bar hopping the country music capital | day 15 | 3589 miles

july 15th, 2015 | 2 hours ahead

When people would ask me “What kind of music I listened to,” I used to always answer, “anything except country music.” I was astonished to find that a lot of people could sympathize with that sentiment; it seemed as though country music was the universally hated genre of music. That is until I went to tahoe with one of my great friends from middle school. Oren was a unique kid. Even though he was an affluent white kid, he spent his time like a stereotypical hick: fixing his car, going to pick-n-pulls, fishing, and driving on dirt roads with the windows down. I remember the first time I found out he was into country music; I couldn’t stop telling all of our friends; I found it hilarious, and I didn’t get it…until that tahoe trip, when all he played was country music.

ssshhhhhh. I’m listening to country music as I write this.

On that tahoe trip, we went fishing at this reservoir, and we off-roaded about a mile to the edge of the lake. He turned the music all the way up, and opened all the doors and windows. We caught a few fish and started a bon-fire. We made fresh rainbow trout tacos and chilled as the sun set. All with country music in the background.

A lot of people write country music off as simplistic and unintelligible — often times the lyrics are — but not all music is supposed to be interesting or appreciated for the quality or skill. The fundamental purpose of music is to evoke emotion inside you; it exists to make you feel something. To be honest, the jazz in New Orleans didn’t give me any emotions. I just liked the experience because it was new. Although girls, beer, and trucks aren’t difficult to understand, they automatically trigger the memories I have of summer in tahoe with Oren. These easy going, upbeat tunes give me a nostalgic, care-free temperament that no other music can give me.

Fast forward a few years, and I’m setting foot in the country music capital of the world: Nashville, TN.

I had a great breakfast at a well-known local spot called “Puckett’s Grocery,” where I had a great country meal: sweet potato pancakes with brisket, fried apples, and a fried egg. Yum.

Next I found myself in another unique place: the country music hall of fame. Here’s the interesting thing: a couple years ago, I was visiting Cleveland, Ohio to see a prospective college. One of the main attractions in Cleveland is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I was with my dad, and he’s a bit of a rock and roll junkie, so I went, mostly for his sake. But what I discovered there was not just lists of names on a wall of famous rock and roll musicians; what I found was a compelling narrative about the intertwining of rock music into the culture of the the world and everyday people’s lives. I was in awe at these artists’ ability to captivate audiences, to go out on stage and behave so bizarrely, as if their actions were a direct manifestation of their human emotions. I will always remember a video of Mick Jagger that they had performing live somewhere. Wearing something akin to a lady gaga outfit, he strutted on stage singing as if he was in the process of dying, and writhing his entire body in motions that were never before fathomed in my innocent little mind. That I thought was impressive.

So here we are at that museum’s equivalent here in Nashville. I think there’s something about seeing the story behind things that began a long time ago but are prevalent in today’s society because often, things end up very different from where they started, and I don’t think you can understand something now, unless you understand what now is the result of.

I’ve always enjoyed it when museums like these have hand-written letters and manuscripts. It gives you a sense that you are right there with the reader, and you can almost see their thought process. The thing on the right is a massive storage and restoration library of country music records. They work their way through this library transferring them to analog or digital to preserve them forever.

just some of those admitted into the Country Music Hall of Fame

One of the more touristy sections of the museum had a “which part of the music industry machine are you?” quiz. It was four questions and identified what role you would best serve in the music industry. I thought it was kind of funny that I got “songwriter” — the most under appreciated part of the machine.

After the museum while looking for a place for lunch on Broadway, I was looking on yelp when I heard someone say, “Nice boots. Are those ostrich?” I looked up, and I saw a girl with a big smile looking at me inquisitively. I was a little caught off guard; I mean I was more concerned about what I was going to be eating. We started talking, and apparently, she got into UCLA too, but decided not to go. Jealously, I told her that “I wish I was not in school;” she had been doing a lot of traveling over the last 2 years and had worked in a lot of places around here: a boot store, a line dancing bar, and now, a non-profit raising money for the food bank.

The stand she was running sold bracelets like these made out of guitar strings from local musicians: “so Nashville”, I thought. She also offered me a bottle of water because it was real hot. Maybe it’s southern hospitality or maybe she was just super nice, but she gave me some great recs for lunch and bars too. She was a local, and she said that — i guess unsurprisingly — most of the people here were not locals, even the people who work here.

This funny dynamic occurred to me: that the tourists in Nashville probably saw me in my boots and all and thought I was a local and that that’s what locals look like. But then the few really local people knew that I wasn’t a local because my appearance was only the result of a stereotype of the person I thought lived in Nashville. It’s like a positive feedback loop between the image one has of a place and it’s reality that self-sustains a population’s style. ie. what if people in places only dress certain ways because they think that’s how other people there dress?

Enough of the meta stuff. Here’s the fun part: live music in country bars. Emily suggested that I check out the famous “tootsie’s” bar. It’s got a purple exterior, completely offset by the dark sepia western interior, presumably typical of a traditional saloon in that time.

The musician at the front of the shop was taking requests, and some one requested some Luke Bryan, and the guy chose one of my favorite songs:

We went to a few other cool bars that also had a great ambiance and music, and just like that, I embedded even more good memories into the country music repertoire.

Before we drove out to Roanoke, we stopped by the Grand Ole Opry, a country music icon known for hosting country’s biggest events and concerts such as the CMAs. We didn’t go inside, so we mostly went to get this picture:

So what I have to say is that musicians and actors — people whom we consider to have a pretty easy and luxurious lives — deserve just as much respect as people who start brilliant companies like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs —to whom we attribute incomprehensible hard work and massive impact. Each of these people, no matter their domain, are successful precisely because they are able to make an impact; they are able to affect how people experience the world around them. And not just people, but people on an incredible order of magnitude.

If you’re not one of those people, then the best thing you can do is be receptive to those who do connect with other people. Find things that make your soul flutter and people who do the same.

Originally published on from sea to shining sea by Aaron Yih on For more travel blog posts, go to travel section of my blog. Find more up to date info on my Instagram and video-based content on my Youtube.

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