Sunday, January 28, 2018

Uh, I live here

Okay when I read this in the New York Times I thought what the fuck?  This was so touristy and so boring I realized that Nashville is killing itself to be a Class A city when it will always be a Tier B one but hey keep at it as those who live here want it.  Well not all of the residents but the transplants who are not morons and/or racist.

But to review this review I have actually only been to one of the places mentioned, The Ryman. Uh for the record they only do the Opry shows during the holidays the rest of the year they are at Opryland which is just South and East in Opry Mills but okay.  The Ryman for all of its sight issues is not a bad place but I will say the main floor has real problems when you are under the balcony.  But I love it and yet we have perhaps the best Symphony Hall I have ever been in, The Schemerhorn, which hosts many concerts year round and that is a must see.

Then we have the food options.  Been to none of them.  Let's keep it that way.  Hot chicken is everywhere and frankly there is a Prince's just down the road off Nolensville with fewer lines and the same chicken.   Again, there is no shortage of it. It is hot. Same with meat and three's.

When the show Nashville finally ends it short and overplayed life perhaps The Bluebird will be just what it is, a dump in a strip mall.  If you want a singer songwriter night frankly the Holiday Inn Commodore Room just up the West End is as good and not as touristy.

Then he stayed in Murfreesboro which is nowhere near Nashville but home of MTSU and is a good 30 minutes away from the "action" of lower Broad so add the commute time to the visit.  This guy had it going on that is for sure, he should move here he would fit right in. 

When I think of all the interesting things in Nashville there are to do, to eat to see it is good to know that regardless people want the same ole same ole.  Don't tell anyone in Nashville they want this city to be one - a city.

In Affordable Nashville, Grain Bowls, Hot Chicken and Blistering Guitars

There’s always the music, of course, from the Opry to hideaways like Santa’s Pub. The food is memorable, too, including Indian-Southern fusion.

By Lucas Peterson
The New York Times
Jan. 24, 2018

“Folsom Prison Blues,” the 1955 Johnny Cash classic, isn’t exactly a deep cut — anyone with even a passing familiarity with country music has heard it. So when the Don Kelley Band tore into the opening riff at the beginning of their set at Robert’s Western World — one of many honky-tonks on a brightly lit neon strip of Broadway in downtown Nashville — I nodded my head and tapped my feet along with the other hundred or so people in the joint. It was the musical equivalent of comfort food — nothing too surprising or challenging. I wasn’t quite ready for what happened next.

Luke McQueary, a skinny 17-year-old in a plaid Western-style shirt, stepped to the front of the stage and, instead of delivering the workmanlike guitar break I was expecting, set the stage aflame with a blistering solo I would have expected from someone twice his age and experience. It was no fluke — the virtuosity continued during the following song, performed with an earnest, almost Hendrix-like showmanship. I half expected someone to come out from the wings, wrap a robe around him, and help him off the stage, à la James Brown.

I was surprised, but I shouldn’t have been. A place nicknamed “Music City” has a reputation to uphold, and Nashville was more than ready to exceed my expectations. A mecca for talented musicians, Tennessee not only has more high-quality live music than you could ever hope to enjoy, but top-notch dining — both traditional Southern cooking and contemporary twists on old standards. It’s a great location for those on a budget, too — I scarcely noticed the damage to my wallet after a four-night trip there in November.

That area of Broadway is a little like the Las Vegas Strip or Bourbon Street: crowded and touristy, but fun in small doses. I visited there with my friend Halena Kays, with whom I crashed in nearby Murfreesboro, a suburb southeast of the city. We ended up at Robert’s Western World accidentally, as our plans to have dinner at nearby Merchants Restaurant, on the corner of Broadway and Fourth Avenue South, had hit a snag — the place was booked solid. No matter: We grabbed a $4 fried bologna sandwich (imagine a BLT — now imagine it twice as salty) and a couple of $4.25 Miller Lites at the honky-tonk while we listened to the aforementioned band.

I soon received a text that a table had opened up and we walked over to Merchant’s. The place effectively operates as two restaurants, a pricier steak and seafood restaurant on the second floor, and a less expensive, modern southern bistro on the ground floor. We opted for the latter and grabbed a booth in the bright, spacious dining room. The fried green tomatoes ($11) were spot-on, and the Nashville Caesar salad with cornbread croutons ($12), and a pulled pork sandwich ($13) were satisfying. One nice thing: When they saw we were sharing everything, they were happy to split the dishes into separate portions.

That strip of Broadway is just a stone’s throw from Ryman Auditorium, an indelible piece of Nashville history that belongs on every to-do list, especially if the Grand Ole Opry happens to be in residence. The Opry, an artistic home to country musicians since it began in 1925, takes place primarily at Opryland, about 25 minutes northeast of downtown. But if you can, see the show at the Ryman, home to the show from 1943-1974, which sometimes still hosts the Opry. The building itself is a relic — opened in 1892 as the Union Gospel Tabernacle, it earned the moniker “Mother Church of Country Music.” Near the back steps of its hallowed halls, Halena and I passed a young street performer with an amazing voice crooning a song I didn’t recognize. In Nashville, even the buskers have exceptional talent.

Tickets aren’t terribly cheap — the premium seats run close to $100 — but there’s a slight workaround. I picked up the cheapest tickets I could find: Two obstructed view seats for $48 apiece. (I also checked StubHub and other second-hand ticket sites; they weren’t helpful.) I was expecting to sit smack in front of a column — I wasn’t. The seats, on the main floor, right in the middle of the auditorium, were perfect. And while there was a thin pole in my line of sight, it didn’t bother me at all.

Onto the show — the Opry was one of the most pleasurable music performances I’ve attended in recent memory. After grabbing a $9 draft beer, we found our seats to the din of audience chatter and the buttery baritone of the evening’s announcer and M.C., Eddie Stubbs. The Opry functions simultaneously as a live radio show, broadcast on 650 AM WSM. If you’re familiar with public radio’s “Live from Here” (the show formerly known as “A Prairie Home Companion”), it functions in a similar way. Different acts come on and play just two or three songs — while that’s happening, the next act is hanging out in the wings, which gives the show a casual, collegial quality.

An announcer’s podium is set up stage right, along with different producers and assistants working on their laptops — bands tune their instruments, guests chatter and banter with Mr. Stubbs, who also functions as an impeccable straight man, and the audience groans and chuckles while cheesy ad copy is read during the breaks. It’s a ton of fun. And then, of course, there’s the music.

“Connie Smith, ladies and gentlemen, the Rolls-Royce of country singers,” announced Mr. Stubbs, who then motioned for us to applaud. Traditional crooners like Ms. Smith were in the house, as was fresh-faced young man named William Michael Morgan, who played his debut single “I Met a Girl” (“He ain’t been off the teat long,” quipped Mike Snider, one of the other musicians).

Having discovered my inner country music fan, I stopped by the Country Music Hall of Fame ($25.95, but only $14 after 4 p.m; the museum closes at 5 p.m.) to continue my education. It’s easy to get lost in the overwhelming amount of history and information — but make sure you don’t miss, among other relics, Carl Perkins’s blue suede shoes (yes, those blue suede shoes), Elvis’s gold Cadillac (complete with refrigerator and swivel-mounted color TV) and some of Chet Atkins’s old guitars, including his first, a Sears Silverstone.

But there’s no substitution for live music. I made my way to the Bluebird Cafe, a popular, intimate venue that features local and established acts. Tickets are, well, extremely difficult to come by (it’s been showcased on the television show “Nashville”). They’re released weekly by the venue and space is tight, which means you have to be both lightning quick and lucky to nab a seat. If you’re in, you’re golden — tickets typically run in the $20 to $30 range. Cafe workers supposedly monitor Craigslist and ticket sites to crack down on scalping. If you’re not fortunate enough to snag online tickets (the likely case), you can wait in a queue that approaches the “Hamilton”-esque for one of 10 or so same-day tickets. I showed up at 7:30 one evening and the man at the door stifled a laugh. “Yeah, you’re not gonna make it in,” he said.

Down but not out, I headed over to Bransford Avenue to Santa’s Pub, a bar housed in a trailer that does live music on Sundays. After showing my ID to a man with a huge beard (was that Santa?), I headed inside, the top of my head almost brushing the ceiling of the double-wide. “No Cussin’, No Beer, No Cigarettes” read a sign on the back wall. Well, I counted all three. The place was cramped and smoky, like any respectable dive bar, and the beer was cold and cheap ($2 for a Pabst Blue Ribbon). The band, a five-piece outfit called Santa’s Ice Cold Pickers, was tight — their rendition of Ray Price’s “Crazy Arms” had me humming along.

Another highly enjoyable show I attended was at the Basement East, on the other side of the Cumberland River in East Nashville. The venue was decidedly less intimate than Santa’s or Bluebird, but I couldn’t complain about the program — a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young tribute show, with proceeds benefiting Autism Speaks. For $10 (plus $2 service fee) I was treated to a Murderer’s Row of young, local talent. Highlights included Jesse Lynn Madera performing a lovely cover of “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” and Amber Woodhouse leading the excellent house band in a stirring rendition of “For What It’s Worth.”

While music is unquestionably the star of the Nashville scene, there are exceptional eats to enjoy between shows. Hot chicken, which has seen its star rise over the last decade, is one of the biggest attractions. I loved my crispy-skinned, exhilaratingly spicy leg quarter from Prince’s Hot Chicken ($5) which has no equal, in my opinion. But it also took an hour of waiting in line. It took no time to get my order at Pepperfire, another worthwhile hot chicken joint less than 10 minutes away from Prince’s. There, I dug into a Tender Royale, a spicy, deep-fried cheese sandwich topped with three chicken tenders ($12.49) with a strong, cumin-forward profile.

For those looking for a complete Southern meal, Arnold’s Country Kitchen is the place to find it. The classic meat-and-three (main course and three side dishes) runs just $10.74 for a huge tray full of food. I had a plate of thinly shaved roast beef with mac and cheese, tender greens and powerfully smoky pinto beans. Cafe Roze, a place with slightly healthier fare from New York-transplant Julia Jaksic, does a mean grain bowl called the Roze Bowl ($14) with beet tahini, black lentils and quinoa. And then there’s the happy hour at Chauhan Ale and Masala House, an Indian-Southern food fusion restaurant, where I got an order of lamb keema papadi nachos with a tamarind chutney ($6) that I still think about weeks after the fact.

But Nashville’s power to disarm and delight remains rooted in its music. When I attended the Opry, two guys who go by the handle LoCash strutted onto the stage in what came as the biggest surprise of the night. At first glance, LoCash seemed to epitomize the slick twang of everything I don’t particularly enjoy about modern country music — impeccably crafted facial hair, power chords and tacky clothes. Halena grabbed my arm, and I braced myself for awfulness.

Boy, was I wrong; these guys were fantastic performers. Within minutes, they had me and the rest of the audience eating out their hands — clapping and singing along to a song I’d never heard before. I don’t know if their exceedingly catchy “I Love This Life” will go down in the annals of country music’s great songs. But it was easily the most fun four minutes of the trip, and had me unironically singing the refrain the entire car ride home: I love a Friday night — man, I love this life.

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