters. And it’s all because of my visit to Hatch Show Print, a letterpress print shop dating back to 1879.

The store was opened by The Hatch Brothers, Charles and Herbert, whose hand printed designs covered everything from handbills and concert posters to billboard ads, circus signs and postcards.

Hatch Show Print Nashville.

Nashville Nostalgia.

A great deal of the posters I saw revolved around the music industry, with many of the aforementioned RCA stars featured in various poster designs. One guy I hadn’t heard of who caught my eye was a grizzled old singer, comedian and banjo maestro by the name of Uncle Dave Macon.

Uncle Dave Macon The Dixie Dewdrop

The Dixie Dewdrop.

Known as “The Dixie Dewdrop” and “The Grandfather of Country Music”, Macon was one of The Grand Ole Opry’s first stars. This poster gave me a good giggle, especially the odd monkey and peanut line.

“Advertising without posters is like fishing without worms.”
– The Hatch Brothers

Hatch Show Print exterior sign Nashville Tennessee

Nashville Nostalgia.

Today HSP stands as a fascinating display of handprinted artwork, in addition to being a living museum of the city’s history through print. While visiting, it’s possible to take part in a number of educational workshops covering subjects like The History of Advertising and The Technical Elements of Letterpress Printing.

The Country Music Hall of Fame Nashville Tennessee

The Country Music Hall of Fame.

Last but not least… I spent an afternoon feeling a bit lost in The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. If you’re really into Country Music, this place will blow your mind. It is massive… with a seemingly endless array of exhibits on every star you’ve ever heard of, plus several hundred you haven’t. If so inclined, you could easily spend all day here.

Country Music Hall of Fame Nashville

Nashville Nostalgia.

For me, it was more than enough to seek out those sections that interested me the most. Like, for example, the bits on Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton.

Coming face to face with Elvis’ gold Cadillac was also a cool moment. As was taking a stroll through the two-story record room, where gold and platinum albums cover the walls from floor to ceiling. Cheers Nashville, hope to see you again someday!

Nashville Music City Style.

Nashville Nostalgia.

For more on my adventures around the country, check out my travel articles from across The USA.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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45 Comments

  • Dhirendra.S.Chauhan

    Leighton dear, it was a great post! Indeed a Nashville Nostalgia Keep up the good work!

    June 25, 2021 - 8:32 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading! Nashville deserves a bit more love across the travel blogging community I think.

      June 25, 2021 - 8:43 am Reply
      • Dhirendra.S.Chauhan

        You are perfectly right here! Nashville should find a better place in the travel blogging community 🌷

        June 25, 2021 - 8:56 am
  • Divi

    Aha, first and foremost- I absolutely adore the photographs. They look vintage and so…nostalgic! Whenever I think of Nashville, I always think of Taylor Swift and music. The record stores sure do look awesome. Seems like you had a wonderful time back in Nashville! Great post!

    June 25, 2021 - 9:38 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for touring Nashville with me Divi!

      June 25, 2021 - 9:40 am Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    Another informative post Leighton. I really knew nothing much about Nashville (apart from it being the home of country music) until,I read this. I was intrigued by the name ‘Crawfish Boil’ too! Hope you have a good weekend. Marion

    June 25, 2021 - 9:59 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Marion. Nashville is definitely an underrated gem. I found the place fascinating, despite not being all that into country music. Take care.

      June 25, 2021 - 10:04 am Reply
  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    Another great read on the subject of music history and memorabilia- Liverpool AND Nashville, you lucky sod! Papa Roach would have been brilliant, I bet – a good raucous set no doubt. And Cheap Trick on the same bill? Surely not the same Cheap Trick from way back ( “I Want You To Want Me” was it?)…

    June 25, 2021 - 11:20 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Phil, spot on it was indeed ‘that’ Cheap Trick, though admittedly with a few substituted band members here and there. I think I’d had one too many beers when they came on, so can’t remember if they played I Want You To Want Me. They must have of course. Thanks for reading!

      June 25, 2021 - 11:25 am Reply
  • kagould17

    Another great post Leighton. C & W music was a staple in our house growing up. Perhaps that is why I can’t stand it today. But, the greats of music, Elvis, Roy O, Johnny Cash and the like still get my toe tapping and I do dabble a bit at mandolin playing. Thanks for taking us to Music City. Allan

    June 25, 2021 - 3:28 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ah, cool to know that you’ve got some mandolin skills. I’m always so impressed by anyone, unlike myself, who can play an instrument. I agree that traditional country and western can be tedious at times, though I do love alt country records by the likes of Wilco, Whiskeytown and Ryan Adams. Thanks again Allan for supporting the blog so consistently.

      June 25, 2021 - 3:41 pm Reply
  • Memo

    Ah, Music City is sure a fun place to visit. I need to go again and spend more time. The Country Music Hall of Fame is truly massive. We spent an afternoon there and easily could have wandered for more than a full day. Enjoyed seeing all your stops at places we didn’t get to. The only thing missing was a picture on Jon’s porch of you “sitting doing nothing.”

    June 25, 2021 - 3:46 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    Yay- your Tennessee posts have arrived! I loved your post and I loved your nod to the Batman building. I had visited Nashville a few times before moving here and there is just so much more of it that I want to see. Fantastic tour of the recording studios and the Ryman Auditorium. 🙂

    June 25, 2021 - 3:49 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers! I’ll always have a soft spot for Nashville, glad you enjoyed my report.

      June 25, 2021 - 3:58 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    I haven’t been to Nashville, but my friend and I are planning to go for an upcoming big birthday. I’ll keep your post to refer to. Maggie

    June 25, 2021 - 5:43 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      A birthday trip eh? Sounds made for some drinks at the honky tonks on Broadway. Thanks for reading Maggie!

      June 25, 2021 - 6:58 pm Reply
  • Anonymous

    Entertaining post. That guy really does look like JFK ! Could be a commercial opportunity for him 🙂

    June 25, 2021 - 10:24 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Funny thing is, both he and Jon strongly rejected the idea. But for me, the guy’s a dead ringer. Thanks for reading!

      June 25, 2021 - 10:32 pm Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    I got a good laugh at the picture of you with the lantern looking for a possum. I haven’t been to Nashville yet, but I’ve heard great things about it. Someday.

    June 25, 2021 - 11:15 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I wish I’d found one of those possums. Would have made a nice addition to this article. Thanks for reading!

      June 25, 2021 - 11:36 pm Reply
  • Jonathan Crisp

    Well it’s high time Sam’s Place takes it’s rightful place alongside the other triumphs of culture and civilization so artfully rendered in Leighton Travels. It’s been too long old friend. Come back soon. And a hearty invitation to all your readers, but should you be in Hillsboro village on a moonless night, hear a low growl and see two spectral green eyes slit the night Run! Run like hell! – Jon

    June 26, 2021 - 12:39 am Reply
    • Leighton

      I would like to think I have one last Nashville trip in me old friend. Thanks for your help in jogging my memory on things and filling in a few gaps.

      June 26, 2021 - 12:46 am Reply
  • thetravelvine

    Great article Leighton! Nashville is somewhere I’ve always loved to visit due to the food, people, atmosphere and the music scene. However, I did laugh out loud at the football banter section 😀

    June 26, 2021 - 5:03 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading! It’s a very homey city in many ways. Clean, looked after, friendly people, low rise buildings, nothing is too far. Hope you get to see it one day.

      June 26, 2021 - 8:39 am Reply
      • thetravelvine

        That’s good to know! Me too 🙂

        June 26, 2021 - 9:15 am
  • Rebecca

    I’ve never been to Nashville, nor Tennessee for that matter. I’ve heard good things about it, as it’s a huge music hub for artists to get their big break…as big as in Los Angeles with Hollywood Records and all of that! Looks like a real, hopping time, and I’d be keen on checking out the state of Tennessee someday. Looks like you’ve seen more of the US than I have, a US citizen!

    June 26, 2021 - 5:25 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Rebecca, glad you liked the feel of Nashville, which would be the perfect starting point for some exploring around the state. More to come from Tennessee in my next two posts…

      June 26, 2021 - 8:49 am Reply
  • 100 Country Trek

    This brings memories of our visit to Nashville. Loved our visit to the Grand Ole Oprey. Great photos .

    June 27, 2021 - 3:31 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you! Glad you also enjoyed your time in Nashville. The Grand Ole Opry is another one to file under ‘next time’ for me.

      June 27, 2021 - 8:56 am Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    Nice! I grew up with country music … my parents had many vinyls of Don Williams, Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. I’ve enjoyed your nostalgia visit to Nashville … and the conversation between the British- and Americans guys about sport 😄.

    June 27, 2021 - 12:06 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for following this series! Nashville has a special vibe and indeed country music plays a big part.

      June 27, 2021 - 1:30 pm Reply
  • travelling_han

    Oh my gosh, he does look like JFK! What lovely memories of Nashville – I also managed to visit by ‘accident’ as I bought hockey tickets for a game I thought was in one city, but bought the wrong ones and ended up watching the Predators in Nashville haha! Oh well, it was an experience and I loved the city 🙂

    June 27, 2021 - 7:19 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha that’s a funny accidental visit. Where was the city you’d intended to go to?

      June 27, 2021 - 7:30 pm Reply
      • travelling_han

        It was supposed to be Tampa Bay – my friend and I made a road trip out of it and ended up with 3 days in Atlanta, 1 night in Chattanooga, and 1 night in Nashville on the way!!! These things always turn out alright in the end – though we ended up with a totally different holiday than planned hahaha!

        June 27, 2021 - 7:33 pm
      • Leighton

        Brilliant! Tampa Bay is a long way from Nashville Toto ha ha. I have an article on Chattanooga coming out next week.

        June 27, 2021 - 7:38 pm
      • travelling_han

        Ha, yes not my best moment. Oh I’m so excited to read it – I loved Chattanooga; we got to see an incredible sunrise there from Signal Mountain. If you’re interested I wrote my visit up here: https://travellinghan.com/2020/08/06/2-days-in-chattanooga/

        June 27, 2021 - 7:43 pm
      • Leighton

        Thanks will take a look, I also went to that mountain 🙂

        June 27, 2021 - 7:44 pm
  • Lyssy In The City

    Great post! If you ever go back you will have to try a hot chicken sandwich 🙂

    June 28, 2021 - 1:15 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Duly noted! Thanks for reading Lyssy.

      June 28, 2021 - 8:25 am Reply
  • Toonsarah

    Another good read 🙂 The photo of Lawrence took me straight back to the little record shop in our local suburban shopping street when I was a teenager!

    June 28, 2021 - 7:26 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      There’s something magical about old record shops right? A dying breed unfortunately. Thanks for reading Sarah.

      June 28, 2021 - 8:02 pm Reply
      • Toonsarah

        Almost moribund, sadly

        June 28, 2021 - 8:45 pm
  • vatsal khandelwal

    Well written topic of music and history ❤

    July 1, 2021 - 10:12 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey, thanks for reading and leaving a comment. Appreciate that!

      July 1, 2021 - 10:13 am Reply

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