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Legends live on at Nashville’s honkytonks

Within the downtown of Nashville lies the stuff legends are made of. While the Grand Ole Opry helped many a career for the likes of Hank Williams Sr., the Everly Brothers, Randy Travis, Garth Brooks and Patsy Cline, many of these artists started at Nashville’s Honky Tonks in an area called “Lower Broad.”
Even today, tourists make a pilgrimage from all over the world to listen to the pure and electrifying sounds of rockabilly, Honky Tonk and bluegrass that began here 50 years ago. They come to see where these country greats were discovered and where the new country  singers still come in for jam sessions.

Near the comer of Broadway and Fifth Ave., country music emanates through the air from the speakers outside the Honky Tonks – small country bars decked out in country gear and memorabilia. Inside, the atmosphere is cozy, smoky and revved with stomping feet and clapping hands beating in rhythm to the music.

Situated closest to the Ryman Auditorium (which housed the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974) is Legend’s Comer. Legend’s is decorated with LP covers
of country artists as far as the eye can see and offers pizza and live rockabilly and hillbilly music. Legend’s owner Rubel Sauders says singers hoping to be discovered still come to Nashville’s Honky Tonks.  Each day, aspiring country stars come from as far away as Denmark and Australia to sing, living off tips appreciative audience members leave in a jar. Costume is denim topped with rhinestones and wide brimmed Stetsons.

Tourists who feel a tad out of place can mosey two doors down to Robert’s Western World where owner Robert Moore not only has three hundred pairs of cowboy boots on display, but live country music. “This location began as a boot store before it became a Honky Tonk,” Moore explains.  Steak and burgers are on the menu and breakfast is served at 8 a.m. every day, the music begins at 10 a.m. and ends at 3 a.m. The country band BR5-49 got their start here and George Jones, Marty Stuart and Alan Jackson have performed here as well

In between Legend’s and Robert’s is Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge – the oldest, and probably the most popular of them all. Tootsie’s opened in 1952 and has launched many careers. including those of country legends Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn.  Segments of both their biographical movies were shot here and Roger Miller was said to have written the lyrics to King of the Road on a Tootsie’s cocktail napkin. Kris Kristofferson is a frequent visitor as well. Tootsie’s kitchen serves Cajun food and its walls are covered with photos of the singers including Terri Clark and Willie Nelson, who have stopped by to sing.
One of the hippest clubs on the strip is the Bluegrass Inn, it’s owned by Jim Vortani and his wife who started bringing in young artists 10 years ago who play the most original and purest forms of bluegrass and hillbilly music. Ralph Stanley, a veteran of Bluegrass music, performed last New Year’s Eve. People watching here is great! University students and punk rockers with green hair mix with the locals and tourists for the music and deli and sub sandwiches.

The best food on the circuit is said to be at Jack’s Barbecue where stars like Amy Grant, James Brown, Randy Travis and the late Neil Munroe have
been known to dine on the finest of hickory-smoked barbecue meats. The historic alleyway connecting the Honky Tonks to the backstage door of the Ryman Auditorium has been well trodden by artists like Merle Haggard and Ricky Scaggs who have dropped into one of the hanky tanksto relax after a concert at the Ryman or come to strum a few tunes.

In the 1950s, before the Grand Ole Opry moved to Opryland USA, devoted young artists, like Bobby Bare, Jimmy Dean, Hank Williams Sr. and Faron Young would wait to meet contacts from the music industry. The Everly Brothers were another act to hang out in the alley and later perform on the Ryman stage. There is no  cover charge to the Lower Broad’s’ Honky Tonks – they only ask that you tip the band.

Helpful links:
Official Nashville Website

Lower Broad

Ryman Auditorium

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