Liam Nolan takes a trip to the Mecca of country music in Nashville, Tennessee

I had to pinch myself to make sure it wasn’t a dream — I really was in Music Row, Nashville, Tennessee, wasn’t I?
I’d been in Colorado Springs and, as on almost every trip I made outside of Ireland, I’d gone through one of my small personal rituals. I’d said to myself, and meant it, “You may never pass this way again, old son, so see and drink in and absorb as much of it as possible in order that you’ll remember it for the rest of your life.”

On this trip I’d decided there were four places I desperately wanted to see and experience.
First, I wanted to see the great Mississippi river, so I went to St Louis, Missouri. I stood for a while on the banks of the mighty waterway, and then gaped awestruck at Eero Saarinen’s stainless-steel-clad Gateway Arch, the highest arch in the world, 630 feet high, and 630 feet wide.

Second, I wanted to see the Motor Speedway at Indianapolis, the huge starkly banked oval track where they hold the Indie 500 every year. So I went there, and stood alone in the dead centre of a five-eighths of a mile straightway.

There was no race that day. In the mortuary-like silence (a bird was singing somewhere) I worked my imagination and inhabited the place with the raw roar of racing engines, with piercing screams and metal screeches, and the stench of burning rubber, and the tumult of 260,000 seated, cheering spectators.
It made my heart race.

So I headed for the third place on my list — the State Fair. Memories of the film of the same name with Jeanne Craine and Dick Haymes, and songs by Rogers and Hammerstein, were still vivid. But I wanted to experience the real thing. I did.

And now here I was in Music City Row, in Nashville, Tennessee, the home of Country Music.
“Why do you want to go to Nashville?” a friend had asked me in Colorado Springs.
“Because of its music,” I said. “I love it.”
“Ah, I see,” he said. “Well, Nashville has music the way Willie Nelson has wrinkles.”

I’d wanted to go there ever since, years and years ago, a lank-haired, string-thin, unshaven Scottish man from the Gorbals had given me his precious recordings to listen to – Hank Williams singing “Cold, Cold Heart”, “I’m so Lonely I Could Cry”, and “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, and Hank Locklin, in his high lonesome voice, singing “Send Me the Pillow that You Dream On”, and “Please Help Me I’m Falling.”

Now, at last, I’d made it, and was walking towards 116, 5th Avenue North, Nashville TN, the address of the Ryman Auditorium from where the Grand Ole Opry was broadcast from 1943 until 1974.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own