I have a love/hate relationship with country music. Love the stories and the beat, hate the politics. But when you’re in Nashville what are you going to do? I have to say the “honky tonk highway” in Nashville is one of the most unique places in the country. I’m not sure there is a greater concentration of bars in a 5-block area and they all start rockin’ about 10 A.M. and keep going nonstop until 3 A.M. Go anytime during the day and you’ll find a first rate performance for the price of a beer. And I mean first-rate. This is where the top talent in commercial country music comes to find success and they pay their bills by hanging out on South Broadway.
Traditional Honky Tonks were old-school dive bars where the music was loud, the beer cold, and bootleggers might be using the tunnels in the basement to move their wares. The bootleggers are gone and the music is toned down for the tourists who have replaced the truckers and gamblers from the old days. Many of the bars have gone upscale with musicians who cover the latest hits, but some maintain the seedy atmosphere if not the substance of their outlaw legacy.
I spent the afternoon at the back room at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge where Willie Nelson got his start and at Robert’s Western World where you’ll still hear tunes by Hank Williams or Lefty Frizzell.
The music was bookended by some Nashville Hot Chicken—they aren’t joking; it’s really, really hot—and the wonderful, whole hog, pulled pork at Martin’s.
If you’re tired of faux sophistication and want a rollicking, shitkickin’ sham put Nashville on your vacation list. It’s fun even if you’re ambivalent about country music.