Chances are good that you know some of our best-publicized museums but, by my count, we have more than two dozen in the immediate area. Here’s a quick tour of some of the most prominent. UPDATED 1/2/21.
It’s the biggest and grandest–and you don’t have to be a hard-core country fan to enjoy it. I like how they trace country music from its roots, giving you a framework of American music–not just country. Hearing the stories behind the songs is a cool multimedia exhibit. Lately they’ve been balancing the old with the new so there’s something for everyone. As an example, the retrospective “Dylan, Cash & the Nashville Cats” is counterbalanced by “American Currents,” a revolving exhibit of today’s stars. Check their calendar to see if any special events are planned during your visit. I recently sampled some of the offerings from the in-house restaurant and was pleasantly surprised.
Are you the kind of person who reads album credits? If so, you’re going to love this place which includes iconic instruments and memorabilia of both the big names and the big talent that sometimes doesn’t get its due including studio greats the Funk Brothers, the A Team and the Wrecking Crew. Inside this museum is another museum: the Grammy Museum Gallery which gives you both history and an insider’s view of the awards. Heck, there’s even a rehearsal hall and performance area you can book. Note: it’s located a bit off the typical tourist treks in Municipal Auditorium, a domed building about five blocks north of Broadway at Fourth Avenue, N.
That’s short for “Gallery of Iconic Guitars” where the instruments themselves take centerstage. Some are rare, some are revered for their near-sacred sounds and some were once owned by famous folks.
Bill Miller has a passion for all things Cash and he delights in sharing his extensive collection with those who are enamored with The Man in Black. It’s all here–the good, the bad and the ugly. Reckless sinner, bruised saint. Recently they added a cafe maintained by meat-and-three mainstay Swett’s.
If you’re a Patsy fan, you’d be “crazy” not to visit this tribute to an iconic artist whose life was tragically cut short in a plane crash. Always stylish, always sophisticated in both music and fashion, this museum nods to that legacy with elegant displays. It’s above the Johnny Cash Museum so it couldn’t be more convenient for the longtime country fan.
Take a decade by decade look at the Possum’s long career. Capturing both his famous and infamous moments, the museum displays his mountain of awards, his favorite guitars and several of those signature flashy suits. As added attractions, it’s also home to the Smokehouse Restaurant and a rooftop bar (although George himself stayed on the wagon after a near-fatal 1999 auto accident).
This latest artist-driven museum celebrates Glen’s career as an ace guitarist and artist as well as a TV host and actor. For $15, you can roam among exhibits including instruments, stage attire, photos and personal letters from four U.S. presidents. At night, the Rhinestone Stage functions as a performance venue. Corner of 2nd Avenue and Broadway.
Opening January 2021. Personally I can’t wait to tour this landmark museum with sections celebrating 50 music genres and subgenres. Room after room of multimedia exhibits, a performance hall and a research library. (More details as they become available.)
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame
“It all begins with a song.” That’s a local credo and, in tribute to those who labor behind the scenes, there’s a small exhibit space on the second floor of the Music City Center. It’s actually more of a wall than a hall. You’ll find handwritten lyrics (complete with scratch-outs) to big hits along with fun bits of trivia. Ten minutes is all you need to absorb what’s there. FREE
Jefferson Street Sound Museum
For decades, Jefferson Street was Main Street for live music performed by African American artists. Tragically the construction of I-40 in the ’70s cut the community in half. Eventually the vibrant clubs which hosted Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Little Richie, Jimi Hendrix and many others closed and were demolished–except for one building which has not be restored to its glory days.
Jefferson Street Sound is primarily a recording studio but on Saturdays, the owner opens the doors to his scruffy little mini-museum for people to browse memorabilia of a bygone era. While there, drive a few blocks west; the columns of the I-40 overpass have been turned into an outdoor retrospective of the community’s many contributions to music, education, government, sports, science and health. For a glimpse of JSS’s partnership with Vanderbilt University, watch this video.
If you don’t have enough of the Redheaded Stranger’s artifacts to fill a museum, you expand your horizons with items from Porter Wagoner, Ronnie Milsap, Faron Young and other famous friends. The general store offers all-things-Willie including t-shirts, hats, shot glasses, mugs and more. Save $2 off the $9.99 admission by buying your tickets online.
Okay, it’s not a music museum but it kinda defies my established categories. if you loved the TV show, you’ll experience a variety of artifacts that the Duke Boys left behind. They’ve been scooped up by Ben Jones who played Cooter on the series. It’s conveniently located next to Willie’s Museum in the Opryland area. Here’s a surprise…it’s FREE. But they’d love for you to buy a souvenir or two.
CULTURAL and HISTORIC MUSEUMS
In addition to permanent exhibits, our world-class museum has played host to Masterworks by Michelangelo, Monet, van Gogh and many others, antique Italian automobiles, tapestries of ancient civilizations and an array of contemporary art. Visit the website for its current collections. The Frist also hosts activities for children, films and lectures. Free admission always to anyone under 18. During summer months, the museum is home to Frist Fridays, a series of free outdoor all-genre concerts with food vendors on-site.
This spectacular showplace is adjacent to the Bicentennial Mall and Farmers Market. Permanent collections regard the prehistoric era, Andrew Jackson, the Civil War and Reconstruction and the Women’s Suffrage movement. Traveling and changing exhibitions have highlighted support of WWI, the Civil Rights movement, Tennessee’s African-American musical heritage and the whimsical art of nationally recognized but locally raised artist Red Grooms. It’s closed Mondays. Free admission.
Take a leap back in time to discover farm life with a priceless collection of artifacts from the early 1800s through the 1930s including a collection of antique tractors. Also on the grounds are a one-room schoolhouse, log cabins and sorghum cookshed. The museum offers classes, day camps and special events designed to showcase pioneer life.
It’s a couple of miles from downtown but if you’re into rare cars, motorcycles, bicycles and more, you’re going to love this collection. The place is huge with 40,000 sq. ft. of showroom floor to show off approximately 150 vehicles including the largest assemblage of European cars in the U.S. In addition to its ever-expanding collection, Lane welcomes touring exhibits so check their website to see what’s currently on display. Free parking.
Following the Battle of Nashville, Union forces set about making the most fortified city outside of Washington, D.C. On a hill roughly a mile south of downtown stands the remnants of an impressive fort constructed of stone, wood and earth. Although there are monuments around town that commemorate this dark chapter in American history, Fort Negley boasts a visitors center, three short films and a self-guided tour of the fort. FREE
MANSIONS and ESTATES
Tour the the antebellum home, grounds and museum of Andrew Jackson, our seventh president. Part biography, part snapshot of life in the early-to-mid 1800s, history buffs will find a lot to absorb here. Note: it’s about 30 minutes east of downtown so build travel time into your plans.
The grande dame of Nashville galleries, art is displayed in a royal 36-room mansion completed in 1932. In recent years, the grounds have captured the community’s attention with an intriguing array of installations from whimsical treehouses to the mesmerizing glass sculptures of Chihuly. Springtime brings a riot of color as the meticulously maintained gardens come alive.
In its day, fine horses were raised on this aristocratic estate. Times have changes but the elegant mansion remains available for tours. In addition to the old growth trees around the property, the plantation is home to Belle Meade Winery where you can schedule a tasting before or after your tour.