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Nashville is the Center of the Country Music Universe

Country music is uniquely American, and Nashville, Tennessee is where many country music stars go to record their music. In fact, it's in Nashville where many got their start. VOA's Craig Fitzpatrick went to Nashville to talk to some of those trying to make it in the country music business and shows us a city where you can listen to a live band almost twenty four hours a day. The story is narrated by Paul Miller.

The passengers on the General Jackson are getting a good view of the Nashville skyline, but unfortunately, from the decks of this steamboat, they cannot hear the music coming from the bars, the parks, and the streets of this city immersed in country music.

“Music City” is Nashville, Tennessee's official title. Nashville has a Country Music Hall of Fame and the Ryman Auditorium, from where the Grand Ole Opry radio show was broadcast for more than 30 years. Now this very popular country music show is broadcast from Opryland just outside of Nashville and recently celebrated it's 80th year on the air. But what really makes this Music City, is the row of bars along Broadway, the main thoroughfare in downtown Nashville.

Only here they don't call them bars.

"This is a ‘honky tonk.’ In fact my boss loves that term, honky tonk," says John Shepherd. He and his wife Lois have been playing in this honky tonk for more than 33 years and although they don't make much money, they're doing what they like to do and they have each other.

"Well, I have a fine woman and she treats me fine and lets me exist on the money that I make here. And it's mostly tips, but we've never gone hungry and we have a comfortable little rented apartment."

In another honky tonk, Darrion Keith Thompson and his wife Shawna are just getting started in the country music business.

"It's fun because you love what you do, but it's like any job, you have to love what you do. And we've found what we want to do for the rest of our lives and that's what we're doing. That makes us happy," Darrion told us.

So what is it about country music that stirs people to leave their homes and come here and make a go of it; and causes fans to buy CD's in the millions?

“It's real music, it talks about real people,” said Darrion. “Real subjects, you can understand all the words. There's stories involved.”

Country music started with America's early settlers, as depicted in a Thomas Hart Benton painting, displayed in the rotunda of the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame has on display some of the instruments used by those settlers and some of the clothes worn by those who made country music popular in the early years.

As night falls in downtown Nashville, the honky tonks really come alive.

"Honky tonk is just real true traditional country music,” says Maury Wheatley, an unofficial and impromptu Nashville promoter. "Waste your money on a little bit of beer and have a good time with the ladies."

Out on the street, three musicians who barely know each other come together for a bluegrass number.

Moments later they're joined by two others. It seems like everyone here has country music in their blood.

People from all over the world come to Nashville looking for good country music, a true honky tonk, and a little space on the dance floor -- and what they find is America.