Rolling Stone


As Nashville continues to change at lightning speed, Robert’s Western World is carrying the torch for classic country music


Brennen Leigh was visiting Nashville about a decade ago when the Minnesotar­aised songwriter wandered into ROBERT’S WESTERN WORLD, a neon-lit honky-tonk in Nashville’s quickly evolving Lower Broadway entertainm­ent district. Inside Robert’s, however, time stood still. Fried bologna sandwiches sizzled on the flattop, Pabst Blue Ribbon cans lined the bar, and twangy country music filled the narrow room.

“The band was playing Marty Robbins and classic country I really liked,” Leigh says. “I thought, ‘Well, this is heaven.’ ”

Little has changed at Robert’s since then. Located amid a sea of party buses, nightclubs branded after contempora­ry stars like Jason Aldean, and cover bands playing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Robert’s Western World serves as a stubborn symbol of history and traditiona­lism in a city that’s become defined by aggressive developmen­t.

Joshua Hedley, who has performed consistent­ly at Robert’s for 17 years, says people come to the club for that reliabilit­y. “They know what they’re going to get,” he says. “They’re going to get old Nashville, a real honkytonk experience.”

Robert’s Rhinestone Western Wear opened circa 1992 as a boot-and-clothing store — boots still line the walls today — but the shop gradually transforme­d into a music venue that fostered influentia­l country bands like BR5-49. By the time current owner Jesse-Lee Jones took over in 1999, the bar had cemented its status as a honky-tonk haven. It’s the type of place you make a pilgrimage to.

Emily Ann Jones, Robert’s general manager and Jones’ wife, carefully presides over her husband’s preservati­onist vision. When a food rep tried to upgrade the bar’s ketchup to a trendy new brand, she was aghast. “I was like, ‘Oh, no, what is this?’ ” she says. “We can’t do fancy ketchup. We’re Robert’s!”

She’s also regularly fielding, and turning down, offers to open new locations — in Texas, Las Vegas, Nashville’s airport. According to Jones, any offshoot can’t be called Robert’s Western World. “There’s only one original,” she says.

That one-of-a-kind reputation is why rock stars like Sting and Joe Walsh all make a point to stop by when in town, and why Nashville hitmakers like Dierks Bentley remain regulars. But it’s the bar’s sturdy rotation of world-class musicians — from Hedley and Leigh to Sarah Gayle Meech and Jones’ longrunnin­g group Brazilbill­y — that keeps the heart of Robert’s beating, even as gentrifica­tion erases some of Nashville’s musical history.

“All these legendary places are going to get forced out,” says Hedley, who paid tribute to Robert’s by pressing his new album, Neon Blue, in bologna-colored vinyl. “Jesse is never going to allow that to happen to Robert’s. It’s nice to know it’s always going to be there.”

 ?? ?? Sarah Gayle Meech performs regularly at Robert’s.
Sarah Gayle Meech performs regularly at Robert’s.
 ?? ?? NEON BOOT
Robert’s first opened as a bootand clothing store.
NEON BOOT Robert’s first opened as a bootand clothing store.
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