Nashville: The very name is synonymous with music, specifically the brand of country music played on the Grand Ole Opry radio show, broadcast from here since 1927. To perform on the Grand Ole Opry is to officially "make it" in country music, and thus it's a town buzzing with music-biz execs, state-of-the-art studios, and happening clubs, with a surprising amount of jazz and rock going down as well. I love Nashville, and even though I'm no country-music aficionado, it only takes a couple hours here to get hooked on its twangy energy.
A music pilgrimage to Nashville centers on three areas: downtown near Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Opry; in the West End along 16th Avenue, known as Music Row, where you can often spot music stars going in and out of the studios; and east of town at the vast Opryland complex where the Opry relocated in 1974. Out at Opryland, the current Grand Ole Opry House, 2802 Opryland Dr. (tel. 800/SEE-OPRY [733-6779] or 615/871-6779; www.opry.com), produces three live TV shows a week, April to December -- order your tickets well in advance. Exhibits at the Grand Ole Opry Museum next door celebrate Opry stars past and present. For a more rounded idea of country music, though, head downtown for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, 222 Fifth Ave. S. (tel. 800/852-6437 or 615/416-2001; www.countrymusichalloffame.com). From sequin-spangled costumes to historic guitars to over-the-top custom cars (a crucial status symbol in country music culture), it's an impressive roundup of artifacts, and the kids really get into the video and audio clips, interactive jukeboxes, and touch-screen computer kiosks, exploring the differences between intertwined musical genres -- bluegrass, cowboy music, rockabilly, Cajun, honky-tonk, country swing. Once you're grounded in the music, walk 2 blocks to the Ryman Auditorium, 116 Fifth Ave. N. (tel. 615/889-3060 www.ryman.com), aka The Mother Church of Country Music (built as a church in 1892, it still has stained-glass windows). Dowdy as it looks outside, inside it's a finely restored arena-like theater with top acoustics. By day, it offers memorabilia exhibits, a backstage dressing room tour, and a booth where you can record your own live CD; by night, it has a full roster of live concerts. Then take in an early-evening show at the Bluebird Café, 4104 Hillsboro Pike (tel. 615/383-1461; www.bluebirdcafe.com), to hear today's up-and-coming singer-songwriters.
Nearest Airport: Nashville International, 8 miles.
Where to Stay: $$ Courtyard by Marriott Nashville Vanderbilt/West End, 1901 West End Ave. (tel. 800/245-1959 or 615/327-9900; www.marriott.com/bnawe). $$–$$$ Gaylord Opryland, 2800 Opryland Dr. (tel. 866/972-6779 or 615/889-1000; www.gaylordhotels.com/gaylord-opryland).