[Clubs in Nashville: Reviewed by Anna
Times, cover charges, and performance schedules may change. Please confirm information before going to a club or event.
The music scene in Nashville is, naturally, constantly
evolving, and adventurous Nashville music-lovers are always on
the lookout for a good new place to hear live performers. Most
of us have pretty well-worn paths to our favorite clubs and the
following list is a map of mine. My very favorite nights out are
the ones when the club and the artist together create something
bigger than the sum of the two. That happens on a fairly frequest
basis at the spots listed below.
A note about the Bluebird:
4104 Hillsboro Road, 383-1461
The Bluebird rarely books a bad act and the respect paid to each and every performer there is ever so laudable. However, the club has become a victim of its own success. The room is just too small and crowded to provide an enjoyable evening of listening for me, particularly as it continues to be promoted as a "favorite pick" for some widely-read entertainment columnist or other on an almost daily basis. Many folks don't have a problem with this, but I just don't do cramped. If that doesn't bother you, book a reservation and go. You will hear some of the best performers in town, even on a writers' night.
Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar
220 Printers Alley, 24-BLUES
Beads at the door and Cajun food on the menu welcome you to Bourbon Street. This is a fun club, no matter who is playing, but as I mention in my list of favorite artists, musical surprises happen often here and I understand that one cover charge (usually around $5) gets you in here and Congo Square, just across the alley. This spot is always a big hit with the Brit and the Irish guests we have. Next to country, they love the blues, and they get an authentic dose of it here. Mardi Gras time usually brings a good line-up and they also have a "Mardi Gras in May" celebration with a parade and lots of festivities.
Douglas Corner Café
2106-A 8th Avenue South, 298-1688
This is a great little singer/songwriter joint run by a singer/songwriter/sound engineer. I remember seeing Garth Brooks in here as a member of the audience just as he was starting to hit. Although its scheduling is pretty free-form, many nights there are two different shows including in-the-round songwriters, showcases, and other acts of varying fame. This is one of several regular places my husband and I hit on his rare nights off, just to see who is playing.
614 Thompson Lane, 742-4219
This is not a club. This is a Mexican restaurant, run by a pair of Mexican brothers, which serves a variety of great Mexican food and a wonderful margarita. The draw is the patio and a family mariachi quartet called Viva la Musica who are so beautiful to the eye and the ear that they will break your heart. Father, teenage son, and two pre-teen daughters play a variety of instruments and sing harmonies ethereal enough to make the Peasall Sisters of O Brother, Where Art Thou? fame (and I like them) sound like they need to go back to the choir loft and woodshed for a few more years. Each one looks you right in the eye as they stand next to your table and play your request or a song of their choosing. It is customary to tip a couple of dollars or so and it is the best money you will ever spend on music in this town. The hitch is that they are currently only playing there every other Saturday evening.
Call for time and date, and to be sure they are still the entertainment. They also wander indoors with their music, so you can eat in air- conditioned comfort if you so choose.
One Cannery Row, 251-3929
Robert's Western World
416 Broadway, 244-9552
A real honky-tonk, this place is always a hit with our overseas and American visitors alike. You can hear great traditional country, dance, drink, and eat a tasty grilled burger. I have never seen anyone buy a pair of the boots which line the wall, but they are for sale. It's a favorite spot with tourists, truck drivers, Vandy students, music execs, and locals.
No cover; the band supposedly plays for tips. I don't believe that, personally, because they have managed to get and hang onto some of the finest bar bands in this town. BR-549 only left because they were signed to a label and went on the road. I notice that they have acts during the day as well now, but I have only been there after dark.
Brazilbilly, a great traditional old-time country band fronted by a Brazillian named Jesse Lee Jones (I kid you not) who is the late Marty Robbins' biggest fan, is considered the regular house band, but Don Kelley and his band, who have played all over Nashville for years, are there with regularity as well. Both bands are authentic Nashville sound. There's no cover, so you can wander in and later wander up the street to Tootsie's for its historic significance, but you'll be back to Robert's for the music.
402 12th Avenue South, 255-3307.
My favorite place in town. We always have good luck here. I think it's a combination of consistently good music and the intimacy of the room. A few weeks ago we sat close enough to see Vassar Clements' crows' feet and his daughter and I spoke at length about the tribulations of getting used to new glasses. (I didn't know it was his daughter until she mailed me the receipt, with a nice little note, for the CDs I'd purchased.)Last year, Guy Clark drank my beer - from the stage! The Sidemen and the Time Jumpers each play a weekly gig and you haven't lived until you've heard the Jumpers' rendition of "Faded Love."
Third and Lindsley Bar and Grill
818 3rd Avenue South, 259-9891
This club sees an eclectic variety of music on its stage. The Wooten Brothers have a regular gig here. Bluesy and wild Johnny Neel seems to play here quite regularly as well, as does Jimmy Hall. Tammy Faye Starlight, a raunchy big-hair country parody, has done recent 3rd and Lindsley shows. Tracy Nelson has blown me away here on several occasions as have some other fantastic female vocalists, in many combinations, including Vickie Carrico, Nanette Bohannon, and Jonell Mosser. Some weeks back, Rodney Crowell even played here.
12th and Porter Playroom
114 12th Avenue South,254-7236
A fun room that books national as well as great local acts. There is dining in an adjacent part, but I have never eaten there, so I couldn't comment on the food. I'm usually too excited about getting a good seat for the music.
The places below try to have Irish music exclusively, but that is sometimes impossible this far off the beaten circuit of Irish entertainers. So it's often a good idea to call before you go to see what or who is playing. And St. Patrick's Day, by the way, is the best day in the year to be well away from these places (my husband would kill me if he knew I was writing that) unless you are a fan of fake, very slurred "Irish" accents, getting trampled, and wearing green beer.
Mulligan's Pub and Restaurant
117 2nd Avenue North, 242-8010
The first pint of Guinness draught in the state of Tennessee was "pulled," as the Irish say, at Mulligan's on July 10, 1995, and there is a plaque over the bar commemorating the blessed event. (Prior to this, the only Guinness allowed to be sold in the state was bottled.) Located across from the Wildhorse Saloon on Second Avenue, in a building that dates back to the mid-1800s, Mulligan's has been open since 1988. Dinners and appetizers are served and there is a dart room. Open extended hours on Titans' home game days and for other special events downtown. Call for times.
Visitors to Nashville also seem to enjoy the "cattle call" writers nights.You may not see/hear much talent, but it will give your guests an appreciation of just how many hopefuls come to Music City in search of their dreams.Quite a few end up hitting the homeward trail. A few actually have the tickets to make it to a label or a publisher. Still others remain in Nashville, to the benefit of our community, as musical sidemen/women, auto mechanics, health care professionals, and even Metro teachers!
Two "good" ones are at The Hall of Fame Lounge (Music Row veterans call it the Hall of Shame Lounge due to its proximity to the original Country Music Hall of Fame) in the hotel at 1407 Division Street, 256-4255, and The Broken Spoke at 1412 Brick Church Pike, 262-7524.
More BlueShoe Music:
Nashville Artists by Anna Doherty.