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Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge on Lower Broadway is one of several honky tonks in Nashville, Tenn.

Nashville music to tourists’ ears

Lots to see, do, hear in mecca of country tunes

Kim Young, from South Korea, poses by a statue of Elvis Presley at Broadway in Nashville, Tenn.

– Nashville’s history is so intertwined with music and creative expression that tunes seem to pour from every door and window.

From Music Row to the Honky Tonk Highway, the city recognizes its past, while also celebrating emerging artists who are drawn to the city just like music lovers. Learn a little about the great artists that defined the Nashville scene for decades, hear new music that may soon be hitting radio waves, and take a sniff of Tennessee sipping whiskey, all for free.

Honky tonks

Nashville’s siren song for tourists has long been the neon lights and twangy guitars pouring country and western standards from downtown honky tonks, where you can catch an up-and-coming singer or one of the town’s talented musicians. If you’re lucky, sometimes even country’s biggest stars will make a surprise appearance for a song or two, like Keith Urban did to promote his latest album.

Most of the bars on lower Broadway – sometimes called the Honky Tonk Highway – are free from cover charges so you can stop in for a two-step or just gaze at the memorabilia on the walls, although it’s always good to tip the band when they pass the bucket around. Best picks are Robert’s Western World and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.

Hatch show print

The letterpress print shop that dates to 1879 recently moved to the newly renovated Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, but the packed shelves of thousands of wood blocks look right at home among the displays of country music artifacts that are spread throughout the building.

There’s no cost to watch the presses and the staff churn out the iconic handmade posters that have been used by everyone from Grand Ole Opry stars to blues and jazz greats and modern rock bands. Don’t miss the Haley Gallery which showcases reprints of original posters from the Hatch collection, as well as monoprints made by master printer Jim Sherraden.

Jack Daniel’s distillery

About 70 miles southeast of Nashville in the small town of Lynchburg is the home to the Jack Daniel’s Distillery. It’s worth the drive to take a free tour of the oldest registered American distillery, where you can learn about the ingredients that go into Old No. 7, take a whiff of the charcoal mellowing process and see the barrels where whiskey is stored to mature. The iconic brand has inspired many classic country songs from artists like Miranda Lambert to Eric Church.

CMA Festival

One of the city’s biggest parties is the annual CMA Festival, a four-day celebration of country music in June that has always been about connecting fans with their favorite musicians.

While the nightly concerts at LP Field and the Bridgestone Arena require tickets, there are multiple stages set up around the city where artists play for free during the daytime.

Last year, artists like Sara Evans, Ronnie Milsap and Brett Eldredge played on the riverfront along the Cumberland River and at many other events like autograph signings are free as well.

Cumberland River

The banks of the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville are more than a place to watch barges pass. The Shelby Street pedestrian bridge over the river is one of the best viewpoints for the Nashville skyline that inspired Bob Dylan to write a country album.

Besides the city skyline, the view from the bridge includes a 100-foot industrial steel sculpture created by Alice Aycock, the Tennessee Titans’ stadium, the spot where the first settlers founded Nashville at Fort Nashborough and a newly built city water park and playground.