I was honestly super worried about visiting Nashville for the first time, way more worried than I let anyone see. I wanted to be excited, but I was terrified that it might not live up to the hype.
I had a hurricane of fears swirling through my head the entire week leading up to the trip. What if I didn’t like it? What if it didn’t like me? I’d spent the past four years making Nebraska my new home, and now that I was finally settled in and happy, I was leaving again. I had no plan B. This has to work. I longed to set foot on that Tennessee dirt and feel the magic instantly, but with my whole future riding on it, it was difficult to feel anything but dread.
My mom, who is a literal saint, planned the whole trip. We flew standby on my Dad’s passes (he works for United Airlines so we really only fly standby) and thankfully all got on the plane on our first attempt (sometimes it can take all day and you end up going home because you don’t get a seat on any flights. It’s tragic.)
My first impression of Tennessee was that it was greener than I expected it to be. We drove across rolling hills of beautiful misty forests on our way to the hotel. I then remembered that there were mountains somewhere in this state. This eased my mind a little bit, because I always loved being around the mountains when visiting family in Idaho, where my Dad’s side is from. I knew they weren’t close by, but it made me feel better just the same.
We were staying at the Gaylord Opryland Resort, which is a massive place. There were probably more guests in this hotel than humans in some towns in Nebraska. It seriously felt like its own little world. It was beautiful, but it was definitely a bit overwhelming, and it didn’t quite feel like Nashville. We did a cute little boat tour around one of the main sections (I’m telling you this place is gigantic) that talked about the Grand Ole Opry and country music, and then saw an interesting circusy fountain dance show that night (that’s genuinely the best way I can describe it) and that was…interesting to say the least. I still wasn’t getting the feeling I was waiting for.
Things got a bit more real when we toured the Grand Ole Opry the next morning. To say there is magic in that place is an understatement. After watching a very old video of Blake Shelton introducing us to the venue and giving us a short history lesson, we got to go back to the artist’s entrance and backstage. We saw the dressing rooms and I even saw Garth Brooks’s mailbox. There was a wall with plaques in the back with the names of the Opry members inscribed on it, and some spaces were left blank. I couldn’t help but imagine my name being up there one day.
The highlight of that day had to be standing for a photo on the famous wooden circle, which was removed from the Ryman Auditorium. Thinking about how many amazing artists have stood on this circle before me gave a brief rush of optimism. They told us we could sing a little before our photo so I did a verse from Jackson By Johnny Cash and June Carter (my band in Nebraska and I performed this regularly and it was always fun.) People even clapped for me afterward! So technically, I can officially say I’ve sang at the Grand Ole Opry… but I hope it isn’t the last time. We’ll be using that photo for our Christmas card this year, and I can’t wait to look back on it one day.
Despite that really cool experience, I still had some anxiety. It was hard to explain, but I was still just nervous and on edge about being there, even though that experience definitely felt more like what I was after.
That all changed on our final night when we went to the Listening Room Café. I was honestly nervous that we’d accidentally get a night where they didn’t have songwriters (sometimes they have stand-up comedians) and I wouldn’t get that “Nashville feeling” I had been waiting for at all. However, three performers did walk out with guitars. As they began to play, I felt an immediate wave of relief come over me.
The best part was, there was no flash or spectacle that came with it, just three seemingly every day guys talking to each other and playing song after incredible song. It was so easy to get swept away in the stories of each one. By the time the show was over, and granted I’d had a couple of gin blossoms by then, I was crying. It was the first time in a long time I think I’d cried happy tears, if ever.
After that, we drove down Broadway. This was a Friday night in the summer, so it was complete pandemonium. I remember rolling down my window and taking it all in. I felt like a kid going to Disney for the first time. It was heaven, and at that moment it was where I knew I wanted to be.
Our final morning, we went to Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge at the recommendation of my bandmate Mark. We went around noon and the place was still PACKED. There of course was a band playing (multiple floors of bands playing actually) but I distinctly remember walking in to see a girl standing on a table playing fiddle and a guy on the other end. They were singing the chorus of Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy and everyone was going wild around them. It was awesome, almost like a scene out of a movie. We made our way upstairs to more live music and luckily found a table and ordered some food. I’d been eating straight barbeque for three days, and was also hungover from the night before, so I got a salad (it was still good.)
As we were eating the final meal of our visit, I’ll never forget hearing from one of the artists on our floor. He had said that he didn’t pick up a guitar until his 20s. I’d find out later that neither did Luke Combs.
I’ve heard people say that making it in the music business is like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Cynics use that phrase to make it sound difficult, but it’s really just a simple three step process.
1. Get yourself a bottle
2. Go to a place where the lightning is
3. Stay there until you catch something
The Truth is, about 100 lightning bolts strike the Earth's surface every second. That's about 8 million per day and 3 billion each year. In a place like Nashville, it seems impossible NOT to get struck if you wanted to.
After my visit, I was more than ready to put my bottle on a ten foot metal rod and stand in the rain for as long as it took.