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The Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC)

A major renovation completed in fall 2003 gave the drab, utilitarian Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC), 505 Deaderick St. (tel. 615/782-4000; www.tpac.org), a much-needed makeover. Glass walls and an electronic marquee now illuminate the formerly nondescript, concrete exterior of Nashville's premier performance facility. The center houses three theaters: the Andrew Johnson, the James K. Polk, and the Andrew Jackson, whose expanded lobby now dazzles patrons with a 30-foot waterfall and other aesthetic touches. The three spaces can accommodate large and small productions (ticket prices $10-$45). Resident companies based here include the Nashville Ballet (tel. 615/297-2966; www.nashvilleballet.com), which each year stages two full-length ballets and two programs of selected pieces; and the Nashville Opera (tel. 615/832-5242; www.nashvilleopera.org), which mounts four lavish productions annually.

TPAC, as locals know it, is also home to two theater companies. The Tennessee Repertory Theatre (tel. 615/244-4878; www.tnrep.org) is the state's largest professional theater company. Its five seasonal productions run from September to May and include dramas, musicals, and comedies. TPAC's other resident theater company is Circle Players (tel. 615/332-PLAY [7529]; www.circleplayers.net), Nashville's oldest nonprofit volunteer arts group. This company does six productions per season and seems to take more chances on lesser-known works than the Rep does.

In addition to productions by Nashville's main performing arts companies, TPAC also hosts various acts and an annual "Broadway Series" (tel. 615/782-4000) that brings first-rate touring productions such as My Fair Lady and Spamalot to Nashville between October and June. Tickets to TPAC performances are available either at the TPAC box office or through Ticketmaster (tel. 615/255-9600; www.ticketmaster.com).

The Nashville Symphony (tel. 615/783-1200; www.nashvillesymphony.org), which presents a mix of classical and pops concerts, as well as a children's series, has a stunning new home in the Schermerhorn Hall (corner of Fourth Ave. S. at Demonbreun). The acoustically superior 1,872-seat venue features 30 soundproof overhead windows, making it the only major concert hall in the world featuring natural light.

Other Venues & Series Around the City

Looking beyond TPAC, you'll find a wide array of performances in the Great Performances at Vanderbilt series (tel. 615/322-2471; www.vanderbilt.edu), which is staged at Vanderbilt University's Ingram Hall, Blair School of Music, 24th Avenue South at Children's Way (tickets $10-$26). Each year, this series includes more than a dozen internationally acclaimed performing arts companies from around the world. Recent acts have included Grupo Cultural AfroReggae, the Trey McIntyre Project, L.A. Theatre Works, and India's Nrityagram Dance Ensemble. The emphasis is on chamber music and modern dance, but touring theater productions are also scheduled.

The Nashville Municipal Auditorium, 417 Fourth Ave. N. (tel. 615/862-6390; www.nashvilleauditorium.com), for many years, was the site of everything from circuses to revivals. Today the aging, dome-roofed venue plays host to everyone from Bob Dylan to Bob the Builder. Plus, there's always the occasional rodeo, boxing match, or monster-truck mash. A stone's throw away, the newly renamed Sommet Center (previously the Gaylord Entertainment Center), 501 Broadway (tel. 615/770-2000; www.sommetcenter.com), is now the venue of choice for major rock and country music concerts, ice shows, the Arena Football League's Kats, and NHL hockey, courtesy of the Nashville Predators. Thanks to the recent purchase of the team by a group of Nashville investors, the Predators' future in Nashville seems secure.

The "Music City J.A.M. (Jazz and More)" festival is one of the premier live, outdoor music events. It takes place Saturday and Sunday over Labor Day weekend at downtown Nashville's Riverfront Park. Every Thursday night from June to August, Grammy-nominated jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum serves as emcee for the all-star, family-oriented program, which includes gospel, jazz, soul, reggae, and blues acts. Admission is $25 for a 2-day pass or $15 for a single-day pass. For more information, call Ticketmaster outlets (tel. 615/255-3588). The Frist Center for the Arts offers Frist Fridays on the last Friday of every month (May-Sept). Free admission includes live music and appetizers outside in the courtyard, along with entry into the Frist's galleries (5:30-9pm). For more information, call tel. 615/244-3340.

Farther away, the verdant grounds of Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art, 1200 Forrest Park Dr. (tel. 615/356-8000; www.cheekwood.org), are the site of annual summer concerts by the Nashville Symphony each June.

In addition, I highly recommend the Belcourt Theatre, 2102 Belcourt Ave. (tel. 615/383-9140; www.belcourt.org), where you can catch the latest art-house film releases and other cinematic fare that's all but ignored by today's modern multiplexes. From October through December, the theater stages a weekend classics matinee series called "The Best Old Movies for Families." Neil Simon's Rumors, Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit, and the bluegrass musical Smoke on the Mountain Reunion were recently staged here. Live entertainment, including musical events and occasional lectures/discussions, are also staged occasionally at the Belcourt -- fitting, as the venue was one of the early homes of the Grand Ole Opry.

If you enjoy dinner theater, you may want to check out Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre, 8204 Tenn. 100 (tel. 800/282-BARN [2276] or 615/646-9977; www.dinnertheatre.com), housed in a big old Dutch-colonial barn 20 minutes outside Nashville (dinner and show $40 adults, $20 children 12 and under; show only $33 adults, $25 children). The dinner is an all-you-can-eat country buffet (think fried catfish, ham, green beans, and fruit cobblers and berry shortcakes). Recent stage shows have run the gamut from Chicago and Lend Me a Tenor to Arsenic and Old Lace. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday. Reservations are required and must be paid for 24 hours in advance. To reach Chaffin's Barn, take I-40 west to exit 199 (Old Hickory Blvd.) and head south to Old Harding Road (Tenn. 100), turn right, and continue for 4 miles.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.