For AARP The Magazine’s cover, renowned celebrity photographer Jim Wright proposed shooting country music’s favorite couple, Vince Gill and Amy Grant, at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in Nashville. The gritty honky-tonk on Lower Broadway in downtown Music City dates back to the 1950s, when big-name performers like Jim Reeves and Faron Young would trek across the alley from the Mother Church of Country Music — Ryman Auditorium, then home of the Grand Ole Opry — between sets for a cold one at Tootsie’s. There, aspiring songwriters such as Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson would pitch them the tunes they’d written on tabletops and bar napkins.
Today, while the Ryman scene has moved out to the suburbs along with the Grand Ole Opry, Tootsie’s remains a hip hot spot where lucky up-and-coming country artists land showcases. The bar has held on to its history while reinventing itself, just as neo-traditionalist Vince Gill and contemporary-Christian singer Amy Grant have done, both professionally — remaining true to their genres while appealing to popular audiences — and personally, in a marriage that is the second for each of them, at the helm of a blended family.
At the Tootsie’s shoot, “Gill and Grant seemed very happy together,” says Alanna Nash, writer of the magazine's cover story. “Vince, who is often self-conscious being photographed, cracked jokes nonstop, especially about his size, but Amy, who hung close by him, had the calming effect she always has on him.” When the couple got up on the Tootsie’s stage to perform for the cameras — Gill strumming an acoustic guitar, Grant grasping an old-time radio mike — yellowed photos of country-music legends Hank Williams and Jim Reeves looked on. It was the perfect blend of then and now, in a city of artists who honor history while making music all their own.