There's a kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde effect dizzying the cities of the Old (New) South. The clash between the genteel life style and the industrial resolutions of the past 25 years has scarred some cities, like smog-shrouded Birmingham, and left others -- Charleston, New Orleans -- conscientiously delicate about historic restoration.
Nashville, however, through the booming of the recording industry, has developed economically without outgrowing its eccentricities. Equally committed to cultural excellence and to commercial excess, it's a hodge-podge of historic sites and tourist traps, Bible colleges and professional schools. The traditions tend to bump heads: In the airport bar, Jimmie Rodgers is remembered in; wrought iron as "Jimmy Rogers."
Here's what Nashville's got: 440,000 residents; Opryland and the Grand Ole Opry; the Hermitage and Belle Meade, a full-sized Parthenon replica and the restored Fort Nashborough; a Gothic gargoyle of a railroad station; 16 colleges and universities including Vanderbilt, Fisk and Meharry; a spanking-new performing arts center, the state capitol and supreme court building; stock-car racing, a minor-league baseball franchise and a pre-celebrity golf tournament; pawnshops, religious publishing, a guitar-shaped swimming pool, a petting zoo, the Fine Arts Center and Botanical Gardens at Cheekwood, several large lakes and 6,650 acres of parks, steeplechasing, fried catfish, bluegrass bars with no cover charge, a symphony orchestra and a couple of museums.
Here's what it lacks: much in the way of public transportation, shopping (in the Fifth Avenue sense) or four-star dining; jazz clubs, a first-rate ballet company, seafood, repertory cinema and rollerskating on the sidewalks.
One good thing: It's easy to get to. Nashville is "the crossroads of the South," among its other sobriquets, serviced by a half-dozen major airlines and a couple of little ones and several bus lines. Interstate highways 40, 24 and 65 converge in Nashville, but Amtrak doesn't stop here anymore.
Like most cities with a tourism industry, Nashville suffered from the "credit card crunch" in early 1980 and from higher gasoline and food prices. However, chamber of commerce figures indicate only a 5-6 percent drop and tourist spending along (no business visitors) last year is estimated at $261 million.
Within a 20-mile radius, Nashville boasts 12,780 hotel rooms with several large hotels under construction. Average visitor spending per day is around $23; a convention delegate (the expense account visitor) spends about $65 a day. Historic highlights: Fort Nashborough is all the way downtown, looking down on the Cumberland River barges. It's a smallish structure, dwarfed by a 12-foot sculpture of the 1779 meeting of founders James Robertson and John Donelson.
The Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson, and the neighboring Tuip Grove estate of his adopted son, are 12 miles east of Nashville. The mansion was first built in 1819, remodeled in 1831 while Jackson was president and again in '34 after heavy fire damage, and resotred in the early 1970s. The 625 acres include the main building, a museum of personal artifacts belonging to Andy and Rachel Jackson, their tomb, several outbuildings and an 1819 landscape garden.
Traveller's Rest, home of Jackson's old law partner and first Tennessee governer John Sevier, is a little west of the city, as is Belle Meade, another restored ante-bellum mansion near the forking of highways 70 and 100.
The War Between the States lumbers on hereabouts. There are markers throughout the city tracing the progress of the Battle of Nashville. Twenty miles south of the city lies the preserved Franklin battlefield (site of the longest Confederate charge in the war) and the Carter House, where one of six mortally wounded generals died. Capt. Todd Carter, scion of the house, led his men over the nearby Union breastworks shouting, "Follow me, boys, I'm almost home!" He collected nine fatal bullets for his pains.
And to the southeast, in Smyrna, is the home of Sam Davis, the Nathan Hale of the Confederacy. Nineteen-year-old Davis was hung as a spy as he quoth, "I would rather die a thousand deaths than to betray a friend."
Music City, USA: To make this pilgrimage correctly, start downtown at Fourth and Broadway. If Nashville is the Mecca of country music, this intersection used to be the Great Mosque. A half-block up Fourth Avenue is the old Ryman Auditorium, longtime home of the Grand Ole Opry, and while it is no longer used, the barnlike structure with its tabernacle pews retains the atmosphere of down-home reality.
The old accoutrements of Music City are line along Broadway: the pawnshops filled with Timex watches and abandoned guitars, Ernest Tubb's Record Shop, hard-core country bars, fleabag hotels, and the one and only Tootsie's Orchid Lounge with its purple walls and ceiling obscured by thousands of signatures of the famous and the forgotten.
The late Tootsie Bess was a kind of surrogate mother to two generations of starving songwriters, cashing their checks and slipping them free meals. Her bar's back door opens across the alley from the Ryman stage door, and in the Opry's heyday, the stars filled Tootsie's back room like the southern sky. George Jones got drunk once and streaked from the Ryman through the bar and back. There was even a song about Tootsie; it didn't get very high on the charts, but one copy in enshrined in the jukebox at the Orchid Lounge.
Most of the big recording company studios are on 16th and 17th avenues (now known as Music Row North and South), although the small custom studios are scattered all over town. There are several tour companies specializing in Music Row visits. At the top end of 16th Avenue is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which holds Hank Williams' guitar and Patsy Kline's boots. One entrepreneur is threatening to erect a huge monolith topped by a giant revolving guitar on the next corner, but so far, so good.
Incidentally, the tour companies will swing you past the homes of several country performer. Webb Pierce is the guy with the guitar-shaped swimming pool; Minnie Pearl live across the tennis court from the governor's mansion. The iron bars guarding Tammy Wynette's home are wrought into musical staffs and notes.
The Grand Ole Opry nowadays is at Opryland, a 110-acre theme park about 15 minutes outside town. There are four Opry performances every weekend of the year, up to seven during the summer; advance tickets are sold by mail order (write Grand Ole Opry ticket information, 2802 Opryland Drive, Nashville 37214). The Goo Goo signs are gone, but there's a 10-foot circular plug of old Ryman stage in the new floor.
The park itself is about to celebrate its 10th season by opening a $4.7 million, 10-acre whitewater-rafting adventure. The Grizzly River Rampage, as the man-made area is called, should be finished in late spring. Opryland is open weekends March 25-May 17; daily until Labor Day and then weekends again until the season ends Nov. 1.
Opryland includes more usual park rides, restaurants and Roy Acuff's museum, but the main attraction is music, all styles, inside and outside, from choreographed productions to strolling serenaders.
The cultural attractions: The $16-million Tennessee Performing Arts Center, a tall and sleek tower down near the State Capitol Designed in 1845 by William Strickland), is part of a state office complex which also houses the new state museum. The center encloses three facilities: wThe Andrew Jackson Hall, seating 2,442 in three levels, will house most of the touring shows, operas, etc. and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. The James K. Polk Theater seats 1,056 on two levels, and can adapt from traditional proscenium to thrust staging. The Andrew Johnson Theater (for non-history majors, all three presidents were Tennessee natives) holds 300 and can switch from theater-in-the-round to cabaret to multi-media.
The Performing Arts Center is Nashville's answer to the Kennedy Center. It opened in September, and the first season events include tours of "Dancin'," "Elephant Man" and "They're Playing Our Song"; the Martha Graham, Eliot Feld and Alvin Ailey dance companies; the Czech Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Atlanta Symphony orchestras.
The Parthenon, a full-sized replica of the Athenian temple erected for the 1879 Centennial Exhibitio;n, includes reproductions of the Elgin marbles and holds several large exhibit galleries inside. Centennial Park, where the Parthenon is located, is a green swatch of lake and gardens in the midtown university-West End area.
Cheekwood, site of the arts center and botancial gardens, was built on Maxwell House coffee, so to speak. The Leslie Cheeks (her maiden name was Wood) and architect Bryant Fleming spent the 1920s buying not just furnishing but structural elements from 18th-century mansions all over Britain -- the staircase from Queen Charlotte's palace at Kew, doors from the London home of the Duke of Westminster, chandeliers from the Countess of Scarborough -- for the 1931 estate.
Cheekwood was given to the state by the Cheeks' daughter in 1959, and now houses modern galleries in which both private and public collections are displayed. The greenhouses, trails and gardens are administered from Botanic Hall (completed in 1970), which includes a library, laboratory, classrooms, darkroom and exhibition space.