A new refrain
While Nashville has come far beyond hairspray and honkytonk, it will always sing a song for the Grand Ole days.
Immortalised by the songs of countless country music crooners, Nashville is a city that lives large in the collective imagination. A rhinestone-studded, cowboy boot-wearing, hairspray enhanced city of honky-tonk dive bars; nothing more than a onedimensional caricature of itself. However, in recent years something has shifted in the Music City. There is no denying that its hugely popular namesake television show and famous residents (Nicole! Taylor! Miley!) have influenced public opinion but Nashville has also become a sophisticated destination that, while still respecting its past (Johnny! Tammy! Dolly!), has evolved beyond a one-industry country music town. Today, it’s considered one of the three powerhouse cities of America’s entertainment industry; it’s rising in stature as a food destination; and it’s the new home to an exodus of the country’s young creative class who are transforming Nashville’s cultural life. “In the past five years the city has exploded,” says the famously flame-haired British supermodel-turned-musician Karen Elson, who moved to Nashville in 2006 on a whim with her then-husband, musician Jack White. “We loved that music permeates every part of life here but also the Nashvillian charm, good humour and lifestyle. A night here might begin with a gig at the Ryman Auditorium but will have you dancing from restaurant to dive bars in the company of some of the world’s most talented musicians.” Music was the initial attraction for folks like Elson and White, Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman, but it’s the city’s new creative energy that keeps them from yearning for New York or Los Angeles. White established his label Third Man Records in a once-derelict part of town that is now bursting with other recording studios, artist spaces, cafes and restaurants garnering national attention and accolades. “There was opportunity here to create a community around our restaurant that is more difficult in bigger cities,” says Philip Krajeck of Rolf and Daughters, a restaurant that has become a sensation for its Italy-via-Tennessee approach to food. At Rolf and Daughters and The Catbird Seat nearby, the gastronomic map is being redrawn in a region once known only for fried chicken. The importance of community and the town’s special heritage is a common refrain among all industries here, and this cross-pollination of new food, music and art scenes with the unmistakable Nashville style is what gives the city its hallmark. In today’s Music City, Edison bulbs are at ease with neon, coffee bars with dives, cowboy boots with bespoke leather goods and hot fried chicken with house-cured ham. The new Nashville is capturing the world’s imagination precisely because of, and not in spite of, its own storied songbook. ››
clockwise: musicians at food and music venue Puckett’s. Hot fried chicken at Prince’s. The exterior of Rolf and Daughters restaurant. A customer at Rolf and Daughters.