One of the best places to hear live bands has to be Nashville's downtown.

Nashville Nights (PROMO)
The General Jackson Showboat slips under Nashville's skyline as it wheels along the Cumberland River.

There's a sixties-era pop-country song, "Nashville Cats," about the city's music scene. In it, singer-songwriter John Sebastian notes the astounding numbers and abilities of guitar pickers in Nashville. He goes on to exaggerate slightly that these phenomenal guitar gurus are able to find work before they're 2 years old.

I love that song. It's right on key, too, except for the part about guitar players getting work before they are 2. I can't recall any musician playing professionally until they were at least 3.

As an amateur musician, I've long entertained the fantasy of being "discovered." Until that happens, I'm happy to hear other musicians chase their dreams. Follow me to my favorite downtown honky-tonks.

Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, an iconic cubbyhole on Broadway, offers music of wildly variable quality (hey, there's no cover charge, so I'll take the risk). A few doors down from Tootsie's, Robert's Western World has the same setup but with a twist: Cowboy boots line one wall. As long as we're here, we might as well drop in on Legend's Corner. When I visit these three spots, I pick the place with the best band and stick around.

The District, which is set into renovated brick buildings along Second Avenue South between Broadway Street and Printer's Alley, is a lively part of downtown. I'll grab a burger and gawk at the guitars under glass at the Hard Rock Cafe on the corner of Broadway and Second. Then I'll scoot my boots over to Wildhorse Saloon for some line dancing.

Expect to see superstars such as Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, and all their kin at the hallowed Ryman Auditorium. Maybe one day I'll get the call to come join one of their bands. I'm getting a little old to play, but I'm never too old to spend a few nights being serenaded by Nashville.

For more information: Contact the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-657-6910 or Rates at the Union Station Hotel range $139-$189; call (615) 726-1001.This article is from the 2003 issue of Southern Living Favorites. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.