Honky Tonk Woman
I love Nashville. I mean, I loooooove Nashville. In fact, I love Nashville so much if it were a man I’d marry it. Even though, as I’ve stated previously, the idea of walking down the aisle again interests me only slightly more than jamming my big toe into a live light socket. There’s so much to recommend the area: fabulous restaurants, glorious architecture, killer shopping and nifty cultural attractions, like the Jack Daniels Distillery. (And if you don’t consider the spot where JD is made cultural, than what the hell are doing reading this blog, anyway? Go peddle it on Oprah’s site or something.)
Anyhoo, Nashville has got it all, and I dug it all. But it wasn’t until I hit its famed stretch of honky tonks that I realized that maybe, just maybe, Nashvegas and I were meant for each other. That perhaps, in some strange twist of fate, I’d discovered my one true love…in a city. Or, at least, in a string of bars. Because, as any semi-coherent visitor to this website knows, I do like to have fun. In particular, I upon occasion like to have fun in bars. And to my everlasting surprise and eternal joy, Nashville offers one of the world’s finest stretches of bars.
Bold statement? Perhaps. But I know from whence I speak. Hey, I’ve spent St. Pat’s Day pouring Guinness down my throat in Kilburn, London’s Irish immigrant ghetto. And I more than kept up with those tough-talking, hard-living, busted-luck Micks – even if they did keep calling me Maureen O’Hara as they put their hand on my knee. But the Nashville honky tonks that line a few blocks of Broadway, just behind the dazzling Ryman Auditorium, didn’t just challenge me, they virtually demanded that I bring my A game. No slouchers allowed in these joints. They get eaten alive.
Not that anyone is mean or rude in Nashville’s honky tonks. Far, far from it. It’s just that nearly all the bars are crowded, loud and extremely high-energy; the legendary Tootsie’s especially is always so packed with humanity that it becomes hard to tell where you end and someone else begins. You become a tiny part of a writhing mass of humanity, like you’re all one colossal single-celled organism. It’s sort of like some crazy Star Trek episode except better, because this single-celled organism is dedicated to one thing and one thing only: a good time. Or, as they say down there in the south, a DAMN good time. And it all begins with the music.
Now for those who think that Nashville honky tonks play “both kinds” of music – “country and western,” well, you got it about right. It’s mostly country to be sure, but it also includes every genre and subspecies imaginable. I caught the best rockabilly I ever heard in my life at Layla’s Bluegrass Inn, swooned to the songs of Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings as I closed down Legends sometime before 3 a.m., and witnessed the spontaneous combustion that is the upper level of Tootsies when a band launches into Garth Brooks’s “I Got Friends in Low Places.” Harness that energy and we wouldn’t have to worry about nuclear reactors melting down and irradiating us all.
If it’s all lovely, magical madness inside the honky tonks, it’s just as chaotic and charmed outside. Because none of Broadway’s bars charge a cover, patrons move from one to the other and back again, filling the sidewalks with howls of laughter and hollers of joy as they dance, love, sing and stagger their way to the next destination. From swanky suit-wearing Frank and Dino clones, to homeless men holding an impromptu hip-hop show outside a shuttered Irish pub, from hungry hordes lined up outside a “Houndog” hot dog vendor, to weirdness far too strange and wonderful to attempt to classify, much less describe – Broadway teems with life in all its varied, magnificent hues.
But what I loved best about Nashville’s row of honky tonks, what I consider its sweet, beating heart – what elevates it from merely an epic throwdown to a legendary good time – is that everyone is so dang amiable. And not in a sleazy, “Hey, baby, where you sleeping tonight?” kinda way. Oh, there’s plenty of hitting on and hooking up going down, believe me. But it seems so much more good-natured and so much less aggressive than anywhere I’ve been. And it’s not all about sex, either. Women talk to women, men talk to men and everybody buys each other drinks. And in an environment that seethes with masculinity, what really amazed me is that I didn’t see one fight. Hell, I didn’t even hear one voice raised in anger. How is that possible? I don’t get it. But I sure do like it.
So, thanks, Nashville. I asked for it, and you done brought it. As they say down in them parts: Hell, YEAH.
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