Whether it’s Middle Tennessee trips onTennessee Crossroads, visits to local gardens on Volunteer Gardener or visual studies of emerging and established businesses on our web series You Ought to Know Nashville, it’s clear that we love our city and all it has to offer. We also love its history, as our Memories of Nashville and 20th Century in Photographs series illustrate, and its beauty, as our trio of Beautiful Tennessee films so lushly document. So when a trade paperback-sized book titled 100 Things to Do in Nashville (Reedy Press) showed up in our mailbox, written by the Nashville Scene staff editor and AAN Award Winner Abby White, our curiosity was piqued. Had we as a station visited many of these places? Had I, a 16-year resident of the city, fully partaken of its charms? It turns out that we did, but there were still quite a few things we learned. And still more things we’ve been meaning to do.
The book is broken down into four sections — food & drink, music & entertainment, sports & recreation, culture & history, and shopping & fashion. White’s recommendations are accompanied by her colorful and personable anecdotes and synopses that will make outsiders feel like that have an inside connection, and locals feel like they better get cracking. The “Things to do” vary from the iconic and obvious, like “see a show, any show, at the Ryman Auditorium” and “catch a movie at the Belcourt Theatre” to the lesser known and off-the-beaten path, like “drink tea, do good at Thistle Stop Cafe” and “travel the world without leaving the city limits at the Global Education Center.” There are even events for the kids, such as “have breakfast with Santa at the Aquarium Restaurant,” and the kid in you, such as “be a kid again, but with adult beverages, at the Nashville Zoo.”
We caught up with White for a quick chat about the book, some of her recommendations, why it should come with a helmet, and why 80’s pop star Tiffany matters. Among other things.
Joe Pagetta, NPT: First off, are you someplace right now doing one of the 100 Things to Do in Nashville Before You Die?
Abby White: I wish! I would not recommend that anyone else, tourist or native, has to sit at my desk and pretend to be me for the day, but I WILL say that I started my day off doing one of the 100 Things. I did a lovely long hike at Percy Warner, which is one of our many amazing parks. I bet you thought I was going to say I came from a bar.
Joe: Haha! I thought maybe you were eating pink radio cake at Fido.
Abby: I’ll be doing that later. It’s technically a vegetable.
Joe: I started the day with a bike ride on the Stones River Greenway. Also beautiful.
Abby: That sounds divine! I bet we each do one of these 100 things every day – that’s the beauty of this book. It’s for natives as much as visitors. A reminder to celebrate all of the incredible things we have here, from parks to restaurants.
Joe: Before we get into the book, there is one glaring omission. I know everyone has an opinion on these things, but how is “volunteering on the phone bank during an NPT membership drive” NOT on this list? Or becoming a member of NPT. Or at the very least, WATCHING NPT? We here all think these are things one should do before they die.
Abby: HAHA. Well. You got me there. That’s family friendly, too! I was struggling with that category. I’ll put that in version 2.0
Joe: Thanks. 100 Ways to Volunteer in Nashville.
Abby: Ooh, that’s a good idea!
Joe: How did you get involved in writing the book?
Abby: The publishing company, which is based in St. Louis and publishes these city guides throughout the U.S., contacted me on the recommendation of a colleague.
Joe: With your work at the Nashville Scene and NFocus, you’re in tune with much of what’s going on here, but did you discover some things in the process you didn’t know about?
Abby: Yes, absolutely. I discovered that, as a Nashville resident, I hadn’t taken full advantage of many of the things that make this city unique. For example, while I’ve been inside the Country Music Hall of Fame a million times, I’ve never done anything more than an abbreviated media tour. And while I’ve been to Opryland, I’ve never taken a ride on the General Jackson. I mean, these things are fun, and they’re unique to Nashville! Sure, other cities have museums, boats, rivers, etc. But anyone who lives or visits here recognizes that there’s a different flavor … a spice to Nashville. NASHVILLE SPICE (the lost Spice Girl.) It tastes like hot chicken, I think. Sorry, back on track.
Honestly, while researching it and trying to find what I considered a good representation of local treasures in various categories — food, nightlife, historic, scenic, etc. — it made me want to go do everything again. I mean, the history alone.
Joe: So much history.
Abby: After traveling in Italy this summer, I had a little bit of that American envy, how there are so many beautiful historic structures over there, with stories that span centuries. It’s incredible. And overwhelming, a bit. But then I got back home, as you do after a vacation, and I had a new appreciation for what this city has grown into in the relatively short time it’s been in existence. And the evolution we see today. Though I’ll like this evolution a lot more when EVERY SINGLE STREET I need to use to get to work isn’t blocked off for construction, but hey, that’s progress!
Joe: The evolution is amazing. You couldn’t have known when you added Fleet Street, that just six or seven months later, Printer’s Alley’s future, at least as we know it, would be in question.
Abby: Right? But that will keep happening, as the city continues to grow and change. I just hope that we have the sense to protect the history of the city as we plan for its future. Because it they tear down Fleet Street, I will chain myself to it. I would chain myself to a lot of buildings here, actually.
Joe: There’s a nice mix of the tourist and the insider stuff. I was impressed with the inclusion of the burgers at Twin Kegs and the Pupusas at Las Americas. Good calls.
Abby: You know, including things that are more off the beaten path, like Twin Kegs or Las Americas Taqueira, that could appeal to a seasoned visitor who wants to explore beyond the usual touristy stuff (and no disrespect to the usual touristy stuff, honestly – I’ve been known to kick up my heels on Lower Broad!). Nashville has such a rich, diverse community that brings so many distinct cultural influences, which our culinary scene is certainly starting to reflect.
And, seriously, you cannot get a better meal under $3 than Las Americas!
Joe: Do you own three pairs of boots from boot country?
Abby: OK, here’s a confession. I have no cowboy boots. Zero. The closest thing I have is a pair of stilettos that resemble cowboy boots, and they really hurt my feet, so I rarely wear them.
Joe: I believe that. I don’t either. Although I did for a time have a pair of Luccheses that I found for $20 in Brooklyn. I think I wore them once. I was more attracted to the idea of them I think. And that was when I was moving here and thought I should have them. I also thought the stars stayed at the Drake Motel, too, so shows you how much I knew.
Abby: Um, $20 Luccheses? I would have bought those, too. You know, I wonder how many people would think that, moving here today? That they would get a lot of wear out of some cowboy boots in Nashville? I think the public perception of our city has shifted so much now, that the presumption might not even be made nowadays. And the Drake Motel, haha! That’s another one I should have included.
Joe: I’m not so certain. The perception has shifted, but at the same time it seems to have become more entrenched.
Abby: Maybe for people who visit … but I think, for people who come here on business or who are seriously considering moving here, it’s different.
Joe: I would agree with that. Should the book have a warning? I have a friend who really hurt himself at Sky High Sports.
Abby: I really hurt myself at Sky High Sports! But it was worth it. Yes, many of these activities should probably come with waivers. Or helmets. Definitely a designated driver, too.
Joe: Some of these things, like catching a show at the Ryman or seeing the Jubilee Singers perform are things people anywhere in the world should do before they die, but some of these other things might be questionable, even in Nashville. Should we really visit 80s pop star Tiffany’s boutique in White House? Please defend yourself.
Abby: Maybe this is a generational thing, but YES. Why not take a day trip to White House? And if you don’t want to do that, she has a second location on Fatherland. But, really, it’s TIFFANY. I challenge you to find a female child of the 80s who didn’t buy a jean jacket because of Tiffany. She’s a pop icon! Plus, the fact that she has a couple of stores in Middle Tennessee? That’s just weird and cool. I live for that intersection of weird and cool stuff in Nashville. Also, she’s really nice. And a small business owner. We love those! The defense rests.
Joe: OK, you may have sold me. Even though I fall on the Debbie Gibson side of that 80s pop icon debate.
Abby: Well, I’m kind of with you on that. Debbie wrote her own songs. And her perfume was RAD. But I digress.
Joe: I know we have to wrap. You’re busy, I’m busy, we’re all crazy busy, but I do think this is a nice little travel guide. And sometimes when you get crazy busy, being a tourist in your own home town can provide just the right respite. Flipping through it made me smile. One of my first dates with my wife involved her singing karaoke at Twin Kegs. Any last advice on how locals and visitors should use it?
Abby: Aw, see, I love hearing things like that! Everyone who lives here has a story like that, a connection to a place that’s special in its own right, but then when you add your own experience to it, well, that’s just a particular kind of magic that this city offers. I hope that locals will pick it up and have a similar reaction to yours – maybe revisit an old favorite, check out a new place. Maybe it will help people reignite an old interest or hobby, or at least to see Nashville through a new lens. For visitors, I hope they use it to hit the Nashville essentials that we’re known for — Bluebird, Prince’s, honky tonks, etc. — but that they’ll also explore other areas of the city that they’re not going to find in a typical guidebook.
Joe: Finally, what one thing didn’t make it that you would add (other than the Stones River Greenway).
Abby: That’s a hard question. There were several things that I wanted to include that were personal favorites, but in trying to find the ideal blend of older/newer businesses that spanned all of the different topics, I had to delete a few of the “nightlife” options as I was heavy on those and a little light on the “family friendly” category (as a single girl with no kids, this shouldn’t be surprising!). Also, several great restaurants opened since I wrote this, so I’d want to include all of them! But I guess I would answer that by saying that the one thing I’d include is the thing I haven’t tried yet – I’m just waiting to be blown away.
Joe: Great answer! By the way, I loved “Have a Conversation on the Walking Bridge.” That was a frequent joke of Mayor Dean’s in a lot of his appearances last year.
Abby: I totally stole that joke from the mayor. The real one, not the one on the TV show.
Joe: I would add biking over the Natchez Trace Bridge!
Abby: I’m definitely going to consult you for the next version of the book!
Joe: You don’t need my help. You’ve got this town covered!
Be sure to check out the websites for Tennessee Crossroads, Volunteer Gardener and You Ought to Know Nashville for videos of many of the things White recommends. Here’s one to get you started. Especially you locals.