I’ve lived in Nashville, TN for eight summers, and I’ve never seen the downtown Independence Day festivities. There are many excuses ranging from the legitimate (visiting family out of town) to the bogus (having a slight distaste for huge crowds). However, with nothing else to do and rain nearly but not quite in the forecast, 2017 was the year that ended at least one embarrassing streak in my life!
Why Nashville Fireworks?
At some point during the past few years, Nashville ascended to become the best firework display in the entire United States. It’s true! We’re even rated better than Washington D.C. In fact, the foreigners behind me chattered about how special this particular display was. In their country, THEY knew that Nashville fireworks are the best in the United States. Think about that. When you’re internationally recognized for being the best, there’s a little more solid foundation for the claim to fame. I’ve not attended other major celebrations to compare and contrast, but I can share the many reasons to consider Nashville over other U.S. cities.
- The entire show is 30 minutes. Not impressed? That’s 30 minutes entirely synced and choreographed to the Nashville Symphony. It’s like a fiery airborne Dancing with the Stars. Except the stars are really stars…and burning hot glowing embers that damage your eardrums by exploding.
- Music City USA has the musical connections to have concerts during the day and night. Naturally, downtown Nashville has a huge bar scene. (I advise visitors to just walk down Broadway until they hear a band they like.) But there’s also the ringers like Chris Young and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band for the main stage of the day. Rest assured, Nashville’s feature performers pack a musical punch in your ears. (As if the fireworks explosions aren’t enough.)
- Food trucks galore! Did you know that Nashville is becoming a food mecca? I mentioned the growing food culture in my recent post about the Nashville Farmers Market. The map for the 2017 festival shows no less than six locations for food trucks, and that’s not including normal food pop-up tents and restaurants!
- Tons of awesome places to watch the show exist since the Nashville fireworks are centered just outside of Nissan Stadium overlooking the Cumberland River. Locations vary from the Ascend Amphitheater with the Nashville Symphony and Riverfront Park to bridges and riverboats. I even saw office and construction workers staking out positions in their respective workplaces! And if you have the money, you can spend $50-200 for access to one of several rooftop bars. Really high rollers can pay $5000 for VIP tickets at the George Jones Museum and rooftop. I am not a high roller and will NOT be spending $5000 for a ticket. There isn’t a bad location in the area. Unless you decide to sit behind a building. (PRO TIP: Don’t sit behind a building.)
Nashville Fireworks Strategy
Let’s get to some Nashville Fireworks strategy so that you can enjoy the best possible day.
- Day Entertainment & Families – Nashville will have food trucks and vendors in addition to the normal restaurant food fare. Some are phenomenal options like The Grilled Cheeserie. There’s also a kid-friendly zone of inflatables. Is that alone enough to fill an afternoon? Probably not. Unless you aim to hop from bar to bar or explore open museums, feel free to arrive later in the day.
- On that note, I personally characterize Nashville’s downtown as “adult” with few kid-friendly options (although a great option is The Fritz Center for Visual Arts south of the Lower Broadway/Bridgestone Arena district). Each of the numerous bars is required to check your ID and age for admittance. Remember these little facts and plan your time accordingly if you are bringing children.
- Crowd Growth – The crowds on the street are lighter during the day. However, they rapidly grow from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. I do advise to pick your Nashville fireworks viewing spot by around 7:00 p.m. (2.5 hours before the show) so that you have your best choice and can relax with an awesome view. I picked my spot around this time and had “front row” viewing privileges for my selection. I would not have secured this position had I waited much longer.
- Viewing Options – What IS your best choice? Like I said, there are several options; and none are truly awful. Some are absolutely spectacular! Let’s review a few a little more explicitly.
- The Ascend Amphitheater with the Nashville Symphony deals with a slightly obscured view due to bridges being in the way. However, it has a live symphony performance for free which makes this location a great option.
- Riverfront Park is front and center to the main display across from Nissan Stadium. If you don’t mind perching on grass and looking up into the sky, this could be a great option. Make sure to bring either a tailgating collapsible chair or a blanket on which you can sit/lay down.
- The John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge (my choice!) or the Korean Veterans Memorial Bridge both offer views that are a little more elevated so that your neck doesn’t become strained from looking up. The Korean Veterans Memorial Bridge has the benefit of being able to see dual fireworks displays though the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge has the better and closer view of the main fireworks.
- Several rooftop bars downtown have great vantage points of the fireworks; however, these can be pricey options. The least expensive is Rock Bottom Brewery at $10 on a first come, first serve basis. To my knowledge, the most expensive is the aforementioned George Jones Museum $5000 VIP ticket (though you can secure tickets at this venue for just over $200 as well).
- General Jackson Showboat is a great options for river lovers. Normal night excursions cost $60-135 as of the writing of this blog entry; expect to pay a premium price in advance for a high demand ticket. This boat will perch near Riverfront Park making the view a great option.
- Personal boaters are also allowed on the river in certain locations. However, some boat viewing positions seemingly create an awkward side angle which makes me question if this is really a good viewing option. The showboat definitely has the best view of all boat options.
- Waiting for Fireworks – With 2.5 hours to kill and your cell phone not working, what should you do? Make a new friend! If you’re flying solo like yours truly, make friends with your fireworks viewing neighbors. I personally met an awesome couple from Huntsville, Alabama. I was able to share my Space Camp adventure with them; they taught me about new things happening in the city that even I didn’t know!
- Yes, I said your cell phone won’t work. The sheer number of people downtown will overload the cell phone towers. Do not expect to have great service; I was unable to surf the Internet or upload much to Instagram and Snapchat. I even had a text message fail to send. So socialize already!
- Parking & Exit Strategies – Plan your parking strategy. I know Nashville pretty well, but my parking reeked of rookie-dom. Although I planned a great spot from which I could escape downtown (the $10 courthouse parking garage on the James Robertson Parkway), I couldn’t escape the garage for FORTY MINUTES. That’s right. I sat in a parking garage in near-standstill “traffic” for forty minutes. Ridiculous. Once I actually escaped and turned onto a road, things were smooth sailing. I’ll plan exit strategies better next time. With 150,000-250,000 people in attendance annually, traffic is an issue.
- I will add that part of your parking strategy can be the bridges and rooftops vantage points. These allow you to see the crowd’s exit flow so you’re prepared to tackle crowd flows more easily. I used this strategy and had minimal problems crossing a large mass of people to return to my vehicle.
- Though expensive, consider staying downtown so that your “exit strategy” merely entails walking back to your hotel.
- Lyft or the Nashville MTA bus system (depending on your destination) may also be alternatives to going back to a more distant hotel or home.
- Check Your Key Resource – Finally, make sure you check Visit Music City and its social media for up-to-the-minute details so you make this the best trip possible.
So there you have it–my best tips typed deep into the night on minimal sleep (you know, while I can still remember them all)! Did you attend this year’s (or any year’s) Nashville Fireworks display on Independence Day? What tips can you add to the above list? Comment below, and let’s hear them! I’m eager to make some updates and alterations for next year!
Until next time…toodles!