A History of Nashville’s Biggest Attractions
Anyone visiting Music City wants a chance to stand at the foot of the stage in one of the honky tonks lining Broadway, but not even the locals could tell you how these establishments got the label. What exactly is a honky tonk, anyway? And why the crazy name?
What’s In a Name?
The actual origin of the words “honky tonk” isn’t really known. One of our favorite theories is that “tonk” derived from a piano manufacturer, Ernest A. Tonk. San Francisco also featured huge music halls that served copious amounts of alcohol, and these dives were called honky tonks, too. Most agree that the honky tonks were theaters in the Wild West that featured risqué performances and the iconic piano.
How Honky Tonks Came to Nashville
Seems only right that Music City would feature huge music halls, right? Since the moment the area was settled, music has been a part of Nashville. Fiddlers and buck dancers are woven into the city’s tapestry alongside world-renowned heroes like Davy Crockett—who also played fiddle. When the Jubilee Singers from Fisk University sang for the Queen of England in the 1800s, she gave us our nickname, Music City. Then came the Ryman Auditorium, which was first known as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892.
The Ryman, which is still known as the Mother Church of Country Music, was the reason the honky tonks sprang up on Broadway. The artists who played the Ryman—or aspired to—liked to play in venues as close to the Mother Church as possible. In fact, instead of an encore, Johnny Cash liked to continue his show at Tootsie’s after the stage lights at the Ryman went down.
So now you know. Isn’t our city amazing? Don’t you want to live here?