The venerable Ryman auditorium, located a few blocks from the Cumberland River in the Downtown section of Nashville, is one of the premier concert venues in the city. Its storied history and atmospheric beauty lends a truly classic quality to any musical performance. It was first opened in 1892 as the Union Gospel Tabernacle, and you will still feel the church-like ambience as you sit on wooden pews amongst other rapturous music lovers listening to a variety of musical acts. It is not often that you get the opportunity to experience this quality of sound and atmosphere any place, much less a National Historic Landmark. The only caveat is that there are a few seats that are inconveniently located behind structural pillars and offer less than ideal sight lines. Just a few of the upcoming shows feature such diverse offerings as The Black Crowes, Morrissey, Ricky Skaggs, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, as well as a performance of A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor.
Tootsie's Orchid Lounge
Another historic monument in Nashville's legendary music scene is at the appropriately named Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, which is located right behind the Ryman Auditorium. So named because of its garish purple interior "decor," Tootsie's has a long-running reputation as a place where both up-and-coming, and stalwarts have come to play. Some of the biggest names in country music have played there and their faces peer out from the faded photos on the wall. The throwback nature of Tootsie's, plus the unexpected bathroom attendants, give this place a surreal tinge at times. There are two stages, but this is a very popular place with tourists, and it does get packed. Do expect to get mashed as you pay premium prices for your drinks, but if you're in the mood for another kind of history to balance out the finery of the Ryman, then Tootsie's makes the perfect bookend to your musical adventures.
The Bluebird Cafe is another well-known Nashville music club with a widespread reputation as "the" place to see both unknown and famous songwriters plying their craft. It is more rightfully known as a "listening room" than a nightclub or honky tonk because this is a place where listening, rather than socializing, is encouraged when performers are onstage. The venue opened in 1982 and its intimate 100-seat room became a primary draw for up-and-coming singers and songwriters. Country megastars Kathy Mattea and Garth Brooks got their start there as well as a host of others who would go on to achieve greater fame in the country and pop fields. They have an assortment of regular weekly shows such as their Sunday night Songwriters' Night and the famous Monday open mic. The Bluebird also hosts well-known artists who make stops here as they are touring. Reservations are accepted for some shows, and they have a full kitchen and bar.
Robert's Western World
You may feel out of place walking around Nashville without cowboy boots, so you if you are on Lower Broadway, you will want to stop in at Robert's Western World and check out their selection. Not only will you be able to try on a pair, but also you can break them in right if you show up at night when they will have a band playing something that will have you scooting across the floor. The old building, which was originally a warehouse and then later the home of Sho-Bud Steel Guitar Company, is worth a visit especially if you've got time to drink a cold PBR and eat a fried bologna sandwich. Honky tonk stars BR549 got their start playing at Robert's, and you're certain to see a good band any night you drop by.
If you've had your fill of country/honky tonk acts and want something a bit more musically diverse, then head down to Ellison Place near Vanderbilt University where you will find a well-known music club of a different stripe: Exit/In. Opened in 1971, Exit/In has offered a diverse selection of music types and artists in its intimate, 500-person capacity venue. It would be hard to select a genre that has not been featured in this no-frills club. Legendary Jazz pianist McCoy Tyner has played there, along with bong masters Cheech and Chong, The Police, Adrian Belew, My Morning Jacket, and about anybody else you would want to see