The past ten years or so have seen a particular boom in Nashville's creative community as expatriots from Los Angeles and New York, jaded with the cultural rat-races of their former hometowns, search for greener, more southerly pastures. Feminist artist Vadis Turner recently spoke to the New York Times about her own decision to move back to her hometown after 20 years of living in New York, simply because “Nashville is a much more interesting town than it ever was when we were [growing up].” Adding to the new influx of creative energy is 21c's Nashville outpost, which opened this past spring. The first-ever museum hotel, 21c combines a multi-venue contemporary art museum with boutique hotels and chef-driven restaurants to create an entirely unique travel experience for the culturally inclined. Their Nashville location alone has three whole rooms that are actual, site-specific art installations that you can book your stay in!
It's not surprising that the city known ubiquitously as the country music capital of the world also fosters a rich culture of artists, galleries, and musuems. In the words of 21c, "there is so much more to Nashville than honky tonks." And honestly, we're hard pressed: what travel pairing could be more perfect than music and art? (Nashville hot chicken and pickles, probably).
Check into 21c:
The good people at 21c really outdid themselves in music city. This location boasts not just one but three(!) Artist Suites. As a guest you are able to choose between three unique immersive art experiences—whether you’d like to situate yourself in a ponderous exploration of media, celebrity, and identity with Adrian Grenier in “The Ouroboros Mosquito,” record a Nashville-inspired EP in Sebastiaan Bremer’s “Sanctuary 21c” (the room includes unique amenities such as a recording studio, visual arts studio, and more), or trip out in Los Angeles-based artist Yung Jake’s toon’d out, green-screen green room (“coincidentally” priced at $420), 21c Nashville has got you covered (in custom linens).
5-7 PM - Guided Docent Tour:
Boasting over 10,500 square feet of exhibition space, the museum portion of all 21c locations are free and open to the public. To make the most of your stay, we recommend joining their complimentary Docent Tours. Their current exhibition, “Truth or Dare: A Reality Show” takes on the variety of ways in which art has been able to develop alternative cartographies in an age where the map has become relic, replaced by digital GPS points that appear and disappear in keystrokes. Richard Mosse’s Idomeni Camp, Greece (2016), for example, brings attention to the global refugee crisis using heat-map photography to trace the path of refugees from the Middle East across the Aegean Sea to Greece and finally to Germany. Meanwhile, Serkan Ozkaya’s An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Nashville (2017) uses projections to blur the lines between real and illusory space on the walls of the lobby gallery.
Dinner at Gray and Dudley:
Oh, where to begin... maybe with the smoked catfish dip with house hot sauce and celery crackers? Then some marinated local beets with house-made creme fraiche and herbs? And the crispy pork shank with bourbon barrel soy, fermented chillies and brussels? Just a suggestion…
Honky Tonk Hopping:
If you go to Nashville without exploring the country music scene, you might as well have stayed home. And what better way to get down to country music than a Honky Tonk hop? Located just a few blocks away from your room at 21c are over a dozen of these bar-venues lining the intersection of Broadway and 4th Ave. With any luck, you’ll start your evening at Robert’s Western World and end it in an embarrassing and all too heartfelt rendition of Lovin’ Spoonfull’s “Nashville Cats” at WannaB’s Karaoke. We won’t judge you (but we can’t promise that no one else will).
10 AM - Breakfast / Brunch at Gray and Dudley:
After what was hopefully a big, late night Honky Tonk jaunt, you deserve to treat yourself to a leisurely brunch. Maybe your hangover requires a light and nourishing fruit and cheese with figs, Tennessee honey, almonds, mint and toast. Maybe it craves a hefty sausage gravy and biscuit with a sunnyside egg, and pork belly. Either way, you’ll leave feeling refreshed and ready for a big day ahead.
12 PM - Frist Center for the Visual Arts:
The Frist Center for the Visual Arts opened in April of 2001, and since that time has hosted a spectacular array of art from the region and from around the world. The Frist Center has become a magnet for Nashville’s rapidly expanding visual arts scene. With an exhibition schedule that has new art flowing through the magnificent art deco building every 6 to 8 weeks, no matter how often you visit, there is always something new and exciting to see. Currently on view is a new immersive installation titled Feat. by Nick Cave, as well as “World War I and American Art.”
3:30 PM - Tour the Hatch Show Printshop (open till 6pm):
Right around the corner from the Frist Center is the historic Hatch Show Print. Established in 1879, Hatch’s is one of the oldest working letterpress print shops in America, and their iconic posters have promoted some of country music’s biggest stars. If you call in advance, you can join one of their guided tours and even pull your own keepsake print in their print shop-within-a-print shop! Hatch is also located within the Country Music Hall of Fame, so be sure to circle that rotunda if you’ve got extra time.
Third Man Records (open till 6pm):
Now that those old timey show posters have imprinted you with the nostalgia of country music’s past, it’s time to head over to Jack White’s (of the famed rock band, “The White Stripes”) Third Man Records to scope out the present. The space also frequently hosts live shows, so check their calendar in advance.
Dinner at Peg Leg Porker:
A half-rack of dry ribs with a side of Kool-Aid pickles and some Memphis sushi, please! BBQ has been a passion in pitmaster Carey Bringle’s family since 1827, when they settled in Covington, Tennessee. In the words of the restaurant’s website, “there is no getting around it, smoke is in his veins.”
6-10 PM - Downtown Art Crawl:
We highly recommend scheduling your trip to Nashville on the first Saturday of the month, if only to participate in their First Saturday Art Crawl. With dozens of galleries participating in typical gallery fashion (hello, free wine and cheese!), it’s a perfect way to tour the downtown art scene. There’s even a shuttle trolley that makes its fifth and final stop at none other than 21c, where you may finally rest your dazzled eyes and buzzing mind. If you aren’t around for First Saturday, you can still hit up all the galleries on its route! Directly on 5th Avenue of the Arts are anchor galleries such as The Arts Company, The Rymer Gallery, and Tinney Contemporary, as well as the eclectic Art at the Arcade which features many artist studios and boutique galleries.
Jaume Plensa's Awilda and Irma (2014) at Cheekwood. Photo via Nooga.
Unwind at the spa:
Sorry (not sorry), we kind of got you into a pretty boozy weekend. Luckily, 21c has your back, quite literally, with on-site massage services and spa. Steam all your troubles away!
Nashville Hot Chicken at Hattie B’s:
Like Friday night’s Honky Tonk hop, no trip to Nashville would be complete without getting Nashville hot chicken. To be fair, Prince’s is the OG spot, but seeing as it’s a 45-minute drive out of the way, Hattie B’s will more than suffice. Plus, Hattie won’t have you waiting on line all day!
Visit the Parthenon at Centennial Park:
Ahh, nothing like a nice, relaxing stroll in the park to… wait… is that The Parthenon? OMG Nashville, y’all really built a life-size replica of the actual Parthenon and put it in the middle of this park and filled it with a permanent collection of 19th and 20th century American art. Y’all are wild.
And if you’re willing to make the trek...
Roam the grounds of Cheekwood:
Once the family home of grocery magnates Leslie and Mabel Cheek, this extraordinary 1930s estate, with its Georgian mansion and 55 acres of cultivated gardens and expansive vistas opened to the public in 1960. Today, the property provides a magnificent botanic garden, woodland sculpture trail, artist-in-residence program, and art museum, making it a more than worthwhile trek—it's about a 30-minute car ride from 21c.