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Cowboy boots and country music

Nashville: Music City

Catchy country music, hot chicken and Johnny Cash: iFly reporter Iris went on a rockin’ road trip full of soul on the I-40 Music Highway from Memphis to Nashville. This edition contains part two of Music City: Nashville.

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Iris van den Broek

Country music was born in Nashville and rock ‘n roll in Memphis. But it’s not as simple as that, of course, because both cities have played a tremendous role in the development of blues, soul, rock ‘n roll, jazz and music around the world in general. These two cities are connected by I-40, aptly called the Music Highway. Travelling this road is a journey packed with music, food and history.

Part 1: Memphis

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Loretta Lynn’s ranch

Now that I’ve left behind the blues and soul of Memphis, it’s time to explore the world of country. The gigantic ranch owned by country singer Loretta Lynn in Hurricane Mills is the perfect place to start. Lynn is still considered one of the greatest country stars in the United States. To be honest, being European, I’ve never heard of her, but she’s a living legend in America. Lynn made her breakthrough in the 1960s and has had countless hits ever since. This eccentric 87-year old lady used to live in a beautiful plantation house on this ranch, but now lives in Nashville. The house is open to visitors, as are the various museums on the estate that are full of her extravagant dresses, records and other curiosities.

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Spending the night in the country

You can spend the night at one of the camping sites on the ranch but, unfortunately, they’re all fully booked during my time here. But it turns out not to be such a disaster, since I’m now staying in a cute little cabin at Rock ‘N Refuge around twenty minutes away, an oasis of peace and tranquillity in the heart of Tennessee. This unique B&B does not have standard rooms but has accommodations over the entire property like the Hobbit Hole, an amazing treehouse and the romantic Honeymoon Cabin. A night spent here is definitely Instagram-worthy.

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    City with a big reputation

    The next day, I drive into Nashville. It’s also known as Music City and one of the largest music cities in Tennessee. It’s been said that Nashville has more songwriters and musicians per resident than anywhere else in the world. Here, every waiter is a singer and your Uber driver plays in a band at night - all hoping for their big break. Come to think of it, Nashville is the Hollywood of the music industry. For a city of only medium size, Nashville has an XXXL reputation.

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    The temple of country music

    The holy grail of Nashville is the Grand Ole Opry. As you drive into town, the city signs made this patently clear: ‘Nashville, Music City. Home of the Grand Ole Opry’. Every country music star who has contributed to country music in some way has performed at least once in this impressive complex. The Grand Ole Opry is a weekly country music programme that has been broadcast nationally since 1925.

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    No matter which country star is talking, he or she inevitably mentions gathering around the radio as a child and listening to his or her idol in the Grand Ole Opry. The show used to be held in the still glorious Ryman Auditorium downtown, but the Opry moved into the Grand Ole Opry House in 1974. The best part is that the radio show is still going strong and you can even attend a broadcast in the impressive auditorium. Stars perform and in between the music live advertisements are read into a microphone – no modern jingles or studio frills, just like in the old days.

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      Honky Tonk Highway

      Monday nights are usually quite boring - but not in Nashville. Here, there is barely a difference between a Saturday night and a Monday night. In fact, there is little difference between a Monday morning and a Monday night apart from the fact that the sun has set. Nashville means music: 24/7, 365 days a year. The honky-tonks on Broadway, also called Honky Tonk Highway, open at 11 in the morning and don’t close until the wee hours of the night. According to the website for the Nashville department of tourism, a honky-tonk is an establishment with at least one stage, cold drinks and a party that continues all day, every day. And they’re right, as I learn walking down this extravagant strip as the sun sets. Broadway is loud and hard to miss, colourful and versatile and, let’s face it, a bit hysterical.

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      Many music bars have built their stage into the window and since the heat in Nashville is stifling, all the windows are open. A walk down Broadway is like listening to one big concert, with a cacophony of sound in every direction. I see a different band or different music genre being performed in every window, since country music is no longer the only type of music played in Nashville, though it’s still the most popular one.

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      Charming boutique hotel

      The next day, I wake up in my lovely boutique hotel, The Germantown Inn. This charming hotel is housed in a building from 1845 in the quiet and picturesque Germantown just outside the city centre. It only has ten rooms and all of them are named after American presidents. The atmosphere is relaxed and delightfully homey. It’s the perfect place to recover from the hustle and bustle of Nashville, yet I’m only a 15-minute walk from downtown. And considering the extreme parking rates in the city centre, that’s definitely a plus point.

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        Breakfast at Biscuit Love

        A good breakfast is essential in a city where you can start bar hopping at eleven in the morning. And although my hotel offers a good breakfast, I’ve been told that for a classic ‘Southern style’ breakfast with a modern twist, I need to go to Biscuit Love in the trendy Gulch district. Biscuits are an essential part of any breakfast in the South. These airy rolls are made from biscuit dough and eaten with either sweet or savoury toppings. I go for the biscuit with lemon mascarpone and berry compote and the Bonuts, fried biscuit dough dipped in sugar. This should keep me going for a while.

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          The Man in Black

          I return to Broadway to visit the Johnny Cash Museum on a side street. Although Johnny Cash was not born in Nashville (but in the neighbouring Hendersonville) and never lived there, he has meant a great deal to the city. ‘The Man in Black’ may very well be the world’s most famous country performer. Thanks to his success, the Nashville branch of Columbia Records was propelled to fame, a growing community of songwriters was developed, and Nashville became known nationally as ‘Music City’.

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          It goes without saying that Cash also had a strong connection to the Opry. In 1956, he performed for the first time in the radio show in the Ryman Auditorium, where he later had his own show called ‘The Johnny Cash Show’. The small but fascinating museum provides an intimate summary of his life.

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            Musical murals

            Music and country are found on every street corner in Nashville. Apart from the countless shops selling cowboy boots and hats, the ultimate souvenir from Nashville, I see lovely murals everywhere, depicting musicians, guitars and declarations of love for Nashville.

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            On ‘Legends Corner’, I come across Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash, portrayed side by side with Dolly Parton, Taylor Swift and a handful of country stars I’m not familiar with, but a diehard country music fan could probably rattle off their names without thinking. In the hip ‘12th South- district, I find the popular ‘I believe in Nashville’ mural and, on Jefferson Street, a nice painting of a group of musicians.

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              Bluegrass at The Station Inn

              That evening, I treat myself to a real ‘Southern classic’: hot chicken. Hattie B’s is the place to be in Nashville and, although it’s nothing more than a fast food restaurant, their fried chicken is definitely finger-lickin’ good. You decide how hot you want your chicken from ‘Mild’ to ‘Damn Hot!’ and even ‘Shut the cluck up!!! Burn notice’. I play it safe and choose ‘Mild’, with a Banana Pudding for dessert, another traditional Southern dish.

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              With a full stomach, I make my way to The Station Inn, my last stop in Nashville. Bluegrass is performed live every evening in this intimate music room. The performers don’t always perform on stage but often among the audience, like during the weekly Bluegrass Jam which I attend. In an informal setting, local musicians play together in a circle. The backdoor opens occasionally and a new banjo or guitar player joins the group. Bluegrass is a specific genre and is actually a combination of all kinds of elements from other music styles with instruments like banjos, mandolins, violins, guitars and contrabass.

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              The interior of The Station Inn is simple without any real layout. I pull up a slightly shabby old chair at a row of tables that have been pushed together. Here it’s all about music. This is Nashville in a nutshell and the perfect end to a fantastic journey.

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