This trip took place on the unceded, ancestral territories of the Catawba, Cherokee, Chiaha, Chickasaw, Mosopelia, Muskogee Creek, Natchez, Shawnee, Tali, Tuskegee and the Yuchi Nations. Here is an incredible post showing maps of territory removal in the 1700-1800s (LINK) and information about the Native American Indian Association of Tennessee which advocates and organizes Indigenous spaces and programs in Tennessee (LINK).
If you’re a Gandalf Millennial like me (aka closer to 40yo than 20yo, term coined by the comedian Rhea Butcher) you might remember a time when the internet was a DIY haven. Blogs didn’t have ads, wikipedia didn’t exist, the only way you could get a gmail account or a ravelry account or a facebook account was thru beta invite. Also, downloading music was really easy (and not yet illegal) and no one had a mobile phone to check their feeds. This meant you were only on the internet at work or at home right before bed and if you wanted to meet up you set a time on the landline or you just show up when you said you would. And instead of social media posts or sub-reddits, hikers and crafters and nerds and other people who wanted to connect with other people online or meet these folks in person, well we flocked to our blogster blogs, live journal and craftster and other forums: it was amazing.
With a little bit of digging I found the first time @meowandforever commented on my old (now closed) personal blog…it was JUNE 2006! We were fast friends and developed an inspiring internet friendship. I’ll never forget the first time we met up in Portland on our “let’s get fat” PNW tour (2009) and on my return from our whirlwind trip the CDN border guard was so suspicious of why I was in the US for a few days and how in the hell I met the friend I had just visited. “We met on the internet”, I had said, “can you believe we’ve known each other for years and only just met in person for the first time?!”. My recent week-long visit to Nashville was our longest visit to date (I went to MD twice, too!). It was so great to see the places Milly hung out as a teenager and the places where she and her partner (@frontierindex) are building their life together. I’m so impressed by how much we’ve all grown over the last 12 years and so humbled by how generous, comfortable and progressive they are. It was so nice to have a city’s culture shown to me with such care and with so little pretension or hipster urgency (even though we did some of that too).
On my flight into Nashville I was surrounded by white people who were wearing bedazzled tops and burn out denim shirts on an early morning flight out of Toronto. Four cis-women started chatting up another woman and her beau about all the places they loved in Nashville and were giving them advice on the best honky-tonks and the cheapest drinks. Turns out they were all just going for a few nights and basically just wanted to get wasted and dance to live covers of their favourite country music. Later, Milly would tell me gaggles of women on bachelorette’s are infamously called “woo girls” [because they go “wooooooooo!!!!” all over town] and the shop owner at Harlan Ruby would confirm that woo girls from Canada were big customers of their gigantic shiny pastel cellophane balloons.
I honestly don’t think I would have travelled to Nashville if Milly didn’t live there. The city seems like its struggling to keep itself in place. Its sprawling suburbs and insidious gentrification continue to push into the rolling hills of its metro area almost as if the heart of Nashville is running away from all of those Vince Gill covers. Because I wanted to see as many of the city’s neighbourhoods as possible it was a little difficult to get around, too. Over the week we spent a considerable amount of time in the car going from place to place and things we wanted to see or do that were a 10 minute drive required us to cut across a freeway which often meant busses and bike lanes were impossible. I’m so grateful to have had patient and knowledgeable friends to drive me around. Even though I would end up super disoriented, I got a full sense of how the city has coded black and working class neighbourhoods as filled with blight so they could commit land to urban renewal [read this article by Grace Tatter]. It was heart breaking.
Much like Vancouver, Nashille has a strong mural game that has increased public art in the city, while bringing in “creative city” investments and sometimes masking empty lots and development sites. Some of the murals are so famous there are selfie-zones demarcated on roads or long lines where groups of tourists (including myself) would line up to get an instagram worthy snap. There were so many and they were so beautiful it was easy to get pictures of a number of them. I used a handful of Nashville Mural Guides [like this one]. A few murals we tried to hunt down for a picture had changed into newer, different murals, too!
Before visiting Nashville the only things I really knew about it I learned from watching the weekly swan song of Rayna James on the country soap opera Nashville (LINK). The show arguably changed the game for the city by increasing cultural tourism and adequately capturing the feel of the city’s growth. The show was so popular there that often times we’d drive by something as random as a bowling alley and Milly would go, “Rayna and Deacon made out there!”. Well known locales from the show such as the Bluebird and the 5 Spot are also super accessible if you want to visit but are situated in opposite directions away from the downtown core. Expect to find gems like these in strip malls or in between empty lots and apartment buildings. I didn’t get to see any live country music on this trip but sure did appreciate the booming Shania Twain covers that came pouring out of the honky-tonks along Broadway.
Hands down the food in Nashville is worth the visit alone. Researching the best places to eat in Nashville was a bit of a challenge. Like most major cities the up and coming restaurant scene in Nashville is unbearably white (even if owners and staff are not white, the businesses themselves often cater to white creatives like me). In these circumstances, “authentic” ethnic food is often co-opted by youngish white hipsters who strike gold by “paying homage” to their favourite “local cuisine”. This dynamic was laid out on Episode 6 of David Chang’s show Ugly Delicious with Chang visiting a handful of hot chicken restaurants in Nashville. Rooted in Nashville’s black community, Hot Chicken has established itself in the ranks of white food trends [read this hot take on Medium by Heraporcrypha]. My fried chicken experience was mixed. I had some super disappointing not-even-spiced “hot chicken” on a biscuit at Biscuit Love, some buffalo chicken in a grilled cheese at the Grilled Cheeserie [I know it’s not the same but fits the trend!] and the real deal hot fish and chicken with white bread and creamy coleslaw at Bolton’s. Bolton’s was obviously so good that a contest would be futile but I am definitely more of a hot fish fan.
I also ate so many good things from fresh popsicles to take out curry, red eye gravy and unlimited biscuits, delicious mall enchiladas, all the ice cream and even tater tots with most of my meals. Heads up that finding vegetables was difficult and my food bills sky rocketed because of all my side salads (ha!).
My favourite part about visiting Nashville was obviously the seven day BFF visit with Milly. We did so many things together and it was so nice to spend some solid time with her catching up, drinking La Croix and watching Roswell. I will never forget the time I got sun stroke blowing up her fantasy swan for the lake or the drive where she showed me where her first job was, the house she grew up in and where she went to high school. The small details I learned from her and her partner about Nashville were a good reminder that while travelling somewhere and meeting new friends can be exciting, there’s something so comfortable and inviting about spending a quiet afternoon in a new place with a good friend who knows it best.
GETTING THERE: I flew with WestJet from Vancouver to Nashville (thru Toronto on the way there and through Calgary on the way back). Frommers has an easy guide, too (LINK).
WHERE TO STAY: If you do not have a person to stay with there are still many homey places to stay. The internet has raved about Elsie Larson’s Craftsman Charmer (LINK), the super luxe Urban Cowboy Nashville (LINK), the wallet-friendly Germantown Inn (LINK) or even glamp at Loretta Lynn’s ranch (LINK).
PLACES TO EAT + SHOP + GO OUTSIDE: This is a link to my Nashville Google Map (LINK).