Nashville’s Music for Families
By Candyce H. Stapen
What’s the hidden bonus of a family tour of Nashville? Being able to connect with your kids, especially those hard-to-please ‘tweens and teens through music. To the generation that downloads tunes instead of spins LP’s, Nashville offers an historical perspective even if country isn’t their favored format. In Music City the digital generation discovers how folk, country, rockabilly as well as rhythm and blues influenced their hot iPod picks. And even if you came of age in the era of vinyl and eight tracks, you get to be the guide and gain some new-found respect.
To those kids who have not yet discovered country or don’t think it’s “cool,” just say two words: “Taylor Swift.” The best-selling vocalist was one of the headliners at the June CMA Music Festival, Nashville’s big block party.
Begin your magical musical tour at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Plaques paying tribute to the genre’s greats line the rotunda. “Sing Me Back Home,” the permanent exhibit detailing country’s history, features
such over-the-top items as Elvis’ gold piano and Porter Wagoner’s jacket, elaborately decorated with blue beaded wagon wheels.
The kiosks are the most fun. That’s where you can call up videos and songs. After watching Minnie Pearl decked out in a flowered hat with a price tag deliver her lines, kids realize that she was a skit master long before “Saturday Night Live” was even a thought and they realize that fashion as part of showmanship started way before Madonna’s pointy bras.
You might also gain points with your teens by quietly singing along to Elvis’ “Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog” or toe-tapping to Jerry Lee Lewis’ rendition of “Great Balls of Fire.” To get in touch with performers’ style and the decades’ standards, have your kids listen to Patsy Cline croon “Crazy” and ask them to compare Carl Perkins’ version of “Blue Suede Shoes” to Elvis’s hit.
The museum’s Experience Music programs offer songwriter sessions where kids can ask questions about the creative process and “petting zoos” where young musicians get to finger guitars, banjos, gourds and other instruments.
From the museum, board a bus to RCA’s Studio B, the hallowed hall where Elvis, the Everly Brothers, Eddy Arnold and Charley Pride recorded. Although there’s not much to see except posters and the room where Elvis laid down “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” the simplicity of the studio underscores that artists before the era of high-tech, really needed to know how to sing. No lip synching allowed. Elvis recorded “Lonesome” in nearly one take. The ending required cutting and splicing because the back-up singers hit a false note.
More than 100 clubs, most clustered in or near downtown, offer live music nightly, but few admit those under 21. To enjoy live music with your kids, check the headliner concerts, the museums’ performance schedules and reserve space at the Bluebird Café. At the restaurant plus “listening club,” artists perform as they might in your living room, without razzle dazzle back-up. Garth Brooks and Kathy Mattea sang here before fame struck. The Stage on Broadway, a club, admits kids accompanied by adults to shows before 6 pm. Most likely the artists won’t be name droppers now, but they may be someday.
The Grand Ole Opry began in 1925 as the radio program “WSM Barndance.” Every Saturday night the Grand Ole Opry hosts a variety of performances from country to crossover. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band takes the stage August 15.
Sometime before you head home from Nashville, you’re likely to notice that you and your kids share a new-found appreciation for country music and for each other.