Music City: Bar-Hopping In Nashville With No 'Hee-Haw' Hangover

NASHVILLE — Nashville's "Music City" nickname has always been pronounced with a Southern accent. Nashville is, after all, the home of the Grand Ole Opry, the stomping grounds of Hank Williams and a magnet for talented country artists.

But a person can satisfy just about any musical urge in a relatively small area you can cover on foot.

That's how Maureen Ovington figured it. Ovington, of Coloma, Mich., drove down with a couple of friends for some R&R.

"When I started on the road trip, I wanted to hear all country," she said one Friday afternoon at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, the downtown honky-tonk that's as good a place as any to kick-start a long weekend. "I said I wanted to see all live bands. Tonight we're seeing blues and rock bands. Tomorrow is country."

She gets it. Most people, though, don't see beyond the old Music City image.

"Still the 'Hee-Haw' hangover," is how Jason Moon Wilkins puts it.

Wilkins founded the Next Big Nashville, a music festival and conference featuring 200 mostly local bands every October.

"The business side (of the music industry in Nashville) is extremely diverse, and the music is, too," Wilkins said. "I think that's shown now by Jack White, Ben Folds, Kings of Leon (all Nashville-based) and so forth. Sometimes, people don't necessarily associate any of them with the city."

Still, one type of music dominates the three-block strip along Broadway, though you get a taste of Nashville's alternatives. Among the souvenir shops, clothing stores and life-size Elvis statues, you'll find some venues that are a must.

"Tootsie's and Robert's and Layla's Bluegrass Inn, some of those places, they offer something that's pretty rare," Wilkins said. "It goes from just guys who are trying to do their own thing to stars to the working-class musician who has been in Nashville the last half-decade. They go down there either to hone their chops or do it for fun. ... That part's really cool."

Let's see for ourselves. Like Maureen Ovington, we start at Tootsie's.


It's a 10-minute, $25 cab ride from Nashville International Airport to downtown.