A lot of people sneer at Twang Town—until they get here.
Nashville’s music pros are accustomed to The Attitude. We understand that people from other places think we’re a bunch of barefoot, tobacco-spittin’ rednecks with camo-painted pickup trucks and surgically implanted Telecasters. And frankly, country records and music videos over the past several years haven’t done a lot to dispel that image. So we get it.
Fortunately, we also know that The Attitude tends to melt away when our more-sophisticated brethren hang around long enough see what the city is all about—which is music, and I mean music of all kinds. The famed honky-tonks on Broadway are just a few blocks from the Symphony Center; trust me, it’s not all chicken pickin’. So while I’m not the Chamber of Commerce, I’d like to help the skeptics out there understand why Nashville, in addition to being the greatest place for guitar players, is cooler than you think it is.
1. It’s a music-centric culture.
Not everyone in Nashville plays music. But everybody knows somebody who either plays, sings, writes, publishes, engineers, manages, runs a label, practices music law or is otherwise associated with the music business. As a result, even the stodgiest bluebloods have an appreciation for musicians and their financial impact on the local economy. Which means that creatives aren’t pitied or simply tolerated—we actually belong.
2. Guitar players here are really good.
An old friend of mine often says, “I thought I was a guitar player until I moved to Nashville.” This is a Mecca for great pickers and they excel in a variety of styles. With ample opportunities to hone their craft on both sessions and live gigs, these guys work with stars in every genre and they make it appear deceptively easy. They don’t just know how to play, they also know what to play. Let’s just say the bar is pretty high. Plus, pickers here tend to be very appreciative and supportive of each other (see #3).
3. People here are so damn nice!
Southern hospitality is legendary. Whether it’s the Bible Belt influence or because Southern children typically have manners drilled into them from birth, people with drawls tend to be more genteel. And so it is with Nashvillians. It isn’t a music business thing—but it extends into it. So even when you get shot down here, it’s not as brutal as it is other places. And hospitality—being nice—is infectious. After a short time here, you start wondering why the rest of the world can’t be this pleasant.
4. We have cool music stores.
In many places, Guitar Center is the hub of the retail music biz. Here, it’s where the amateurs go. The pros go to Corner Music, near Music Row, to get their day-to-day amps, guitars, strings, straps and pedals; to Gruhn Guitars or Carter Vintage Guitars to drool over the world’s finest vintage and custom guitars, mandolins and banjos; to Two Old Hippies, Cotten Music and Artisan Guitars for newer boutique acoustics (Collings, Santa Cruz, Breedlove, Bouergeois, etc.); and World Music for Taylor and Martins, and Fano and Nash electrics, among others. There are more, but these are a great start—and plenty to help you avoid the beginners trying to impress each other at Guitar Center.
5. No, it’s not all country … not by a long shot.
Jack White, Kings of Leon, Black Keys, Kelly Clarkson, Kid Rock, and Sheryl Crow aren’t here to trade their leather pants for overalls. They’re here to rock, write and record with other great writers and musicians who love the vibe here. It’s music, 24/7, if you want it (home studios are everywhere). They also love the fact that they can raise a family here. They can skip the paparazzi. They can go to a park, a store or a restaurant without getting hassled. They can be locals (as long as they learn to say “Thanks, y’all.”).
6. But if you want country, we got it.
Those Telecasters we mentioned … yeah, of course they’re here. Check out Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, Marty Stuart or Keith Urban if you want to hear what great country guitar sounds like. Or catch a show at the Station Inn for some break-neck bluegrass licks. There’s also a little thing here called the Grand Ole Opry, which has been broadcasting continuously since 1925. And being a writer’s town, just about every night is writers’ night somewhere. But if you really wanna get rocked (in a country-ish way), you need to catch the Time Jumpers (see #7). Unbelievable.
7. The Time Jumpers are THAT good.
You may not be aware how much you love Western swing. We can fix that. Every Monday night, a ten-piece band called The Time Jumpers takes the stage at 3rd & Lindsley and plays the hottest blend of country, jazz and swing you’ll ever hear. Start with the amazing three-fiddle, full-frontal attack, then get ready: Andy Reiss and Vince Gill on guitars, and Paul Franklin on steel, will leave you gasping and grinning. Ranger Doug Green plays killer rhythm on his old Stromberg, too. Be sure to pick your jaw up off the floor on your way out.
8. Schools here offer real-world music degrees.
Belmont University sits on a hill at one end of Music Row. Their commercial music students can study contemporary songwriting, engineering, performance and publishing with industry pros who’ve actually been there and done that. Student interns work at major labels and publishing companies and make serious contacts before they graduate. Alums include current music execs, country stars Brad Paisley and Trisha Yearwood, and American Idol finalist Melinda Doolittle. Or if you don’t mind a drive, 30 miles away in Murfreesboro, Middle Tennessee State University offers a similar—many say superior—program, in addition to one of the top multimedia journalism schools in the South.
9. There’s hallowed ground here.
Giants walked here. If you want to feel the vibe, stand on the center-stage circle at the Opry House, where Hank Williams, Chet Atkins and every other country legend has stood at one time or another. See a show (or tour backstage) at the Ryman Auditorium—then go across the alley and have a beer at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, where so many headliners loosened their pipes between shows. And if you stay long enough, you might bump into music veterans who worked with Elvis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash or dozens of other icons during their primes. Those are my favorite ghost stories, ever.
10. Everything else
We’re all about music, but Nashville isn’t some quaint little colony of bumpkin bohemians. It’s a surprisingly diverse hub of businesses and cultures. It’s home to 13 universities and colleges. There are pro sports, great restaurants and brewpubs (near and dear to my heart). Healthcare, insurance, financial and publishing industries are huge; tech jobs, auto manufacture, conventions and tourism are big players. Real estate has remained stable and reasonable, and there are several revitalized, trendy in-town neighborhoods, plus the usual uppity suburbs. Even the weather is cooperative, most of the time.
And then there are all these guitar players. As for other people’s attitudes toward us: No problem. We’re having too much fun to worry about it.