The Tennessee Performing Arts Center
While it’s not much to look at from the outside, the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC), 505 Deaderick St. (tel. 615/782-4000), is a perfectly serviceable venue for plays, musicals, comedy shows, and the like. The center houses three theaters: the Andrew Johnson, the James K. Polk, and the Andrew Jackson, whose lobby includes a 30-foot waterfall. The three spaces can accommodate large and small productions (ticket prices $40–$150). Resident companies based here include the Nashville Ballet (tel. 615/297-2966), which stages multiple full-length ballets every year along with special programs for kids as well as lecture series; the Nashville Opera (tel. 615/832-5242), which mounts several lavish productions annually; and the Nashville Repertory Theatre (tel. 615/244-4878), which stages seasonal productions that include dramas, musicals, and comedies. Nashville’s oldest nonprofit arts group is theater company Circle Players (tel. 615/332-PLAY ), which does several productions per season, often taking chances on lesser-known works. 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 “Avenue Q,” “Wicked,” and “The Book of Mormon” to Nashville. Find tickets at Ticketmaster.
The Nashville Symphony (tel. 615/783-1200) presents a mix of classical and pops concerts as well as a children’s series in their stunning new home in the Schermerhorn Symphony Center (corner of 4th 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. In recent years, the Schermerhorn has created a larger fan base by hosting events such as speakers (photographer Annie Leibovitz), movie nights where the symphony performs the score (“Home Alone” is an annual favorite), and intimate concerts for everyone from Bruce Hornsby to My Morning Jacket front man Jim James.
Other Venues & Series
Looking beyond TPAC, you’ll find a wide array of performances staged at Vanderbilt University’s Ingram Hall, Blair School of Music, 24th Avenue South at Children’s Way (tickets $10–$26). From chamber music to modern dance, productions of all kinds can be found through Vanderbilt, including wind symphony, big-band music, and philharmonic orchestra performances. If you’re looking to entertain the little ones, check out Nashville Children’s Theatre. Founded in 1931, it is the oldest children’s theater in the country and puts on plays with professional adult actors as well as year-round drama workshops for youth. The theater was ranked as one of the top five children’s theaters in the U.S. by “Time” magazine.
The Nashville Municipal Auditorium, 417 4th Ave. N. (tel. 615/862-6390), was the site of everything from circuses to revivals back in its heyday. Today the aging, dome-roofed venue plays host to bands including Moon Taxi and Toni Braxton, as well as the occasional rodeo, boxing match, or monster-truck mash. Personally, I find the venue a bit depressing, and if I have the option to see an act at a different venue, I’ll take it.
The Bridgestone Arena (501 Broadway; (tel. 615/770-2000) is the city’s venue of choice for major rock and country music concerts, ice shows, and, of course, NHL hockey courtesy of the Nashville Predators. This is where you’ll usually find the biggest acts, and while concerts here are excellent in production value and concessions, if you go far up into the upper deck, it’s going to be a pretty impersonal experience. My recommendation is to spend the extra money to be a little closer, or to look to venues such as the Ryman or Ascend Amphitheater for more intimate experiences. On that note, Ascend Amphitheater has become a favorite of touring acts in recent years, playing host to acts including Chris Stapleton, Dwight Yoakum, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The open-air venue is located on the Cumberland River inside Riverfront Park, which means most shows also feature a beautiful sunset over the water and a view of the sparkling city lights just past the stage. The amphitheater has a couple thousand seats for purchase with another 4,500 on the lawn, for which you’ll want to show up early with your blanket to snag a good spot (310 1st Ave. S.).
The annual Live on the Green concert series is a free outdoor concert series in August that culminates in a 3-day festival Labor Day weekend (www.liveonthegreen.com). The festival typically gets recognizable headliners, including The Head and the Heart, Ben Harper, and Tonic; for any acts you are a real fan of, I would recommend paying for the VIP ticket option. For $80 you get dinner, a few drinks, access to a reserved section near the stage to watch the show, and private bathrooms.
The Frist Center for the Visual Arts (tel. 615/244-3340) 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). Farther away, the verdant grounds of Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art (tel. 615/356-8000), are the site of “Songwriters Under the Stars,” where, backed by the Nashville Symphony, famous songwriters will perform their chart-topping hits written for today’s biggest stars. If you’re a bluegrass fan, head out to Warner Parks from April to October for the Full Moon Pickin’ Party. On the Friday night nearest the full moon during those months, 2,000 people come out for a local bluegrass show as well as food trucks and activities. While all of that is excellent, the most unique thing about this event is that people are invited to bring their own instruments and jam in circles around the barn, so you can wander from one circle to another and hear some killer impromptu pickin’ (tel. 615/352-6299).
For film, you can’t beat the independent arthouse Belcourt Theatre, 2102 Belcourt Ave. (tel. 615/383-9140). A local darling, the Belcourt opened in 1925, underwent a monumental overhaul in 2016 and is the pride of Nashville’s film community. On its three screens, it runs new indie releases and hosts frequent Q&A sessions and events with filmmakers and experts. Add a full bar with locally made food and the fact that the Belcourt is right in the middle of quaint Hillsboro Village and you have a great outing for families and film geeks alike (just check the film’s subject matter first).
For a departure from the typical entertainment downtown, consider a magical experience at House of Cards (119 Lower Level, 3rd Ave. S.; tel. 615/730-8326). With a speakeasy atmosphere reminiscent of the 1930s, this magic club is a throwback in every sense of the word from its dress code (no denim or flip flops, folks!) to its ban on all things social media. Walk through an underground tunnel, view their art collection and vintage magic posters, and check out playing cards dating back to the 1490s and a handcuff device owned by Harry Houdini. Then enjoy the two magicians performing on the restaurant floor and nightly magic shows on the main stage, which are complimentary with the purchase of a dinner entree.
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.