The Ryman Auditorium (aka The Mother Church of Country Music)

Today I received an email from one of the concert mailing lists I’m subscribed to so I can keep abreast of all the live music happening in Nashville. Given that Nashville is dubbed Music City, USA, you’d expect that there’d be a lot to keep track of, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: unless you’re big into country music, the music scene here leaves quite a lot to be desired. The music business is pretty cutthroat, so it turns out that other musicians and music execs make up the bulk of the music-going populace here and they’re tough to please. While most musicians banter about how great it is to play in the music capital of the country, afterwards you hear a lot of grumbling about how unpleasant it is performing here… so it’s probably not all that surprising that most bands skip Nashville on their next tour, bypassing us for Louisville, KY or Atlanta, GA. Compounding the problem is the fact that Nashville actually has very few music venues that aren’t honky tonk bars. If you’re not big enough for the Ryman Auditorium or the Bridgestone Arena (though it will always be the Gaylord Entertainment Center to me… like how the Skydome in Toronto will always be, well, the Skydome and not whatever it is now (I’m not even going to look it up, because I will never refer to it as anything but the Skydome, so what’s the point?)), you’ve got about three other venues that might work, otherwise no dice. Just to give you an idea of what we’re dealing with here, a few years back one of the best music venues in town got turned into an Urban Outfitters.

But despite all my complaining, Tony and I have seen some pretty fabulous shows during our 5 years together in Nashville. If you ever have the chance to see a show at the Ryman, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, do it; it’s not just the best place to catch a live show in Nashville, it’s one of the best places to catch a live show PERIOD. The seats are as uncomfortable as all get out (in order to keep sinners from falling asleep in church… true story!), but the acoustics can’t be beat.

Anyway, back to my original point: I received an email letting me know about upcoming concerts, and I realized upon scanning the list that when most of the shows being announced come to pass, Tony and I will be on the other side of the globe. That just really hammered home to me that our time here is fast coming to close. I decided that nothing would be more fitting tribute than to run-down the top five live shows we took in while living in Nashville.

5. Great Big Sea @ The Belcourt

It wasn’t until I moved away from the Great North that I came to appreciate the Maritime-folk stylings of GBS. I’ve never seen them perform in Canada, so you can imagine how surprised I was to see they were coming to Nashville. Even more surprising was that the show sold out! Not surprising? That the boys were late coming on because they were “watching the hockey”. They were in good spirits and had great energy, which more than made up for it and I pretty much danced the entire time.

4. Flight of the Conchords @ The Ryman

When Tony and I found out that the Kiwi band who invented rap were coming to town, tickets were already sold out. But we didn’t let that stop us! No, we jumped on Stub Hub and paid a ridiculous amount in order to see them live. We’re super pumped that Kristen Schall (who plays Mel on the show) was their opener. As for the boys themselves? Well, there were some gaffs along the way, causing them to pronounce that they were like a bad cover version of themselves. It doesn’t matter; I still love you, Jemaine!

3. Ingrid Michaelson @ The Belcourt

Tony and I had just discovered Ingrid Michaelson’s music about a week before we found out that she would be coming to town for a show. Even though we didn’t know that much of her stuff, we always enjoy shows at the Belcourt (they also show indie movies there on nights when there aren’t concerts booked), and tickets were cheap, so we decided to roll the dice and see what happened. Then, a few days before the concert I got really sick and we thought we weren’t going to be able to make the show. Although I think I had viral pneumonia, I insisted we at least try to go, and I’m so glad we did! Ingrid was AMAZING live, not just in terms of her singing, but she’s also really charismatic and funny. She was adorable and put on a great, high energy show that made me glad I hadn’t let my illness get the best of me.

2. Bon Iver @ The Ryman

Another concert that I was sick for, but there was just no way I could miss seeing Bon Iver live after I had been waxing on and on for about two years straight about how much I wanted to see them at the Ryman. Wish granted. This is one of the best shows I’ve ever been to in my whole life. They played all my favorite songs, and it was just one of those transcendental music experiences that can only happen at live shows. The musicianship on show that night was incredible, and I walked away with a newfound appreciation for all the songs they played. Loved, loved, loved it!

1. Andrew Bird @ The Ryman

Andrew Bird is so great we’ve seen him twice, and for that reason alone, I think he deserves the top spot! The man is a consummate pro, and even though I’m pretty sure he claimed to be ill both times that we saw him play (a nice change from me being the sickly one!), you’d hardly know it from his performance. He whistles like a champ and his fiddle playing is out of this world. His performances are incredibly atmospheric, and you feel like each note he plays is simultaneously expanding in every direction while also concentrating itself deep within your body. His music is so rich that the best way to experience it is live; after our last Andrew Bird experience, I went home and listened to his albums over and over again, trying to recreate that night and couldn’t. It was just one of those things that exist for perfect moment and can’t be recaptured.

So there you have, if not our top five shows, then our five most memorable ones in Nashville. We actually have a few more concerts coming up before we leave that I think have the potential to make this list. And of course to cap off our music journey here in the South, Tony and I decided that it was finally time we attended the Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, TN at the beginning of June. For 5 years we’ve avoided the hippies, the heat, and the camping, but we figure this will be a good test run for our time in South East Asia. I know it boggles the mind, but I have a sneaking suspicion that SEA will somehow be cleaner and cooler than Bonnaroo, but I guess only time will tell!

[P.S. I wanted to put up clips from the specific concerts we went to but the quality generally wasn’t very good, so only the Bon Iver clip is from the same concert we were at. Still, the rest give you a good sense of what we experienced.]

Written by: Stephenie Harrison


In another life, I moved from Toronto, Canada to Nashville, TN to pursue my doctoral degree in Psychology. That chapter of my life is now finished, but I did earn the right to demand you call me Dr. Steph (though I respond just as well to plain old Steph). I am an avid reader whose book collection is rivaled only by my many pairs of cute shoes. I also like to knit, hold impromptu karaoke parties, and try new and unusual foods. Generally not all at the same time. I also really love to learn languages, which may explain why I took 3 years of Latin in highschool. I'm turning over a new leaf, so instead of looking forward, I'm going to work on enjoying the present, so the country I'm most looking forward to is whichever one we're in right now!

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Read comments (4)

  1. April 26, 2012 at 10:18 am
    Apr. 26, '12

    I live in Orlando, and there is a lot of music that comes through, from small shows at the UCF Arena, to larger shows at the Amway Arena. There are even smaller venues at the Hard Rock. I haven’t seen many concerts yet, but I am always on the lookout for new stuff, and old favorites. It would make me very sad to live in a place that seems to heavily favor country music and not much else, but it looks like you got the chance to see some amazing bands!
    zibilee recently posted..Defending Jacob by William Landay — Audiobook Review

    • April 27, 2012 at 8:29 am
      Apr. 27, '12

      I guess coming to Nashville, you expect there’s going to be a high proportion of country music on display, so it’s not like that was a surprise. And it’s not like that’s the only kind of music you can see here (obviously!), it’s just always been super frustrating for us to realize that a band we love is skipping so-called “Music City, USA” to play in Asheville, NC. Coming from Toronto, where pretty much every band that is ever on tour ALWAYS has at least one stop, it was certainly a hard pill to swallow, but obviously we’ve had quality experiences if not quantity!

  2. April 27, 2012 at 3:25 pm
    Apr. 27, '12

    Hi Steph! Just came across your blog, looks like you guys are in a somewhat similar boat as me, I am looking forward to following your progress! I had the exact same experience with a concert yesterday so I can relate… I live in Vancouver, BC and we have a ton of shows here – it’s one of my favourite things to do, and I saw a poster for one I wanted to go to and then realized I’d be halfway around the world when it happened. Oh well, I am sure I’ll be having some amazing adventures that will trump the show anyway 🙂 And I have seen all 5 of your top 5 live too, and definitely agree with you!
    EM recently posted..Why are you leaving?

    • April 27, 2012 at 6:26 pm
      Apr. 27, '12

      Hi EM, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment! Always good to hear from a fellow canuck who understands the abundance of awesomeness that Canada can provide. Never been to Vancouver, but I have a good friend who lived there for two years and he said that the music scene was similar to Toronto, so I am sure you are spoiled for choice (and with better weather to boot!). And yeah, while I had a pang in my heart realizing it will soon be time to leave, I realize that once we’re on the road, I won’t be thinking about live music at all!

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