I grew up listening to country tunes about the Nashville scene and what a lonely place it was to be a musician there; maybe that was true in the 70s, but, as I walked by a line of drunk dudes waiting to get into Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk Rock N’ Roll Steakhouse, I realized it was now a piece of Americana that had been bought and sold years ago and, Lord almighty, I missed out on it.
Within a couple of blocks, Broadway—the main strip that Nashville is primarily known for—is a music Mecca of bright lights, short skirts and mediocre cover bands playing their hungry hearts out in each and every tourist trap that lines the street. And there I was in the middle of it all, in my black pearl-snap shirt and blacker leather boots, $35 poorer, having just paid for parking a few blocks away.
Every holiday season since my stroke, I take a trip to someplace I’ve never been before because, to paraphrase Merle, if I make to December, things are gonna be alright I know. This year, it was Music City U.S.A. all the way.
I escaped the maddening crowd in a honky-tonk that still seemed to have some sort of unrefined integrity to it, Robert’s Western World. Even though the place is now smoke-free—I wonder what Hank would’ve said about that—there was still something of a haze in there, one that was illuminated through the glowing red neon of the well-used beer-signage.
Probably the last place in town to get a full meal for six bucks even, Robert’s offered up a Recession Special, which included a fried bologna sandwich, a bag of chips, a Moon Pie and a can of PBR. I enjoyed it up in the second floor area, as a decent enough band played down below. Looking over my shoulder, a dark-haired woman tipped her beer in my general direction.
In a couple of hours, something called Brazilbilly was going to take the stage at Robert’s, but I was sadly going to miss it, but with good reason: I had a date at the Ryman Auditorium with Americana string-band Old Crow Medicine Show.
Still, I had enough time to do a hurried bit of record shopping at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop—named after the legendary Texas Troubadour, of course—and picked up a vinyl copy of Bob Dylan’s highly apropos Nashville Skyline, my favorite Zimmy album.
Record securely under my arm, I headed over to the Ryman, located just around the corner from Broadway. Nicknamed “the Mother Church of Country Music,” inside there’s row after row of wooden pews that make up the holy seating, once used for hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ; now it delivers the raucous word of some of the best country, rock and soul music in Nashville.
Seated dead-center for Old Crow Medicine Show, they were a hoot and a half, a bombastic shot of Tennessee white lightning. What truly moved me, however, was the opening act: a soul singer from Bristol, England named Yola. With a powerful voice that picked my broken heart up off the floor, songs like “Ride Out in the Country” and “It Ain’t Easier” made me beeline straight to the merch table with tears in my eyes to buy her new album.
I scratched seeing a show at the Ryman off my relatively short bucket list; despite the disappointment of Broadway, I can’t recommend enough that Oklahomans ford through the street wannabes and bar neverweres and make their way to this auditorium to pray for a few hours, maybe even get the spirit and dance in aisles.
Leaving the theatre and breathing in the cold Tennessee air, I was glad to have finally done Music City…but, to be honest, like a dimestore cowboy, I just couldn’t wait to get back home to Oklahoma City, where I know the lights’ll always go out at a respectable hour.