Nashville Fun With Out-of-Town Visitors

These family-friendly suggestions are for the weekend of October 16-18, and may represent a bit of a splurge for the purpose of entertaining out-of-town friends.

This summer, we were overjoyed when my brother-in-law moved his lovely family back to Middle Tennessee from California. Now that they’ve settled in, they are getting excited about hosting California friends for a long weekend in our area, and have asked for some suggestions on things that might appeal to a couple of preteen boys, as well as their parents. These family-friendly suggestions are for the weekend of October 16-18, and may represent a bit of a “splurge” for the purpose of entertaining out-of-town friends.

Friday evening, October 16 –

Did you know that kids are welcome at The Bluebird Café? Well, I had no idea! When I told my nephew about the “Shhhhhh!” policy at The Bluebird, he promptly responded that he and his friend could text. <sigh> Reservations for Friday and Saturday shows can be made online, starting the Monday of the show.

Even though The Bluebird is iconic, I happen to think that The Grand Ole Opry is even MORE iconic – and also somewhat more appropriate for the younger folks. It’s still a bit early to know exactly who will be appearing on October 16, but they’ve already announced that Lee Greenwood, Canaan Smith and Nathan Chapman will be performing. Tickets for the 7pm show run from $32 – $48 each.

Saturday –

Daytime – If the weather is fine, drive out for a side-splitting breakfast at The Loveless Café, followed by a short-but-scenic drive on The Natchez Trace Parkway toward Leipers Fork. Lots of celebrities live in and around Leipers Fork – If you’re lucky, you may recognize one! “Downtown” Leipers Fork is a quick visit – a few galleries and shops. Live music starts at Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant around noon – there’s no cover, so you can feel free to stop in to listen for a while.

Afternoon – Head over to Ellington Agricultural Center in the Crieve Hall neighborhood of Nashville, and get a fun dose of history at the Music & Molasses Arts & Crafts Festival. Sorghum molasses making the old-time way is one of the many special demonstrations that can be enjoyed with cooking and tasting at the sorghum mill. Bluegrass Music, Farmer For A Day area for young children, country cloggers, a grist mill, traditional crafts for sale, food including homemade cakes and pies, log cabin activities for children, pony rides, animals to touch, and much more makes this a day of family fun. Tickets are $6 (age 4 and under admitted free).

Or, if the kids are craving something more physical, why not take them to Soar Adventure Tower in Cool Springs? This facility offers ropes course-type fun for kids and adults. “Walk up” prices are $35 for children ages 4-7, $40 for youth ages  8-17, and $45 for adults 18+. A typical visit to SOAR Adventure Tower lasts 2-3 hours.

Evening – Head to historic downtown Franklin and pick from any one of the great restaurants there. Mellow Mushroom Pizza is a safe bet for the kids; you’ll find a good variety of offerings at Puckett’s Boat House, just a few blocks from the square.

Sunday –

Head to The Gulch in Nashville for brunch at Biscuit Love (one of our hottest new restaurants-that-used-to-be-a-food-truck) – then take a few minutes to window shop (or buy!) at Lucchese Boots or Two Old Hippies. (The latter location has been featured a few times in the show “Nashville.”) Then, why not head over to Nissan Stadium to watch the Tennessee Titans take on the Miami Dolphins? Tickets are still available for the game, which starts at noon. Prices range from $38 a seat to upwards of $250. After the game, walk across the Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge to get dinner and enjoy the music at one of the restaurants along Honky Tonk Row.

After all that activity, your friends (and you) will be exhausted!

Get Greek! in Nashville

Enjoy the livelier aspects of Greek culture starting Friday at the annual Nashville Greek Festival.

“There are two kinds of people – Greeks, and everyone else who wish they was Greek.” – Gus Portokalus in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”

Although Nashville isn’t known for having ethnic “cities within a city,” there are pockets of international culture within our town that occasionally bubble up as festivals for all to enjoy. This week, The Athens of the South gets its Greek on. Continue reading “Get Greek! in Nashville”

Preserving Summer in Middle Tennessee

For those of us who are not quite ready to declare summer over, this weekend offers some good entertainment options.

Although daily temperatures are still topping 90 degrees here in Nashville, this wonderful summer is winding down fast. Kids are back in school, and college campuses will soon be bustling again. For those of us who are not quite ready to declare summer over, this weekend (August 15-16) offers some good entertainment options.

When it comes to county fairs, the Wilson County Fair is widely accepted as the biggest and best in Middle Tennessee. In

A proud moment for me - my homemade salsa won a blue ribbon in the Wilson County Fair!
My homemade salsa won a blue ribbon in the Wilson County Fair!

fact, in some important aspects (like attendance), it’s even bigger than the upcoming Tennessee State Fair. Whether you enjoy rides on the midway, or admiring the talents of local artisans and gardeners, or marveling at the variety of livestock and poultry – this is a county fair for you. The Wilson County Fair swings into full gear on Friday, August 14 and will continue through August 22 with a variety of activities and events each day. Gates open at 5pm on weeknights, at 10am on Saturdays, and at noon on Sundays. Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for children aged 6-12. Children age 5 and under are admitted free. If you don’t mind staying at the fair until 9pm, there is also a unique opportunity on Saturdays to ride the Music City Star train round trip from Nashville to the fairgrounds for $21 adults/$16 children 6-12.

Seeing all the lovely home canned goods at the fair may put you in the mood to do some preserving of your own. On Saturday afternoon (3-5pm) at the Nashville Farmers Market, you can sign up for a home canning “immersion workshop” to learn the basics of preserving fruits and vegetables. The class costs $45 – all supplies are provided, and you will go home with a couple of jars of canned goods.

Sunday, then, is the day to put your new canning and preservation skills to work. Head back to the Nashville Farmers Market, or your favorite local produce stand, to pick up the ingredients you’ll need to make delicious and lovely jars to enjoy or share through the seasons ahead. I’m thinking that pickled peaches (or possibly habanero pickled peaches) will be my focus this weekend!

Become a Nashville Native – in Murfreesboro!

How long do you have to live in Nashville before you’re considered a native? Because this area has always been welcoming of new citizens, it’s not uncommon to find that, in any crowd, relatively few people actually were born and raised in this town. But after 15 years or so, people start claiming “native” status. I have a theory that you actually become a Native Nashvillian the first summer you learn to embrace the heat and humidity, frizzy hair and sweaty clothes, and go out and enjoy the great summertime activities in our area. (There is a corollary that this is also the time that you forget how to drive in frozen precipitation.) If you’re a Nashville transplant, this weekend is a perfect opportunity for your initiation – ironically, I’m going to suggest that you make a 30-minute trip to Murfreesboro for that rite! (If you’ve already achieved “native” status, you probably already have this on your calendar!)

Once hailed as the capitol city of Tennessee (1818-1826), Murfreesboro sits at the geographic “center” of our long, flat state. Home to Middle Tennessee State University (where enrollment rivals that of UT-Knoxville), this bustling city is much more than a bedroom community for Nashville. Sure, there are plenty of chain restaurants and big-name shops to support the local population – but there’s just enough of old Murfreesboro still present to make it a fun day trip from Nashville.

This weekend (July 10-12) is particularly enticing – head to town early and you can start your day with breakfast at the City Café, just off the courthouse square. There’s free parking at the City Garage near the courthouse – a few blocks away. This friendly and historic “Meat & 3” is renowned for their lunches (and their freshly baked rolls), but they make a good traditional breakfast, too. They open at 6am – I recommend arriving no later than 7:30 because it gets crowded!

After breakfast, take a stroll around the grounds of the Rutherford County Courthouse rutherfordcountycourthouseand enjoy the Main Street Saturday Market – a traditional farmers’ market. Local tomatoes should just be coming in about now, and it’s a sure bet that you can find corn, cucumbers, beans and peaches – along with fresh baked goods and lovely flowers. (Plan ahead and put a cooler in your vehicle to store your purchases while you linger in “the ‘boro.”) The market runs from 8am – noon each Saturday from June through August.

uncledavemacon
Enjoy the sounds of Uncle Dave Mason – “Sail Away Ladies”

As the day heats up, so does the fun – after dropping off your farmers market purchases in your vehicle (and picking up your folding chairs), you can walk over to Historic Canonsburgh Village, where Uncle Dave Macon Days will be in full swing. Named for the King of the Banjo and one of the first stars of the Grand Ole Opry, this event has grown from an afternoon banjo-pickin’ contest into annual 3-day music and artisan festival that celebrates old-time music and dancing. If you go on Saturday, you’ll have missed Friday’s Harmonica, Dulcimer and Jug Band competitions – and you’ll also miss seeing Dr. Ralph Stanley perform. (He’s scheduled to take the stage on Friday at 8 pm.) But you’ll get to see the Buck Dance and Clogging finals, and hear the Fiddle, Banjo Competitions, and see the finalists perform in the Bluegrass Band and Old Time Band competitions. You’ll also get to hear The Steeldrivers, who take the stage at 8 pm.

Plan on eating festival food for lunch and dinner, or take a break from the heat and visit one of the local restaurants within walking distance. Visit the local services tents to learn what community agencies are active in Rutherford County – one of these tents is sure to be giving away cardboard fans, which are a blessing on a hot July day!

Tickets for Uncle Dave Macon Days are $10/day for adults (3-day pass for $20), $5/day for seniors (age 55+) at the gate; children 12 and under are admitted free. Folding chairs are welcome.

I can pretty much guarantee that, after enjoying a hot summer day of fun in Murfreesboro this weekend, you’ll drive back home happy, hot and tired, and feeling like you’ve earned your “Nashville Native” badge!

Berry Hill / Melrose is the Place to Be – Dead or Alive!

Whether you are planning to spend a day or a weekend (or longer!) in the Berry Hill/Melrose district, here are some suggestions for places to visit, shop and dine.

Native Nashvillians past a certain age still recall when the impossibly large and elegant 100 Oaks Mall was opened in 1968. It was the place to be seen, when Bobbi Brooks was the clothing brand to be seen in! Now that the mall has changed its focus (yes, there are still shops on the exterior perimeter, but the main focus of the mall itself is outpatient services affiliated with Vanderbilt Medical Center) the excitement has shifted to the neighborhoods adjacent to the mall – Berry Hill and Melrose.

Berry Hill has been home to an eclectic variety of shops, offices and restaurants for many years, but its popularity has surged recently. And, while it’s hard to say whether the phenomenal growth in Melrose is more directly related to the popularity of Berry Hill or 12 South (its neighbor to the west), all of the sudden the Melrose area is a fun area of town again!

Whether you are planning to spend a day or a weekend (or longer!) in the Berry Hill/Melrose district, here are some suggestions for places to visit, shop and dine:

Breakfast

If you’ve got kids, breakfast at the Pfunky Griddle on Bransford Ave. is a great way to start the day. This fun eatery provides you with all the ingredients your heart could desire to cook your own breakfast – right at the table! Then – best part – they clean up after you!

Looking for a great value at breakfast? Athens Family Restaurant on Franklin Pike has been voted Nashville’s number one breakfast restaurant, serving breakfast any time of day (and through the night Thursday through Saturday!). Order an egg & cheese sandwich for just $3.99 – or loosen your belt and get The Hercules Platter (steak, eggs, home fries, toast & pancakes) for $14.99. You even can order fancier fare, like the Crab Cakes Benedict or Eggs Viennese (a low-carb treat featuring lox and cream cheese).

If you have a taste for high-quality, locally-sourced ingredients, give Fenwick’s 300 a try. One of Melrose’s newest restaurants, the “300” refers to a perfectly bowled game – an homage to the Melrose Lanes bowling alley that occupied part of the building from 1945 to 2005 (they preserved one lane in the bar area). This is a restaurant to get breakfast with a creative twist – and a custom coffee beverage created by the in-restaurant Bongo Java coffee bar. Fenwick’s 300 is located in The Melrose building on Franklin Pike.

So now you’re fed, and you’re looking for something to do…

GasLamp Antiques Mall has gotten so big and popular that they’ve now opened a second location, GasLamp II, just half a block from the original on Powell Place. With over 160 spaces, the sheer variety of available merchandise boggles the mind. This Saturday (June 27), both GasLamp locations will be hosting a Freedom Fest, serving cold lemonade and savory barbecue – and many of the dealers will be offering special summer savings.

This June 26-28 weekend is also the weekend for the monthly Nashville Flea Market at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. Considered one of the top ten flea markets in the U.S., each month 800 to 1200 vendors peddle merchandise representing every category imaginable (except animals – not permitted).

You may already know where many of Nashville’s current music stars live – but have you ever taken a tour of the stars’ final resting places? Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetary, flanking Thompson Lane, is where a good many country legends are buried. Take a tour of the grounds, and you’ll find markers for the likes of Porter Waggoner, Marty Robbins, and George Jones. Head into the mausoleum to find Tammy Wynette (real name Virginia Richardson) and Jerry Reed (Jerry R. Hubbard), among others. The burial park even has a “famous grave locator” website so you can plan your tour.

When it’s sizzling outside, many Nashvillians head to the movie theater, and the Regal Hollywood 27 is a perfect place to catch a summer blockbuster while waiting for the sun to set. Located next to 100 Oaks Mall, this is really a building that you can’t miss – with an impressive neon display that beckons evening drivers on nearby Interstate 65. Many action films are also available for viewing in 3D or RPX (Regal Premium Experience).

Need to relax? I mean, REALLY relax? Try booking one of the sensory deprivation tanks at FLOAT Nashville on Greystone Road for a 90- or 120-minutes session. These tanks are filled with skin-temperature water that has enough Epsom salt mixed in to make a body float on the surface. No light. No sound. It’s the most effortless thing to do to rid the body of pain and stress. The folks at FLOAT Nashville think that, once you’ve tried it, you’ll become a regular (and enjoy significantly discounted prices)!

It’s dinnertime

I realize I didn’t give you any lunch options, but all of the breakfast places I mentioned also have lunch menus, so I’m skipping right to some suggestions for dinner.

You can get a quick, healthy, casual meal made-to-order at Baja Burrito on Thompson Lane. Think Chipotle, but more fun and authentic. This is a favorite for families with kids.

Also on Thompson Lane, The Yellow Porch has a vibe that’s somewhat more refined – you can enjoy a nice wine or cocktail while considering menu options ranging from Shrimp & Crab Stuffed NC Trout, to Cardamom & Ginger Rubbed Lamb Chops, to a well-prepared Filet Mignon.

If you’re really puttin’ on the Ritz (and have made reservations), dinner at Sinema restaurant is sure to be a memorable experience – you are likely to glimpse celebrity executive chef Dale Levitsky (a former Top Chef contender), and you just might see one of Nashville’s other celebrities. Word of caution – do not approach a celebrity trying to enjoy dinner – it’s just not the Nashville way. If you happen to catch a celebrity’s eye by accident (not because you are staring or trying to take a selfie with them in the background), it is acceptable to smile discreetly and nod – as if to say “Yes, of course I know who you are and I like who you are, but wouldn’t dream of interrupting you.”

After dinner

If it’s just the adults, why not stop off at The Sutler for a nightcap? If you’ve got energy to spare (because you spent the afternoon in a sensory deprivation tank), you can stay upstairs and catch some live music. But head downstairs for a more romantic vibe with better drinks!

Whoa – that is one very full day that offers something fun for everyone! Great job, Berry Hill / Melrose!

Best of the Fests – Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree & Crafts Festival

What started as a small town festival back in 1972 has grown to a major event, drawing hundreds of amateur musicians, dancers and artisans, and thousands of spectators from around the world.

I have to admit that it’s been many years since I last attended the Fiddlers’ Jamboree in Smithville, TN. It’s a really wonderful music festival, but it’s always held the Friday and Saturday nearest the 4th of July, so there’s always plenty of competition for weekend entertainment around then. Despite my absence, this event has continued to grow and improve – What started as a small town festival back in 1972 has grown to a major event, drawing hundreds of amateur musicians, dancers and artisans, and thousands of spectators from around the world.

The mission of the Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree and Crafts Festival is to preserve and perpetuate traditional Appalachian and Old-Time music, dance, and crafts. So, you’re not going to hear “Sweet Home Alabama,” and you’re not going to see twerking, and you’re not going to be able to buy a Shamwow. But the Festival does offer a good variety within its genre – when you tally up the number of competition categories, there will be up to 35 separate competitions over the 2-day event.

Competition begins each day at 9:00 am, and continues until that day’s contests have finished. The final contest on Saturday is a “fiddle-off” between the winners of the Junior (up to age 40) and Senior (40+) fiddler contests to select a Grand Champion.

So whether you visit the Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree & Crafts Festival as your destination activity, or as a part of your holiday weekend travel to Center Hill Lake, or one of the state parks nearby (Edgar Evins to the north near I-40, or Rock Island to the south, between McMinnville and Sparta), I think you’ll understand why this little festival has grown to a large tradition.

To get to Smithville from downtown Nashville, take I-40 East to the Lebanon/Watertown exit (239A), then head southeast on US 70/TN-26 about 33 miles. Allow about 1 ¼ hours for the one-way trip.

Best of the Fests – Tennessee Renaissance Festival

For four glorious weekends each May, the grounds of Castle Gwynn in Arrington, TN are magically transformed to become the 16th century village of Covington Glen, as the Tennessee Renaissance Festival comes to town.

For four glorious weekends each May, the grounds of Castle Gwynn in Arrington, TN are magically transformed to become the 16th century village of Covington Glen, as the Tennessee Renaissance Festival comes to town. After many years of intending (but failing) to attend, I finally made the trip this year. My royal decree? This is one event near Nashville that Sounds Like Fun for young & old, hipster & redneck, fantasy buff & history buff. In fact, the crowd last Sunday was one of the most diverse I can recall seeing at a single event. Adult admission is $20 a head ($18 if purchased in advance); Children ages 6-12 can enter for $7 apiece. Parking is free. (You read that right. It’s free!)

Here are my top 6 suggestions for enjoying yourself at the Renaissance Festival:

  1. Bring your kids – in costume! Break out parts of last year’s Halloween costume and spend a little time and creative energy turning it into a Renaissance-era masterpiece. Fortunately, there’s a lot of leeway in this genre – your child can come as a fairy or gnome, or Viking or pirate, or princess or wildling or wizard. You can buy face paint, elf ears, crowns … really anything you might need to complete the look. There’s a children’s costume contest each festival afternoon at 12:30. Most entertainment is G-rated; the bawdier stuff will go right over the little kids’ heads. For bigger kids, there are human-powered carnival rides that look every bit as exciting and dizzying as the Tilt-A-Whirl at the State Fair.
  2. Come in costume yourself! The family that plays together stays together, y’all. Imagine your child’s (or grandchild’s) delight when the whole family unit comes to the Renaissance Festival dressed up in the spirit of fun. I’m not saying that renting a costume is necessary, but some riding boots, a vest and a jaunty cap can transform Dad into a respectable tradesman; Mom almost certainly has a maxi skirt and a tunic top that be pulled into service for the day. You won’t be the only adults dressed up – in fact, so many people dress up for this that it can be difficult to tell the citizens of Covington Glen from the visitors!
  3. Eat a smoked turkey leg. It’s messy, it’s hot, it’s primal. (It’s also gluten-free, carb-free and Paleo!) There is an abundance of standard carnival food choices, so if you really must have a hamburger or pizza, you’ll find it. But I do recommend gnawing on a $9 smoked turkey leg to help you get into the spirit of the day. And, if you’re over age 21, wash it down with a cold beer or hard cider. ($6; $7 premium brands)
  4. Watch the shows. You could easily spend an entire day at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival and not see the same show twice. Slapstick comedies, entertaining characters, exciting sporting events and talented musicians fill the town. The shows begin on time, so check the schedule or you may miss something!
  5. Be comfortable. Fortunately, there’s plenty of tree cover in Covington Glen, so you don’t have to spend your day roasting in the strong May sunshine. The jousting grounds has no tree cover, so you may want to bring (or buy) a pretty umbrella to shade yourself while watching – but the rest of the festival grounds are shady and relatively cool. The grounds are also a bit hilly, though – the few women I saw wearing heels looked as if they were regretting that decision.
  6. Obey the (very reasonable) rules. No pets, no firearms, no outside food or beverages. Swords or knives worn as part of a costume must be “peace tied.” Parents should take steps to make sure their children can contact them in case they get separated.

I know I’ll be back to the Tennessee Renaissance Festival – I hope to see you there! (I’ll be one of the ones wearing elf ears.)