Of course, the number one reason to visit Nashville, (other than because Nick said so), is Music – in particular, Country Music, with which Nashville is synonymous. This has been the epicentre of mainstream – mostly country – music since at least the 1950s. I say “mostly country” because in addition to the various styles of that genre, such as bluegrass, pickin’, rock, rhythm and blues, honkytonk, hillbilly, gospel, rockabilly, and outlaw, are a number of artists not normally associated with Nashville, such as Kings of Leon, the Black Keys, and the White Stripes.
I’m no music historian, but here’s what I know. There’s a good Wikipedia page all about Country Music for some more detailed information. And the must do Country Music Hall of Fame can be one of the first stops in Nashville to get an even better foundation.
The pioneers of country music included Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family, and honky tonk legend Hank Williams (who died of excess at the age of 29).
The Grand Ole Opry is not so much a place as it is an institution – a weekly one-hour live performance radio broadcast that has been airing since 1925. You can listen to it (and other Nashville country music) on Nashville’s local radio 650 AM – WSM, which you can listen to online RIGHT HERE or use an app like TuneIn Radio on your phone. From 1943 to 1974, it was performed at and aired from the Ryman Auditorium, and since then has found its namesake home at the Grand Ole Opry House.
You may have heard about something called the “Nashville Sound.” This is the old time refined country music that I remember watching on the Grand Ole Opry show at my grandma’s on Friday nights. Here is a good overview of what it is including a list of the artists that will help you understand what the Nashville sound is. Often referred to as “Countrypolitan,” think vocal harmonies and a more refined and orchestral sound. Chet Atkins, a phenomenal performer in his own right, was also the main producer behind defining and promulgating the Nashville Sound. He was like the Dr. Dre or Snoop Dogg of country music in the 1950s and 60s. The musicians from this era included Chet, recent Music Hall of Fame inductee – Jim Ed Brown and the Browns, Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, and Eddy Arnold, to name only a few.
In the 1970s, there was a shift away from the Nashville Sound with a more raw and rebellious form of country music – similar to the shift in rock and roll music during the same era – along with the all the drugs and alcohol, leather, and excess. These were the hay days of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, John Prine, Hank Williams Jr., and Johnny Cash.
More recently, we have Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Brooks & Dunn, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood, as well as Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton, the Dixie Chicks, and Canada’s own Shania Twain
Country music is perhaps the number one listened to genre of music on earth, at least when you account for the blurred lines between country and rock and roll. (Okay, it’s hard to compete with close to a billion Baliwood soundtrack-loving Indians, but Country still holds a candle). There is at least a 25% chance that you are a country fan, which means going to Nashville is going to turn your crank!
Want to download some music to get in the Nashville spirit? Any of the following will give you a good repertoire:
- Hank Williams
- Willie Nelson
- Waylon Jennings
- Johnny Cash
- Merle Haggard
- Dolly Parton
- Hank Williams Jr.
- Garth Brooks
- Kris Kristofferson
- Lefty Frizzell
- Chet Atkins
- Vince Gill
- Patsy Cline
- Brad Paisley
- John Prine
- The Carter Family
- Steve Earle
Here are some links you should check out to prepare yourself for the music: