Lynette Fay: I grew up listening to the songs of Nashville – coming here to visit was a dream

It's CMA week. Since 1972 the country music association's annual music event has showcased country's hottest stars, its legends and its up-and-coming acts. I have never seen anything like this

Tonight the CMT awards take centre stage in Nashville as Country Music Television showcases the pick of the country crop
Lynette Fay

THE SUVs are lined up outside the Bridgestone Arena, downtown. Fans have been queuing here since this morning in order to catch a glimpse of their favourite country music stars. Tonight the CMT awards take centre stage. Tomorrow, Nashville will prove that it is Music City.

As the rain falls relentlessly on home soil this week, I find myself struggling with 30 degree heat in Nashville, Tennessee.

I grew up listening to the songs about this place, listening to the tales of the Grand Ole Opry, the radio show which revolutionised country music. Recently, I found myself engrossed in the Nashville TV drama series. The idea of visiting the city was a dream.

It’s CMA week. Since 1972 the country music association’s annual music event has showcased country’s hottest stars, its legends and its up-and-coming acts. I have never seen anything like this.

I arrived in downtown Nashville on Wednesday morning. The Bridgestone Arena, one of the premiere music venues in the city, is situated just across the street from the historic Ryman Theatre which was home to the Grand Ole Opry until 1972 when it moved out of town to Opryland.

There were branded pick-up trucks everywhere. The bottom of Broadway had been closed off to allow for a state-of-the art outdoor stage to be erected in this main thoroughfare. I walked around one block and saw as many as four open-air stages being finalised for the big event.

I am a lover of outdoor music festivals but I have never seen anything quite like this. I’m fairly certain that a once-in-a-liftetime experience lies ahead.

I made my first visit to Nashville in April. The opportunity came out of the blue and I grabbed it. It was unforgettable and the city left a lasting impression on me. I did not have a predetermined idea of what I would like to find in Nashville. We hear about the country music, the legends and lore of days gone by, of the growing, developing contemporary industry there. It’s all that, and a whole lot more.

During my first visit I was very moved by a visit to the Woolworth Building, where in April 1960 a group of African American students attending college in Nashville sat at the lunch counter. They asked to be served and were refused. They remained in their seats, peacefully protesting against a ‘Jim Crow’ law of the 1890s which promoted segregation. This sit-in was one of the first acts of the civil rights movement.

Knowing how the American movement impacted upon our lives at home, it is very powerful to stand in that space.

The history of the city is proudly documented. Everywhere you go, there are plaques informing of historical monuments, people, events, all of which have contributed to making Nashville the city it is today.

These days, Nashville prides itself as Music City. WSM-AM radio announcer David Cobb first used this term during a 1950 broadcast and it stuck. This is now the nickname used by the city's convention and visitors bureau.

The Country Music Hall of Fame is a must see, and a trip to the historic RCA Studio B, the home of 1,000 hits, is essential. Elvis recorded numerous albums here, Dolly Parton recorded I Will Always Love You and The Outlaws, featuring my favourite, Waylon Jennings.

Tonight, at 7-8 on BBC Radio Ulster, technology permitting, I will broadcast live from Music Row, just a few blocks from the historic RCA Studio B. Charles Esten who played Deacon Clayborne in the Nashville drama series I’m so fond of, is coming in to perform live, as is Catherine McGrath, an up-and-coming star of country music who is from Rostrevor, Co Down.

Ben Glover from Glenarm, Co Antrim, now resident in Nashville, will also perform on tonight’s programme. I hope you can tune in and that the show provides some insight into what this city has become and what it has to offer.

Belfast and Nashville have been sister cities for many years now. This alliance will be further consolidated next week when the Nashville in Belfast festival rolls into town. From June 12-16 concerts, songwriting workshops, food tasting and much more will provide a taster of summer in this city.

For now, I’m away to dust down the Stetson and cowboy boots and enjoy some top class country music.

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