Nashville, Tennessee — just the name draws images of cowboy boots, rhinestone belts, and twangy banter flashing against the neon lights of Honky Tonk Highway. But while Nashville is deeply rooted in the genre, country music is only a fraction of what makes the place known around the world as Music City. Here, music grows organically with an energy pumping creativity, ambition, and a sense of community into the air. Here, artists want others to succeed, even if they want to succeed more. Here, there’s Dylan, there’s Cash, there’s The Black Keys, there’s Ke$ha.
Here, there’s no genre, there’s just music — and a whole lot of it.
1. Blackbird Studio
Owned by John McBride, Blackbird Studio is a type of canvas for musicians from all genres to create and invent. The studio works to combine the past with the present, having an extensive collection of over one thousand vintage microphones as well as state-of-the-art technologies and merchandise reminding those who pass through of McBride’s motto, “You either rock or you suck.” McBride’s passion for the art of recording is contagious, putting you right in the very room where artists have created their most memorable work such as Beck, R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, My Morning Jacket, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Pearl Jam, The White Stripes, Manchester Orchestra, and of course, Martina McBride.
2. Fisk Jubilee Singers
In 1866, Fisk University opened in Nashville, being the first American university to offer a liberal arts education to “young men and women irrespective of color.” Soon after, however, the school found itself in need of financial help. The music professor, George L. White, formed a nine-member, a cappella ensemble of students to tour and earn money for the University. They performed in small towns, and then larger cities like Cincinnati, Boston, and DC, later going on to perform in Europe.
In 1873, the Fisk Jubilee Singers sang for Queen Victoria who was so impressed, she responded by saying that with voices as beautiful as theirs, they must have come from a musical city, giving birth to Nashville’s acclaimed name.
3. Jefferson Street
Described as Nashville’s own Beale Street, the culture of rhythm and blues, jazz, and soul thrived here decades ago — it’s where Jimi Hendrix cut his teeth, Ray Charles played from the soul, Etta James recorded her first album and artists like Little Richard, B.B. King, and Fats Domino grew into legends.
4. Bluebird Cafe
At the Bluebird, musicians sit in an intimate circle in the middle of the cafe, surrounded by soothing lights and listeners at round tables, sipping Jack Daniel’s Honey and dipping their sweet potato fries in honey Dijon. Each artist takes a turn to talk about their song and perform them acoustically, giving a glimpse into their creative thought process and how each melody was crafted. Described by regulars as cleansing and therapeutic, you don’t walk into the Bluebird Cafe and leave the same person as you were before.
5. Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum
Opened in 2006 by Joe Chambers, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum pays tribute to legendary musicians who have paved the way for music while ignoring the concept of genre. Covering everything from rock ‘n roll to folk to hip-hop, from Memphis to Los Angeles to Atlanta, from Jimi Hendrix’s guitar to Buddy Holly’s upright bass, the museum transports you as if you’re on the road, touring with The Greats, seeing the world of music from a backstage perspective.
If you collect vinyl, chances are some have come from United Records Pressing, which has pressed records for artists such as The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Jack White, Justin Timberlake, Kings of Leon, Stevie Wonder, The Roots, Radiohead, and The Black Keys.
But Nashville isn’t just home to the largest vinyl pressing plant in the United States. There’s also Jack White’s Third Man Records as well as Grimey’s New & Preloved Music, a record store that, to put it hiply, knew who Pheonix was before anyone else did. Grimey’s also had a starring role in the recognition and growth of independent record stores, which would go on to carve out the third Saturday of April as Record Store Day.
You know those traditional-looking posters with witty graphics and iconic titles, seasoned with americana humor for artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Bessie Smith, Wilco, Duke Ellington, Coldplay, Louis Armstrong, Bon Iver, and B.B. King?
You can thank Nashville for those.
8. Hot chicken
While not music related, it’s a Nashville tradition that can’t be ignored. If you order a basket of Shut the Cluck Up from Hattie B’s, get ready for your tongue to be repeatedly stabbed by Satan’s scorching pitch fork and your eyes to bleed tears of regret. Or, if you don’t want your chicken rubbed in a variety of spices hotter than hell itself, there’s always milder seasoned poultry accompanied by heat numbing pimento mac n’ cheese. Either way, if you go into Hattie B’s or Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack thinking you’re a badass, you’ll be put right in your place: begging to be drowned in a vat of sweet, iced tea.