March 31, 2018
By Will Webster

Nashville: Music City or Not?

It’s no secret that much of the general public has been conditioned to think of country music and Nashville as being inseparable from one another.
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The genre’s presence in the city is so rooted in tradition, and so much a part of the culture, that it’s plausible to assume no other music scene in the country, or perhaps even the world, has a closer relationship with its community.

But does such ingrained custom have the potential to breed inflexibility where musical diversity is concerned? On the surface it might appear to be so. However, representatives at venues across the city aren’t convinced that Nashville caters exclusively to artists who demand fiddle and steel in their music.

“Most people who are in the know realize that Nashville isn’t all rhinestones and belt buckles,” says Josh Billue, owner of Exit/In, a premier live entertainment spot since 1971. Billue feels that Nashville’s alt. rock scene is a reservoir of undiscovered talent on the cusp of blowing up. In order to help these locals showcase their chops, Exit/In hosts a bi-monthly concert series known as Rock the Block. “Nashville has so much talent it’s scary,” he attests. “By using Rock the Block, we can see new acts and figure out who we might be able to do a show with later, or have open up for a national act.”

Rocketown is another exciting venue that serves as a medium for younger alt. rock, punk or metal acts looking for exposure. Outreach director Ben Cissell claims Rocketown’s intention is to give the city’s youth a place to express itself, and that music often serves as the vehicle for expression. According to Cissell, many of Nashville’s budding local groups got their start by merely checking out a few performances at Rocketown and realizing that music was something they truly wanted to be a part of. “I’ve heard that Nashville will never break a great rock band, but I think that’s bunk because there are some unbelievable rock acts here,” he says.

Cissell does, however, acknowledge country music’s dominance in Music City. “Scenes never live up to the country scene here, and we’re always going to be dwarfed by it,” he asserts. “But it’s our motivation to break a band out of Nashville, and I think there are three or four that have what it takes.”

The city’s appetite for the “non-country” is also evident in concert sales for the one million sq ft. Bridgestone Arena, which was recently nominated for the 2007 PollStar Venue of the Year award.  “Nashville in the last 10 years has changed, and the entertainment industry is catching up,” claims Brock Jones, senior director of booking. Dierks Bentley, Brantley Gilbert, and Garth Brooks all had some of their highest grossing performances at the Bridgestone Arena this past year, according to Jones.

Ubiquitous talent aside, the truth of the matter remains that Nashville still doesn’t have the sort of non-country industry credibility that many feel it deserves. This isn’t to say that the city isn’t content and immensely proud of its country label – because it is. But the designation as Music City seems a bit unfair, considering how unbalanced the genre scale is. “Country Music City” seems more fitting, at least until non-traditional acts start blowing up.

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