I’m not much into the country music scene, and by not much, I mean not the teensiest bit. So when told my trip to Nashville would be on the eve of the 50th Annual Country Music Awards, with a lot of celebrity sighting potential, I had to confess I wouldn’t know a country star unless he bit me right in the face.
This statement did not get the laughs I expected in Tennessee, so I’m wondering if people there were just (a) too aghast at my ignorance to respond as expected, or (b) there’s actually more face biting going on than I realize.
It can’t possibly be (c) that I’m not as funny as I think.
Anyway, the forecast was for warmer weather than normal, even by Nashville standards, so I packed sundresses and bemoaned my chipped toenail polish for just a second before getting over it.
Nashville is a hot spot right now for tourism, too. A new convention center added 2.1 million square feet of meeting space in 2013, putting hotel beds in high demand. This means downtown room rates are some of the highest nationwide. Officials say supply should catch up with demand in the next two to three years. There are so many projects going on in the area, in fact, the Nashville Business Journal developed an interactive crane watch map for the construction-inquisitive.
Our hosts treated us to dinner our first night at Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint downtown, the southern-based chain’s newest location. We started with hot wings and deviled eggs, delivered with a variety of sauces from mild to triple-x spicy. Our guide, Drew, suggested the Alabama White, which is my new favorite. Drew is just a couple years out of college and a Nashville native, and we share an affinity for sauces, which you may know creates a bond not unlike that shared by pinky twins or spit sisters.
For dinner I had the brisket, pulled pork and some baby back ribs, with more sauce, and then sides of potato salad, slaw, and green beans. There was also chicken, smoked sausage, and a few other items I couldn’t get to after it became difficult to move without busting a seam. I rallied for the banana pudding, though; a southern staple served with Nilla wafers and cream. I didn’t want to be rude.
Drew enlisted our wait staff to pack up the excess food. There was enough to feed another two groups our size. I hate food waste, probably worse than spiders or face-biters, but when Drew suggested we hand our leftovers out to the homeless at the park, and then we actually did, I contemplated packing him home in my luggage, he’s so stinking cute.
The next day we toured the new Music City Center – a beautifully designed LEED certified convention building shaped like a guitar – and then the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which also hosts events.
First, though, there was lunch at The Palm (another chain), where we had a range of choices as part of their three-course lunch special. I had a salad and salmon with grilled asparagus, and then cheesecake (I’d been so good with the veggies and fish and all).
Someone said Luke Bryan was sitting at a booth nearby, so I used a trip the restroom as an excuse to check him out before I remembered I had no idea what Luke Bryan looked like. There were a few guys who could have been celebrities, but since no one jumped up to bite me in the face, I couldn’t tell you for sure if I saw him.
We wandered for a bit afterward, waiting for our shuttle, watching a crew on Tootsie’s rooftop patio filming an episode of Nashville, and listening to music. Lower Broadway is a main thoroughfare known as Nashville’s Honky Tonk Highway for its music scene, and most bars in the area have fronts that open in mild weather. The traditional honky tonk sets its stage near the door so the music acts as a draw. On any given corner, we could hear four or five bands at once.
Dinner was at the Trattoria Il Mulino. It’s billed as upscale Italian, which is certainly true of the atmosphere and service, although I thought the prices were reasonable, given the Downtown location. If you’re looking for lighter fare, you’re probably out of luck at the Trattoria. I had the gnocchi with Bolognese and béchamel and grilled Brussels sprouts with pancetta. The dishes are served a la carte, so I could have just gone with a side dish or appetizer, but that would have seemed a little like I wasn’t even trying to experience Nashville. And I’m no quitter.
The next day we toured the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, and were treated to lunch of smoked swordfish with a chickpea puree, grilled squash salad, a desert sampler of pumpkin custard, gelato, and apple spice cake. Usually by this time in a trip, I’ve learned to just sample each dish and try to forget about what I’ve left on my plate, or else I’d have to get one of those seatbelt extenders for the flight home. We talked with our chef about the ever-increasing customer demand for locally sourced foods, even at large events. This led to a conversation about food waste in the hospitality industry, and the Gaylord’s collaboration with the Nashville Food Project to redistribute leftovers.
After our afternoon meetings, none of us felt like eating yet (if ever again), so we wandered back to Broadway for more music. Things weren’t terribly crowded that early in the evening, and with no cover anywhere, we were able to duck into a few places and listen for a bit. The weather was fantastic, and we wandered up and down the street taking pictures and window-shopping for cowboy boots before heading back to our hotel.
On the way I snapped a shot of the birthplace of the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium, and posted it on Facebook. A friend asked if I’d seen the statue of Thomas Ryman, which had been commissioned of her brother to commemorate Minnie Pearl’s retirement. The statue had been put in storage during a $14 million renovation, and only recently reinstalled. I headed out again in the morning to snap a photo for my friend.
Afterward, I stopped for a free concert on Broadway and 5th by some cute guy who was performing for Good Morning America (at 0:54 you can see the Ryman in the background). I think the crowd rather liked him, and if he sticks with this music thing, he could have a future beyond free concerts in the parking lot.
And then I can say I knew Dierks Bently before he got famous and started biting faces.
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