It’s warm in Nashville on this Thursday night before Memorial Day 2018. My guy, Bryan, and I are walking from our high rise hotel in trendy, corporate downtown toward Nashville’s Broadway District. We’re here for a weekend of music—U2’s eXPERIENCE & iNNOCENCE concert and the Grand Ole Opry.
The streets and sidewalks are mostly empty in downtown Nashville. After only a block or so from downtown, the scenery changes. There are more people out and about. People are drinking, talking, and hanging out on bar patio decks. The noise level is steadily rising. We round the corner onto Broadway.
And are enveloped in the sound of live music.
Nashville’s Broadway District, Just Getting Started
It’s only 6 p.m. on this Thursday evening. And Nashville’s Broadway District is already slam packed with people. It looks like someone kidnapped Las Vegas and hosed it down with honky tonk. There are neon signs everywhere, in the shapes of boots, cowboy hats, guitars, fiddles. Live music is pouring out of every open door and window. My jaw drops, because I’ve never encountered so much live music in one place.
I’ve spent much of my life looking for live music to listen and dance to. Texas dance halls, concerts, festivals, street performers, background players in restaurants, any place or occasion for live music is cause for celebration. It’s not always easy to find live music. And here I am, strolling down Broadway in Nashville, where the air is saturated with music. It’s sensory overload, amazing and overwhelming all at once. Even Rippy’s Barbeque, where we have dinner, has a live band.
The Mother Church
I gush like a giddy teenager when I see the Ryman Auditorium, the Mother Church of country music, for the first time. This is the birth place of bluegrass and country music, hallowed ground. Johnny and June Carter Cash, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Tammy Wynette, my musical heroes, have performed on the Ryman Auditorium stage. Artists from all genres have played here, like B.B. King, Beck, Paul Simon, Coldplay, Elvis Presley, and Bruce Springsteen.
We make our way into the Ryman for the Opry Country Classics show, hosted by Larry Gatlin with the Charlie Daniels band headlining. I’ve now seen Charlie Daniels in concert more than any other artist, 5 times total. To see the Charlie Daniels Band on the Ryman stage is a honky tonk dream come true. Charlie Daniels is 81 years old and he still tears it up on the fiddle, as much as he ever did. And Larry Gatlin is an outstanding host, natural and funny. I try to get a video of the concert but am promptly shut down by a Ryman employee.
Stepping out of the Ryman, we stroll down Broadway, checking out the vibe and music scene. Periodically, we step into a bar, summoned by the sound of country bands, rock bands. Bands set up on a stage right by an open window, as if on display for the people walking by. I marvel that so there are so many awesome musicians in the world, and in Nashville alone. I can’t imagine the competition for getting a gig on Broadway, much less a recording contract!
From Nashville to Dublin
Fast forward to Saturday night. We are again walking from our downtown hotel to Nashville’s Broadway District. This time, we’re heading to Bridgestone Arena to see a little band from Dublin, Ireland you may have heard of—U2.
I’m so excited, I have butterflies in my stomach, anticipating the show. Bryan scored some awesome tickets and our seats are right next to the stage.
The show starts and I’m transfixed the entire time. Being so close to the stage is amazing. Bono and the Edge sometimes walked over to our side of the stage, and they’re right there, so close. The band sounds so good.
The band’s message is politically outspoken and ultimately inspiring. The vibe makes me feel connected to the world, like we’re all in this together. The songs are a mix of love and hope; personal, about U2’s adolescence; and political activism. It works and pulls me into their world. Their set list includes a mix of favorites like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “I Will Follow” with new material from their latest albums, “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience.”
Chillin’ in Nashville’s Broadway District
More than one person tells us that you cannot leave Nashville without eating a fried bologna sandwich at Robert’s Western World. It’s Sunday and we’re looking forward to a day of just playing tourist in Nashville. Robert’s is the first place we go. It’s a wonderfully authentic honky tonk. And we’re in luck—there’s live music, but this time it’s not a full band. It’s a solo performer, John Shepherd. John has been performing in The District for 40 years. His wife, Lois, occasionally joins him on stage. Today, she is in the audience, watching John as he performs.
The fried bologna sandwich is delicious! And winding down our weekend of music in a historic Nashville honky tonk feels just about perfect.