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Nashville

Nashville may be the capital of Tennessee, but it's better known as Music City USA, the country music Mecca. Yet it is so much more. Combining small-town warmth with an unexpected urban sophistication, Nashville is an increasingly popular tourist destination that boasts world-class museums and major-league sports teams; an eclectic dining and after-hours scene; and an eye-catching skyline ringed by a beautiful countryside of rolling hills, rivers and lakes, and wide open green spaces.

Ultimately, though, Nashville is the heart and soul of country music, that uniquely American blend of humble gospel, blues, and mountain music that has evolved into a $2-billion-a-year industry. At its epicenter, Nashville is still the city where unknown musicians can become overnight sensations, where the major record deals are cut and music-publishing fortunes made, and where the Grand Ole Opry still takes center stage.

Symbolic of Nashville's vitality is downtown, an exciting place that is finally breathing new life. Once tired and abandoned warehouses now bustle in the entertainment area known as The District. This historic neighborhood teems with tourist-oriented nightclubs and restaurants, including a new B.B. King's Blues Club, the ubiquitous Hard Rock Cafe that's become a staple of most large cities, and the one-and-only Wildhorse Saloon (the most famous boot-scootin' dance hall in the land). Luckily, The District isn't yet all glitz and tour-bus nightclubs. Along lower Broadway there are still half a dozen or more dive bars where the air reeks of stale beer and cigarettes and live music plays day and night. In these bars, aspiring country bands lay down their riffs and sing their hearts out in hopes of becoming tomorrow's superstars. With so many clubs, restaurants, shops, and historic landmarks, The District is one of the South's most vibrant nightlife areas.

Folks looking for tamer entertainment head out to the Music Valley area, home to the Grand Ole Opry, the radio show that started the whole country music ball rolling back in 1925. Clustered in this land the locals sometimes refer to as "Nashvegas" are other music-related attractions, including the epic Opryland Hotel, the nostalgic General Jackson showboat, several modest souvenir shops posing as museums, and theaters featuring family entertainment, with the majority showcasing performers from the Grand Ole Opry. Dozens of other clubs and theaters around the city also feature live music of various genres.

Country isn't the only music you'll hear in this city. Mainstream rock stars are also being lured by the city's intangible vibe. (Sheryl Crow is one of the high-profile stars to have recently moved here.) They come here for inspiration, to record new material, or for cross-over collaborations with local music pros. No matter the genre, the city seems to attract more musicians each year. Which means there's enough live music here in Nashville to keep your toes tappin' even long after you hit the highway home.

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