"That's why those old photographs of the Ryman are so powerful. Those fans who came to the Opry weren't mere tourists who hit Nashville this year and maybe Charleston next summer and Disney World the following year. They were pilgrims, and their faces were full of longing to be inside this holy spot they had come some distance to witness."
— David Eason, author of country music tome Nashville's Lower Broad
The Grand Ole Opry is back at the Ryman for a spell. For those just blowing into town, the Ryman is our capital of culture and surrounding Broadway the city center. And if you know anything about the history of country music in Nashville, the Opry's return is a reason to rejoice. Will Rogers lassoed on that stage. Hank sang. Bill Monroe, Chet Atkins, and a thousand more thrilled. The idea that a pilgrim can still hold a séance downtown with old purveyors of revelry and mirth is a pleasing thought.
Fathom asked me to put together an article on the honky-tonks of Lower Broad. So much of the old spirit and creativity has left the block that, as David Eason explains in Nashville's Lower Broad: The Street That Music Made, such an article is no longer a useful proposition. We'll peek down Broadway, but not dwell too long. Nashville has long been a Big Top for country music where tourists herd in and out, communing with the dead and dying. Today, the tourists are trapped and few gods remain.
Thankfully, under the neon boot of Robert's Western World, you'll find a legacy intact, a nightly tribute to the old-time, honky-tonk crooners. Though don't be surprised when a star like Wanda Jackson shows up for a quick set or you catch wind that Greg Garing's back in town, aiming to start "a little Lower Broadway revival." Robert's is the only honky-tonk left worth visiting.
Across from Robert's stands Ernest Tubb Record Shop. Every Saturday after the Opry, they host the Midnight Jamboree. If you'd care to sit in on the program, they tape live at the Texas Troubador Theatre at midnight. It's off Broadway now, but the show is still an institution, nearing 3,500 broadcasts. And, of course, daylight hours are well spent at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
I slipped in Bill Monroe as a reminder. What he started carries on at The Station Inn, an old stone hut rendezvous for bluegrass players and their fans. Once or twice a month you can catch a goofy-eyed send-up of country music called The Doyle & Debbie Show.
Let me end with a few thoughts on the rest of Nashville's music scene. That old marketing line about Music City, U.S.A. is more than ever a legitimate boast of city boosters. The colony of musicians is swelling, innovating on genres, defying conventions, and expressing themselves as freely and sincerely as any musicians have before. These are good days in Nashville.
- Nashville Scene, for easy access to local listings, pick up a hard copy on the street
- Nashville Cream, the music blog for the local scene
- We Own This Town, podcasts and rundowns, music news and reviews
- Nashville's Dead,listings and photos for DIY and all-ages shows, and cheap happenings
- BlackTooth Records, house shows, mixtapes, music culture, and exotica
- Third Man Records, Jack White's label & venue
- Theatre Intangible, avant garde and experimental improv
Robert's Western World
Nashville, TN 37203
116 5th Avenue North
Nashville, TN 37219
402 12th Ave. S.
Nashville, TN 37203