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Nashville earns its 'Music City' stripes

by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

I was in Nashville two weeks ago, and I had the best time ever. As a music aficionado, this Southern hotspot took my breath away with its legendary concert venues, famed recording studios, cool live music clubs, and an independent record store cradled in a quasi-Gayborhood. I'll have plenty to say about Nashville, nicknamed "Music City," in an upcoming travel feature, but allow me to give you a sneak peek by pointing out its vibrant music scene.

First and foremost, a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (www.countrymusichalloffame.com) is a no-brainer; it just has to be done. Here, the most highly regarded country artists are inducted by a committee of peers and other experts in the field each year - the rotunda, where plaques of every inductee are displayed, ranks way up there with the most beloved spots I've ever stepped foot on, such as Wimbledon's center court and the Eiffel Tower. Of course, I blew kisses to Dolly Parton's plaque.

No trip to Nashville is complete without a stop at the Grand Ole Opry (www.opry.com), which holds the Guinness world record for the longest-running radio program on the planet. This music landmark has two homes, one at a shopping plaza 10 minutes from downtown and a seasonal setup at the Ryman, which I'll get to in a minute. On the night I visited, the Opry celebrated its 84th birthday with performances by Kathy Mattea, Diamond Rio, Ray Price, and a wonderful bluegrass session by banjo extraordinaire Mike Snider and his band. I got a backstage tour, allowing me access to dressing rooms that Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood and Carrie Underwood have all utilized - I particularly enjoyed the "Porter Wagoner Room," especially the bathroom with its black commode and a framed poster of his Madison Square Garden concert as an opening act for The White Stripes.

The Ryman Auditorium (www.ryman.com) is located in the heart of Nashville, an iconic venue to music talent around the globe. This is the exact place where Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash met backstage, and where a range of artists from Coldplay to Bruce Springsteen to Tori Amos have played to crowds seated in pews - this was a tabernacle long before it became a noted concert hall. Daily tours, including backstage peeks, provide rare glimpses of dressing rooms that Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Kitty Wells, and television acts like Minnie Pearl, Grandpa Jones and Stringbean once stood in.

A drive through "Music Row" is a must. It is a section of Nashville that houses major record labels, artist management offices, songwriter organizations (ASCAP, etc.), and a famous little building called Studio B (www.countrymusichalloffame.com). It's here that "Jolene" by Dolly Parton, "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" by Elvis Presley, "Crying" by Roy Orbison, and other classics by The Everly Brothers, Charley Pride and Merle Haggard were recorded. Still utilized today as a recording studio and as a workshop for music-minded Belmont University students, it's a place that made me shiver with excitement from head to toe. I swear the ghost of "The King" was standing in the corner with a peanut butter and banana sandwich.

The Groove (www.thegroovenashville.wordpress.com) is an independent record shop in the artsy neighborhood of East Nashville, the closest thing to a Gay district in the city. Catering to the indie rock listener, the store is stacked with old and current CDs, imports, vinyl, and unique boxed sets. The owner/manager was easy on the eye and was, as you'd expect, quite proud of Nashville's solid mark on the music map.

Finally, my Nashville visit wouldn't have seemed perfect without a run-in with resident Dierks Bentley. I didn't see him face-to-face, but I did have cocktails with someone close to him at my hotel (Downtown Sheraton, if you must know) who informed me that he's headed to Seattle in the coming months for a very, very special event - mum's the word, but I'm already on the guest list for it - so stay glued for exclusive coverage. Bentley and several of his friends, including Wynona Judd, Darius Rucker and Michelle Branch, helped raise $215,000 for the Children's Miracle Network by way of a motorcycle ride and live performance last weekend in Nashville. What an amazing guy - sexy, talented, and giving!

If you love music as much as I do, Nashville is your next stop. Jack White, Kings of Leon, Ben Folds, and Nicole Kidman are just a few of the people you might run into, besides the many country celebrities, who all live in this fabulous Southern belle. Admittedly, I left Nashville wanting more!

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