Football Music NFL

The Ultimate NFL Road City?

Traveling to an NFL game is about so much more than the 3-1/2 hours you spend inside the stadium. Experiencing the sites, sounds, and smells are what I love about traveling - and Nashville didn't disappoint.

If you follow me, you know how much I love “spectator sports.” Sure, I love the game itself, but it’s more than that. As I say in my “about me“, I’m all about experiencing the sites, sounds, and smells that a sporting event has to offer. That means experiencing more than the 3-1/2 hours in the stadium, arena, or ballpark. It means taking in everything the city has to offer. It means drinking the local drinks. Eating the local foods. Seeing the local sites. And Nashville certainly has a lot to offer.

As fans, we often fall into the same trap of seeing our local team in action at home. It’s easy and certainly more affordable, but there’s just something about traveling to see your team on the road. In the NFL, you have 29 other choices to see your team (since NJ and LA share a stadium). I don’t know what you’d consider to be the best NFL city to visit, but I can tell you, if the Titans show up on your away schedule, book your trip to Nashville!

With the Bills visiting on a Monday night, it was an easy decision for us. Travel in on Saturday and out on Tuesday. That would give ample time to experience the Music City, the cradle of country music. Take in a Saturday night on Broadway while having time to check out some of the tourist destinations. The 4-day, 3-night trip turned out to be the perfect amount of time for us.

Grand Ole Opry

No trip to Nashville is complete without a visit to the Grand Ole Opry. After arriving and dropping our bags at the hotel, we made a quick stop at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel for dinner before taking in the show next door at the Opry. The Gaylord is an enormous property that includes multiple restaurants, bars, and even a water park. In fact, it’s the largest non-gaming hotel in the US with over 2,888 rooms. They were just starting to set up for Christmas. While it’s not convenient to stay out here for a game, you can certainly tack on a day or two to experience all it has to offer. We were time constrained so we didn’t get to explore the massive property.

Chihuly Sculpture in the Lobby of the Gaylord

I’m not a huge fan of country music, but the Grand Ole Opry is considered the home of country music – so how can you pass up a chance to experience history. The extent of my country music repertoire consisted of the acts I recalled from watching Hee-Haw on TV with my mother in the 1970s.

The concourse leading into the venue was already hopping with a concert by Taryn Papa, a 2020 contestant on The Voice.

While we’re sitting in the audience, their Saturday Night show is broadcast throughout the country on radio. This weekly tradition is considered the longest running radio show in US history – dating back to 1925.

I won’t lie, I didn’t know any singer on the list. Nor did I know a single song that was played. But that’s OK. The 4,400 seat theatre is small enough that there’s not a bad seat in the house – and I was now a part of history – sitting in on the 4,998th edition of the famed show. That’s a lot of Saturday Nights!

I later learned that Jeannie Seely has many albums, stage and movie performances to her credit. She’s even earned a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance – “Don’t Touch Me in 1967.

Stephanie Qualye parlayed her songwriting into a nice gig that teamed her with Winnebago, The RV Loft, and KOA Campgrounds. Her Winnebago song allowed her to travel across the country to live out her lyrics – including a shoutout to Buffalo!

John Conlee is known for his “Rose Colored Glasses” tune – and of course, he performed it on this night as well.

Elvie Shane took the stage and sang his My Boy song that recently topped the charts at #1. The tug at your heartstrings song talks about an adopted son.

Connie Smith is another longtime Grand Ole Opry member dating back to 1965. Connie was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012.

The Opry isn’t all about country music. They also include other acts like Henry Cho – a self-proclaimed “Korean with a southern accent, so he’s South Korean”. The native Tennessean is a standup comedian. He was a welcomed break between the music. Cho was riot. His style of humor was clean and had the crowd in stitches.

Tyler Farr’s top hit was “A Guy Walks Into A Bar” which topped the charts in 2015.

And finally, Deana Carter finished out the show. Carter’s smash hits were “Did I Shave My Legs For This?” and the CMA Single of the Year in 1997, “Strawberry Wine.”

After the show, we took a tour of the facility. This is not the original Opry – that belongs to the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville. This facility was built in 1974 to accommodate the increasing crowds and move it from the “urban decay” that was destroying downtown Nashville at the time.

On the tour, we learned that if you send fan mail to the artists that are inducted, they receive it in their own mailbox. The guide said they would often times see the artists, like Keith Urban, sitting at the desk nearby, reading and responding to the letters.

One of my mother’s favorites from Hee-Haw was Minnie Pearl and her trademark hat with the dangling $1.98 price tag.

All of those inducted also receive a plaque in their honor. One that caught my eye was “The Cackle Sister”. I learned that they were among the first females to become stars of the Opry, mainly due to their yodeling. They performed at the Opry from 1936-1951.

Throughout the hallways, you pass dressing rooms, pictures, and showcases.

If you’re lucky, you can catch some of the stars leaving the venue as you tour the halls.

Deana Carter – Asking herself, “Did I shave my legs for this?”

We ended our tour on the stage of the legendary auditorium. It’s fascinating to think of all of the talent that stood on this stage and performed for the audience.

Center stage includes a single circle of wood that was taken from the Ryman Auditorium and fitted to the new Opry stage. We learned that in May 2010, massive flooding hit the Opry and covered the stage under two feet of water. The stage was destroyed, but “the circle was unbroken”. It survived and was once again placed in the new stage. You can learn all about the history of the piece of wood here.

Broadway

While the Grand Ole Opry represents the legends of Country Music, Broadway is what attracts most new visitors to the town. This strip of honky-tonks is what drives the economic engine in Nashville these days.

On any given night, the town is full of music-loving beer drinkers, but on a weekend when the Buffalo Bills are in town, this place was rockin’. Even the bartenders were happy that the Mafia was in town.

The entertainment district of Broadway, aka, “The Honky Tonk Highway”, spans about five straight short city blocks…

from the Cumberland River with Nissan Stadium on the other side…

to the Bridgestone Arena, home of the Nashville Predators on the other end.

We wondered how and when did Nashville become such a tourist mecca. In talking with a fan at the game, he pinned it to bringing the major sports to town – starting with the Titans in 1997 and the Predators in 1998. Nissan Stadium was ready for play in 1999 and hosted the Music City Miracle game against the Bills in the playoffs later that season.

Over the past ten years, it’s seen steady year-to-year growth for visitors with numerous accolades, including “Top Destination” for bachelor and bachelorette parties.

Number of Visitors

When I reached out to the local visitors bureau to ask them about the growth and appeal, they believe it’s a combination of factors that are responsible. Factors that aren’t only driving tourism, but population and economic growth as well. They pointed to their central location in the US, Music City culture, cost of living, low taxes (no state wage tax), and laid-back lifestyle. All things that I can easily get behind. That said, our Lyft driver, an immigrant from the Czech Republic who has lived there for 20+ years, said the growth is leading to new problems like traffic. But hey, if you’re just visiting and you stay downtown, traffic is a non-issue.

Virtually every building in the entertainment district is a honky-tonk. Some larger than others, but most containing at least two floors of entertainment and others spanning five full floors plus a rooftop.

There are some smaller ones that fly under the radar like the 102-year-old Bootleggers Inn. This place has a single stage and specializes in all flavors of moonshine.

Then there are the legendary haunts like Tootsie’s, which has been in operation since 1960 when Hattie “Tootsie” Bess bought the place and renamed it. The night we were there, Brooke Lee, another Bills Mafia member was performing.

While there’s plenty of activity, bands playing, and sites to see during the day…

Broadway comes alive at night – courtesy of what I believe is one of the highest concentrations of neon lights in the US. The music flows through the open windows as patrons move along the crowded sidewalks – walking from bar to bar, to get a taste of the music from the outside. The music spans genres – from classic country, to modern country, to Kid Rock’s rap and hard rock joint. Pick what you like, dive into the bar, and join the crowd.

Several bars carry the name of a country artist. Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Jason Aldean, Diercks Bentley, Blake Shelton, John Rich, and others all sold their names to places along Broadway.

It seemed like every bar we walked into was a “Bills Bar”, with Bills fans visibly dominating the audience. The bands knew the Mafia was in town as well and they played it up. Some wore the colors, others shouted out the chants or led the audience in the “Shout” song. They would pass the bucket for tips every so often and most had their @Venmo handles displayed on the stage. I’m guessing the artists do alright. Let’s just say that it wasn’t uncommon for a fan to through $100 in the bucket for the band to play a song or wish someone a Happy Birthday.

Taran Papa at Blake Shelton’s Ole Red singing “Shout!”

No matter what you like in music, you’ll find a place for you. Most acts rotate every four hours. One of our favorites for the weekend was Cory Farley. Cory is more than a singer, you can tell he loves the stage and entertaining the masses. If he’s in town, check him out!

Printers Alley

A somewhat lesser-known nightclub area of Nashville is Printers Alley. This nightspot was located just behind our hotel and located two blocks away from the madness of Broadway. Printers Alley was originally the area where the city’s publishing industry was located as early as 1858. It reached its heyday during the early 1900s.

Headline from 1862 mentioning Printers Alley

They pay homage to the industry through their “newsie” on the sign that marks the area.

Today, this area seems a bit seedier than Broadway. It supposedly changed over to an entertainment district in the 1940s, housing gambling rooms, and speakeasies. In 1968, if you can believe it, liquor by the drink was finally legalized in the county. With this new legislation, Printers Alley reestablished itself as a more refined entertainment district with Supper Clubs the main anchors. It was reported that many musicians performed here. Chet Atkins, Boots Randolph, Hank Williams, and Waylon Jennings were all said to have had gigs in the bars and supper clubs in the area.

Skull’s Rainbow Room was one of the anchors in Printers Alley during its resurgence. Owner David “Skull” Schulman was the unofficial mayor of the Alley dating back to 1948. He showcased musicians such as Elvis, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Patsy Cline, and Johnny Cash.

In 1970, Skull hired Morganna, the busty blond woman known as baseball’s “Kissing Bandit”, to dance at the Rainbow Room. This was shortly after her first “kissing” attack on Pete Rose in August 1969. He definitely knew how to market himself.

The eccentric Skull was murdered during a robbery in 1998. He was 80 years old. Several of Country’s biggest stars attended his funeral and helped to spread the word to catch the killer.

It took three years, but they eventually found the acquaintance that killed his “friend”.

Today, Skull’s offers fine dining, live jazz, and a burlesque show on the weekends.

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Being the cradle of Country Music, it should be obvious that this is the world’s largest collection of country music artifacts. Since its inception in 1964, the Hall has continued to expand and grow. Today, the facility is massive at over 350,000 square feet of space dedicated to all things country music. Compare that to only 150,000 sq ft for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

As part of the Hall of Fame, we took a tour to visit the famed RCA Studio B. The tour is a short shuttle ride away to a small box building that was the home of RCA’s recording studio that was used by many greats – including Elvis Presley. Elvis recorded many of his albums in this tiny, non-descript building.

Bills Mafia

Walking around town, it was obvious that the Bills Mafia was well represented. This was the third year in a row that the Bills have visited the Titans – a scheduling anomaly. The “rivalry” with the Titans dates back to the 1960s when both the Oilers and the Bills were in the AFL. Over time, the Titans/Oilers own a 30-19 record against the Bills. You can’t write about this matchup without mentioning two of the “instant classics” that both happened to be the most recent playoff games between the two. In 1993, the Bills beat the Oilers in “The Comeback” and in 2000, the Titans got revenge by beating the Bills in the “Music City Miracle”.

Two years ago, photos from Nashville flooded the internet with scenes of a “Bills Takeover” of Nashville. With COVID last year, pent-up demand ensured the Bills Mafia would show up. Sure, some would fly, but check out these beauties that made the 10-hour drive from Buffalo.

Around town, several activities were taking place – many either coordinated or promoted by the local Nashville Bills Backer group.

While we didn’t meet too many Titan fans, the ones we did meet were all commenting on how much they love when the Bills come to town because our fans are so much fun and not obnoxious. It was definitely a common theme from Titan fans. And quite frankly, I felt the same about the Titan fans I did meet – even after the game, the fans were humble in victory. What a concept!

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Expected Crowd

The Food

When you’re in Nashville there are two things that are considered, “must-haves”. One is a dish and the other a restaurant.

Sure, Nashville Hot Chicken is a craze that’s making its way around the country, but when in Rome… We pretty much had Nashville’s signature dish every day at different places. While Hattie B’s is the most ubiquitous and possibly most well-known outside of Nashville due to their franchising, Prince’s is said to be the original.

The story behind Hot Chicken

We tried both the mild tenders and the medium sandwich. While all other placed we tried were incredibly mild in heat, Prince’s medium set my head on fire – in a “man, I need another bite” way. This was at the Prince’s in the “food court” known as Assembly Food Hall. I can only imagine the experience at the original location.

Prince’s Nashville Hot (Mild) Chicken Tenders

Biscuit Love is probably the most famous breakfast/lunch spot in Nashville. They have three locations around Nashville, but the one in the Gulch is only a short 15-minute walk from Broadway.

We weren’t the only ones in line for this breakfast joint. Even here, the line was full of Bills fans. We struck up a conversation with a group of guys in front of all – all Bills fans in town for the game that was wrapped around a bachelor party.

Behind us, a gal asked if she could take our picture because she wanted to be surrounded by Bills fans. Little did we know it was Kimberly Pressler, a former Miss USA (1999) and current Pro Bowlers Association sideline reporter for Fox who also happens to be an avid Bills fan!

Of course, biscuits are the star of the show here – and worth the walk and the wait (1 hour). Little did I know I ate what Bon Appetite called the Best Sandwich of 2015! They described it as “a slightly-crunchy-on-the-exterior, fluffy, buttery biscuit topped with a ridiculously good piece of fried chicken, which is swaddled in rich sausage gravy, then topped with (you guessed it) the other half of the biscuit.” That’s a slightly more accurate description than what I could have portrayed. My word was, “awesome”. Guess I’m not the next Guy Fieri.

The Game

Nashville offers a unique tailgating experience for visitors – and with a Monday Night game, the fans had plenty of time to pregame. While there is parking and tailgating by the stadium, visitors will likely enjoy the bars downtown – like we did.

Bootleggers Inn

The conveniently located pedestrian bridge allows you to pub crawl up and down Broadway before taking the quick walk 10-minute walk over the Cumberland River.

View from the Pedestrian Bridge

Looking back across the bridge, you get a glimpse of the city and skyline on this picture-perfect day.

Where Broadway ends

There’s no doubt that Bills fans were well represented. On the way in, a local TV station had a “make a sign” setup for fans. We took advantage and Jen drew Josh Allen’s famous Buffalo logo. When Allen and other rookies joined the league in 2018, they were asked to draw their teams’ mascot. Jen’s depiction was very close to the original Allen version – which was called a “potato with feet”.

Titans fans (and some Bills fans) didn’t understand and their comments were comical. Those that got it, absolutely loved it – like this gal that had the image on her shirt.

#potatopower

I will say, for as many Bills fans as we saw during the weekend, the Titans fans certainly were loud in the stadium. While it was estimated to be 58/42 in favor of the Bills, it was tough to tell at the game.

Our section in the upper deck was definitely heavily Bills fans. But we had several Titan fans all around us. The fans were awesome and we didn’t see any issues. The game itself was back and forth. It tied the record for lead changes with 7. Derrick Henry was a monster and the Bills didn’t have an answer for him.

The Bills went up 31-24 in the third by completing the Buffalo Special Double Reverse Pass. A pitch to the speedster Isaiah McKenzie, followed by a pitch to Dawson Knox followed by a pass to a wide-open Josh Allen.

The Titans took the lead again, 34-31 on a late TD drive. On the ensuing kickoff, the Bills speedster McKenzie ran it back for a TD, but it was called back for a hold.

Now, down 34-31, they start at their own 18 with 2:54 to play. They methodically moved down the field and had a chance to tie it on fourth-and-one from the three-yard line with :22 to play. Instead, they rolled the dice and went for the win. Allen was stopped for no gain and the Titans held on for the upset.

Disheartened, the throngs of Bills fans headed back over the bridge to drown their sorrows.

The bars once again filled up with fans and Music City was back to partying again.

We met up with my sister and brother-in-law, who just arrived that day to spend some time in Nashville.

We closed out the trip with Nashville Fiddle at The Stage on Broadway. It’s no wonder they’re called Nashville Fiddle.

I have to say, even with a loss, this trip ranks up there with one of the best we’ve done. The hotel, the weather, the music, the Bills fans, the food, the ease of travel, the touristy stuff. You name it and it was awesome. So, if you’re an NFL fan and you like music, this is a must-make trip for you.

Mural on the side of Legends Corner, a Nashville honky-tonk.

Stop wondering. Start wandering!

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