Sunday, September 20, 2015

Nashville Skyline Rag

Back in July I was smoking a cigarette out on the fire escape of our vacation rental in downtown Nashville. It was late, or maybe early depending on what hours you keep. The heat of the day was radiating back at me from the old brickwork, the rust streaked metal still warm under my bare feet as I stood out there nursing my last can of Sam Adams and listening to the neon heartbeat of Lower Broad beating two blocks over. I think that was when I realized I had kind of fallen in love with the place. In an hour or so the sun would be up, the street cleaners hosing another rowdy night from the sidewalks outside the Honky-tonks and I would be sleeping it off, but that thought would endure.

Music City is just that. There must have been a dozen or more live bands playing within a five minute walk of where I was standing that night. While the bars of Lower Broadway and Second Avenue cater mainly for country-loving tourists, you can also find Blues, Rock, Jazz and pretty much everything in between if you care to look. There is a lot of history in Nashville, at least in musical terms. It might have once been a city that lived on that past, but now increasingly it lives in the moment.

Many who make the trip to the home of country music are on some kind of pilgrimage. That wasn’t why I came, I’m not really a fan of conventional country. I didn’t want to visit the hall of fame or the Opry, and I certainly didn't want to take a road trip out to Dollywood. My own personal hajji consisted of nothing more than maybe having a beer in the Tin Roof, the bar where Johnny Cash got loaded before famously kicking out the lights at the Ryman Auditorium (JR was many things and conventional wasn’t one of them.) Okay, so I guess the history played its part for me too, but it;s the kind of country present-day Nashville offers that interests me more. I was well aware of 'In the round' sessions at venues like The Listening Room and Bluebird CafĂ©. These have launched numerous careers and continue to showcase the wealth of local singer / songwriter talent, but what really surprised me was the quality of the acts playing the bars. These are accomplished and professional musicians in every sense except perhaps the most important one. Slots at the Honky-tonks mostly only pay in tips, or worse the bane of aspiring artists existence, exposure. 

Tom Petty once described modern country as bad rock music with a fiddle and once I might have been inclined to agree. It was Nashville based artists like Jason Isbell and Travis Meadows that changed my mind. I'm told that the city itself has changed too. Take a walk across the Shelby Street Bridge to the Eastside coffee shops and art galleries or wander around the artisan shops in the old Marathon Automobile factory and you can see this new vibrant Nashville for yourself. The town has a gravity all its own, which seems to be a draw for all kinds of creative people. Poets, artists, writers, and of course musicians now come from across the globe to work on their dreams by the banks of the Cumberland River. It might be the easy going nature of the place, or the need to be surrounded by like-minded people, who knows maybe it’s just the great BBQ. I’m not really sure what attracts them, but I know that whatever it is I felt it too.



  1. Very nice piece. I felt the same way in Memphis, St. Louis and such....

    1. Thanks man.We had hotel reservations in Memphis, but never made it that far, deciding instead to spend more time with family.
      I'd still like to get there one day. I'd also like to visit Austin and dip my toe in the music scene there.


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