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Surrounded by five of her closest friends and her sister, Denise Galvin sang and danced to a live band on a Friday evening in August at the packed Tootsie’s rooftop overlooking Lower Broadway.
Galvin donned gold beads and an “I got the hubby” tank top to celebrate her upcoming nuptials in her home state of Massachusetts.
The women were among scores of bachelorette groups swarming downtown streets that weekend, in a city that has quickly become synonymous with the pricey pre-wedding celebrations once most associated with Las Vegas.
“My bachelorette party just so happened to coincide with everyone else who is getting married and wanted to come here. But I’ve been wanting to come to Nashville a long time. I actually said to my Lyft driver earlier, ‘I’m not a cliché!’” Galvin said.
On any given weekend, these groups can be spotted on pedal taverns, at craft breweries and shopping at local boutiques. Although Nashville is a draw for bachelor parties as well, it’s the bachelorette parties sporting matching clothes, sashes or cheeky t-shirts that most stand out.
The Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. (CVC) doesn’t track data specific to bachelor and bachelorette parties, but the groups account for a fast-growing portion of the city’s leisure tourists and visitor spending, said CVC Chief Marketing Officer Deana Ivey. Leisure travelers make up 30 percent of Nashville’s overall tourist economy, which last year drew a record-high 13.5 million visitors and a whopping $5.4 billion in direct spending.
Ivey said the CVC hasn’t promoted Nashville as a destination for bachelor and bachelorette parties but the industry has grown with the city’s rising national profile.
The impact of bachelor and bachelorette parties ripples across the economy, from restaurants to retailers and hotels. According to a Priceline.com survey, one-third of bachelor and bachelorette party-goers spend more than $850 on travel-related costs alone.
“When they come in for a bachelorette party, they’re not just going to party or just going to hear the music; they’re going shopping, they’re going to eat, they’re getting out in the neighborhoods and enjoying the attractions and activities during the day,” Ivey said.
Robbie Goldsmith, founder of Bach Weekend, which plans exclusive 48-hour trips for bachelor and bachelorette parties, estimated an average of 150 of these groups visit Nashville every weekend. His business is on pace to work with more than 150 groups this year compared to fewer than 30 parties in 2013 when the company launched.
Some longtime residents are surprised by Nashville’s newfound popularity. But for Galvin — and countless other brides-to-be — the neon lights of Lower Broadway are the perfect backdrop for a weekend full of celebrating.
Here are seven things drawing these groups to Music City:
Forget the dresses and high heels: Nashville’s laid-back vibe is fit for anything from cowboy boots to baseball caps. The lack of a dress code requirement at most bars and restaurants is attractive to many visitors, including Galvin.
“I’m not a Vegas girl. It’s not my thing. Been there, done that. This is what I was looking for,” she said.
Galvin’s weekend itinerary, planned by Bach Weekend, included a guided bar crawl on Lower Broadway, a visit to the Belle Meade Plantation and a meal at Edley’s Bar-B-Que. During the Friday night bar crawl, the group of seven women wore shorts, matching tank tops, beads and sandals.
Nashville’s central location makes it easy to get to, helping people save money on travel costs.
The city is within a three to four hour drive from major metropolitan areas such as Birmingham, Ala., Atlanta, Ga. and Louisville, Ky. Goldsmith said many of the groups Bach Weekend works with drive to town.
That was the case for Sydney St.Clair and her friends, who made the four and a half hour drive from Braselton, Ga. to Nashville this summer for St.Clair’s bachelorette party — which she dubbed her “Nashlorette.”
“I’ve always heard Nashville is a blast and that tons of bridal parties celebrate there. We thought it would be fun to go to Music City and celebrate with a bunch of other brides-to-be,” St.Clair said.
Yes, Nashville hotel rates are some of the fastest growing in the country, but a bachelorette party in Nashville can be much less expensive than destinations such as Las Vegas, Miami or New York City.
The average daily rate at Nashville hotels so far this year is about $134, compared to $141 in Austin and $200 in New York City, according to data from STR. To save on lodging, some bachelor and bachelorette groups opt to stay in short-term rental properties.
“We are getting more expensive but still, in comparison to Vegas, you can visit for much cheaper,” Goldsmith said.
Chef-driven restaurants from Little Octopus to Josephine are raking in the accolades, while hot spots like Patterson House and Old Glory elevate Nashville’s cocktail scene. Even Lower Broadway honky tonks Acme Feed & Seed and Paradise Park make food a focal point.
“(Visitors) really enjoy dining in Nashville like a local. They really want to hit the Nashville hot spots for food and not so much the touristy chain spots,” Goldsmith said.
The thriving craft beer scene is also giving way to a new activity for bachelorette parties: brewery tours.
Adam Speyer, taproom general manager at Tennessee Brew Works, said two to three bachelorette parties visit the brewery every weekend.
St.Clair’s favorite part of her Nashville bachelorette party was kayaking into downtown on the Cumberland River.
“We liked that around Nashville there were other things to do, like the kayaking. One bridal party we talked to said they went zip lining. I thought that was super cool,” St.Clair said.
Goldsmith said other popular bachelorette activities include shopping at 12South retailers such as Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James and Holly Williams’ Whites Mercantile, visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and touring the Ryman Auditorium.
Nashville’s reputation as the country music capital is undeniably one of its biggest draws.
“The main reasons we think that (the bachelor and bachelorette) market has grown is it’s safe, it’s affordable, easily accessible, it’s fun (and) the music is so consumable,” Ivey said. “Everywhere you go there is live music all day every day and it just adds to the party.”
Galvin’s sister, Julianne Evenhus, said they wanted to come to Nashville to experience the live music scene.
“Everybody wants to go to Nashville. It’s the country music revolution. Everybody’s enjoying it,” Evenhus said. “Here in Boston and New England in the past five to 10 years, all the country music concerts have kicked it up a notch and they’re all very highly attended and highly anticipated.”
It’s hard to miss the lively bachelorette parties cruising downtown streets on Pedal Taverns, Nashville Party Barges and Sprocket Rockets.
Many Nashville businesses are embracing these pre-wedding festivities and the growth of the industry has even led to the launch of new companies, such as multiple concierge services that plan weekend trips.
The owner of the Big Bang Dueling Piano Bar at Lower Broadway said he started catering specifically to bachelorette parties and they are seeing dozens of them every weekend.
“We noticed a significant increase in bachelorette parties, decided to create VIP reservation packages, specialty drinks and even merchandise to target those groups that are in town celebrating. We have seen a lot of success with those targeted efforts,” owner Sam Leatherwood said.
Reach Lizzy Alfs at 615-726-5948 and on Twitter @lizzyalfs.