The music-obsessed US city where Taylor Swift was discovered, age 14


The following morning, I’m directed to Biscuit Love, a casual southern-themed restaurant in the Gulch, a once-abandoned industrial district that has received a sanitised makeover. Biscuits, solid (but very delicious) versions of British/Australian scones, provide an excellent carb loading to tackle the day’s musical beat.

The hallowed Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

The hallowed Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

First stop is the Historic RCA Studio B where the “Nashville Sound” was born; the smooth string orchestral sound with backing vocals that created a style of country pop. Elvis Presley recorded more than 200 songs here. As Debbie, our guide, dims the lights, the strains of Elvis singing Little Sister fills the studio. Behind me, someone starts to sniffle.

Nostalgia, too, emanates from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, a “must visit”. I underestimate the time required to cover the expansive three floors and the trove of thousands of costumes, instruments and paraphernalia, and I dally too long over tasselled dresses and Keith Urban’s handwritten lyrics of his hit Days Go By.

I race to meet Hayley in Broadway, the famous honky-tonk drag, denoted by vibrant neon signs that flash all day and night. We head into Robert’s Western World where we tap our feet along with the fiddle-playing singers while swilling cheap G&Ts from plastic cups. Sure, there may be more to Nashville, but this is great fun, nonetheless. Not to mention a late night.

Tennessee’s top tourism attraction Beale Steet is still a reliably good night out.

Tennessee’s top tourism attraction Beale Steet is still a reliably good night out.Credit: iStock

The next day brings a tempo change. I wander through the Frist Art Museum, a stunning art deco and neo-classical building that was constructed between 1933 and 1934 as a post office. Its grill work, coloured marble and geometric form is stunning. And I’m lucky enough to catch Raqib Shaw: Ballads of East and West, one of three temporary exhibits.

Next stop, the 12South neighbourhood is a half-mile (800-metre) strip of local boutiques, all worth a browse. Drawn by the aroma of freshly baked pastry, I hunker down in The Buttermilk Ranch, a bakery-restaurant that serves, in my sugar-loving opinion, the best croissants and pains au chocolat in the US.

From here, it’s a 25-minute drive to East Nashville, a low-key neighbourhood that’s firmly on the future “hip list” for its vintage shops and restaurants (including Noko). It’s also home to the music shop Grimey’s. After browsing the new and pre-loved vinyls, cassettes and books, I wander next door to Anaconda, a massive vintage store packed with retro fashion delights – the likes of orange nylon flares and aquamarine frocks – all arranged by colour.

Over a rack of 1950s jackets, I chat with a young woman. Eventually, she reveals herself as Erin Rae, a bona fide Nashville singer. When she invites me to her evening gig at Brooklyn Bowl, a popular music venue, I don’t hesitate to accept.

Chef Julia Sullivan’s seasonally-led Henrietta Red.

Chef Julia Sullivan’s seasonally-led Henrietta Red.

But first, dinner at Henrietta Red. Considered one of Nashville’s best, this white, airy restaurant has an open kitchen and is run by chef Julia Sullivan. My knowledgeable server helps select a range of dishes (these change regularly and comprise seasonal produce): seared scallops and root vegetables; fresh grouper; and beef tartare, which delivers a chilli-infused kick. I could linger over this delightful experience, but it’s time to rub shoulders with the musos.

Multi-colour carrots at Henrietta Red.

Multi-colour carrots at Henrietta Red.

It’s an easy 10-minute stroll to Brooklyn Bowl. The crowd, milling in a performance space ablaze in blue, red and yellow spotlights, is friendly and enthusiastic. The decibel level is bearable. When the band – after the genuine Southern greeting, “Welcome y’all” – introduces Erin, I cheer along. I’ve discovered my groupie “peeps” without realising I was lacking such a thing.

On my final morning, I hit the pretty Hillsboro Village neighbourhood, where students from the nearby Vanderbilt and Belmont universities peruse the youth-forward fashion shops. Next stop? Wedgewood Houston, a former industrial precinct that’s presided over by a giant guitar, a former baseball scoreboard. Here, brick warehouses are home to bars, art galleries and creative brand HQs. I’m delighted to find Humphreys Street Coffee, a not-for-profit cafe, with the city’s best coffee (to my Australian taste).

Nashville performer Erin Rae.

Nashville performer Erin Rae.Credit: Getty

But if there’s a Nashvillian heart it’s the Bluebird Cafe, a nondescript place that’s considered hallowed ground for songwriters, performers and audiences. It’s where 14-year-old Taylor Swift was discovered. Having secured a last-minute spot, I don’t know the line-up, though I expect a youthful, indie vibe. So I’m surprised when the Queen of Hearts, four (ahem) “seasoned” female singer-songwriters, arrange themselves in the middle of the room and we, the audience, sit in a circle around them. And out it pours. Folk. Blues. Country.

So moved by the lyrics of one song, I shed a tear.

It’s a far cry from day one when, at the African American Music Museum, I “mixed” my own record at one of the masterful interactive exhibits. I overlayed rhythm, vocals, instruments and percussion, one by one, and waited for the computer analysis of my musical production style. Its conclusion? “Like Philly Soul – a smooth groove of the 1970s with a lush and full sound and seeping orchestrations of horns and strings layered over a disco beat.”

It was a clear case of “taking the girl out of the 1970s, but not the ’70s out of the girl”. But that was then. Over the last three days, I’ve undergone an entire remix. A personal transformation.

That’s what Music City (and its eclectic “playlists”) can do to you.

THE DETAILS

MORE

visitmusiccity.com

FLY

Qantas flies from Sydney and Melbourne to Nashville (via Dallas Fort Worth or Los Angeles). See qantas.com

STAY

Virgin Hotel Nashville, from $US259 ($390) a night. See virginhotels.com/nashville

The writer travelled courtesy of Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp.



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