Music City Landmarks, Nashville

Music City Landmarks (Self Guided), Nashville

A trip to Nashville is a chance to visit the center of the country music industry. From the historic tradition preserved and performed at museums and Nashville's live music venues to the current industry alive on and near Nashville's famed Music Row, Nashville has successfully branded itself as the home of country music, or "Music City, USA".

This is a tour guide of Downtown's most important attractions, including the historic 1892 Ryman Auditorium that still offers big-name concerts and backstage tours; the Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and George Jones Museums, as well as Broadway's many famous nightspots, better known as Honky Tonk Row. Everything is within walking distance and you'll never run out of something to see.

The association between country music and Nashville was not directly dependent on the earliest hillbilly records, which are geographically credited to Atlanta, GA, and Bristol, TN, but instead on the mass dissemination of these artists through radio broadcasting. The themes of Southerness, nostalgia for home, and rural life in opposition with modern society were brought to the entire country via the radio, allowing for the best of both live and recorded music as well as producing a live show where audiences interacted with and shaped the music and its performers. Later on, Nashville’s status as a center of recorded music coincides with the development of the “Nashville Sound", with the founding of the Quonset Hut in 1955 and RCA Studio B's opening under the direction of Chet Atkins in 1957. These two studios established Nashville as a center of musical production and, along with the Opry, attracted music fans and tourists to a city that continues to brand itself as the home of country music.
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Music City Landmarks Map

Guide Name: Music City Landmarks
Guide Location: USA » Nashville (See other walking tours in Nashville)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.3 Km or 2.1 Miles
Author: mary
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Ryman Auditorium
  • Bridgestone Arena
  • Ernest Tubb Record Shop
  • Lower Broadway
  • George Jones Museum
  • Johnny Cash Museum & Cafe
  • Music City Walk of Fame
  • Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
  • Hatch Show Print Store
  • Musica Statue in Buddy Killen Circle
  • Music Row
  • RCA Studio B
Ryman Auditorium

1) Ryman Auditorium (must see)

Nashville's most famous music venue, the 3,000-seat Ryman Auditorium was Architectural Digest's "most iconic structure in Tennessee" (2018) as well as being designated a National Historic Landmark in 2001. Known as the "Mother Church of Country Music" since the days of the Grand Ole Opry, the historic venue continues to book some of the best live acts in town, from just about every genre – rock, country, classical, plus comedy and more. Its hall has been praised for among the best acoustics in the world, and musicians love to show that off, often playing a number or two without a mic.

The extensive exhibits inside include photos and memorabilia of such stars as Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb and Hank Snow, while some of the interactive videos are narrated by Johnny Cash, Vince Gill, and Little Jimmy Dickens. Among the other attractions are life-size bronze statues of Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff; a 100-seat theater experience called Soul of Nashville; and a gift shop with a selection of recordings and souvenir merchandise.

Why You Should Visit:
Fantastic acoustics, historic site and a cozy/intimate setting. No matter who you see here, you'll have a great time.
There are numerous autographed show posters on the top floor as well as costumes and props on the main level.

There are two options on tours; self-guided and guided. With the former you can roam about the amphitheater and balcony levels, enjoying the many displays on the auditorium, its history, and the many diverse artists and orators who have visited the stage. If you're really into it, buy the (extra-cost) guided backstage tour tickets, and the guide will take you backstage through many of the dressing rooms, with history about the place and the artists included. Ending up at the side of the stage at the control area where you can grab a pic looking out into the bowl, you are then free to roam around the rest of the place with the other visitors. Pictures are allowed everywhere except in the dressing rooms on the backstage tour.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am–4pm
Bridgestone Arena

2) Bridgestone Arena

Although it features ice hockey and basketball sporting events, the massive Bridgestone Arena (originally Nashville Arena, and formerly Gaylord Entertainment Center and Sommet Center) was primarily designed for concerts. Extra care has been invested into acoustical systems, and the sound is of exceptional quality, with something of an electric vibe to it.

Conveniently located in the downtown core and containing more than a million sq-ft of total space, the venue seats as many as 20,000 for center-stage concerts and 18,500 using its proscenium stage. Since opening in 1996, it has hosted the likes of Faith Hill, the Rolling Stones, the Dixie Chicks, Jimmy Buffett, Eric Clapton, and Mary J. Blige – though it was Mumford & Sons who set the record on March 22, 2019, with 19,047 fans in attendance. Other than the seats being close together, it's an overall great experience, not the least because you can generally get through security very quickly.
Ernest Tubb Record Shop

3) Ernest Tubb Record Shop

When Grand Ole Opry star, Ernest Tubb, aka the Texas Troubadour, had trouble buying and selling country music records, he took matters into his own hands by opening this famous record store in 1947. With its legendary spinning sign considered a Nashville landmark, it still stands today as a small but solid source of both classic and modern country/bluegrass recordings, as well as various DVDs, books, t-shirts, and souvenirs. At the back of the shop you can see a stage where many legends performed over the years after the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights, and where Tubb's radio program, Midnite Jamboree, was recorded and aired. In all, the place is great for browsing before/after hanging out and eating on Lower Broadway and remains one of the few nostalgic vestiges of "old country" in the area – worth adding to your Nashville itinerary!

Opening Hours:
Sun-Thu: 10am–10pm; Fri, Sat: 10am–12am
Lower Broadway

4) Lower Broadway (must see)

It may be known locally as honky-tonk, and it may be used as a noun (a bar that plays Western swing, where people dance), a verb (dancing to Western swing), or an adjective (a descriptor of the type of music), but one thing is for sure: in Nashville the honky-tonk music scene is as it ever was, alive and booming, allowing you to watch some great bands and singers.

The main strip of honky-tonks is found along Lower Broadway in the heart of downtown, which means you can easily hop around from one to another. They play a specific strain of country and western swing music, with a live band. Small or large, these venues all have some empty space to cut the rug because dancing is an essential part of Nashville honky-tonk.

The best places to go honky-tonking include the multi-level Tootsie's Orchid Lounge (with a nice rooftop bar on top), the cozy and not too crowded Layla's or Legends Corner, and Robert's Western World, whose house band is amazing. Most of these establishments are open to all ages during the day, but convert to 21 and up after 6pm. They typically don't have a cover charge, though when the cowboy hat is passed for the band, don't forget to drop a few dollars in.

Also on Lower Broadway are the Bridgestone Arena and the Nashville Convention Center, while the Ryman Auditorium and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum are both within one block away.
George Jones Museum

5) George Jones Museum

George Jones was a one-of-a-kind entertainer so it only makes sense that the museum bearing his name is a one-of-a-kind facility amid all others dedicated to country music stars. Located in downtown Nashville, it's a modern museum showcasing exhibits on the life and music of arguably the greatest voice in country music. Opened in 2015, on the second anniversary of Jones' death, the four-level facility is replete with a restaurant, gift shop and rooftop bar overlooking the Cumberland River.

Jones, like Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, Jimmie Rodgers, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Roy Acuff, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson, is a Nashville icon who had more country songs on the Billboard chart and more top 40 songs than any country artist in history. Nicknamed "Possum" for his turned-up nose, he lived the honky tonk life – a hardscrabble childhood, prison time, drunken hijinks, multiple marriages, a failed theme park, hit songs about depressing subjects, a near fatal car crash and a final conversion to Jesus Christ. He boasted that he was free to be paranoid, drunk and crazy – and he did it all with style, with his adventures being cited in many of the museum's exhibits. In fact, one exhibit notes that Jones performed sober for the first time in 1984, when he was 53 years old. See it all – his career, one-of-a-kind suits, guitars, awards, friends, memorabilia, album artwork, piano and the iconic green and gold John Deere riding lawnmower that Jones once drove eight miles to the nearest liquor store. Another popular item is the Big Rocking Chair, a photo-op for fans who recall his hit song "I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair," which he recorded in his 60s.

If you're thirsty, the museum sells 100-proof George Jones-brand "White Lightning" moonshine, a reference to his first hit song in 1959. Lunch is a treat at the restaurant, especially smokehouse chili, cornbread muffins, pulled pork potato skins, smoked wings, pulled pork and ribs. Old-timers love the Memphis sushi, Kielbasa with cheddar cheese, jalapeno sauerkraut, whole grain mustard and saltine crackers. Sounds like something Jones himself would eat after an all-night bender. One thing's for sure: he would enjoy strolling through this place. Everybody else does.

Opening Hours:
[Museum] Daily: 10am-8pm
[Main Floor/Rooftop] Sun-Thu: 11am-10pm; Fri, Sat: 11am-1am
Johnny Cash Museum & Cafe

6) Johnny Cash Museum & Cafe (must see)

You don't have to be a fan of country music to admire and appreciate the life and legacy of entertainer Johnny Cash, one of the best-selling recording artists of all time. His biography, from the early years and Air Force days to the later stages of a brilliant music career is chronicled in this museum in the busy South of Broadway neighborhood.

Here's where you'll find the largest collection of JC memorabilia and personal effects anywhere, including stage costumes, handwritten letters and notes, handwritten lyrics, Gold and Platinum records, Grammy and CMA awards, personal belongings, JC's personal Bible, memorabilia from his days with the Highwaymen, the Cash family piano, even JC's birth certificate and a stone wall taken from his lake house in Hendersonville, TN. Two recent additions are Cash's first gold record, "I Walk The Line" (which is now certified Double-Platinum), and "The Man In Black" exhibit which focuses on Cash's all-black look. Other sections of the museum are devoted to Sun Records, the Memphis label that helped launch Cash's career, along with the careers of Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis; an exhibit on Cash's TV and movie career; and the Patsy Cline Museum, which is located on the 2nd floor.

Why You Should Visit:
The museum has received numerous accolades since its opening in 2013, including "#1 Must Visit Museum for Music Lovers" by Conde Nast Traveler, "#1 Must See Nashville Destination" by Forbes Magazine, and "Best Culture Stop in Nashville" by Money Magazine. It also features a gift shop stocked with Johnny Cash souvenirs/collectibles, and a cafe with live music.

Opening Hours:
[Museum] Daily: 9am–7pm
[Cafe] Daily: 9am–6pm; (food served from 9am to 4pm)
Music City Walk of Fame

7) Music City Walk of Fame

Across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, you can experience another of the popular tourist attractions in Nashville, established in 2006 to honor significant contributors the city's musical heritage and significant achievements in the music industry. Each honoree is commemorated with a large stainless steel and terrazzo star embedded in the sidewalk in Walk of Fame Park, which is located between the Country Music Hall of Fame, Bridgestone Arena and Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

Honorees are inducted twice annually, in the spring and fall. The first inductees were Reba McEntire, Ronnie Milsap, Kenneth Schermerhorn, The Fisk Jubilee Singers, Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, and Roy Orbison. Look for your favorites, from Kris Kristofferson to Loretta Lynn to Johnny Cash to Elvis Presley to Hank Williams to Eddy Arnold to Little Jimmy Dickens to Ernest Tubb to Kenny Rogers. The walk is free and brings back a lot of memories.
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

8) Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (must see)

The distinctive design is the first thing you will notice about this monument to country music. Vertical windows at the front and back of the building resemble piano keys; the sweeping arch on the right side of the building portrays a 1950s Cadillac fin; and from above, the building resembles a bass clef. The hall of fame was first established in the 1960s, and its first inductees were Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, and Fred Rose. The original hall was located on Music Row, but in 2002 it moved to this signature building two blocks off Broadway. Country music fans are drawn by the carload to the hall of fame, where they can pay homage to country's greatest stars, as well as the lesser-known men and women who influenced the music. Those who aren't fans when they walk in generally leave with an appreciation of the genre's varied roots. The hall's slogan is "Honor Thy Music".

In addition to galleries, the museum has the 776-seat CMA Theater and the Taylor Swift Education Center, an interactive space upstairs where kids and parents can think creatively about songwriting and music making and, during scheduled programs, learn to play instruments (check schedules for dates and times). Other historic properties of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum include the letterpress operation Hatch Show Print (located inside the museum) and Historic RCA Studio B (located on Music Row), Nashville's oldest surviving recording studio, where recordings by Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, and many others were made.

Why You Should Visit:
Beautifully laid out for fans & non-fans of country music and situated in a great part of town close to live music, fun restaurants, the Bridgestone Arena & Broadway honky-tonks – just a lot of fun.

Be sure to check the museum website for live music options. Also, consider getting the RCA Studio B tour combo ticket.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am–5pm
Hatch Show Print Store

9) Hatch Show Print Store

If you buy only one souvenir while in Nashville, consider doing it here. A historic landmark, Hatch Show Print do all of the show posters for the Grand Ole Opry and are the oldest letterpress poster print shop in the U.S., having been founded in the mid-1800s and now owned by the corporation that runs the Country Music Hall of Fame and the historic RCA Studio B.

Work is still being done in the way it has since the company began – by typesetting each plate and hand-printing each poster, one color at a time. Letterpress printing is how the Gutenberg Bibles were put together, too, but the eye-catching materials produced by Hatch Show have become collectible pieces of art. Reprints of old circus and vaudeville posters, as well as those advertising the Grand Ole Opry, are among the most popular. Search the walls for your favorite artists!

Call ahead if interested in a tour or class; you may luck out in terms of timing. Or if you're in the market for actual art, visit the Hatch Gallery across the hall and see large-scale works, as well as art from various affiliated artists.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9:30am–5pm
Musica Statue in Buddy Killen Circle

10) Musica Statue in Buddy Killen Circle

Sculptor Alan LeQuire is known for two iconic Nashville works: Athena, the massive golden goddess at the Parthenon, and Musica, the largest bronze figure group in the U.S., anchoring Music Row's "turnaround" (or circular roadway). Note that there's not a way to get up close unless you walk over bushes and cross the roadway traffic; worth the effort, though!

The 38-ft-tall sculpture of nine nude figures, male and female, dancing in a circle, was considered a bit shocking when unveiled in 2003, although according to LeQuire the work is entirely tasteful and not at all sexualized. Five of the figures spring forth from the base, while four more rise up in the center floating above the others. The pinnacle of the statue is a female holding a tambourine. The scale of each figure is fourteen to fifteen feet, or more than twice life-size.

LeQuire writes of his work: "Dance is the physical expression of music and the piece is intended to convey that feeling to the viewer in a composition which is simple, exuberant and celebratory. The theme of the sculpture is music, because of the historical and economic significance of the site. This is the heart of Music Row, the area and the artistic activity for which Nashville is best known. The sculpture conveys the importance of music to Nashville, past, present and future, and represents all forms of music without reference to any one form or style. It is meant to provide a visual icon for the area and for the city as a whole. The theme is music, but the sculpture represents artistic creativity itself. An artistic idea often seems to miraculously and spontaneously burst forth. This is what happens in the sculpture, and the title Musica suggests this since it refers to all the 'arts of the muses.'"
Music Row

11) Music Row

Quite the historic (and beautiful) neighborhood, Music Row is also, arguably, among the most famous places in Nashville, if not the entire state of Tennessee. There's not that much to do, per se, on a visit, but well worth a walk to see where the magic happens, as the mix of old restored homes and modern buildings house the majority of the entire country music industry. Many a brave soul tested their luck and abilities here in various forms; some have succeeded, but many have not. It's still one of the best areas in town for spotting those in the former category, so keep your eyes peeled.

Take a few pictures with the guitars and the big microphone, then proceed to check out the variety of entertainment industry ventures – from law firms to music publishers to record labels and studios to marketing and management firms, performing rights organizations, and even companies that press CDs. If it pertains to music, you'll probably find it here.

The apex of the two streets that compose Music Row funnels into Demonbreun, which is a popular spot to eat (and drink) for industry workers and those who want to party more like a local than a tourist.
RCA Studio B

12) RCA Studio B (must see)

The only way to visit Music Row's famous RCA Studio B, where Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, and Hank Snow once recorded, is to buy your ticket at the Country Music Hall of Fame (i.e. the museum's box office) and either walk or hop on the guided tour bus. The visit takes about an hour and is an additional fee, but comes as part of a package with admission to the Hall of Fame.

RCA Studio B became famous in the 1960s for being a part of what many refer to as the Nashville Sound. According to Chet Atkins, plans for it were drawn up on a napkin by Bill Miltenburg, RCA's chief engineer and recording manager. The area of the studio and control room has a 2nd story containing an echo chamber; also, an addition was built to provide office space and rooms for tape and lacquer mastering. In 1977, the "B" was made available to the Country Music Hall of Fame for tours, and in 1992 it was donated to the same by the late Dan Maddox. Until 2001, it was operated as an individual attraction when the new home for the Hall of Fame was built in downtown Nashville.

Why You Should Visit:
This is a really cool guided tour (about as good as it gets) you can add on to your visit at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
See the piano that Elvis recorded on, and antique recording equipment... all having an unique aura about them.
Obviously, you can also learn the process of recording live music and producing records.

Tours sell out quickly so make an online reservation early or go first thing in the morning to get a tour time.
Remember to use the facilities inside the Country Music Hall of Fame because you won't find a bathroom at the studio.

Tour Hours:
Daily: 10:30am–2:30pm
Tours depart hourly from the Country Music Hall of Fame

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