What to Watch and Read Before (or While You Visit) Nashville

Nashville is the city of reinvention, welcoming the indefinable and the new. It’s known as Music City, inspired and fostered art in the form of literature and film as well. Here’s what to read, watch, and listen to as you explore every facet of this town.

Read

Nashville: Scenes from the New American South, written by best-selling author Ann Patchett with photography by Heidi Ross, challenges everything you think you know about the South. This is not about Nashville’s past but its explosive present. Insider Tip: Get a signed copy at Parnassus Books, Patchett’s independent bookstore located in Nashville’s Green Hills just south of downtown.

Lorraine: The Girl Who Sang the Storm Away should come with its own sound track. Written by Ketch Secor, founder of bluegrass band Old Crow Medicine Show, it’s the story of girl growing up with her grandfather in Tennessee, for whom music provides both comfort and identity. It’s beautifully illustrated by famous Nashville artist Higgins Bond.

For authentic Southern recipes you can take home, peruse cookbooks by Nashville's notable country stars, including Tammy Wynette (The Tammy Wynette Southern Cookbook) and Dolly Parton (Dolly's Dixie Fixin's Cookbook). Still hungry? Check out Caroline Randall Williams' cookbook Soul Food Love, which she co-wrote with her mother, Alice Randall, a Vanderbilt University writer-in-residence and the author of The Wind Done Gone, an alternative account of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind from the perspective of one of Scarlett O'Hara's slaves, for something more contemporary.

For a tale with more grit, crack open Brian Allison's Murder & Mayhem in Nashville, which looks into the colorful history of a section of the city called Smoky Row, the site of mysterious and macabre activity in the 1930s, or Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South by Andrew Maraniss, which tells the true story of the first black Southeastern Conference basketball player and Vanderbilt University student, and his experiences, struggles, and triumphs in the 1960s.

Watch

A Word on Words : This Emmy-nominated show filmed in Nashville features famous authors discussing their prestigious works at local spots around town in three-minute segments—but it's more fun than it sounds. Think Celeste Ng in firefighter gear discussing her novel Little Fires Everywhere, and Margaret Atwood (author of The Handmaid's Tale) discussing her 2015 novel The Heart Goes Last from a local jail.

The Thing Called Love: This 1993 film follows songwriter Miranda Presley (Samantha Mathis) as she leaves New York to seek stardom in Nashville. There’s marriage and mayhem and guitars and drunken brawls … everything you need to get in the country spirit. Much of the film is set in the iconic Bluebird Café where so many country stars got their start. It also stars River Phoenix and Sandra Bullock.

Heartworn Highways: This two-part documentary from 1976 follows iconic singer-songwriters like Guy Clark and Steve Young during their rise to fame. Its sequel, Heartworn Highways Revisted, picks up 40 years in the future, and features modern artists like Jonny Fritz and Langhorne Slim as they pursue the same dream as their predecessors.

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