Nashville has long lingered at the top of my list of US dream cities, despite the fact that up until this June, I’d yet to step foot in Tennessee. My blind love was based primarily on two facts: (1) I’m beyond obsessed with the city’s guilty-pleasure namesake TV show and (2) My blogging BFF and mentor Kristin Luna is, in my mind, the city’s de facto mayor. Throw in a penchant for crooning along with country tunes and — BAM! — I was booking a ticket for this past summer.
Photo by Kristin Luna
Kristin and I had been trying to nail down a visit for oh, say, years, but with two schedules as crazy as ours it took a while before we could both carve out complimentary days on our calendar. We started scheming last November for this particular trip, and in June I flew down for a ten day Southern extravaganza — three days in downtown Nashville, a long weekend at Bonnaroo, and a quick jaunt up to Kentucky for the PRSA conference. Add in our trip to Bonaire and Aruba not long after, and Kristin declared it would be the Wanderland in Residence Summer over at Camels and Chocolate.
Cowgirl boots packed, I took off for Tennessee, the nineteenth state I’ve been lucky enough to cross off my list. I arrived in Nashville and immediately remembered one of the reasons I love Kristin so much. Moments after scooping me from the airport she said those four little magic words: “I need to work.” I did too! So off Kristin went to the Nashville Lifestyles office, and off I went to Barista Parlor, the most painfully hip coffee shop that I ever did see. It’s the perfect place to plop down and work slash people watch slash indulge in expensive teas for a few hours, should you ever find yourself in Music City needing to do the same.
It wasn’t long before we reunited for more eating and drinking — this would be a theme in the South, you see — at Whiskey Kitchen. One bite in and I was already beyond grateful for my personal tour guide.
After lunch, I tagged along on Kristin’s afternoon meeting, which involved checking out a swank condo for a possible future home feature at her magazine. You guys know how I feel about peeking at other people’s houses! So suffice it to say I was an eager assistant.
Photo by Kristin Luna
After a few more hours on the laptop grind back at Kristin’s cute Music City condo, we made our way to the Symphony for a William Morris-hosted happy hour. I loved checking out this beautiful building and getting to meet so many talented Nashville creatives, the first round of many I’d be introduced to throughout the week. What can I say? My host keeps good company.
Photo on left by Kristin Luna
Next we were off to Darius Rucker’s annual Darius & Friends event at the Wildhorse Saloon, a benefit for St. Jude. I was so excited to kick off my week with live music — especially of this caliber! Other artists taking the stage included Brett Eldredge, Thousand Horses, Brothers Osborne and my favorites, Little Big Town.
I loved how casual and at ease the artists were, like they really were just jamming out with a big group of friends rather than playing a polished concert. It felt intimate and was appropriate to the touching cause they were raising money for.
The next morning, Kristin assured me that the secret to surviving Nashville’s irresistible food scene without needing to be rolled out of the city was to offset it with copious exercise. Hence, we kicked off our day with a kick-ass, ass-kicking barre3 class in The Gulch — taught by a Titans cheerleader no less! After brunch and some window shopping in Hillsboro Village — I loved checking out Nashville’s many neighborhoods — we were off to the Jaume Plensa show at Cheekwood Botanical garden.
We didn’t linger long — because June in Tennessee, obviously — but what a beautiful little wander we had.
Photo on left by Kristin Luna
After, we cooled down at Jeni’s ice cream, a special request of mine that Kristin was all too happy to accommodate. It was the perfect fuel for another night ahead of more fantastic media events at fantastic Nashville locations. Frozen dessert enthusiasts, don’t miss this one! Technically Jeni’s can be found across several US states, but this was my first time trying it — hence, it will always be a Nashville treat to me now.
Of course, I had to give another local spot a try, for comparisons sake! So the next afternoon we were at it again at Legato Gelato in Edgehill Village — and fellow Nashville (the show, this time) enthusiasts will understand why that name of this area got me so excited.
At least after all that sugar we didn’t have a fancy event to attend. Oh wait! Just kidding — Kristin had nabbed us media tickets to the CMT Awards. I’ve never been to awards show and so I was pumped to get all dressed up and ogle the stage from a seat instead of a screen.
I was even more excited when the other half of our Bonaroo wolf pack arrived — the NVR Guys! Kent and Canaan are two more of my favorite humans, and I was literally giddy at the idea of getting to spend so much time with this dynamite crew.
I loved the show, from finding out about new country artists to seeing some of my old favorites, from giggling with my seatmates as we ran to the bathroom and back during commercial breaks to simply observing some of the behind-the-scenes maneuvers that make it so magic for television.
And it wouldn’t be an awards show without an after party — in this case, Kristin got us on the list for the official one. Now, as much silly fun as I think it is to spot celebrities, I was super nonchalant over the one Kristin was losing her mind over, Norman Reedus from the Walking Dead… because I had never heard of him. Amazing how that can make you cool as a cucumber around someone other people are debate the merits of saying hi to for the better part of an hour! I took advantage of this rarely found chill in my life to literally chase the poor man down like a wounded animal when I saw him wandering across the hotel lobby while the girls were in the bathroom. It was their last chance for a much agonized-over meet and greet! After inexplicably briefly putting my in a headlock (me: “Is this part of your tv show? Because I don’t watch it.” him: sighs and lets go) we had a really awkward conversation while I killed time waiting for the girls to come out of the bathroom (me: “So, um… I hear your show is good. My friends, the ones in the bathroom, they really like it.” him: “You mentioned that.”) But the results, when they finally emerged? Group photos, tequila shots, and Kristin thinking I’m the greatest friend on earth. Success! You can see more on her account of the night.
Thankfully we were relatively well-behaved and called it quits after just one shot — after all, we had Kent’s birthday brunch to attend the next morning. Not only was I obsessed with our venue, Biscuit Love Brunch, I was gleeful at the opportunity to turn Kent’s infamous line of introspective questioning right back at the asker. (No one gets by me on their day of birth without reciting their highlights of the past year and listing their hopes and dreams for the coming one.)
But back to the important things, like biscuits and bonuts. Don’t leave Nashville without finding out for yourself what they are. This was my culinary highlight of Nashville.
We decided to work off some of our morning indulgence with a little stroll over to Hatch. My university printmaking studio and the many hours I spent there was one of my favorite things about Pratt, so I got all kinds of collegiate nostalgic while we were here. Next time I’m in town — heck yes there will be a next time! — I’m going to return for one of their behind-the-scenes tours.
Now, I’ve always loved country music. But Nashville definitely reignited that spark in me. By the time we were preparing to depart for Manchester to attend Bonnaroo, I was a full fledged super fan again, ready to will Rayna James into actual existence. (Now, Connie Britton? That’s a celebrity I would lose. my. shit. over. Any Friday Night Lights fans up in here? Texas Forever! Omg I watch too much TV.)
Photos by Kristin Luna
But back to my rediscovered love for the fine art of country music. It was just in time for CMA Fest, an event that draws a quarter million attendees to Nashville each year. No wonder they don’t worry about overlapping it with the same weekend of Bonnaroo — sounds like they both are doing great. We left Nashville on the afternoon that CMA kicked off, but we did get a little hint of the festivities that morning before we went.
In just three nights in Nashville I feel like I did and saw more than I would have done in a week on my own. And it’s all thanks to the amazing Southern hospitality of my dear friend and tour guide. She’s a host after my own heart with an itinerary detailed down to the hour and a recently dry-cleaned red carpet ready for unfurling. We should all be so lucky to have a Kristin Luna in every city we go to. Nashville, I’ll be back…
Stay tuned for Bonaroo, y’all!
Update: Travel Blog Success was merged with Superstar Blogging by Nomadic Matt. It’s an equally impressive course that I plan to take and review eventually — click here to take it yourself!
I rarely stop yacking about how Travel Blog Success helped me make Alex in Wanderland what it is today — a financially successful and creatively fulfilling travel blog that just celebrated its fourth anniversary. It’s the first thing I recommend to those who write to me for blogging advice, and was instrumental in getting me to where I am now.! Our secret member’s Facebook group gives me daily inspiration, feedback, and hearty laughs. Yes, the warmest community in travel blogging is on sale now!