With the abundance of talented session players and not-yet-famous singers in Nashville, it's not hard to find them playing in clubs around town. I was lucky enough to catch the young Patsy Cline sound-alike Mandy Barnett belting out her own wonderful songs in the 3rd and Lindsley Bar & Grill, just off lower Broadway. Later, at a great club called 12th & Porter, I happened across the Old Crow Medicine Show, a fabulously rambunctious group of youngsters who play punked-up, old-time hill country music, leaving me certain that country music is as vibrant as ever.
Singer Chely Wright, who moved to Nashville from Missouri, is a fan of Station Inn, a wonderful, if not exactly pretty, bluegrass/country bar in south Nashville. "It represents the true character of Nashville," Wright says. "Great pickin', cool hang, and ya never know who's gonna drop in!" The Bluebird Cafe, with its unlikely strip mall location, is another place to find country songwriters practicing their craft. Or head to the Slow Bar in newly hip East Nashville, where singer Lucinda Williams, now a Nashville resident, has been known to hang out on occasion.
A plaque commemorates the late Waylon Jennings at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
(Mark Humphrey - AP Photo)
Just as it was 50 years ago, Nashville is still a destination for musicians who come to town hoping that talent, hard work and a stroke of luck will lead them to a career doing what they love. And for a fan visiting the city, rediscovering the music's history – and its future – feels like a stroke of luck, too.
Joe Heim is the music editor for washingtonpost.com's entertainment guide.
GETTING THERE: Nashville is about 670 miles from Washington, about a 15-hour drive. Southwest flies from BWI to Nashville and is quoting round-trip fares of $212; US Airways flies from Reagan National for $238. Amtrak has no direct service from Washington to Nashville; you must take the train to Atlanta (14-hour trip) and switch to a bus (22 hours). Total cost: $300 round trip. On Greyhound, the fare is $79 round trip with seven-day advance purchase.
WHERE TO STAY: Recently refurbished, the grand old Hermitage Hotel (231 Sixth Ave. N., 615-244-3121, www.thehermitagehotel.com) is next to the state capitol and within walking distance of downtown points of interest. Its restaurant, the Capitol Grille, is considered one of Nashville's finest. Rates begin at $189 a night. Another good, centrally located place is the historic Union Station Hotel (1001 Broadway, 615-726-1001, www.wyndham.com), across from the new Frist Center. Rates range from $109 to $265.
WHERE TO EAT: Even country music stars have been known to stand in line (there's always a line) for breakfast at the Pancake Pantry (1796 21st Ave. S.), a longtime favorite. Breakfast runs about $10. Some locals swear the Loveless Motel and Cafe (8400 Hwy. 100) is a tourist trap, but it's hard to beat the fried chicken and biscuits, not to mention the name. Dinner runs under $20.
FOR COUNTRY MUSIC LOVERS:
• Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, 222 Fifth Ave. S., 615-416-2001, www.halloffame.org. Admission is $14.95 for one day, $24.95 for two.
• Ryman Auditorium, 116 Fifth Ave. N., 615-889-3060, http://ryman.com. Recently designated a National Historic Landmark. Admission is $6.50.