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Nashville

Music City…and my favorite city…Nashville, Tennessee! If I had to sum up the character of Nashville in just a few words, it would be entertaining, creative, humble and inviting! NBC's Today Show recently named Nashville one of the five friendliest cities in America. Bizjournals.com ranked Nashville as the third best city (behind only New York City and San Francisco), in terms of cultural amenities. Having DJed on two country radio stations in the past, I am a huge country music fan. Country music finds its way into your heart and connects with your soul. But what makes the music really special are the singers and songwriters behind the hits. Unlike other major entertainment cities, Nashville is a close knit community of artists who tout themselves as being just like everybody else.

Performer Craig Morgan is one such example. I had the extreme honor of attending the Grand Ole Opry the night he was inducted as its 67th member. He told us it had been his dream for so long to become part of the Opry, and when they surprised him with his invitation while performing at Fort Bragg, he walked right off the stage to try and gather his composure. It was truly amazing to hear Craig speak about his journey as a performer and about all the people who have meant so much to him along the way. But what impressed me the most was his extremely humble demeanor.

When you visit Nashville, you must see a show at the Opry. The Opry can be heard on the legendary radio station 650 AM, where it all started in 1925. It is still staged live every week and is America's longest running radio show, in continuous production for 80 years. You never know who will make a surprise appearance. You'll see classic country artists such as Little Jimmy Dickens, to contemporary performers like Carrie Underwood and Rodney Atkins. The Opry square dancers are a lot of fun, as are the live commercials for the sponsors. The atmosphere and dress are casual and they offer refreshments you can bring into the performance.

A tour of the Opry is really neat, as you get to see what goes on backstage, the dressing rooms, and what it's like to stand on the Grand Ole Opry stage. For a few months out of the year, when the Radio City Rockettes come to the Opry, the show is held at its original venue, the Ryman Auditorium. The Ryman, situated in downtown Nashville, is a national landmark and was originally built as a church is 1892. It was home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943-1974, and was completely renovated in 1994. Today, the Ryman continues it's more than 100 year tradition by offering a variety of entertainment from artists such as Bruce Springsteen to Keith Urban and Sheryl Crow. Be sure to take the behind-the-scenes tour to take in the true legendary history of the Ryman. It has been called the “Carnegie Hall of the South” for its incredible acoustics, and has been named, by Pollstar Magazine, as the best auditorium in the nation in which to experience live music.

Two other must-see attractions include the Country Music Hall of Fame and RCA Studio B. The Country Music Hall of Fame is filled with rich history and sounds of country music stars, past and present. Currently on display is “The Williams Family Legacy.” The museum does a wonderful job of highlighting the struggles and musical successes of Hank Williams, Hank Williams Jr. and his descendants. The Country Music Hall of Fame opened originally in 1967 on Music Row and moved to downtown Nashville in 2001. With over 800,000 items in its collection, I challenge you to check out this museum even if you're not a country fan. I guarantee by the end of your tour, you will be!

RCA Studio B is known as the home of 1000 hits and is a tour not to be missed. You can buy your tickets in conjunction with the Country Music Hall of Fame. Many famous artists once recorded their infamous country hits here, including Elvis Presley, Chet Atkins, and the Everly Brothers. Just recently, artists such as Carrie Underwood and Vince Gill used the studio to record an upcoming Christmas album. As an extra treat, you can play Elvis' Steinway piano and test out the acoustics for yourself. You'll even get a copy of your recording to take home.

With Nashville being home to so many talented songwriters and performers, you won't have any difficulty finding a live performance venue. In the downtown area, the streets are lined with honky tonks such as Tootsies Orchard Lounge, Legends, Roberts and the Wildhorse Saloon, which has delicious BBQ, line dancing, and various genres of bands. I had my first fried pickle at the Wildhorse and it was yummy! The Bluebird Café is a casual venue for top-notch songwriters and performers. I would definitely incorporate the Bluebird Café into your itinerary. We watched the incredibly talented Victoria Shaw and Gary Burr perform songs they have written for such artists as Leanne Rimes and Ricky Martin. Making a surprise appearance was singer Ty Herndon, which was a definite treat.

You can spend a night or day downtown going from one honky tonk to another, which all feature country and bluegrass music. Anyone coming to Nashville hoping to be discovered will audition for the opportunity to sing in one of these venues. What's amazing is that all of the music is always top notch. Lining the streets of downtown are country karaoke bars, cowboy boot shops, record shops, your standard souvenir shops, and hatch show print, one of the oldest working letterpress print shops in America. Over the years their posters have featured a host of country music performers ranging from Hall of Famers Hank Williams, Bill Monroe and Johnny Cash to present-day stars Garth Brooks, Wynonna Judd and Shania Twain. The best barbeque in Nashville is located in the middle of the honky tonks with the Ryman in its backyard. Jack's BBQ is a must eat while in Nashville. Anyone who comes to or lives in Nashville knows about Jacks. Choose from pulled pork, chicken, turkey, or beef brisket sandwhiches and platters, the great side dishes, and one or all of the many mild, sweet, or hot sauces.

If you're more in the mood for a sit down dinner, head over to F. Scott's Restaurant and Jazz Bar. Dolly Parton and Fred Thompson are a few of the many who have eaten the delicious cuisine and drank the magnificent wine. The menu changes four times a year and features the freshest ingredients available. This coupled with the great service and delightful jazz, makes F. Scotts a perfect place to enjoy dinner after a day of sightseeing in Music City.

So with all these fun and memorable venues to check out, you just have to choose a place to stay. Hands down, you'll want to experience the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. The resort is huge, housing 2,881 rooms with a ¼ mile river running through it with the Delta Riverboat giving tours of the beautiful lush gardens and waterfalls. The resort also features live entertainment in venues such as Jack Daniel's Saloon and Findley's Irish Pub. With eleven restaurants and lounges, there's something for everyone. The Water's Edge Marketplace Buffet serves up a delicious breakfast with fresh squeezed juices, an omelet station, a variety of fruit, cereals and other breakfast favorites. There's plenty of shopping in many of the resort's boutique stores for those seeking a Nashville souvenir or a new outfit. In addition to the great shopping and restaurants, the part of the resort known as “The District” is home to Fuse, the newest, hottest, Vegas-style nightclub in Nashville. The club features a vodka locker, go-go dancers, and very tasty, unique drinks such as candy, which features Bacardi and a big ball of cotton candy! It might sound strange, but as the cotton candy is absorbed by the liquor, it makes for a very sweet drink!

The Gaylord Opryland is also home to “A Country Christmas” which runs from November 14, 2008 to January 4, 2009 and Louise Mandrell's Christmas Dinner and Show from November 15 through December 25, 2008. The resort hires repellers to hang the larger-than-life decorations which transform the resort into a magical Winter Wonderland. The Opryland is a perfect place to take your family for the holidays, with many activities for kids of all ages, like Photos with Santa, Treasures for the Holidays Craft Show, Hall of Trees display, and the Gingerbread Corner with gingerbread decorating classes taught by elves.

So whether or not you are currently a country fan, you will be after visiting Nashville! The creative energy is contageous and the people extremely personable! I guarantee you'll have a two-steppin time in Music City!

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