THE SKYLINE OF NASHVILLE IS NEARLY half buildings and half cranes this summer. Driving over the Veterans bridge into the chaos of downtown is like driving into a different city, a city that seems to morph into a different version of itself every few weeks. For a longtime East Nashvillian like myself, we tend to pride ourselves on staying on our side of the river as much as possible. But for us musicians, most of the music venues in town are across the river, and we venture often into the “other” Nashville.
My first show in town was opening for fellow Memphis singer/songwriter Cory Branan in 2004 at The Sutler, a few years before I moved to town. Since then I have played probably a dozen rooms in town: The Basement, 3rd and Lindsley, Mercy Lounge, The Rutledge, TPAC, Cannery Ballroom, Exit/In, The Ryman, and others. Ten years ago, like most touring acts, I feared when the tour came home to Nashville for a night. It always felt as if the crowd acted more like American Idol judges than fans — arms crossed, critiquing my songs, pitch, and stage presence. That reality and reputation have long since faded away. Now, the rooms are full of earnest music-loving immigrants from California to Florida and everywhere in between, many of whom have either been on those stages themselves or hope to be.
There are lots of voices in town with opposing opinions about the rapid growth this city is experiencing, but this change in the live music scene has been nothing but great. This summer marks the opening of the new Ascend Amphitheater, which, in my humble opinion, is an incredible addition to the city, giving bands who are too big for the Ryman, but don’t want the arena confines of the Bridgestone, a home in Music City. I am opening for my good (and severely underrated) friends Needtobreathe on Aug 14 at the Ascend. We’ve played amphitheaters across the country all summer. Most of them are in unimaginative suburban landscapes, nowhere near the beating heart of the city they inhabit. But Nashville got this right. As our city grows, a lot of the powers that be are making cultural investments a significant part of the growth.
As much as I am excited to play the new Amphitheater, I think I’m more excited as a fan to go see a show there. The lineup right now leans heavily towards veterans, but I am pretty thrilled imagining the prospect of riding a bike across the bridge later this summer, and hopefully dancing my ass off under the evening sun to Earth Wind and Fire playing “Let’s Groove.”