Escaping music altogether isn’t really an option in Music City (and why would you want to?), but this is the closest you’ll get. Damien Gabet shares five very good alternative reasons to visit Nashville.
1. Eat, eat, eat!
Lunch? Visit family-run Arnold’s Country Kitchen. A societal leveller, this zero-frills canteen sees millionaire financiers queue up with janitors to get plates spilling over with a range of ‘meat and three’ options. Dolly Parton gets the roast beef to go.
An afternoon food tour of Nashville’s lesser-known Midtown is as tasty as it is informative. Ex-journalist and Walk Eat Nashville owner Karen-Lee Ryan ushers groups round locations such as 50s-style Elliston Place Soda Shop for a milkshake, while waxing on the area’s rich (often musical) history. A buzzing steakhouse and noteworthy cupcake shop are two other locations on this six-stop adventure.
If you only go to one restaurant for dinner make it Woolworth’s on 5th. Superlative American comfort food is served in a recently restored deco-style space with an important history. In 1960, a group of African American college students conducted a landmark ‘sit-in’ here, aiming to de-segregate Nashville lunch counters.
Visit Arnold's for a classic Southern "Meat and three" © Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp
2. Browse the best vintage clothes
Gallatin Avenue, which runs north to south through East Nashville, has a string of fantastic vintage-clothing stores to rummage through. Found inside a listed ex-fire station, Black Shag has a carefully curated selection of classic American apparel. Rock 'n' roll owner Tom Daley is in most days and will happily to guide you through the selection.
If you’d rather stay in town, check out the Buffalo Exchange on ‘rock-block’ Elliston Place. The selection is vast, with a particular focus on western shirts. And it’s cheap! Other stand-out options include Anaconda Vintage (a mile north of Black Shag) and The Bowery Vault next door, both of which double as music venues.
Head to East Nashville for some great vintage finds © Sakaret/Shutterstock
3. Learn about Nashville’s Civil Rights history
While other towns in the South are perhaps better known for the Civil Rights movement, Nashville was no less instrumental, acting a key training ground for non-violent protesting and the location of a number of lunch-counter ‘sit-ins’.
The best place to learn about it is in the Civil Rights Room of the beautiful Nashville Public Library. Never seen before photographs, videos (check out ‘Anatomy of a Demonstration’) and plenty of reading material bring the reality of the struggle to life.
For a better understanding of the exhibition, contact the library ahead of time and ask for senior librarian Elliot Robinson. He’ll talk you through the various artefacts in detail.
Woolworth’s on 5th, where civil rights protesters hosted a lunch counter "sit-in" © Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp
4. Try some fantastic local beers
There’s a craft-beer scene ‘burgeoning’ in just about ever city in the western world right now, but not many have a brewery that’s owned and run by a woman with a degree in biological anthropology.
Bailey Spaulding’s studies have clearly paid off as it’s taken less than a decade for her brand Jackalope to brew some of Nashville’s most popular suds. Her brewpub in Pie Town now offers 45-minute brewery tours (starting at $7). Yazoo Brewing Company up the road is a fun (and more spacious) alternative if Jackalope is fully booked.
Like many places Tennessee has an emerging craft beer scene © Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp
5. Immerse yourself in the art scene
A good place to start an artsy exploration of Nashville is Hatch Show Print – a 139-year-old print shop located inside the Country Music Hall of Fame. The print shop's unmistakable style continues to be popular with musicians advertising their shows – Taylor Swift is a fan. A tour will show you how they’re made (by hand) and even give you the chance to make you own.
Fine art lovers will enjoy the Frist Art Museum in The Gulch area, not least because of its fantastic art deco architecture. Revolving exhibitions covers subjects from 1900s Paris to architectural photography.
A grass-roots art scene is picking up pace in Nashville, evident in the like of the small and unassuming Elephant Gallery in North Nashville. If owner Alex Lockwood is in, he’ll show you his workshop round the back. Another gallery worth your time is the more established Zeitgeist in the studenty area of Wedgewood-Houston, where there’s a focus on new artists.
Take a peek at classic poster style at Hatch Print Shop © Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp