NASHVILLE -- My hotel in Nashville is located right next to Vanderbilt's football stadium. Naturally, I was hoping for a stadium view.
I opened the door to my room to see the stadium ... then realized a wall was blocking out half the field. So it's half of the stereotypically ideal hotel room view for a sportswriter.
The stadium is empty and silent, which is not a description you'd ever attach to Nashville as a city. Music City is filled with sound, everywhere from the kid playing in the corner of the hotel bar to the clubs lining Broadway in downtown. You'd think it was illegal to sell food without live music.
I am not your club-hopping kind of guy, so I figured I'd make a walk down Broadway just to see what it's like and spend the rest of my free time this week looking out the window at my half of the empty football stadium. A funny thing happened along the way. I got into the music scene.
I took the bus downtown on Tuesday intending to stay just long enough to eat dinner. I wandered into the Acme Feed and Seed only because it was first eatery I happened upon.
By chance, up on stage was Sam Williams, a grandson of the late, great Hank Williams. He later said it was his first real appearance on the Nashville music scene. I'm not sure all of the audience made the connection with his past ... most were there to eat. Only a smattering of applause greeted each number.
He sang for just under an hour. Family lineage not withstanding, he was off the stage at 7:50 as the next band quickly scrambled to get set up for the 8 o'clock slot.
Broadway is lined with clubs with names like Tin Roof, Honky Tonk Central and Cotton-Eyed Joe. Live music blares from all of them, with bands sometimes playing in front of open windows at the front, creating a cacophony of conflicting sounds that swirl together outside on the street.
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And here's the thing -- there's isn't a bad note in the crowd. Every group sounds like it belongs on tour. Even smaller clubs off Broadway have great music.
The musicians change throughout the day and night at various establishments. Some of them will play two or three gigs a day at various clubs. You see them on the streets with instruments on their backs or pushing equipment along the sidewalk, headed to and from assignments.
I later stopped at the Paradise Park Trailer Resort, where a group called the New Suns was playing. The stage is built partly over an old el camino, the roof of which holds their beers. Perhaps a dozen people are paying full attention to the group, which includes two guitars, a bass, drums and a violinist. In front of them is a bucket for tips.
I don't know how anybody makes money on Broadway. There's no cover charge, and no pressure from the staff to keep buying drinks. I sat for two hours in Paradise Park watching top-rate music and all it cost me was a $2 soda and the tip I left in the band's bucket. A bouncer elsewhere told me the bands are paid something by the clubs, but probably make more money from the tips than from appearance fees.
I can't help wondering how many dreams in this town are made, how many dreams are broken and how many dreams get downsized. There can't be a lot of money in this work, but as the lead singer in New Suns said off-handedly into his microphone, "it beats working in a machine shop."
With free time on Wednesday afternoon, I was back on Broadway. I stopped at a place called the Tequila Cowboys, where Jerry Don was doing a one-man show with his guitar. I was there for an hour and a half and he never took a break. I hated to leave but there was an event at my convention back at the hotel.
As I type this in my room late Wednesday night, the Vanderbilt football stadium below is dark, save for the faint light coming from the exits. I have to pack up and leave tomorrow. It's past midnight, but I'm thinking maybe there's time for one more trip to Broadway.