24 hours in Nashville

orain E. Ogden

Struggling musicians’ fantasies make Cleveland girl feel at home

Clubs on the corner of 2nd and Broadway, in Nashville, Tenn., are hot spots where aspiring country music stars play in hopes of landing record contracts.

Credit: Andrew popik

I hate country music.

Beat-down pick-up trucks, shiny belt buckles, lost loves and broken dreams set to a foot-stomping do-si-do has always been easy fodder for my cynical Yankee sarcasm for as long as anyone who has known me can remember.

So I was not surprised by the puzzled looks I got from friends and family when informed that Nashville, Tenn., was on my overzealous list of things to do for the first three days of March 2005.

But I wanted to understand.

Partly intrigued by the emergence of a countrified cable-television version of “American Idol” called “Nashville Star” and partly because it was an excuse to shirk the daily responsibilities of full-time work and full-time school, I went straight to the heart of it all — Music City, USA — to get a little country-fried.

March 1, 6:45 p.m., Cleveland

We left Cleveland just as a Nor’easter began dumping snow across most of Northeast Ohio and Hopkins International Airport, icing immobile the wings of the Embraer regional jet assigned to carry me; my traveling companion, Chris; an Elvis impersonator and 20 other passengers to our southern destination.

Despite the hazardous conditions and the frustration of spending two hours on the plane waiting our turn to be sprayed down with an undoubtedly toxic cocktail of mysterious pink and green liquids, I was comforted as we left the ground knowing that fate would never be so cruel as to destine me to perish in a fiery plane crash sitting behind the black jumpsuit-clad Elvis-American also on his way to the country music capitol.

An hour and a half later, we landed in Nashville.

9 p.m., Millennium Maxwell House Hotel

Arriving at the hotel built with the profits of a coffee empire, I realized that the body knows what time of day it is, and the mind does not.

Needless to say, I was getting tired and hungry. But I knew it was of utmost importance that we embarked on our reconnaissance mission in true Tennessee style. And although the state’s Jack Daniels Distillery was almost 90 miles away, the local liquor store was right around the corner. For a five spot, our impromptu tour guide, the hotel bus driver, Angel, was only too happy to help us procure this necessary provision for our journey.

March 2, 10:30 a.m.

The smooth amber liquid was beginning to work its magic when we decided to begin our journey to the monument to Nashville’s high culture embodied in a full-scale replica of the ancient Parthenon in Greece.

This tribute to the Greek Parthenon, originally erected out of plaster, was part of a six-month-long party held May to October 1897. The “Centennial City,” as the grounds on which this celebration occurred were named, spanned 200 acres, had its own police, sewage system, liquor laws and an Egyptian pyramid.

Wow, people really knew how to party back then.

Walking beside the towering columns that support the building’s elaborately sculptured roof made me think that this Parthenon is a prank on some future people — 10,000 years from now when the Western world crumbles, aliens from a distant planet or archeologists of a future human civilization will stumble upon the ruins of this building and wonder, “What’s this doing here?”

I decided then that we had just wasted precious time pondering the significance of a brass and concrete tourist trap. It was time to redouble our efforts to get to the heart of the city.

12:30 p.m., 19th Street and Division

Halfway downtown, we had exhausted our supply of Tennessee “sippin’ whiskey” that had been cleverly concealed in two 20 oz. Coke bottles, so it was time to engage some civilians in what appeared to be one of the local watering holes, a restaurant called Patrick’s.

8 p.m.

Refreshed after a quick nap at the hotel and bellies full of some greasy fare from a burger joint called Cheeseburger Charlie’s, we headed to downtown.

Nighttime is the right time in Nashville.

The festive atmosphere was contagious and, as my companion Chris pointed out, it was time to once again don our “liquor leisure suits” before we ventured into the country music bars to hear aspiring yodelers and guitar-pickers.

11 p.m., Tootsie’s

A crowd of 40-somethings in full cowhand regalia was jumping and stomping its feet to beat of the fast-paced rockabilly tune being played by a very good band on a very small stage as we made our way to the safety of a secluded corner.

The dance floor was packed with big hats and noisy boots.

11:30 p.m., Legend’s Corner

Another bar, another stage, another hungry band begging for tips from a thinning crowd.

Exhausted from our day of non-stop drinking and exploration, we made our way back to the hotel.

My 24 hours in Nashville had ended. I struggled to find meaning in this Mecca of country music.

I pondered that perhaps I can’t appreciate this celebration of all things down home and rural because I don’t understand it. The affinity for wide-brimmed hats felt by millions of red-blooded Americans still eludes me, but the struggle of the musicians who come here did not.

Country music’s songs of loss resonate through Nashville, where the fantasies of millions of cowboys and cowgirls fall victim to the American dream that has seized up and broken down like the transmission on a 1980 Ford pick up.

Now that was something to which I could relate.

And like millions of souls before me, I came to Nashville searching for something I would never find.

And I still hate country music.

Contact features reporter Lorain E. Ogden at [email protected].