Before we visited, I read the guide books, and they described honky-tonks. They sounded like fun, so I hoped we’d manage to find one while we were there. I had no idea how significant they are.
Now, Nashville is the centre for country music—this I knew. Think Dolly Parton and Hank Williams. . . For any Country band that wants to find fame, Nashville is the place to be. What I hadn’t really grasped though, was that this means Nashville is the ‘go to’ place for anyone who really loves listening to country music, and that anyone who is a big fan hopes, at some point in their life, to visit Nashville. A sort of Mecca for committed fans. Which means the centre of Nashville is simply teeming with people (even older than me!) dressed in cowboy boots and hats, having the trip they have always dreamed of. It makes it a happy, exciting place, because most people are fulfilling their ambition, and the honky-tonks are full of them.
Now, everyone should visit a honky-tonk. There is a street—Broadway—which is lined with bars (as in, every building is a bar). They are 2-storey red-brick buildings with flashing billboards and flat roofs. Each bar has a band crammed into the windows, playing live music, which is blasted outside through speakers. People listen, sing, clap while drinking beers and eating the sort of fried food that sticks to your ribs and fills your stomach. This is a honky-tonk.
The bands are extremely talented, so you get to hear the very best country music being played live, all day long. I guess that any country music singer or band that hopes to ‘make it big’ goes to Nashville, looking for a slot in a honky-tonk in the hope that they will be spotted and picked up by a record label. It means the music is excellent. Some of the acts are tribute bands, some play their own music.
We sat and listened to a Johnny Cash tribute band and drank beer, then wandered round the corner to a 7-storey diner for dinner. We ate fried shrimp and grits (big prawns and a sort of creamed sweetcorn mix with garlic and flour, which looks like mashed potato, for my English readers!) and hotpot with brussel sprouts that were fried, and delicious.
Some honky-tonks ask for ID before they will let you in (even from obviously-old people like us). I think it’s the law, so they are all meant to ask for ID, but some places are stricter than others, and it was bit of a shock when I didn’t have my passport with me to not be allowed into a bar because I didn’t have proof of age with me! Long, long time since that has happened. . .
Tuesday, we decided to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame. We walked there, which took most of the morning because the pedestrian crossings have lights, which take absolutely ages to change. Husband spends the whole time telling me we can ‘do a quick nip’ and invariably crosses while the lights are still red—and then waits for me on the other side, so I’m not sure what it achieves.
Arrived at the Hall of Fame eventually and paid an extortionate $25.95 each to enter. I would say, unless you are a big country music fan, then use the money for dinner instead. We didn’t pay for audio guides, so wandered around the museum not knowing what anything was. Most of the displays were about people who I’d never heard of, and there is a limit to how interesting their clothes and shoes are (and that limit was below $25.95!) To be fair, other people were emitting gasps of excitement at photographs of music scores of famous songs (which I didn’t recognise) and they seemed ecstatic at the shoes and handbags of a girl with brown hair (who I didn’t recognise) so perhaps I’m the wrong person to offer an opinion. The only thing of mild interest to me was Elvis Presley’s gold Cadillac.
I learned that: people found the title of ‘hillbilly’ too derogatory, and preferred the image of cowboys, so started to wear the hats and boots and link the style to the music. There were a lot of female comediennes, and they were very famous back in the day. I also listened to a lot of guitar music.
We left the museum as soon as we could without feeling that we had entirely wasted $25.95 (though the feeling lingered) and went for a walk. I was keen to have a coffee in a china mug—this has become bit of a thing with me now, I really hate drinking from disposable cups. It took some time to find anywhere that used china mugs, and we ended up in the Fairlane Hotel, where we over-paid for a bagel, but did manage to have coffee in china mugs.
We walked up to Tennesee State Capitol. Husband asked me if I wanted to walk “up an ugly road or along a pretty river?” We walked along the road (I felt it was the only option, given the question. But it was rather ugly). The capitol was worth a look, and a photograph, but the weather was too hot for it to be good for long. We then returned to the hotel via the river, which was lined with homeless people and felt distinctly dodgy. America seems to have a lot of homeless people, but maybe I just notice them more than in England.
Dinner began with another beer in another honky-tonk. They are such fun! This one had a band singing, and people were swaying along with the music and generally having a nice time.
Walking back to the hotel after dinner, we saw a hot-tub full of girls, being towed around town on the back of a lorry. I’m guessing it was a hen party. The waiter wore a cowboy hat. Not everyone in Nashville is older than me.
We left Nashville via the Belle Mead Plantation. I wanted to learn something about the slave trade here. But that will have to be my next blog.
Thank you for reading. I hope you hear some good music today.
Love, Anne x
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