Photo: Stab At Sleep
1. Don’t be a hero when it comes to Hot Chicken.
Eating Hot Chicken from places like Hattie B’s and Prince’s in Nashville is pretty much like scrubbing sandpaper that’s been rubbed by a ghost pepper on your tongue. Try one of the milder seasonings before showing off with a basket of Shut the Cluck Up because, trust me, you’ll do just that as you push your way to the bathroom to shove your face in a running sink.
2. The same goes for moonshine.
Yeah, yeah. You’re in Tennessee, so you have to drink some moonshine out of a mason jar to get in touch with your hillbilly side — we get it. But taking a swig of apple pie bathtub gin feels more like sweetened gasoline than any of those Smirnoff shots you courageously threw back in high school. You won’t seem like such a badass with your ego spewed all over the place.
3. We may have the highest-selling whiskey in the world, but that doesn’t mean you can drink it.
Tennessee is the motherland of Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel. In fact, Tennessee whiskey is one of the state’s top 10 exports, having had 14,191 registered distilleries producing 25.5 million gallons of whiskey by 1810. But by 1838, Tennessee passed the nation’s first prohibition law. Still today, the county throne of the Jack Daniel’s Distillery is completely dry.
In fact, the state only has nine wet counties out of 95 — and that’s just the booze-less icing on the sober cake. On Sundays, beer is sold after noon but not wine or liquor. Alcohol is sold any other day as long as it’s purchased before 11 pm. However, if you visit a county with bars that close earlier than 3 am, the alcohol sales stop when the bar shuts down.
Confused? We all are. Cheers to that.
4. If you came just for the country music, you done goof’d.
Nashville definitely didn’t get its name Music City from twangy tunes. In 1866, Fisk University opened in the state’s capital, becoming the first American university to offer a liberal arts education to “young men and women irrespective of color.” The Fisk Jubilee Singers sang in small towns before moving on to larger cities, eventually performing in Europe. In 1873, when they sang for Queen Victoria, she was so impressed with their musical talent that she expressed they must have come from a musical city.
But the entire state as a whole is a mecca for some of the most influential musicians in Blues and early rock n’ roll history. W.C. Handy wrote the first commercially-successful blues song in a Beale Street bar; Jimi Hendrix learned to cut with his teeth in Nashville; and legendary artists like Bessie Smith, B.B. King, and Aretha Franklin laid down their tracks to fame here. Not to mention, Music City is home to plenty of musical spots besides the country-fueled Grand Ole Opry. There’s the largest vinyl pressing plant in the United States; the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum; Jack White’s Third Man Records; Blackbird Studio, where artists like Beck, R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, My Morning Jacket, Neil Young, and Bruce Springsteen have recorded; and Grimey’s New & Preloved Music — a vinyl shop that helped the growth and recognition of independent record stores around the country.
So with music embedded deep in the roots and soul of Tennessee and free tunes 365 days of the year, don’t waste it all on twang.
5. If you lean even slightly to the left, skip it all and go to Memphis.
Believe it or not, Memphis actually leans more to the left than Sacramento, putting it right behind San Diego on a list for the top 30 most liberal U.S. cities in a study conducted by MIT and the University of California. The rest of Tennessee? Simply put, Memphis is a blue island in a sea of red.
6. But no matter where you are, you will see Confederate flags.
Being the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan and having recently allowed a Klan gathering to be held at a taxpayer-funded state park with armed security in 2014, Tennessee isn’t exactly known for its positive involvement in civil rights.
Be angry when you see porches and gas-guzzling trucks decked out in Confederate flags and “HERITAGE NOT HATE” stickers — just don’t be surprised.
7. Prepare to be killed with kindness.
Nashville is named the friendliest city in the United States by Travel + Leisure, and the rest of the state follows closely behind. Tennessee is where strangers wave to each other on the road and where friends are made in lines at grocery stores, gas pumps, and stoplights. Sure, it may painfully burn the introvert inside of you, but if you smile back and mind your manners, you’ll fit right in.
8. Y’outta learn some of the language.
It’s dee-MUN-bre-un, not DEMON-brewun; Appa-LATCH-un, not Appa-LAY-chi-un; “fixin’ to” means someone’s about to do something; “bless your heart” isn’t a compliment; “I’ll pray for you” is the nicest way someone is telling you to screw off; and “ya’ll’d’ve” makes absolute and total sense.
9. If you’re a vegetarian, you might want you to pack a lunch.
Especially if you’re served a dish by an older lady in thick church heels. Sure, that green bean casserole may be loaded with bacon bits and simmered in chicken stock, but it’s green bean casserole — how could you get any more vegetarian than that?
10. And no matter what, pack some maternity pants.
Tennessee food means chunky spreads of sharp cheddar cheese, pimento peppers, and mayonnaise on white bread; Lipton tea poured over a mound of sugar and cooled with ice cubes; greasy and fried chicken, catfish, and okra; buttery cornbread; cheese grits; baskets of dry-rubbed barbecue; sloppy coleslaw; salty and spicy boiled peanuts; and buttermilk biscuits slathered in sawmill gravy.
Do yourself a favor and at least bring a looser belt so the trip isn’t ruined from your pants digging with a vengeance into your gut.
11. Coming here means you’re actually visiting three different states.
The soft, blue peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains in the east; the green plains in the middle; and the sultry lowlands of the west — welcome to our beautiful Tennessee.