Historically, as an industry town, Nashville has had a hit-or-miss reputation as a place to see live music. But the city is currently in the midst of a renaissance, with a healthy cross section of clubs and venues that have managed to meld the old and the new.
“The great thing is, a lot of the places I went to early on to hear live music are still there,” Urban says. He points to places like 12th and Porter and the Exit/In, which have been Nashville staples for more than 25 years. But their mere presence isn’t the small victory: In all this time, they’ve barely changed.
“Those venues are still happening, and then there are slightly newer places, like the Cannery Ballroom — which used to be a real cannery and is now a club. Or Marathon Music Works, which used to be an automotive place for Marathon Motors that’s been transformed into a venue.”
The city’s downtown area, highlighted by the Lower Broadway section, offers a mix of tourist-oriented destinations (Ernest Tubb Record Shop, Tootsies Orchid Lounge and Robert’s Western World), local landmarks (Hatch Show Print, Gruhn Guitars) and a variety of venues, from the Schermerhorn Symphony Center to the historic Ryman Auditorium and the Bridgestone Arena, making it one of the more thriving entertainment corridors in the country.
“Downtown has really exploded but kept a lot of its heart,” Urban says. Currently, Nashville is in the midst of building a massive new convention center downtown, and it’s set to open in the spring of 2013. The city hopes the 1.2 million-square-foot, state-of-the-art complex will attract major industry events to the city. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t play host to the Grammys every so often,” Goodman says. “We’ll have the infrastructure in place — and we already generate eight hours of prime-time network programming from here. We feel like Nashville can be as viable a location as anywhere in the country.”
To musicians, the allure of Nashville has long been obvious. “You have a proximity to some of the best studios in the entire world; a proximity to some of the best musicians in the entire world and some of the best songwriters in the entire world,” says the Civil Wars’ John Paul White. “It’s kind of an easy call to come here.”
For others, it’s not just about career concerns but about the quality of life that Nashville affords. “This is a real family-oriented place,” says Urban, who has two daughters with Kidman. “I think when you’re in the South, there is a lot of focus on family. And Nashville’s great with that. Everybody we know has kids, and there’s a real priority on that, which suits us perfectly.”
From the city’s more bohemian East-Side neighborhoods to the pristine Hillsboro Village area, Nashville offers a living experience that’s both unique and familiar. “I live in a neighborhood with sidewalks and houses close together, just like the neighborhood I grew up in,” says the Black Keys’ Auerbach. “Certainly, there is Southernness here, which is totally different than what I’m used to, but there are a lot of really nice people around, so that doesn’t intimidate me.”
“It’s really all things to all people,” adds White. “If you want to put down roots and stay in one place, in this information age, you don’t have to be squatting right in the middle of New York or L.A. to be able to make things happen. We’re a lot more of a commuter nation. So, Nashville’s pretty much got everything you need.”
Travelers to Nashville can experience that same kind of variety. While there is no shortage of iconic destinations — the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum; Gaylord Opryland; and the Hermitage, home of former President Andrew Jackson — the city also boasts a trove of unexpected treasures, from the Frist Center for the Visual Arts to the Lane Motor Museum, which has the largest collection of European cars, motorcycles and one-off auto oddities in the United States.
Even as it retains its status as country music’s capital, Nashville continues to move in manifold directions. “We always acknowledge that country music has been the base of everything,” Dean says. “That’s a huge element that we’re extremely proud of. But it’s become increasingly clear that Nashville has a lot more to offer. We have a fairly comprehensive musical environment here and a diverse scene culturally. We feel we’re a truly multifaceted city, and that’s something we plan on letting people know about.”