The sun was getting ready to set, and as we approach the base of the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge we notice an individual, a woman likely in her mid twenties/early thirties, who is visibly agitated and yelling something seemingly towards someone on the top of the bridge. As we got closer we were able to make out that the string of profanity accompanying this woman’s agitation had something to do with the “black nigger bitches” walking the pedestrian bridge above her.
We don’t know what led to this war of words. What we did know was that this woman, clearly agitated and obviously a little drunk, was now occupying the space by the elevator doors we needed to take to get to the top of the bridge.
Lingering in the shadows for a bit while hoping this lady would eventually give up and go away, we eventually were able to follow behind another middle aged couple for whom this seemed to be “just another day in Nashville”. They saw us following up behind them and quickly ushered us into the elevator doors where we were able to make our way to the top.
Both of us were sweating a little. Of course that might have had something to do with the 30 degree weather in Tennessee. Or the 40 degree weather inside that elevator.
Exiting the elevator we emerged onto the pedestrian bridge to see the group of 5 young, African American adults who had been the source of the ladies ire. And suddenly all 5 of them were turned staring straight at the two of us.
No, wait. They were staring straight past us. At the elevator doors.
Turning around we saw the lady from the ground level had boarded the elevator and was now making her way up.
“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit” one of the younger ones exclaims.
We share the sentiment.
Caught in the middle, we quickly retreated to the side of the bridge where, at the very least, we would no longer be stuck in the middle. The group of 5 retreated downwards towards the base of the bridge and the agitated woman followed after them. We took the opportunity and quickly started heading for the top of the bridge…
Putting ourselves definitely in the middle of someone shooting a music video.
Or a music something.
There was a conductor, who also happened to be the one working the camera. And in front of him is a man and a woman, one with a keyboard and the other with a guitar, both who look like the came straight out of 1980’s Maranatha Church music video.
The conductor, giving everything he as to breathe life into this music video is getting more and more animated while the musicians keep keep more and more straight faced. Aware that we were most definitely not in Kansas anymore, we nudged our way as best we could past the camera. As I did this I looked for some sort of open box that might indicate these guys are playing up a routine to gain tourist dollars, but there seemed to be nothing of the sort. Just this strange scene playing out in front of us as though we had entered an episode of the twilight zone.
Finally getting past this rather odd state of affairs, I turn my head and suddenly there it is. Music City unfolding right before us bringing a little bit of sanity back into the picture.
Welcome to Nashville!
Nashville in July is hot. I know it’s obvious, but I felt it needed to be said.
A peculiarity about Nashville is that to see this city on a budget, which is a necessity if only because this city of music and museums can easily get expensive and out of control if you let it- nearly everything you will end up doing on a budget puts you outside in the heat.
Which is only to say I’m not sure we would visit again in July. Give me the fall or the winter and a good show though and the stuff that clearly makes this city tick would turn into a great experience. As any good tourist usually does, our exploration of this city started with a jaunt down Broadway where the endless Honky Tonk bars are all vying for the attention of the packed streets. And as the sun sets and the lights come up it only gets livelier.
After a drive through South-Eastern Tennessee, which took us through the historic Chattanooga (a fun stop) and Lynchburg (the home of Jack Daniel), we spent the next three days in the Nashville area. Rather than simply reflect on some of what stood out for me in this area, I thought I would do something different for this one and focus more on the vacation than the introspective journey.
Given our approach to the city, I figured I would go through our time in Nashville from the angle of doing Nashville on a budget. It is an expensive city, but it doesn’t have to be. And although ours is just a singular experience, here is at least one perspective on how to see Nashville and maybe save a bit of money while you are doing it:
Tip #1: Take advantage of the free parking
When I was researching Nashville one of the things that kept coming up was that it was hard to find parking and the parking that you can find is either expensive or not available during the day.
One of the most popular pieces of advice I found was to look into parking in one of the lots at the Tennessee Titans Stadium and using the Pedestrian Bridge that sits right beside the stadium to take you right into the heart of downtown (a block away from Broadway). There are (I believe) 2 lots that are free to park in on days where there are no games or other major Stadium events happening. The problem with this, and what this advice did not clearly divulge, is that these spots can be reserved ahead of time. And so unless you are booking way ahead it is tough to actually find an available spot there.
On a fluke though I came across a secondary piece of advice that instructed me not to go into the lots but to instead to enter the Stadium grounds, drive through the lots and turn towards Titans Way, Victory Avenue, or First Street South. All of these streets are either entirely unreserved or have portions that are unreserved and free, unlimited parking on days (both during the days and in the evenings) that are not Stadium event days. And if you don’t find anything on Titans Way (your closest proximity to gain access to the Pedestrian Bridge elevator), just drive up 1st Street and you will find a spot closer to the actual foot of the bridge where you can simply walk up and over to the downtown attractions.
It is also worth noting that parking is free in downtown Nashville after six, but you might have a hard time finding a spot that is closer to the attractions than the stadium lot.
Tip #2: Take the free bus
If you are parking by the Stadium lot (or in the lot) and using the bridge as your entry point into downtown, directly the bridge you will see a bus stop called Music City Star Riverfront Station. There are two buses (the Green and the Blue Line) that you can catch from this station that are free and that make several different stops along the major sights and attractions. The routes overlap at a few points, but there is a map at this station letting you know which one you might want to take.
The only place in the downtown district these buses don’t go is to Music Row. It does however take you within reasonable walking distance.
Tip #3: Plan a morning at the free museum and Bicentennial Park
This might not be the greatest idea when it is 35 degrees in the middle of the day, but if you do get out early before the midday sun this is a decent option for getting familiar with the history of Tennessee and taking in some of downtown Nashville’s public spaces. The free bus takes you straight to Bicentennial Mall and there is a lot to see in that area, including the downtown farmers market, the free Tennessee History Museum, and the more affordable (and I heard many argue more interesting) Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum located between fourth and fifth avenues right beside the Tennessee State Capital (also something to see).
Tip #3 Plan a sunset Walk in Centennial Park
If you are content with simply seeing Music Row and not doing the Studio B tour (which is really the tip of what becomes a long line of really expensive museum exhibits), take some pictures, grab a treat from the famous Goo Goo Candy store downtown,some of the famous Hattie B’s “hot Nashville Chicken” (two locations, one that has parking a little further from downtown, and one that is hard to find parking closer to downtown) if you are so inclined, and head up to Centennial Park for a picnic and a viewing of the rather breathtaking, made to scale recreation of the Parthenon. If you never make it to Greece this might be the next best thing. And it gets more glorious in the sunset after the lights come on.
The park is free and you can walk all around it for free. But one bonus during the day is that for a small fee you can actually go inside and visit the gallery that is houses, which includes the largest statue ever made.
Tip #4: The Museums are expensive but the music itself is affordable
Take a walk down Broadway and you will realize you can take in show after show for free. And this is because most of the places where bands are playing are opened up to the street. You can waste an entire evening lingering here and enjoying the venues and not spend a dime.
Should you want to actually go in and find a seat in one of these places though, most of them do not have a cover charge, which means you only need to buy food.
Also of note is the famous Bluebird Cafe. Really hard to get in, but if you want to spend a portion of your day waiting in line (being there around 2 or 3 hours early would give you a good chance of snagging one of the unreserved spots which are first come, first serve. We were there just over 2 hours early and no one was in line yet), this is a mostly free venue where you can catch great music (with a minimum $10 per person drinks/meal along with the odd fundraiser that sometimes costs $10 or $15 per person).
Also for later nights is a place called Cafe Coco. I bring them up because they are known for good music, open late and they are a cafe, which means you can choose from a more dessert oriented menu.
And it’s Nashville. It’s all about the music all the time. Research what’s going on downtown on any given evening/weekend and there is a good chance you will encounter more opportunities for free music. And if you track down where the locals like to peruse, chances are you will find an affordable evening with the best of Nashville’s music along the way as well.
Tip #5: See the Gaylord Opryland Resort for free
If you don’t really care for the high end shopping centre while you are out seeing the legendary Grand Ol’ Opry (extra tip: there is a book for sale in the Opry gift shop for $25 that essentially photo ops the entire backstage tour. If you want to take the tour but you don’t want to pay the price, linger a little bit and page through this book, or purchase it. It will make you feel like you’ve taken the tour and seen the Opry: https://www.opry.com/backstagebook), then wander over to the Gaylord Opryland Resort. Park at the far end of the mall and Opry parking lot and you will see a walkway that takes you through the wall and into the resort grounds. Follow this walkway and you will eventually arrive at the side entrance of what is a very, VERY big resort. Once you are inside, don’t be afraid of feeling like you are inside a hotel where you are not supposed to be. Keep going forward and you will enter the central plaza. This is the area, or multiple areas, that is housed by that glass dome visible from the freeway. There are maps at every entrance into this central plaza area, and you can follow the trail from there through the waterfalls, the garden, the town, etc., and it will even take you to the grand front entrance.
It might sound odd, but it is definitely something to see. And you can wander, stay, sit, shop, peruse as if you were actually paying the money to stay in the hotel.
Tip #6: Take in dinner and a movie (and maybe some pretty fantastic ice cream) in the Hillsboro Village District.
Along with The Gulch downtown (https://explorethegulch.com/) and The Arcade downtown (http://thenashvillearcade.com/) where you should track down the boiled peanuts, a Southern delicacy, Hillsboro Village is another great place beyond the downtown borders to wander and window/culture shop.
If you are from Winnipeg, think Corydon Avenue atmosphere. And there are places to park!
The Belcourt Theatre is a great little indie theatre where you can see more independent movies and hang (and chat if you aren’t too introverted) with some of the locals. A cheap night out in Nashville. And in the area are some popular restaurants, including Fido and the Pancake Pantry (Nashville is known for their pancakes along with their hot chicken).
And highly recommended would be a stop at Jeni’s Splendid Ice-Creams, just down the block from the Belcourt Theatre.
Their cake ice cream is even gluten free, and so, so good.
The great thing about heading to this area out of downtown as well is that it gives you an opportunity to drive through the Belmont neighbourhood, which is also where the Belmont Mansion is. Again, if you are already spent on museums and can’t spend any more, driving through the neighbourhood and by the mansion is a great Sunday drive that gives you a sense of its history.
Tip #7: Use the Greenways
If you are mobile enough to make use of the Greenways, look up Nashville’s greenway system, connecting the Opryland to downtown. It’s a cheap and affordable way to get around we well and gives you some great views of the city.
That’s all I have for our budget trip to Nashville. I’m sure there is plenty else one could add, but for a first time to Nashville and as someone who wanted to see the big sights but not pay the big prices, these tips were a great way to feel like we got up close and personal with this beautiful, quirky, lively and very hot city without breaking the budget.