Making Music in Music City
Bands on Broadway, 2nd Ave., and Bars About Town
IThe Georgia Peach belts out "Bobby McGee" at Tootsie's on Broadway.
's a place where live music flows out from the doors to the street, the bars are called honky tonks and where they do something called a "hollar and a swallar."
This is Nashville, and there's a reason they call it Music City. It's not just because the big-name county music acts are here but because of the many little bands no one has ever heard of – yet – that play on Broadway and down 2nd Avenue.
The venues are these so-called honky tonks, lined up next to one another like music notes on a scoresheet. The sounds that pour out onto the street are the places' calling cards. Country at one place, bluegrass at another, country/rock at still another.
The Nashville honky tonks are just flat-out fun bars.
If you like live music, then you can get your fill on Broadway.
It's a "hollar and a swallar" at Nashville's rocking honky tonks.
The dress, as is the attitude, is casual and Southern hospitality is as prevalent as the Southern accents. Only the larger places charge covers (and those are only $5-6). The bands play for tips, though, and they are rather forthcoming about that fact, so be prepared to put a couple dollars in their tip jar (more if a specific song is requested).
And that just might be worth a "hollar and a swallar."
The Best Bars On Broadway
Bands play for tips in the honky tonks like Tootsie's.
It's not center stage, as its location is closer to the corner, but Tootsie's is Nashville's legendary honky tonk, a lively bar with bands belting out tunes on a stage right by the door. Along "honky tonk row" as PubClub calls it – Broadway between 4th and 5th Avenues – Tootsie's has been around as long as the banjo, or so it seems, and attracts locals, tourists and a number of bands looking to strike it big.
This is a long, narrow bar with a few tables toward the back. Keep going, for there is another room upstairs. It, too, has a band but with a totally different vibe. It's mainly rock 'n roll and the crowd tends to be younger and more into talking than hollaring and swallering.
Don't worry if a little beer gets spilled on the floor while whopping it up here; it's not going to be noticed and, in fact, will become part of the decor.
Honky tonk heaven – Broadway by night in Nashville.
Tootsie's is next to Legend's, which quite popular in the daytime and it's pressed up against the legendary Ryman Auditorium where the Grand Ole Opry was staged for many years.
The Stage is set for the biggest party on Broadway.
The Stage is like being front row for a concert.
People rock out by the stage at The Stage.
For some, this just sets the stage for, well, The Stage. By far the largest venue on Broadway, its far from a honky tonk – it's too big, too clear and to modern to qualify. But what it is, is a very fun bar with a large stage and great acts playing originals and covers. It has a true party crowd, people dancing and hanging over the stage as if at a concert. And heck yeah, they hollar and swallar here, too; it's just that there's so much hollarin' it's hard to be heard. The Stage is the biggest on Broadway but it it the best? Well, that's up to one's taste and style.
Those boots are made for rocking to the Nashville sounds.
Naturally, there are many gold records on the walls in Nashville bars.
Laylay's Hillbilly Bar features awesome bluegrass bands.
Then down Broadway it's the Laylay's Hillbilly Bar (for awesome bluegrass), The Second Fiddle with a relatively large dance floor and Roberts Western World, where cowboy boots are on the wall and cowboy bands are on the stage. While the former are about the music, the latter has people at the front listening to the band while at the back bar it's more about partying and mingling. These places are rarely as crowded as Tootsie's and Legend's.
There are more music places across Broadway. Cadillac Ranch, featuring rock and country (complete with a mechanical bull), is hard to miss with the big cactus sign.
The Big Bang bar is a Vanderbilt University hangout on Thursdays.
The Big Bans sure has the look and feel of a college bar.
The bottom of the dueling piano bar, the Big Bang Bar, has windows open to the street, beer on the floor and a "the more you drink, the better we sound" band on stage. On Thursdays, this is the place to party with Vanderbilt student seeking cheap beer ($6 pitchers of PBR).
Believe it not, there are even bars on Broadway that do not have music. But they do have other attributes. Broadway Brewhouse & Mojo is a place to hang out, down beers and have a good dinner. Merchant's may have the most colorful history of any place; it's a former brothel, supposedly has a ghost from a scorned lover and dates back to 1892. Today it's an upscale piano bar and THE place for business lunches downtown.
Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville is now open on Broadway. He still comes to Nashville to record and played a concert in Music City. So don't be too surprised to run into him sometime here.
There's blues on stage but smiles in the crowd at BB King's.
There's more to music and bars swallar here than what's on Broadway. It's Second Ave., just a few blocks toward the river from honky tonk heaven.
The cornerstone is the Wild Horse Saloon. This is the area's "everything" club. It's part music live music venue (and it's huge, three levels holding 1.700 people), part tourist destination (it brings in travelers on free buses from the Country Music Hall of Fame) and hosts concerts by name acts. Still, this is Nashville and is has the friendliness of its smaller honky tonk neighbors. This hospitality starts at the door, where the cover charges top out at just $6 (more for concerts, of course).
Another top live music venue is BB King's, and the name reveals the type of music played here. The acoustics here are excellent and the band plays on a big stage with ample dance area between people enjoying their ribs and Buds at tables. Cover is $5 during the week and $10 weekends.
Among younger drinkers on Second Ave., McFadden's Irish Pub is a party destination. It's not exactly typical of the Nashville scene – these bars can be found across the country – but it's a popular place for pints. Buffalo Billiards is an upscale pool bar and other more rustic bars with live bands are also here. Like Broadway, an entire night (or weekend, even) can be spent without ever leaving this particular street.
The Flying Saucer (1010 Demonbreun St,) is a cool, casual downtown bar. It has garage door windows that are open at night in the summer with live music. Next to the Wyndham is the Frist Museum. during the summer they have Friday Frist nights in the front of the museum with live music,
When bands are on the verge of "making it," have been fortunate enough to pass the rigorous requirements and possess the patience of a grandmother (the wait can be a year or more), they play the Bluebird, It's a music only venue to the extreme degree that when bands or musicians are playing ,patrons are not allowed to talk. There's no cover but in order to sit at one of the few tables, reservations are required, as is ordering rather expensive and mediocre food. Otherwise, it's squeeze in at the bar.