By Margaret Littman
For decades, country music’s Brad Paisley has lived in Nashville. And for decades, his friends and family from out of state could not have been less interested in the Tennessee capital that he calls home. However, now that the county music capital has achieved “it” city status, folks are changing their tune. “It is amazing,” Paisley says. “All these people who never cared about seeing Nashville are now saying, ‘Hey, you have a guest house, right?’ ”
So, in addition to promoting his new album “Moonshine in the Trunk” (which was released Aug. 26), appearing as a panel expert on ABC’s Sunday night singing competition “Rising Star” and offering a voice cameo in Disney’s “Planes: Fire & Rescue,” the country star is also playing tour guide at home.
But Paisley, who has earned more than 20 No. 1 singles over the course of his career and recently wrapped up this past summer’s Country Nation World Tour, doesn’t mind. He is passionate about Nashville and finds inspiration for his work everywhere in his hometown. “It is the perfect size for a city,” he explains. “It has everything you could want except an ocean.”
Like many who moved to Music City to make it big, Paisley was lured by Nashville’s creative community, but stayed for its way of life. “I live in a rural area, but it does not take me more than 20 minutes to get anywhere,” he says. He writes music from his farm (“in the middle of nowhere, in a good way”), but also concedes that Nashville’s more crowded spots are inspirational too. “The streets of Music Row are known for being so creative. … Seeing live music … that is all it takes.”
Here, Paisley shares how he helps visitors, smitten with Nashville’s current popularity, see and hear the best of the best in a jam-packed 24 hours. In true Southern style, some belt loosening and boot scooting may be required.
To start a full day of eating right, Paisley chooses from one of two beloved local eateries for breakfast: either Noshville, a Jewish deli with a Nashville twist, or Pancake Pantry near his alma mater, Belmont University. “I went to college and was fed by Pancake Pantry,” he says. “They knew me by name.” Long lines of college kids and others waiting for giant pancakes often flank the local staple. He’s also partial to Noshville’s New York deli sandwiches and traditional breakfast dishes. An added bonus for country music fans, he says, is that fellow singer and hit-maker Vince Gill is often found eating there.
Paisley describes himself as a “coffee nut,” so even if there’s no time for breakfast, he’ll take friends to grab a cup of joe, particularly now that Nashville’s coffee culture has caught up to that of the rest of the world. He’s partial to Crema, an award-winning shop in the downtown area that even offers coffee classes.
Fueled by caffeine and breakfast, Paisley then takes visitors on a whirlwind sightseeing trek, starting with the Parthenon in Centennial Park. Perched within walking distance of the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel, the replica of the Greek wonder was built for the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition and is the centerpiece of Nashville’s most popular park.
“[Nashville is] called the ‘Athens of the South,’ but [there’s] also something so redneck about it,” Paisley laughs. “You can just hear someone saying, ‘You don’t need to [go to Greece]! We got one just like it right here.’ ”
Next, he’ll take guests who want to buy some Western-wear and souvenirs to the shops so they’ll be dressed for a day and night on the town. But, in contrast to what some TV shows and music videos would suggest, he cautions that moderation is key: “You want to make sure you don’t go too nuts. You don’t want to buy a bolo tie and have jeans tucked in your boots.”
A few of his favorite stops include Two Old Hippies, a live music venue and store in The Gulch (an eclectic and trendy neighborhood on the fringes of downtown Nashville). Paisley recommends it because it is offbeat, featuring clothes and accessories with “bling,” not to mention “everything from rare, animal skin pelts to acoustic instruments,” he says.
One of his other favorite shopping destinations is the quirkily named Katy K’s Ranch Dressing. “Katy K’s Ranch Dressing on 12th [Avenue] South is where you go if you want the Western shirt with piping to look like Marty Stuart,” Paisley says.
Although Paisley says that his wife (actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley who recently had a recurring role on ABC’s “Nashville”) gets out to new restaurants and hot spots more than he does, he still has many must-eat stops on his list. While there are great upscale restaurants in Nashville—he names The Catbird Seat and Rolf and Daughters among them—he leans toward more casual eateries where it is easier to grab a bite of something unique to the city.
Such casual eats include the hot chicken at Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish. A Nashville specialty, hot chicken combines pan-fried chicken with spicy seasoning, served on white bread with a pickle, and is a necessity while in town. He’s also a fan of Pinewood Social, a multipurpose bar/restaurant/bowling alley. Located in an old trolley barn with food that Paisley describes as “gourmet dive food,” their grub includes classics like pot roast and fried chicken.
In addition, the “River Bank” singer won’t let his friends or family leave without visiting a “meat and three,” a Nashville-style restaurant where guests choose which meat dish they prefer with three vegetables (and macaroni and cheese counts as a vegetable, according to Paisley). “My family is fed quite often by Barbara’s Home Cookin in Franklin (just outside of Nashville),” he says, but he also likes The Pie Wagon, another meat and three in the city proper.
Fully sated, Paisley then likes to wander in and out of the honky-tonks on lower Broadway, such as Tootsies World Famous Orchid Lounge. With local musicians playing almost any time of day or night and no cover charge, it is a great place for getting a feel for Nashville’s musical energy. “In Nashville, there is no excuse for not getting your fix of hearing good stuff,” he says.
To start off his Nashville live music tour, Paisley recommends the Grand Ole Opry, where he has been a member since 2001. In November and December, the Opry travels downtown to the historic Ryman Auditorium. “It is truly unforgettable,” he describes.
For a more casual listening spot, The Bluebird Cafe in Green Hills is a must for hearing songwriters show off their craft in its purest form, as is Douglas Corner on Eighth Avenue South, which is lesser-known but features accomplished songwriters. Guests of Douglas Corner also witness the intimate experience of a writer explaining the creative process. For a louder, more energetic night out in Music City, downtown’s Wildhorse Saloon on Second Avenue is where he sends his guests to learn to line dance.
But when it comes to buying instruments, he suggests heading out of downtown and toward city stalwart Gruhn Guitars, located on Eighth Avenue South, for its extensive collection and staff that are the foremost authorities on guitars and guitar shopping. “It is one of the best places in the world for that,” he says. “That’s where you are going to find what you want.”
Closer to his suburban home is Artisan Guitars in The Factory at Franklin, which specializes in custom, hand-built guitars. “It is one of my favorite places because it is a nice listening environment,” he describes. “You’re not going to compete with a lot of guys playing ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ ”
To end a night on the town, Paisley walks guests across the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge (formerly the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge) downtown. “It has a view that is pretty daunting and inspiring,” he explains. “You see a skyline that looks like Bruce Wayne built it [a reference to the AT&T Building that is often called ‘the Batman Building’], and we have the sound of music coming from everywhere. When you are on the bridge you can hear the music on Broadway.”
That’s the sweet sound of Brad Paisley’s Nashville.