They don’t call it “Music City” for nothing. Walk down any street near The District in Nashville, Tennessee, and you’re bound to hear some of the most promising voices of the South. Yet Nashville’s not just for the musically inclined, it’s also an arts town, placing 22nd in American Style’s 2008 Top 25 Arts Destinations. Although it’s technically considered a “big city”—with a population over 500,000—Nashville’s friendliness gives it a small-town feel. That is, until you brush shoulders with a celebrity like country music legend Emmylou Harris at Blockbuster.
Nashville is a quirky town, too. Birthplace of the Goo Goo Cluster candy bar, it’s also a hotbed of “meat-and-three” diners or cafés—places that offer a traditional Southern blue plate special: one meat, three vegetables, one price. So while you’re filling your days with arts attractions, be sure to find one of these restaurants (Arnold’s Country Kitchen is a popular spot) and dig in.
First on your to-do list will be the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. Although the downtown institution has no permanent collection, its solid exhibitions, such as “Rodin: A Magnificent Obsession, Sculpture from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation” (September 12 through January 4), keep visitors coming back. The Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art, the 55-acre 1932 mansion southwest of downtown, features an American art collection that includes 600 paintings and 5,000 prints, drawings and photographs. Pick up a souvenir downtown at Hatch Show Print, one of the oldest working letterpress print shops in America, whose posters have featured Country Music Hall of Famers as well as state fairs and sausage ads.
Events for the visually stimulated include First Saturday Art Crawls, held among downtown galleries in the Arcade and 5th Street areas on the first Saturday night of the month; the American Artisan Festival, which takes place each June in Centennial Park; and East Nashville’s Tomato Art Fest, a “costume-friendly” art event held each year in August in the Five Points area.
You don’t want to miss the other gems in Nashville: Vanderbilt University’s Fine Arts Gallery and Dyer Observatory; The Parthenon, the only replica in the world of the Grecian temple, which also houses the city’s art collection and 42-foot sculpture of Athena; the new downtown public sculpture, Alice Aycock’s Ghost Ballet for the East Bank Machineworks; Ryman Auditorium, legendary former home of the Grand Ole Opry show; and the Gaylord Opryland Resort, the state’s largest hotel with the current home of the Grand Ole Opry right next door.
For more information on Nashville, visit www.visitmusiccity.com, www.nashvillescene.com, www.fristcenter.org, www.vanderbilt.edu, www.cheekwood.org, www.parthenon.org, www.tomatoartfest.com.