Nashville has a population of 644,014 as of the 2014 census report, but ask anyone who lives there and they’ll tell you it’s the smallest large city in America. The city has managed to maintain a small town atmosphere as it has become so popular that it grows by 100 new residents each day.
Vacationers primarily go to Nashville for the music. At one time being dubbed as the “Country Music Capital of the World,” as other genres infiltrated the local music scene, it is now hailed as the “Music Capital of the World.”
Most music lovers head straight to the honky-tonks on Lower Broadway where the original owner of the bar “Tootsies,” Tootsie Bess, used to feed hungry songwriters like Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson back when the place was still called “Mom’s.”
While no one should pass Lower Broadway by, wouldn’t it be cool to know about some places off the beaten path? There are places where stars are known to pop in on occasion, as well as places where songwriters go to preview their latest musical masterpieces. It isn’t unusual to hear a song you’ve heard before sung the way it was written, performed by the person who wrote it.
Bobby’s Idle Hour
One of the coolest most authentic places in town, located right on Music Row. Bobby’s Idle Hour, just as it has been for decades, is locally legendary. The original building was torn down but a new one stands just down the road.
“Lizard” Thom Case owns the place and he has yet to meet a person he doesn’t like. There is generally someone on stage singing and playing but if you’re a picker and there isn’t when you are there, grab the house guitar and hop on up. It’s encouraged.
Sam Cooper runs a special songwriter’s event called “Sam’s Jam’s” every Wednesday from noon until 8:00 p.m. This is where you will find the real songwriters who don’t have day jobs. These songwriters are serious, and they are very, very, good.
You won’t hear any songwriters here, but this is where some of the better-known ones, and those trying to reach that point, hang out to socialize. Since it is right next to the famed Music Row, other people connected with the industry in some form or fashion like grabbing a cold one at Losers. It isn’t unusual to see a country music star or two stop by. Even Kid Rock has been known to frequent the place.
Considering the bar is owned by Irv Woolsey, the guy who has managed George Strait’s entire career, it naturally attracts music biz folks. Even Strait has been known to drink one or two at Loser’s when he’s in town. It’s Woolsey’s regular hangout.
Go in the early evening. During the school year the students from Vanderbilt University, right down the road, take over the place and things can get a bit rowdy later in the night.
The Family Wash Garage Coffee
Of course, not everyone is a country music fan, but remember, everything goes in Nashville. One of the coolest most eclectic vibes in town can be found in East Nashville where the cool kids hang.
The Family Wash Garage Coffee offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as live music every night of the week. The music could best be described as Indie, which encompasses lots and lots of things. The local musicians are some of the best you will find anywhere. To even be considered to perform, musicians must submit an application including sound samples.
Because of the hit television show, Nashville, more people than ever before are familiar with this longtime songwriters establishment. Though it may not be, considered off the beaten path, it is much smaller than the mockup used in the show. Seating is extremely limited. Because most visitors are not aware of this fact, it is too late for them to get a reservation once they arrive in Nashville.
Check in advance of your trip to find out who is performing on which night and go ahead and reserve your spot. Some of country music’s biggest songwriters perform on the Bluebird’s stage. Some of them even got their start there.
One word of advice. You may not want to go to the Bluebird on a Monday night. It’s open-mic. Anyone whose great aunt Bertha told them they were good enough to go to Nashville, is allowed on stage. It can get brutal. Of course, there are some true gems scattered among the want-to-be writers, so patience is a must. There is no reservation required.
The 5 Spot
Another music bar featured on the show Nashville, The 5 Spot is also located in East Nashville. This place is a musical mecca of talent and it is very difficult for local acts to get booked unless they are the cream of the crop. Just like The Family Wash Garage Coffee, The 5 Spot is frequented by mostly locals. Most of the time, the music is anything but country.
About six miles north of Nashville lies the small town of Whites Creek. This is where Ri’chard’s Café is located. The menu is Cajun and the music is superb. Richard Trest, the owner, and a brilliant songwriter himself rounds up the best singer/songwriters around to entertain patrons while they dine.
Ri’chard’s offers an intimate and friendly atmosphere. Before you leave there you’re bound to know someone you didn’t know when you walked in.
Expect Richard and his longtime sound man, Jack, to jump in with whoever is performing. Some nights become an all-around jam session.
You can hardly gone wrong when it comes to music in Nashville, but, for something authentic and memorable slip away from the popular tourist spots and check out the treasures the locals frequent.