The new “It City.” That designation was bestowed upon Nashville by the New York Times in 2013 but is now the apparent collective self-image of our town. In attending and viewing recent mayoral forums and debates, it seemed to me that the frequency of references to Nashville as the “it city” by all seven candidates began to approach songwriter John Sebastian’s estimate of the number of guitar pickers in Nashville in his song Nashville Cats (1,352). A few of the candidates even had trouble coming up with the name of any song that represents Nashville when asked to do so. The volume of construction cranes cropping up on an apparent hourly basis to change the landscape also looks to be approaching Sebastian’s estimate of pickers, if it hasn’t already exceeded it.
Nashville may be “It” city to some but it is still Music City to me. In the spirit of “dancin’ with the one that brung you,” we mustn’t forget that music is still our calling card to the world. The blues and country music legacies of Nashville are something to remember, to be loyal to and to respect. I realize that we were the capital city of Tennessee and the Athens of the South before we were Music City, USA. However, it was Roy Acuff’s fiddle, Bill Monroe’s mandolin, and the country blues of Hank Williams and Deford Bailey that took us to worldwide recognition.
Despite the trendy restaurants and high-rise “mixed use” condos and retail space in our old railroad gulch, the one-story Station Inn still holds forth as that area’s best known
establishment, delivering world-class bluegrass on a nightly basis.
Contrary to the opinion expressed by some newcomers and non-residents that the songwriting mecca the Bluebird Café was made famous by the three year old ABC TV series Nashville, the iconic music venue opened in 1982 and has been the gold standard for performing songwriters ever since.
From Garth Brooks and Keith Urban to others who are known to most only by the hits they have written, the writers who play their own songs at the small café speak of it in almost reverent tones. The Bluebird stage was the site of my first Nashville performance in 1987 and I’m still proud to play there every time the opportunity arises.
In 1983 when I was a radio news director visiting Nashville, I interviewed Roy Acuff in his dressing room at the Grand Ole Opry. He told me that there was a time when many in Nashville didn’t want to acknowledge the Opry because of the backwoods image they perceived it gave to the city. Mr. Acuff was happy that the attitude toward country music had changed among those in “society.” The Opry has existed since 1925 in many locations including the Belcourt Theatre, the Ryman Auditorium and its longest point of residency, the Grand Ole Opry House which opened in 1974. The success and longevity of that show is due in part to its continual broadcast on WSM AM, a 50,000 watt radio station. WSM’s strong signal sent country music direct from Nashville, Tennessee to as close to a nationwide audience as possible in pre-television, pre-cable and pre-internet signal days. The Opry may have been the only reason many listeners had ever heard of Nashville in the show’s early years and, probably, through the 1970s.
The Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs classic song Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’ just came into my mind. Let us not forget who brought us to the dance and helped us become the “It” city (whatever that really means). “It” is still music for me.
Text and photos copyright 2015 by Les Kerr