By Mike Ritchie

THERE so many things that live with you long after you leave Nashville and I don’t just mean the Tennessee State capital’s historic venues or the Broadway bars pushing out the honky tonk sounds that gleefully fill Music City’s air.

Riding in a cab from my holiday base in East Nashville one lunchtime, the driver told me that the area we were passing through before crossing the Cumberland River into the historic downtown hadn’t always been so gentrified, no sir. It had been a mean, tough neigbourhood, where he had once lived and not without incident, either.

Lifting his T-shirt, he showed me the nine bullet scars that ended his promising, Golden Gloves amateur boxing career. As I sympathised, he revealed he shot an intruder dead at his mother’s home and served eight years in the State penitentiary. That topped anything a Glasgow cab driver has ever told me, and some.

Today, he was happy driving his Uber, living quietly with his wife and kids in a house he had refurbished from top to bottom, all the while looking out for the elderly man who lived opposite by doing his shopping and odd jobs.

Entering Robert’s Western World on Lower Broadway after this ride, I did wonder if it was a tall tale spun for a tourist. Mind you, as a chilled bottle of Yuengling from America’s oldest brewery was placed in front of me in this iconic bar and I waited for the music to start I decided, as an aficionado of many CSI-type and police procedural TV shows, the bullet holes in his chest and stomach looked real enough.

Robert’s, packed with drinkers and music lovers, has walls lined with boots, boots and more cowboy boots than you would find at a rodeo. The bar is in a part of town where many of the buildings previously served as hospitals during the American Civil War.

The space that is now Robert’s was from the late 1950s to the early 1980s, regarded by many as the peak period of country music, home to the Sho-Bud Steel Guitar Company.

Voted Nashville Scene’s Local Favorite Honky Tonk for the last eight years, it has live music every day, all day.

I spent a joyful four hours there that afternoon during my trip to Nashville’s 19th annual Americanafest, a musical extravaganza featuring 500 live performances overall at almost 60 of Nashville's most prominent venues – “The coolest music scene today,” according to The New York Times

As patrons in Robert’s swigged beer, or ordered the Recession Special – a fried bologna sandwich, chips and a beer for $6 – musicians arrived, played a couple of numbers, and then went off to their next slot somewhere else. It was part of a radio show broadcast hosted by the outrageous, verbal gunslinger, Mojo Nixon who insulted, in a good humoured way, every single artist.

In the shadow of the Mother Church of Country Music, the Ryman Auditorium – the original home of the Grand Ole Opry which is now located at the Gaylor Complex at Opryland – Robert’s was just one of the many music venues I was lucky enough to enjoy in Nashville, one of the US’s fastest growing cities.

Soaring, shiny tower blocks dominate the downtown area alongside giant cranes reaching hundreds of feet into the atmosphere as developments worth billions of dollars continue to add extra buzz and drama to the skyline.

This is a city bursting with confidence in business, culture, design and sport. New restaurant openings have doubled since 2015 while around 15,000 hotel rooms are in the pipeline. It is busy but relaxing at the same time as history (lots of it) and the contemporary gently collide.

Shops selling cowboy boots, Stetsons and fancy-dan shirts with glittery stitching bright enough to illuminate a front stage spotlight sit next door to trendy art galleries and bare brick wall bars. This mix creates a wonderfully relaxed, intoxicating and uniquely Southern mood, where smiling is the default mode.

When a noisy group of girls on a Pedal Tavern party bike tour go cycling past knocking back beers, you can’t but stop to wave and grin. I was amused to read one local magazine report suggesting that Nashvegas is one of the hottest destinations for hen parties in the States.

Also indisputable is that this growing, sparkling city is one where the music will never die, whose musical identity, starting originally with country, is loud and clear. Music in all its forms here – country, Americana, alt country, rock, pop, hip-hop – is a ten billion dollar industry locally, not altogether depicted accurately in the TV series Nashville, mind you.

Jessie Buckley and Nicole Taylor on country music, mothers, Glasgow and their new film Wild Rose

People flock here to listen to the music, to play music, to gorge on it, to talk about it – and it is a hugely exhilarating experience. Maybe musicians desperately hunting that big break see it differently, but for music fans the lure is addictive.

In addition to the Grand Ole Opry, it is home to such landmarks as the Country Music Hall of Fame, The Ryman Auditorium (originally a tabernacle) and the Johnny Cash Museum.

The Country Music Hall of Fame says it, “seeks to preserve and educate people on the history and traditions of country music” and it does so with style and gusto. It has more than two million items in its collection and a new addition is the recently opened Taylor Swift Education Center.

The $32 – about £25 – backstage tour of The Ryman was a real treat with a terrific guide who knew his stuff and loved sharing it. Framed photographs of stars from over the years decorate the dressing rooms, where no photography is allowed for copyright reasons.

The main auditorium’s foundations were completed in 1890 and the first stage was built in 1901 – I could just imagine Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Emmylou Harris and many more playing here. It has wooden pew seating on a sloping floor and a capacity of around 2,300 for worshippers, sorry gig goers. If its walls could talk – or sing.

At 119 3rd Ave S, The Johnny Cash Museum houses the largest collection of The Man In Black’s memorabilia, including stage costumes, instruments, letters, and other artifacts. And at 800 Broadway, Manuel Exclusive Clothier – also known as the Rhinestone Rembrandt – was where Cash’s famed sartorial look was created, as was Elvis’ famous gold lame suit.

Cash, and his wife June Carter Cash, are buried in Memory Gardens located at nearby Hendersonville.

Close to Manuel’s there is the legendary Hatch Show Print shop, a working letterpress print establishment since 1879 and the enticing Ernest Tubb Record Shop, opened more than 70 years ago. Hatch Show offers collectible artwork promoting musical acts while Ernest Tubb, unsurprisingly, specialises in country, bluegrass, and gospel and hard-to-find CDs, DVDs, books, songbooks, and records

During Americanafest, I enjoyed countless shows in addition to the one at Robert’s, indoors and outdoors. One took place in the office-cum-record-shop at the entrance to a multi-storey downtown car park, another in the splendid Hatwrks, where there are head-turning displays in a store that features original, made in-house hats. Tempted though I was, I reckoned wearing a Stetson to the supermarket in Glasgow would not be comfortable and you might be inclined to suggest that there are enough cowboys in Glasgow already.

One of the outdoor shows was staged in the rear garden of The Groove Record shop in East Nashville with the other in the service yard at the famed Grimey’s. With Grimey’s moving to new premises in East Nashville, it felt good to be part of the last open-air gig there.

My billet for the visit was in quaint and peaceful East Nashville near Five Points, which has a charm and amiability all of its own.

To start the day, a diner breakfast is the way to go. The Nashville Biscuit House on Galatin is a real no-frills joint with a sizeable menu and the jolliest of service. A sign above the front door says: “Whining will cost you five dollars” but I doubt any customers have had to stump up as there is nothing to complain about here.

The 3 Crow and Dino’s, a dive bar if ever there was one, plus Tenn16 and Five Points Pizza, are perfect places to eat in the evening and plan the rest of the activities for the day, either back downtown or to venues such as the Basement East which slightly reminded of the fire-hit 02ABC in Glasgow or my favourite, The 5 Spot where local and visiting bands hit the stage till late.

Viva NashVegas.

How to get there: British Airways flies direct from Heathrow.

Where to stay: Search - East Nashville.