The tour guide turned off the lights in the studio and played Elvis Presley’s hit “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” as she described his meticulous recording habits.
Sitting in the dark studio listening to Elvis’s rich voice (and the clunk of his head accidentally hitting the microphone), it was easy to imagine him recording this song with the lights off to set the mood.
This tour of RCA Studio B on Music Row was a trip highlight for us on our recent- and first – visit to Nashville, Tennessee. The studio, which was Elvis’ favorite place to record music according to our guide, shut down in 1957 (coincidentally, just two days after his death), but is one of several family-friendly public tours of historic Nashville venues. These tours offer fascinating peeks into the history of music produced in Nashville.
We packed in a lot of sightseeing, hitting all the big attractions from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (a good place to start) to the Bluebird Cafe, an intimate venue where songwriters gather to chat and play their music to a live audience. But it was the backstage tours that dished the nitty gritty details of Nashville’s famous music scene.
This unique venue was a church before being converted into a live music hall. Still in place are the stained glass windows and church pews used by theater-goers. Self-guided and guided tours are available. We took the backstage tour that led us through several dressing rooms, used by Johnny Cash, Minnie Pearl and many others. The best part was standing on the stage, where we posed with musical instruments and imagined what it’s like to perform in front of an audience. The tour continues to the backstage door used by performers. You can find guitar picks lying in the street. The venue also has an upstairs museum with photos and documents depicting the Ryman’s history.
Later that evening, we returned to the Ryman for the Grand Ole Opry radio show that began in 1925 and is still broadcast every week. This popular live show features an announcer who introduces the musicians and does the on-air commercials. Country singers young and old, traditional and contemporary perform. Country great Vince Gill was among the singers performing the night we attended the show. Although the Ryman was the show’s original venue, it is now performed at the Grand Ole Opry House except during the Christmas holidays.
New artists, superstars and legends of country music take the stage at this iconic theater. Visitors interested in a backstage look at the Opry can join one of three tours – daytime, post-show and VIP. Look for the historic six-foot circle of dark wood on the stage that was cut from the Ryman Auditorium’s stage when the Opry was built. The section of wood pays homage to the Grand Ole Opry radio show’s former home.
Tours leave from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and include roundtrip transportation. More than 35,000 songs were recorded at Studio B by artists, such as Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Waylon Jennings and Charlie Pride. Our tour guide used recordings and lighting to bring the past to life.
Situated in the same building as the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Hatch Show print is one of America’s oldest letter press poster print shops. With the Internet and digital technology, it may seem that traditional letter press isn’t necessary. Not so! The quality is much better and textured with letter press, which is why the company is still in demand by businesses around the world. Hatch Show Print also prints all the posters and printed materials for the Ryman Auditorium. One of my favorite souvenirs is a poster featuring the radio show at the Ryman. I bought it for just $10 at the Ryman gift shop.
Located in downtown Nashville, the elegant Hermitage Hotel is walking distance to historic venues, shops and honky tonk bars.
Built in 1910, the Hermitage is Nashville’s only five-star hotel. During our December visit, a huge Christmas tree and roaring fire in the lobby made the sitting area a nice place to relax after a day of sightseeing. The hotel’s Capitol Grille restaurant serves tasty meals (and the best mac n’ cheese in town). Complimentary mini muffins and coffee are served in the lobby in the morning, and freshly baked cookies and apple cider in the afternoon. Our spacious room had a sitting area, and the bathroom had a flat screen TV above the tub.
Edley’s East serves yummy BBQ in a sports bar setting.
Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant features live music and comfort food. Casual, family restaurant.