Canadian-born, New Zealand-based country music star Tami Neilson gives her guide to the best of America's Music City.

When was your first visit to Nashville?

I lived in Nashville on and off throughout my teens/early 20s with my family band when we were touring as The Neilsons. The first time, we pulled up in our motorhome/tour bus and rented a spot in a local trailer park while we played shows around town. It doesn't get more country than that, y'all. We eventually were hired to perform for a season on the General Jackson riverboat cruise, which still runs two shows daily. It was recently featured in an episode of the


TV series.


As a country music artist and fan, does Nashville live up to expectations?
It's not called Music City, USA for nothing. On one hand, it holds all the magic, romance and legend of the artists, songs and stories that have come from it - music pours from every honky tonk on Broadway as you walk past. On the other, it holds the reality of a factory town, where the product being churned out is music and every waitress who serves you coffee, every cashier at Walmart, has left their home, moved there and is hustling, writing, playing and trying to make it. As a country artist, it can be the most exciting city on Earth and the most discouraging city, all at the same time.

What's your favourite performance venue?
I haven't performed at my favourite venue yet - The Ryman Auditorium. It's on my bucket list - the ultimate goal; the Carnegie Hall to every artist who grew up in country music. The Bluebird is a tiny little hole in the wall that usually has a queue around the building to get in. As a songwriter, it was so exciting to play there as a teenager. But, the closest venue to my heart is a live radio show called Nashville Cowboy Church, which is broadcast live every Sunday morning on WSM at the Texas Troubadour theatre, hosted by family friends Joanne Cash (Johnny's baby sister) and her husband, Pastor Harry Yates. It's 50 minutes of gospel music and 10 minutes of preaching at the end. No matter what your faith or beliefs, it is an experience that is uniquely South - one of their T-shirts says, "There's nothing more American than Cowboys and Church." It's just
too good.

And where's the best place for a good night out dancing?

I would actually avoid the obvious honky-tonks downtown like Roberts and Tootsies and head straight out to Goodlettsville to an unassuming little building called The Long Hollow Jamboree. It's down-home cooking; cornbread, black-eyed peas and homemade pies, mixed with a big old wooden dance floor for live music. It's where all the locals go to two-step and waltz to the local bluegrass or old-time country band. Families and older folks (who actually know how to dance and are wonderful to watch) frequent the place and it makes for an amazing atmosphere. We played there once when I was a teenager, opening the set for the King of Bluegrass, Mr Bill Monroe.

What's the first thing you do when you arrive in Nashville?
Smile, because it feels like coming home. Then, find the closest Whitt's Barbecue joint and order the pulled pork, coleslaw and potato salad with a pack of white buns.

Besides music, what else is there to do around town?
I'm afraid you're talking to the wrong girl about the wrong town if it's something besides music. Even if you're not into music, you'll still love exploring a southern city so rich with history. The Country Music Hall of Fame is state of the art, housing artifacts from Dylan to Dolly. I also can't recommend highly enough a tour of the Ryman. They have a wonderful digital presentation on a self-led tour that fills you in on the history of the wild river town, the journey of the building from a church to a world-renowned music venue and the woman who booked the shows, as well as the story of the Grand Ole Opry, which was hosted there. It's been beautifully restored and walking the hallowed halls where so many greats have walked, bathed in the rainbow reflection of the stained-glass windows, is an almost sacred experience.

Where would you go to sample some authentic southern cuisine?
You cannot miss the iconic Loveless Cafe. Head a few miles out on HWY 100, towards Memphis and you'll see the old neon sign, like an old American movie prop, beckoning you in for "Hot Biscuits, Country Ham". The history of this restaurant that started in 1951 is reason enough to make it a destination, but, the food is to die for. It has been lauded by USA Today as America's Top Down-Home Dining Spot. Do yourself a favour and get some fried green tomatoes, fried chicken, country ham and gravy and enough biscuits to sample all four flavours of their homemade jam. (Damn, my mouth is watering writing all this!)

Where's the best part of town to stay?
I like staying a wee bit out of downtown (15 minutes), away from noise and the bustle of the city nightlife at an Airbnb. When you're on tour, it's so nice to be able to buy some groceries, do your laundry and stay somewhere like home.

If you're there for 24 hours you can't miss . . .
The Grand Ole Opry! It's the world's longest-running US radio show, broadcasting live country music for almost 100 years. You cannot miss sitting in that audience and being a part of that history.

But if you're there for longer you should also check out . . .

All the iconic record shops like Grimey's and Ernest Tubb Record Shop. Third Man Records downtown on 7th Ave houses shelves of vinyl and cool collectibles from Jack White's label. You can also record a song in his antique Voice-O-Matic recording booth from the 1940s. You get 2.5 minutes, one live take, and you can watch as it cuts the little record while you wait. Neil Young recorded his entire

A Letter Home

album in there. I squashed in with a guitar and one band member (it's about the size of a phone booth), while the rest of the guys sang harmonies with the door propped open and all the customers in the shop hushed and watching! We cut two songs, which will be out via Southbound in New Zealand as a special Christmas release for fans.

People who live in Nashville are . . .
Some of the most salt-of-the-earth, friendliest people you will ever meet.

New Zealanders will love Nashville because . . .
It is such a quintessential southern states experience for people who love history, food and music!

Fact box
American Airlines flies to Nashville, via Los Angeles, with return Economy Class fares starting from $1847.
Watch Tami Neilson performing live at the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards, where she is also nominated for Album of the Year and Best Female Solo Artist, Thursday, November 17, 8.30pm on TV3.