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"How to have a Honky Tonk time in Nashville" by Sophie Mullender

20.09.15

If you’re ever planning on participating in a road trip across the US (Which, everyone should plan on) please, oh pretty please do not miss out on the wonder that is Nashville. In the lead by several laps, this city is by far my favourite in America.

If you’re reading this and you know me, you’ll understand the therapy to my life is Country Music. If you’re reading this and you do not know me: the therapy to my life is Country Music. Nothing can cheer me up faster than a song by Blake Shelton, Zac Brown Band, or Darius Rucker. I have only loved Country Music for 3 years, and cannot quite understand what I listened to beforehand. As, if you asked me what was in the pop charts right now; I wouldn’t have a bloody clue.

So therefore, Nashville was, quite simply the most perfect place for me to visit. I must say I got some very strange looks from people when they heard I was there for 10 days. Some of them were probably planning on travelling the whole coast in that time. However, I thrive on spending longer times in places so I can feel as though I have really got to know the area, can feel at home, and can go back to visit the hot guitarists at Tin Roof. Day after day. Yes.Please.

This post is dedicated to giving you the best possible experience in the land of hot cowboys, hot cowboys, and hot cowboys.

1. Visit The Bluebird Cafe.

They say no visit to Nashville is complete without a trip to The Bluebird Cafe. Well, they’re bloody correct. I was fortunate to go three times whilst I was there and each one was simply unforgettable. The Bluebird Cafe is a very intimate restaurant that holds live music every evening. The artists that perform there are either already established, or up and coming and freaking talented. The four artists per night sit in the round, with nothing more than a microphone and a guitar, and soothe your soul (and ears) with a magic sound that won’t be forgotten too soon. Due to this place previously hosting the likes of Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Phil Vassar, the cafe is extremely popular every night, and you need to either book in advance, or queue. Whilst booking saves a lot of time, queuing provides you with endless entertainment and new friends (and a ride home – thanks!)

TIP: Get there an hour and a half before the show to guarantee you’ll get in. I promise – every second you wait is worth it.

2. Go line dancing at the Wild Horse Saloon.

You’ll see this place advertised everywhere. It is tons of fun and well worth going to, especially if you don’t have long in the city. They have line dancing sessions every hour, teaching basic routines to both country music and pop. So, if country isn’t your thing; don’t fret as we actually line danced to Uptown Funk. I know, I can’t believe it either. My favourite part of this experience however was actually when the locals decided to come on and, to put it lightly, make us all feel like absolute crap. They were complete pros. It may have taken the whole song for me to actually pick up the routine they were performing; but once you did you felt like you were part of The Longest Ride and you’ll leave the Saloon with your bull waiting outside for you.

TIP: Go to an earlier session and you won’t have to pay the $6 cover charge. Also, British folk – bring your passport! Driving licences aren’t accepted.

3. Experience the Honky Tonk Highway.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get over emotional and cry on my first night here. I’m surprised Richard didn’t disown me. The heart of Nashville and the place I visited every morning for lunch and live music. The strip is complete with live music from 9am until 3am in the morning. There is never a quiet time here and it couldn’t be more perfect. Whether you want a set of cowboy boots, a fireball at 10am (Oh, it happens) or simply to dance your way down the street, the Honky Tonk Highway has it all. OK, it’s called Broadway, but I prefer my name.

Yes, bottom right is me simply worshipping the city. Sober.

4. Visit Mikes Ice Cream.

Visit Mikes Ice Cream on a hot summer day, or visit it at 12am before you hit the town. I don’t care when you visit; just visit it. Probably the best ice-cream I have ever had. This became a daily ritual for me, and my shorts got mad at me for it.

TIP: Be prepared to feel extremely rushed and underprepared at your choice of selection when you are asked what you’d like. You get to the counter and think you know, but then you look at the 50 flavours and realise it really is like Sophie’s choice.

5. Spend your day listening to Live Music.

We are all well aware that spending a day listening to live music will never be a day wasted. Atleast, I sure hope you’re aware. Everyday I was here I would have lunch in a different bar and listen to some of the most talented musicians I’ve ever heard. Many have albums out, many sing a song of your choice (Wagon Wheel – Old Crow Medicine Show every time) and many will just be extremely easy on the eye. The experience was ultimately what made me envision myself actually being able to live here forever. Not to mention that once it hits 9pm, it’s a honky tonk party.

TIP: Bring cash with you. They work for tips! And thoroughly deserve them.

6. Don’t visit every museum.

Visit museums; but don’t visit every museum. Many people come to Nashville and do a similar task that is acted out often in DC: Must visit every museum. However – unless you are Johnny Cash’s big fan, why pay to go to his museum? Unless you like Country Music, why pay to go to the Hall of Fame? Spending your time swallowing knowledge on a topic that brings you no excitement is not worth your time; especially if you don’t have long here. Research which one interests you most, and give that one all your focus.

7. Get a tour from a cowboy for the day.

Meet PJ. You meet him via the internet. I meet him via a night i’d rather forget in which I asked to kiss him simply because he was a cowboy. It’s ok, I say as I walk out of my hostel – I’ll never see him again. Natalie: Want to go to the guitar shop with us? We’re on 1st and Broadway. Start walking to 1st and Broadway. Natalie, Ayelet and PJ having a friendly old chat on the corner. Aww. Cute. I’m not dying inside, or anything of the sort. Their faces when they saw me crossing the road were simply priceless. PJ: Enjoy your kiss last night, Sophie? I didn’t look at him because I was too busy looking for my hole to crawl into.

A cowboy for the day is extremely useful, because there is so much joy in getting lost with someone who knows all the quirky guitar shops. We all know travellers are fun, however sometimes we forget that locals are fun, too.

8. Visit Carter Vintage Guitar shop.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t too bothered about visiting a guitar shop at first, but ten minutes in and I was like a, well, me when I see a Ben and Jerrys aisle in Walmart. Getting to try playing guitars worth thousands of pounds was a pretty cool experience. That, and realising that the woman who worked there was friends with Zac Brown, and that Frankie Ballard was here the day before me. Are we serious?! I told her to tell Zac Brown I loved him. She said she would. I’m now just sat on the sofa waiting for him to return the favour.

TIP: Ask to see the guitar which has been signed by many, many country legends for charity.

9. Explore the beauty of Nashville.

Don’t get me wrong – the city is beautiful. But there are so many other quaint and peaceful areas just around the corner. Ok, I lie. Radnor Lake may be advertised around the corner. but they forgot to mention the terms and conditions of getting lost and walking 6 miles back to the city with no water, no service, and no pavement. Views were worth it though. For a great view of the Nashville skyline, visit the Shelby Street Pedestrian bridge. I also met a lovely guy on the bridge who was travelling the country by taking donations on tarot readings. He goes from city to city, sleeps outside every night, and was one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met.

Centennial Park is also beautiful, and has the Parthenon – Nashville’s full scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Pretty cool.

Tip – if you fall asleep at the park, try not to do it too near the lake, as you will wake up to 20 geese surrounding you, and believe your life is over.

10. Talk to people.

I didn’t think I’d get emotional writing this last section; but I have proven myself wrong. If there is one way to have an experience of a lifetime in Nashville, it would be to talk to people. Whether they are strangers, locals (who happen to be the nicest people I’ve met in my entire life) musicians or fellow travellers in your hostel; immerse yourself in conversation and you will never regret a single word.

Whilst on my travels, I was fortunate to meet two wonderful girls from San Francisco and an equally wonderful girl from New Zealand. Together, we had fireballs, ice cream, hot chicken, and a whole lot of laughter. We listened to live music, we got lost, we had brunch, we danced, and most importantly they became three very good friends of mine who I miss dearly to this day. Whilst sights are breathtaking, and food is delicious, company is by far the richest treasure of all. Get out there, offer someone a beer, and meet incredible people like I did.  My experience would be nothing without them.

Have you been to Nashville? What were some of your highlights?