“Three chords and the truth.” That’s how songwriter Harlan Howard famously described great country music in the 1950s. If you’re coming to Nashville now, there’s something you need to know about that: The noise you’re going to hear blaring from party barges and five-story honky-tonks is not “great country music.” Hell, I’d argue it’s not really music at all. But for me, Howard’s words apply to more than just music—they remind me of Nashville’s spirit, which has always been one of earnest people creating and sharing beautiful things. And that’s still very real today.

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Yes, some parts of Nashville have been sprayed with a big, glitzy, corporate hillbilly hose, and you’re absolutely going to be assaulted by that. But rest assured the small town charm you’re hoping to find is still here, too—as are the innovative dining, rowdy drinking, eclectic art, rolling hills, and, of course, world-class music you’re looking for. The best thing about Nashville is finding your corner of it, so let’s go do it.