Tennessee

The Listening Room Cafe

Two weeks after our weekend getaway to Leavenworth, Peter and I hopped on a plane bound for Nashville. Nashville had been on my bucket list for many years and, unfortunately, it fell short of my grandiose expectations.

The main event of our weekend in Nashville was to attend the Music City Food + Wine Festival. Earlier in the year, we had attended Taste Washington in Seattle and it wasn’t long after that event that I saw an advertisement for a similar event in Nashville and thought it was the perfect excuse to finally visit Nashville.

One-day tickets were pricey at $165/person + $5 shipping. If there is one thing I hate about event tickets are the service and shipping fees. About one month prior to the event, our tickets arrived in the post and I was surprised to see that our tickets were actually soft ribbon bracelets. Worth the $5? No, but they somewhat cute.

I have moaned and groaned about how far away Seattle is from every destination you’d want to visit and Nashville was no exception. Flight time from Seattle to Nashville was four hours and 15  minutes (four hours and 50 minutes on the return). We arrived late on a Thursday and went straight to bed.

Friday was one of our two days reserved for sightseeing. My expectation was that we would see a sight and then pop into a bar for a drink and some live music and then see another sight and then pop into another bar for a drink and some live music but that is not how things worked out for us.

We left our hotel on foot destined for brekkie and coffee around 10:30am on Friday. People were visibly intoxicated, falling on sidewalks and crossing the road as cross-traffic raced by. I remember standing on the corner waiting for the traffic lights to turn so that we could cross the Broadway and staring at the couple in front of us who had clearly been up all night drinking.

Music was blasting out of the bars lining Lower Broadway. It felt more like the French Quarter in New Orleans than Nashville or my expectation of Nashville. I could not believe what I was seeing and all my dreams of a peaceful vacation in Nashville listening to live music went up in smoke. The only word that comes to mind when I think of Lower Broadway in Nashville is debauchery.

Protip: There are many live music venues in Nashville so skip that shit on Lower Broadway and use this app to find live music to listen to without the risk of a someone vomiting on you or your shoes.

Whilst enjoying our espresso, we concluded that sitting in extremely loud bars amongst thousands of our closest inebriated friends was not in the cards for us and realized that we had not done much, if any, research on things to do and see in Nashville. We then fell into the biggest tourist trap a tourist can fall into and purchased on/off sightseeing bus tickets. Our logic was solid – use the bus as our transportation and we’d explore various neighborhoods as they appeared on the sightseeing agenda.

There were many problems with this plan, the first problem was the stupidity of purchasing on/off sightseeing bus tickets. During our weekend, most of downtown Nashville’s roads were closed or open for a single lane only due to repaving. Just like in Rome when we used an on/off sightseeing bus as a “time filler”, we ended up spending a lot of time sitting on a hot bus in traffic.

After almost an hour of sitting on the bus, we alighted at the Parthenon in Centennial Park. The Parthenon is a full-scale model of the Parthenon in Athens. The Parthenon in Athens was closed when we visited in April 2013 so this was the next best thing.

Before Nashville was known for its music, it was known for its many higher education institutions and as the first city in the southern United States to establish a public school system. The city’s emphasis on education gave it its nickname, “Athens of the South”. In late 1897 and in an effort to be more Athens-y, the Parthenon was built to celebrate Tennessee’s 100th birthday. To date, it is the world’s only full-scale replica of the Parthenon.

We spent 15 very hot minutes walking around the Parthenon and then hopped back on the on/off bus bound for our next destination: a bar with cold beer. We visited Nashville in the middle of September. Temperatures were unusually hot during our visit – low to mid 90’s Fahrenheit (~34°C).

That night we went to The Listening Room Cafe for [tame] live music. This was the highlight of our trip for me. The Listening Room Cafe is a venue where songwriters tell stories about how their songs came to be and sometimes upcoming artists pop-up for an impromptu performance. Tickets can be purchased a couple of hours prior to the show and seating is assigned. There are strict no talking, no cell phones, no debauchery rules which I appreciated because I am 40 years old.

AJ Kross stopped by and sang a couple of songs during the show. It was like I was seeing a star being born.

The woman in the photo above sitting at the piano is songwriter Emily Shackleton. She hails from Biwabik, Minnesota and has written many fabulous songs like Careless recorded by Carly Pearce, Think Outside The Boy recorded by Lauren Alaina and One More Red Light recorded by Cassadee Pope. The first time I heard One More Red Light was Emily singing it during the show. The following week I heard it on the radio and remembered Emily explaining the creative process of writing that song. The Listening Room is a really special place that everyone should visit when in Nashville.

I harbor a couple of regrets from our visit to Nashville. One regret was not returning to The Listening Room Cafe for a second show the following night. A second regret was not booking a show at The Bluebird Cafe (reservations are required weeks in advance).

Day 1 concluded with a nightcap and live music in the lobby of our hotel and a loose promise of eating Tennessee hot chicken the following day.

1 comment on “The Listening Room Cafe

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