Six Streets That Changed Music History
For country music fans, Nashville is Mecca. Its status was cemented all the way back in 1925, when the legendary WSM radio station started broadcasting a show that would go on to become the Grand Ole Opry. Much has changed in those 89 years — you won't find the down-home Shoney's Inn, where Keith Urban first crashed upon arriving in the city from Australia in 1989 — but the heart of the country music industry still courses through the city, particularly in Music Row, the corridor of downtown between 16th and 17th Avenues South that is the center of the country music and gospel recording industry. Founded in the mid-Fifties after brothers Owen and Harold Bradley build the area's first studio, the Quonset Hut, it's largely populated by still-thriving record labels like Big Machine and Sony Music Nashville today.
But storied relics that pay tribute to the city's musical past still stand. Perhaps none is as iconic as RCA Records' Studio B. Built in 1957, it served as a recording space for some of the industry's most revered talents (most notably Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Waylon Jennings) and also became the studio to develop what became known as the "Nashville Sound," a more produced version of country featuring lush strings and pop-oriented background vocals. Studio B has also become the stuff of Nashville lore: in the late Sixties, an over-eager Dolly Parton famously crashed her car into the building's wall on her way to record her first songs for RCA. The damage is still visible today.
RCA Records Studio A, which was recently leased by Ben Folds until he was booted this year, was sold to a developer, but its history is as important. Built by studio legend Chet Atkins and next door to Studio B, it most recently served as a production space for the hit TV show Nashville. And while its future remains in doubt, Music Row still has plenty of creative spaces, including Allentown Studios (formerly Jack's Tracks), which is the studio where Garth Brooks recorded most of his records, along with Trisha Yearwood, Crystal Gayle and others.
The nearby Country Music Hall of Fame and the Music City Walk of Fame also pay tribute to the city's rich musical history. The Hall of Fame houses prizes including the Bob Pinson Recorded Sound Collection (featuring 200,000 sound artifacts from pre-World War II) and a photograph collection that tells the visual story of the genre, from the 1920s to the present. The Music City Walk of Fame, meanwhile, is a mile-long span that honors country music legends (Reba McEntire, Hank Williams Sr.) and beyond (Jimi Hendrix and Kings of Leon).
The area isn't just a nostalgic homage to the past. Just outside the defined boundaries of Music Row, Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, the honky tonk where Patsy Cline, Billy Ray Cyrus and Willie Nelson used to perform, hosts live local talent each night. And the iconic Ryman Auditorium (once home to the Grand Ole Opry, which has since relocated to a permanent house outside Nashville) is the city's most storied venues and has featured shows by Johnny Cash, Coldplay and Neil Young, who filmed his 2005 concert documentary Heart of Gold at the one-time house of worship. Other hot hangouts include the Patterson House and Bobby's Idle Hour Tavern, perhaps the only dive bar left in Music Row proper.
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