A city built on honky-tonks can be a scary place in the sub-21 years. What's more, with all the recent federal crackdowns, the fake-ID route is a worse idea now more than ever. So what's a college kid to do to let the good times roll when there's a bouncer in between you and a sizable chunk of the good times? Here's a roundup of opportunities around Nashville for living it up on the level before the big 21.
Sundays At The Station Inn
The "music" in Music City typically refers to the country-radio industrial complex, but luckily it also means gems like The Station Inn. Located in the heart of The Gulch, The Station Inn is Nashville's premier venue for live bluegrass and traditional country music, definitely something to hear before the current "hey-girl-git'n-my-truck" style of country music makes you write off the tradition as a whole. Normally The Station Inn is 21+ unless accompanied by a guardian, but every Sunday night it hosts a free bluegrass jam session where Nashville's finest pickers and singers get together to make music and improvise a night of entertainment for whoever else decides to stop by. 402 12th Ave. S., Sundays 8-11:30 p.m.
Student Nights At The Frist
The Frist is Nashville's center for the visual arts, and while it's always open to all ages of the culturally curious, on Thursday and Friday evenings you can get in free with a student ID. According to the Frist's website, that's a $10 value, yours free for one easy payment of college tuition! In all seriousness, the Frist is a world-class operation and can really deliver in the challenge-your-life-perspective department, which hopefully is at least a small part of why you're in college. 919 Broadway, Thursdays and Fridays from 5-9 p.m.
Marathon Music Works
Marathon shouldn't be the only venue in your file for places that usually let in 18-year-olds, but it should be near the front. If you're going to be living in Nashville for a while, at some point somebody back home is going to ask, "Is there music in Nashville besides just country?" Expect to have this conversation roughly, oh, 10 million times. (Ten million and one, if the folks back home write New York Times travel pieces.) There's a world of amazing music both in and passing through Nashville that has nothing to with country, and Marathon's a veritable watering hole for indie, hip-hop, electronic dance, you name it. While it does book country acts from time to time, Marathon is a first-rate place to see what puts the music in Music City if you don't cotton to cowboy boots. Also check out 3rd & Lindsley, current home of the amazing Time Jumpers, and the skatepunk-underage hangout Rocketown, founded by contemporary Christian superstar Michael W. Smith. 1402 Clinton St.
Maybe it seems like a cheap trick for a guide to fun under 21 to say, "You can always try a movie night!" But there's a good case for it here. The Belcourt isn't some overgrown indoor carnival built to inject you with the latest speedball from the special-effects-porn-gasm industry. This is cinema, baby, real as it gets. Located a block from Vanderbilt in Hillsboro Village, The Belcourt is a nonprofit venue for film primarily, but it also hosts music and performing arts. Think laughing till you cry, crying till you laugh, and that soul lurch that comes only from film done right. Bring a date. Bring a friend. Bring yourself. 2102 Belcourt Ave.
Granted, a trip to the park probably won't be much relief to those frustrated by their inability to "go hard" on the town. But if you ever feel compelled to go ... what's the opposite of hard? (soft?), there's no real estate more prime for it than Nashville's twin Warner Parks, Edwin and Percy Warner, both ripe for bike rides, strolls and jogs. They're stretches of land so serene you might find yourself wondering what all the fuss about not being 21 was about in the first place. 7311 Highway 100