Just visit Nashville, Tenn., where our country celebs are royalty. Nashville coined the term “Music City, USA,” but you’ll also find “Nash Vegas” on the T-shirts. No matter what they call it, Oklahoma country music fans will feel right at home.
While you can get plenty of country in Nashville year-round, if you want all country, all the time, schedule your visit now for CMA Music Festival 2014, a four-day event with concerts, signings and all the boot-scootin’ boogie one can handle. It’s scheduled for June 5-8 next year Last month, the 2013 festival boasted a daily attendance of 80,000, and fans from all over the nation gather to catch a glimpse of their favorite country legend or rising star, including Oklahomans Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, along with surprise guests from other genres.
During CMA Fest, one can’t walk in downtown Nashville without hearing live music, from inside bars to the corporate-sponsored stages outdoors. Many open-air concerts pump notes into the ecosphere for free. And the event’s Fan Fair enables attendees to meet and greet their favorite musicians.
A trip to Nashville wouldn’t be complete without two country music staples: seeing a concert at the Grand Ole Opry and touring the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. In fact, Sooner stars will greet you at both places.
A banner featuring a 20-foot-tall Shelton above a photo of Vince Gill hangs on the exterior of the Grand Ole Opry (2804 Opryland Drive, opry.com), while Underwood welcomes visitors via video. The venue still broadcasts live every night, and an invitation to sing on its historic stage is the golden ticket for vocalists, who typically get to belt out two songs.
Underwood, who grew up in Checotah, is arguably the new queen of country. The American Idol alum has racked up more than a hundred awards, including being the first woman to win back-to-back Entertainer of the Year trophies at the Academy of Country Music Awards.
During our stay, she played a set at the Opry and appeared at the CMA festival, and she’s not slowing down anytime soon.
Longtime Tulsan and country music legend Roy Clark, 80, perhaps best-known for hosting TV’s Hee Haw for two decades, kicked off the night at the Opry during our visit.
If you missed Oklahoma’s stars at the recent tornado-benefit concerts, you can see them in infamy at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (222 Fifth Ave. S., countrymusichalloffame.org).
Underwood’s Blown Away exhibit features the costumes from her recent tour and 2012 album of the same name. You’ll also find memorabilia and outfits for Gill, Garth Brooks, Toby Keith and Reba McEntire on your tour, as well as an impressive history of the music genre in all its iterations.
Hatch a plan
While downtown, visit Hatch Show Print (316 Broadway, hatchshowprint.com). At 134, it’s one of the oldest working letterpress print shops in the country.
If you like history and good food, visit Merchants (401 Broadway, merchantsrestaurant.com), a three-story building built in 1870 as a pharmacy, hardware manufacturing company and wholesale drug company. In 1892, the place became the Merchant’s Hotel, and many country music legends stayed there, including Hank Williams and Patsy Cline.
For the past 25 years, the renowned building has been a restaurant serving casual fare downstairs and finer dining upstairs.
Take my word for it and start with the duck-fat tater tots, fried green tomatoes and baked cheese, which they describe as “ooey, gooey, cheesy yumminess.” I can’t beg to differ.
Our Oklahoma stars have big hearts in addition to big voices, and visiting Nashville cements the impact they’ve made and continue to make. For more information on further romps and eats, visit visitmusiccity.com.