A Tour of Historic RCA Studio B
Yet another hotel breakfast included in the room rate starts off the day. Again it’s not too bad. Afterwards I take the hotel shuttle to the Country Music Hall of Fame in downtown Nashville. It’s here that I pick up the tour bus to Studio B for a 10.30 am tour. At the allotted hour we’re taken a mile or two down the road to Music Row and the Studio.
Studio B leaflet
Studio B tour bus
RCA Studio B
The tour guide is good, explaining the history and other aspects of Studio B. Of course almost everyone is on the tour because this is where Elvis Presley recorded almost all of his biggest hits. The fact that loads of other music stars recorded hits there is not overlooked however, which is good, but Elvis is the focus.
It’s great to see inside and to hear some stories, because it is a historic place in popular music. I enjoyed the tour and it’s worthwhile doing. The ticket also gives entry to the Country HoF, where the bus takes us back to. But given I don’t much like country music, I’d decided to leave doing this until the end of the day and do it if I have time.
Next port of call is an Old Town Trolley Tour of the city. I get on the bus at Stop 2 by the Country HoF but can’t buy a ticket onboard. The driver says he’ll take me to Stop 4, where I can get off and there’s a ticket booth just up the street. Once at the booth I am however taken aback at the $38 cost. This seems excessive to me. Stop 4 is right outside the Ryman Auditorium, which I’d researched before as a place to visit. So I’m ‘parking’ the bus tour until after this visit.
I was planning to take a Guided Backstage Tour of the Ryman but unfortunately there’s a concert on tonight so that Tour is not running today. So it’s the Self Guided Tour instead. This turns out to be very good. There is lots of info provided by a short introduction film plus there are panels on the walls as you walk around. The place’s history is clearly explained. This is much wider than just being about country music.
It’s great such an ‘old’ place is still around, although it was comprehensively renovated a few years ago, so it’s not strictly ‘original’ anymore. It was however restored ‘as it was’ many decades ago, which was definitely the right decision. It certainly feels ‘original’ in the way it’s been done. It’s a unique auditorium for all kinds of performing arts. Well worth a visit if you’re in Nashville.
Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum
The weather is overcast, warm and very humid as I get back on the trolley tour bus. A couple of stops later, I alight at Stop 6 for the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum. This is a not very well publicised – to my mind – Hall of Fame and Museum dedicated to musicians. It seemed really interesting when I found out about it pre-trip.
The place not only highlights some famous musicians we’d probably all know but also focuses on the ‘sidemen’, as they’re called in the industry.
These are the session guys and other anonymous folk who play in a studio or onstage as part of the band, but aren’t ‘members’, plus other behind-the-scenes people. The HoF is themed into zones such as Motown, Muscle Shoals, LA/California and others, and I’m still not sure this works. The issue is that if you weren’t part of one their ‘zones’, where or how are you represented in the HoF?
For instance there is nothing about the New York music scene to be seen anywhere. So there’s no exhibits about Atlantic Records, one of the most important American recording labels ever. And no mention of any non-US music either. What’s there is very good, and it does honour some influential ‘backseat drivers’, but there is much that is missing.
There are a bunch of interactive exhibits in a Grammy-themed area. This is sponsored by Roland, a leading manufacturer of electronic musical instruments. The section is excellent. There are many instruments and other things that you can get hands-on with. I strapped on a lead and bass guitar – not at the same time! – and for the first time in my life strummed a few tuneless non-chords. I also ‘played’ an electronic drum kit. There are also synths and loads of other stuff. It’s a really good exhibit.
So, overall, is this HoF good? Yes, very. I spent around 2 hours inside, utterly engrossed. Could it be better? Absolutely, per my previous comments. There’s also no food or beverages available inside. But I’m glad I went and would still recommend it.
Back on the Bus
Back outside I wait in Nashville’s very humid atmosphere for the next bus. This should come every 20 minutes or so. It’s 3 pm and hope I won’t have to wait too long. But I do. I even called the bus office to see if there are delays, but they had no information. A bus eventually turns up at 3.35 pm. I stayed on the bus for the rest of the tour around the city as there’s nowhere else I wanted to get off.
It is a hop-on hop-off tour but few people get off until near the last one or two stops. The result is that with subsequent pick-up points after me, by about half way round the tour loop, the bus is full. So at the next few stops after this the driver had to explain to waiting customers that he can’t take them…
The driver made a comment soon after picking me up that he’s a little behind schedule. This is bullshit. When we finally arrive back at Stop 1, the start/end point, the next bus in the schedule promptly pulls up behind us! We didn’t hit any traffic delays as we drive round so this driver, Mark, must be a serious slowcoach. The whole tour is supposed to take 1 hour 40 minutes but Mark took 1½ hours from where I got picked up. This was around a third of the way into the tour route. So with my wait at the Musicians HoF, by the time we moved off again on the next tour loop and reached Stop 2 for the Country Music HoF, it is 5.10 pm. And that HoF closed at 5 pm.
So my decision is made for me. No visit in there. To be honest, I’m really not bothered. On the bus tour the driver kept referencing country music artists in his commentary. Some passengers hollered support for their favourites, and answered his quiz questions, but I’d never heard of 90% of the people he mentioned. So a walk around a HoF museum where I’m not really interested in the music and probably don’t know most of the musicians was not high on my agenda.
I understand many people do like country music and I’m sure the HoF offers them a great treat. As the Studio B tour guide said, Nashville today is ‘Music City’ in its broadest sense, and not just Country Music City. And that’s why I’m visiting, for music generally. As for the trolley tour it was good, if expensive. Despite being slow the driver gave a good commentary. As I’ve said on previous trips, these trolleys are a really good way to see a city and learn about its history and see the sights. This tour of Nashville was no exception.
A Wait in the City
So it’s time to go back to the hotel. I call the hotel to ask the shuttle to pick me up. Which it doesn’t. I’m left standing around on a street corner for 30 minutes, calling back twice to ask where the shuttle is. Now I know I walked back last night but I’ve been on my feet all day, and it’s still very hot and humid. A final call to the hotel and I’m told yet again “He’ll be there soon”, at which I lose my cool and tell them I’m getting a taxi.
The hotel told me last night that if the shuttle doesn’t turn up they’ll reimburse your taxi fare. Back at reception I have a rant at them. This was more from the point that their shuttle did not pass the designated pick-up point for over 30 minutes. It was supposed to be out and about ferrying guests. A pick-up and return should take 15 minutes max – so where was the driver I keep asking? He was AWOL, and that was the point I was trying to get across. I got my $4 taxi fare back but lost half an hour!
Music on Honky Tonk Row
After resting up for a while, an hour or so later I go back down. I get the shuttle, now sitting outside, to Honky Tonk Row on Broadway. I start out at Rippy’s, going upstairs to sit at the bar. There’s football on TV and a band playing over in the far corner. The place is packed out. The band is mostly country-based but throws in a few other tunes like Sultans Of Swing. They’re OK but still a bit too much country for me. No idea of the band’s name though.
I’d resolved to cruise Honky Tonk Row tonight to sample a band per bar (and per beer!) to get a taste for what was playing out there. Next up was Paradise Park Trailer Resort, which has now closed for good, where I came across a punk / indie band. The bar was packed out, so I hoped they’d be good, and the end of the tune I caught seemed so. But then the lead singer asked for requests. A few people shouted out some song titles. To all of which he replied “Naw, we’re not doing that” and then proceeded to play something he wanted. By the middle of that next, not very good, song two-thirds of the audience had left. Serves him right. I move on as well.
I wasn’t really bothered where I went, I just followed my ears as I walked down Broadway. But then I saw a famous joint called Nudie’s Hony Tonk. The Studio B tour guide said she visited this last night and the music was good. First I went up to the roof to look out over Broadway. The tour guide had also mentioned that lots of bars had rooftop terraces. There’s no music up on Nudie’s roof, just a bar and a nice view of the street.
Back downstairs there was a lady called Megan Rüger singing with her band. Her website says her music is pop and rock’n’roll with a hint of country but there was little evidence of the latter during her set. She was very good and I stayed for about a quarter of an hour before forcing myself to find another bar.
Over at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Mandy McMillan was singing some typical country tunes, but it was just run-of-the-mill and not many people were watching her. She must be good, not, I thought. So I only stayed for a few minutes before moving on to find something more to my taste.
“I hear you knockin’ but you can’t come in” *
I tried to get into The Stage on Broadway as the music sounded good but the bouncer on the door insisted I show my ID. Now, I’m not getting any younger to the extent that already a couple of times on this trip, when I’ve paid to enter a museum, the entry staff have said they have a seniors discount for over-60s. 😮
In other words, I’m obviously showing my age these days and look over 60 to some folks. So this stupid security guard wanting to see my ID is just ludicrous. I say, “Are you serious?” and he just replies, “ID”. So I tell him to get lost and walk away.
By now I’d decided that I didn’t want to walk home again tonight. But the shuttle stops at 10.30 pm so I need to keep an eye on the time. My last bar was Legends Corner where a suited and booted quartet is playing. The lead singer looks a bit like Elvis Costello (with less hair) and they sound kind-of similar to him as well. Having ordered the shuttle my time in there was limited but what I heard of the band was good, slightly countrified, but not too bad. I spy the shuttle across the street so quickly move outside. Sod’s Law – it kept me waiting around for 30 minutes earlier for a no-show and now it turns up quicker than expected… so I didn’t get to find out the band’s name.
Back at the hotel I reflect on Nashville’s music. I was expecting the Row to be wall-to-wall country and the fact it wasn’t was great. There were many bars I did not enter because I could tell it was pure country. I chose those that sounded different where possible. I was surprised at the diversity, which was unfortunate because I only had one night and limited time to check the Row out. But what I saw was generally good, without being exceptional. I’m glad I visited Nashville and took in a myriad of sights and sounds. Good city to visit.
* Keep A-Knockin’ (But You Can’t Come In) – Various Artists
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