Neon country music, neon country music, boot shop, neon country karaoke. . . .
It’s a nighttime walk down Broadway, in downtown Nashville. . . past the boot shop, the neon country music dive bar, tacky souvenir stand, another boot shop, and did I mention the neon country karaoke?. . . . you get the idea! It’s not my first trip to Nashville, but it’s promising to be the most colorful, musically diverse, and expensive. It’s Honky Tonk Highway, on Lower Broadway, where there are no cover charges; the music is free, but you might go broke on the cost of a few drinks. It’s gaudy, and it’s fantastic!
Nashville is “Music City”, and the streets, bars and restaurants are awash with loud, gritty music coming from every direction. Like most large tourist-supported cities, various parts of downtown appear to work in shifts, so there’s somewhere interesting to go at any time of the day.
“The Arcade”, wildly popular when it was built in 1903, is an enclosed alleyway, brightly lit under a high glass ceiling. Businesses stacked side-by-side, and two stories high, under a gabled glass roof. This strip of shops, most looking like they are local, owned by families of entrepreneurs, seems to exist more for the city’s daytime crowd. Most of the shops and about half of the restaurants are closed in the early evening, as I duck through to shelter myself from dropping temperatures.
“Printer’s Alley”, on the other hand, is dark and loud and splashed with every color of pulsing neon. This stretch of downtown hasn’t quite geared up for the night. Music is pumped into the street, which is relatively empty except for those cutting through on their way to dinner. Tourists are enticed to return later in the night, with drink specials at every bar, and a hand-written sign advertising the late-night Burlesque show.
Back on Broadway, there is little to distinguish the exterior of one neon-embellished honky tonk from the next – there really have to be limits to how tall, how expansive, and how flashy a neon cowgirl can be! (Okay, maybe not. . . ) The live music from inside is broadcast on speakers, aimed at the tourists walking by, competing for attention. Workers stand out in front of the bars, tasked with thrusting flyers into your hands, in hopes that you’ll stop in for a drink or two.
I enter Nashville Crossroads, not entirely sure of what has caught my attention – perhaps I’m just, you know, thirsty. I grab a seat at the bar, where I can watch the live band. It turns out that the bar is known for playing a mixture of classic country and southern rock’n’roll. It’s a night for rock, which is fine with me. Frequent guitar solos, pounding drums, and a strong female lead keep the crowd tapping their feet, encouraging them to stay a bit longer, and drink a bit more. It’s not a cheap night, but I recall there was no cover charge; the bar is making a nice profit, and I wonder how much money the band claims. As a fine art, travel and portrait photographer, I’m well aware that up and coming artists cannot live on great exposure and experience alone.
But what a great way to start! Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Gretchen Wilson, Dierks Bentley and other stars began their careers under all this Neon. On my way out of the area I make numerous Elvis sightings, with the King in his bedazzled white jumpsuit, and there are ample opportunities to go home from Nashville with a country T-shirt, bottle opener, keychain, magnet, shot glass, dish towel. . . or perhaps send out one of those glittery, foil covered “Wish You Were Here” postcards, with a badass guitar and a string of musical notes on the front.
Without question this part of the city is saturated with all the great things people think of when they think of “Music City”, but something not everyone gets to see in Nashville is the B-52s, in concert with the Nashville Symphony. I’m on my feet for most of the concert, and by the time Roam and Love Shack were being performed, the front rows of the concert hall have been rushed by concert goers from seats further back, and the aisles are crowded with dancing. The music is loud with color, and vibrant with sound. It is a B-52s party, and the symphony came along for the ride.
I have an unusual perspective during the show, watching from a seat behind the stage, seeing the auditorium and the crowd through the eyes of the musicians. The sound is kept in close by the long narrow layout of the auditorium, and the performers made a special point to pull us into the performance with their exaggerated dance moves and their big personalities. The group has toned down the dancing a bit over the years, but they haven’t lost a bit of their charisma, flashy style, or larger than life vocals.
“Tin Roof. . . . Rusted!”
I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the lyrics to the group’s 1989 hit Roam.
Boy Mercury shooting through every degree
Oh girl dancing down those dirty and dusty trails
Take it hip to hip, rocket through the wilderness
Around the world the trip begins with a kiss
I wander, with a lust that continues to grow with every trip, every city, every experience. Once again I realize that I’m incapable of ignoring the draw of the nightlife in the city, local music in the park, the beauty of a nature trail, or the latest attempts of up and coming artists. Why do I wander? Why do I roam? Because there are so many great stories out there, and I’m just trying to rub elbows with them every once and a while, as much as I can. These days I’m successful more often than not. It’s exciting, it’s exhausting, and it’s really fantastic!
Come along on the next adventure!
Honky Tonk Highway: http://www.visitmusiccity.com/Music/thingstodo/honkytonkhighway
Nashville Symphony: https://www.nashvillesymphony.org/
B-52s with the Nashville Symphony: https://www.nashvillesymphony.org/tickets/concert/B-52s
The Arcade: http://www.nashvilledowntown.com/go/the-arcade