Music City Blog: Nashville Communities

By <b>Steve Buchanan</b><br/> Executive Producer of Nashville and President, Grand Ole Opry Group Nov 08, 2012

The panoramic fly-overs of the sparkling skyline and rolling hills that ring the city, present a birds-eye view of Nashville’s vibrancy and natural beauty. Closer to earth, cameras take us through the guarded gates of exclusive communities and behind the doors of some of our town’s priciest homes. (Rayna and Teddy’s house is on the market for $19.5 million. The swanky digs where in Episode 5 Juliette flees to escape unpleasant memories can be yours for just $3.2 mil, infinity pool included). Other location-setter drive-bys include historic/hipster East Nashville, where Scarlett and Avery live;  the modern condo buildings shooting up like bamboo in The Gulch; and the sidewalk-rimmed, tree-shaded streets that frame Music Row.

But it’s the neon-lit cruise down Lower Broad in downtown Nashville that is most uniquely and unmistakably Music City. Towered over by newly constructed high-rises and skyscrapers (like The Pinnacle, home of Rayna and Juliette’s record label offices) and just two blocks from the nearly- finished $585 million new convention center, the architecture on the 5-block stretch of Broadway from 5th Avenue to the river remains remarkably unchanged from its 19th century origin.

Most of the brick buildings are just two stories high, and the tallest are only four. It is the tenants of the buildings that have evolved tremendously over 100+ years. In contemporary history, downtown Nashville suffered through the demise that began in the 60’s and was universal to small towns and cities all over the country when shopping, dining, entertainment and business moved to malls, strip centers and office parks in the suburbs and bordering counties.

Lower Broad developed its early flash thanks to the music clubs that sprang up around the Grand Ole Opry when its home was the Ryman Auditorium on 5th Avenue. When even the Opry moved away, the street became downright shady and crime-ridden. Hardly a place that the Visitors Bureau encouraged tourists to visit, sending them instead to other areas of the city.

The construction of the first convention center between 5th and 6th on Broadway in 1987 began a turn-around and kicked off a major clean-up. Since the arena  opened in 1996 and the NHL Predators took up residence there in 1998, Lower Broad has been re-branded as an entertainment destination equally popular with locals and visitors.

Even though it has a cleaner, safer and friendlier vibe, Lower Broad retains much of its storied history. Merchant’s at 4th and Broadway was built in 1892 as a hotel, with retail on the first floor and single-occupancy rooms above. Famous lodgers back in the Opry days included Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner and Little Jimmy Dickens. Today it is a restaurant with dining on all three levels. Opry member Ernest Tubb opened the Ernest Tubb Record Shop in 1947, and though he passed away in 1984, the store still sells vinyl from the original bins, and the giant guitar still hangs over the front door.

Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge was always popular with Opry stars thanks to its rear entrance from the alley outside the stage entrance to the Ryman, and it’s rumored that Roger Miller wrote ‘Dang Me” on the well-worn bar. Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Waylon Jennings, George Jones and Tom T. Hall all bent an elbow and picked up a mike there back in Tootsie Bess’s day, and the signature purple storefront has surely been photographed millions of times. But Tootsie’s is just one of a dozen honky-tonks lining both sides of Lower Broad that keep the bright lights on well past midnight, beckoning locals and tourists for a night of big fun set to a country music soundtrack on one of Nashville’s most famous streets.