If you enjoy country music drama Nashville – created by Callie Khouri, writer of the film Thelma & Louise – you’ll know that most of the action is filmed in the city in Tennessee dubbed the “country music capital of the world”. But where do you go in and around Nashville to soak up the sounds that inspired legends such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson?
Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, The Stage, Layla’s Bluegrass Inn, Legends Corner and The Second Fiddle are but a handful of the honky-tonk bars that light up central Nashville with their flashing billboards and live music. Many of the bars are decorated with old photographs of southern music greats and artists play all day and all night. The buskers are pretty good, too: songwriters arrive in the city in a Stetson, guitar in hand, hoping to be discovered – and as everyone is playing for tips, they soon know if they’re dreaming.
COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM
A shrine to country music, this enormous museum contains more than 3,000 stage costumes, a room of gold and platinum country records, plus items including Johnny Cash’s guitar, Bill Monroe’s walking stick and Elvis’s gold-leaf Cadillac. Special videos are dedicated to artists including Taylor Swift, and now there’s even a Nashville cabinet, for fans of the TV show. If you time it right, you might get to see a live performance. See the website for upcoming shows: countrymusichalloffame.org
Known as “the show that made country music famous”, this unassuming concert venue has hosted some of the biggest names in country, bluegrass, folk and gospel – performing in a show first broadcast 90 years ago live on the radio. Artists ranging from Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton to Carrie Underwood and Garth Brooks have performed here. You can book tickets for the live show at opry.com
THE BLUEBIRD CAFÉ
A bit further out of town, in the suburbs, lies the famous Bluebird Café, where River Phoenix and Sandra Bullock starred in 1993 film The Thing Called Love. Scenes from Nashville were also filmed at the Bluebird (Rayna Jaymes, played by Connie Britton, right, performs No One Will Ever Love You there in series one). There are only 90 seats in this non-profit-making venue, but there are two shows every night and if you can get in, it’s well worth it. Previous performers here have included Garth Brooks, Faith Hill and LeAnn Rimes, and there are regular open-mic nights if you fancy singing at the Bluebird yourself.
An hour and a half ’s drive from Nashville, in Lynchburg, visitors can take a tour of the home of bourbon whiskey – founded in 1866, it’s the oldest registered distillery in the USA. Guides reveal the secrets of how the brown stuff is made (it’s to do with the local water and sugar maple used to make the charcoal, apparently). But don’t expect to taste more than a few samples here, because Lynchburg is in a dry county. However, you can purchase a bottle on the way out and drink it back in Nashville. Go to jackdaniels.com/visit
ELVIS AND RCA STUDIO B
Known as “the home of 1,000 hits”, this little recording studio saw all the action between 1957 and the 1970s, when it was run by RCA Records. This is where Elvis Presley recorded more than 200 tracks, Dolly Parton cut I Will Always Love You, and artists from Roy Orbison to the Everly Brothers made discs. Artists throughout the years have said that the acoustics are incredible in this humble building on music row. Elvis would stand on a sweet spot to sing. You may well get goosebumps when you step inside, see Elvis’s piano and listen to his first cut of Are You Lonesome Tonight?
Inside Nashville’s Centennial Park there is a 42ft statue of Athena and a full-scale replica of the Parthenon, built for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition to represent the pinnacle of classical architecture. Inside the Parthenon is the city’s art gallery, with a permanent collection of paintings by 19th- and 20th-century American artists and various temporary exhibits. For opening hours, see nashville.gov/Parks-and-Recreation/Parthenon.aspx
Nashville returns on Thursday 25th August at 10pm on Sky Living
Music Cities USA, 16 days from £1,899pp. Join us to visit Hitsville’s Motown Museum, Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the BB King Museum in Indianapolis. Pay your respects at the King’s opulent mansion – Graceland – and the hit factory that is Memphis’ Sun Studio, and experience music on every street corner in Nashville Tennessee – the centre of the country music world and unique, unforgettable New Orleans. Click here for more details and to book.