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Where musicians become legends, hot chicken, rooftop views

The sound of music was everywhere—riding along with the aroma of barbecue from the Johnny Cash Museum and honky-tonk on Third Avenue, drifting in from a vocalist performing through open windows at the Sun Diner, and pounding from bands onstage at the raucous Bootleggers Inn double-decker moonshine bar.

Visitors to Nashville can keep themselves busy for days following in the footsteps of country music greats including Cash, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and countless others.

If you appreciate music of any kind, it’s likely you’ve heard of the Grand Ole Opry, a weekly American country music showcase founded in 1925 and one of Nashville’s crown jewels. A who’s who of musicians graced the halls of the 2,362-seat Ryman Auditorium on Fifth Avenue from the 1940s to the 1970s before the show moved to a larger venue. Elvis Presley, Cash, Bruce Springsteen, and the Steve Miller Band performed to sold-out crowds. More recently, Carrie Underwood, Darius Rucker, and Keith Urban brought modern country to a stage that proclaims performances that are “never rehearsed, and never the same show twice.” Tour the facility to learn what happens backstage, walk in the footsteps of legendary musicians, and take a peek at the audience from show center. And don’t forget to check the schedule for live performances and radio and television broadcasts.

Rows of Gibson electric guitars including Les Pauls, Flying Vs, SGs, and ES-335s rotate along the ceiling at the Gibson Garage, a music store and guitar archive. Photo by David Tulis.Myriad smaller entertainment venues abound in and around Broadway, a wide avenue defining the center of a Southern city that has risen above the traditional country music scene to encompass two professional sports teams, a convention center, shopping, dining, museum gazing, and a handful of universities highlighted by Vanderbilt, Belmont, and nearby Middle Tennessee State. Nearly 4,000 people attended Women in Aviation International’s annual conference in March.

Dozens of pilot-musicians are based in or near the towered general aviation John C. Tune Airport including Dierks Bentley, Nick Hoffman, Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson, Paul Leim, “Banjo” Ben Clark, and “Big City” Brian Wright—who doubles as a cargo pilot when he’s not performing. There’s a good chance you’ll spot one of these performers or others on the ramp or at the friendly Contour Aviation FBO, or hear their aircraft call signs on the radio.

When our family of three recently visited Nashville for daughter Lauren’s Belmont college orientation weekend, line personnel greeted us with smiles, a tiedown spot for our Cessna 182, and a golf cart for our luggage. Inside the FBO, CFIs Amanda Straub and Jay Hannan served as front desk personnel and helped manage fueling, receipts, and rental cars when they weren’t instructing.

Pilots flying into the area’s six airports can base themselves as close to the action as they prefer but would be wise to note the annual Country Music Association Awards show in November that’s broadcast from downtown’s Bridgestone Arena, turning the GA airports into bigger hubs of activity than normal. College and professional football weekends can also be crowded.

A thriving culinary cuisine includes the often imitated—but seldom duplicated—Nashville hot chicken dish made famous at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. The recipe for success includes chicken bathed in hot sauce or sprinkled with cayenne, then breaded and fried or served grilled. The recipe has been spotted by pilots as far north as the Walmart in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Lines to get into the original Prince’s, Hattie B’s quartet of hot chicken locations, or the downtown area’s Party Fowl are virtually guaranteed. Locals strictly advise against ordering anything hotter than “medium;” otherwise, you’ll be gulping down sweet tea like your pants are on fire. (Trust us on this one.)

'Chopped' judge and Food Network celebrity chef Maneet Chauhan serves up Indian cuisine with a Southern flair. Photo by David Tulis.Southern barbecue joints also make a tasty appearance in Nashville with Peg Leg Porker, Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, and Edley’s Bar-B-Que among the favorites. Pulled pork, smoky beef brisket, turkey, and dry-rubbed ribs with traditional fixings are the go-to items. A medley of barbecue sauces from sweet to spicy can be added to the dry meat and local, craft-brewed beer is close at hand if you’re not flying.

Further up the food chain, celebrity chef Maneet Chauhan delivers delicious weeknight meals and Sunday brunches in a winning combination that marries Indian cuisine with traditional Southern dishes.

Outdoor activities include downtown helicopter tours, showboat cruises on the city’s Cumberland River, fishing along the river or two nearby lakes, zip lining, winery tours, and more.

Aviators can witness the rise-from-the-ashes determination of John C. Tune Airport personnel after a devastating tornado tore through the area in on March 3, 2020, wreaking havoc on the airport. Property damage included metal hangars ripped from their foundations; dozens of single-, twin-engine, and jet aircraft destroyed or damaged; and fuel trucks set ablaze in the aftermath of the EF2 storm. More than two dozen residents lost their lives.

The airport authority has invested $38.5 million to rebuild the existing structures, added almost 80 new hangars, and refurbished the airfield since the 2020 storm.

Now two years later, the towered field has regained its reputation as a thriving GA airport with Contour Aviation anchoring more than 100 based fixed-wing and helicopter aircraft, three flight schools, two flying clubs, and several other businesses.

Airport CEO Doug Kreulen in June told Main Street Nashville that it was “a labor of love” to rebuild the state’s busiest GA airfield.

The setting sun illuminates rooftop bars along Broadway’s ‘Music Row’ in downtown Nashville. Photo by David Tulis.

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