May 14 – 17
We set out as planned on Monday morning, hitting the freeway right around 9am and settled in for the first of many such drives on a trip that would take us somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 miles. It was a nice weather for driving and we’d enjoy similar days throughout our first week.
We pulled into our Airbnb (Nashville Charm) as predicted right at 4:00pm, having taken advantage of the one hour we gained as we crossed time zones. Our host Michelle greeted us as we pulled up and we exchanged pleasantries as she showed us around the house and our large room, which was upstairs with an adjoining alcove to be used as a dry kitchen of sorts and our own private bathroom.
We got our belongings arranged in the room, enjoyed a beer to start the evening and began the search for a good place to eat. A number of options close-by became readily apparent and hungry for Mexican food, we drove a half-mile up to Rosepepper Cantina hoping to find food similar to what we grew up with in Southern California.
It’s a big rambling space and we were seated in one of the larger dining rooms in the back. Chips and three types of salsa were delivered (the curse of Mexican joints, they fill you up and then you can’t finish your meal) along with two very, very good house margaritas. Joanna ordered the Chili Relleno and I the two-item combo (pork enchilada and beef crispy taco) and when they arrived we couldn’t have been happier with our choices.
We were full enough that we couldn’t take advantage of the Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream shop across the street but would return later during our stay for that treat. Back at the Airbnb we read for a bit and then hit the sack, eager to set out sightseeing the next day. We had a fitful night sleep as it would take us a day or so to figure out the right setting for the upstairs temperature, too warm in the afternoon but too cold at night.
We’d soon become familiar with the route into downtown Nashville, a straight three mile shot down Shelby Avenue. Following the GPS, we located the Ryman Auditorium, our first stop of the day, and then began what would be a regular routine, trying to find reasonably priced parking. We got lucky with a parking structure just a block away offering an early bird special (in before 9am) for just $8, parked and walked over to the auditorium entrance for our tour.
Best known as the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974, it was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and was further designated a National Historic Landmark in June 2001 for its pivotal role in the popularization of country music. The auditorium opened as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892 and its construction was spearheaded by Thomas Ryman (1843–1904), a Nashville businessman who owned several saloons and a fleet of riverboats.
Ryman conceived of the auditorium as a tabernacle for the influential revivalist Samuel Porter Jones, whose 1885 tent revival was responsible for Ryman becoming a devout Christian. Though the building was designed to be a house of worship, it was often leased to promoters for non-religious events in an effort to pay off its debts and remain open.
In 1904, Lula C. Naff, a widow and mother who was working as a stenographer, began to book and promote speaking engagements, concerts, boxing matches, and other attractions at the Ryman in her free time. In 1914, when her employer went out of business, she made booking these events her full-time job and eventually transitioned into a role as the Ryman’s official manager by 1920, one she would serve in until her retirement in 1955.
In 1943, she was instrumental in bringing to the Ryman the country-western institution that would re-define how we viewed that musical genre, the Grand Ole Opry. The building’s deteriorating condition, lack of air conditioning, small capacity and the unsavory surroundings in its urban neighborhood, caused the Opry to move to their current digs, in an expanded venue, theme park, mall and hotel now known as Opryland USA in March of 1974.
With the Opry’s move to its new home, plans were unveiled to demolish the Ryman (many felt it was to ensure that the new Opry location would not have any local competition) and after political pressure mounted, demolition was halted, and the building sat, continuing to deteriorate for nearly twenty years until its new owners, Gaylord Entertainment, moved forward with a multi-million-dollar restoration that would transform it into a world class concert hall. A second, 14-million-dollar renovation occurred in 2015 that, while not impacting the original hall, significantly altered and upgraded the buildings that had been attached to it during the earlier work.
Our self-guided tour was extensive, full of the history of the place and the artists who performed there, particularly those that had an impact on country music. We finished up the tour, cruised the gift shop where I met a gentleman from Sacramento with whom I had a discussion about Willie Nelson’s poker playing with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, and then went next door to a Panera to split one of their very good breakfast sandwiches.
From there we walked down to Broadway, Nashville’s main entertainment street (like Beale in Memphis or Bourbon in New Orleans) and walked up and down its length of five blocks (we’d return later for some music) before returning to the car to head over to the attractions that would fill the rest of our afternoon, the Parthenon and the new Grand Ole Opry. We’d hit the ground running and were ready to keep going. It was a good start.
Rosepepper Cantina: http://www.rosepepper.com/
Jeni’s Ice Cream: https://jenis.com/
Ryman Auditorium: https://www.ryman.com/
Grand Ole Opry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Ole_Opry