Nashville, TN: Places of (Musical) Invention


Nashville has always referred to itself around
the world as music city, and I think we will forever be known as a country music capitol
of the world. But, music city, if you look at it from a distance, that’s a broad term.
Even if your genre of music isn’t big in Nashville, chances are the roots, where that music came
from, has had a place in Nashville. If you’re passionate enough about what you do, if you’re
good enough at what you do, all your dreams can come true in this town. There’s one city
that you can really call a music center, that’s built the economy, the city socially and economically,
and culturally; built on music, that’s Nashville. The Fisk school was established in 1866, with
the purpose of educating the freed slaves. The school was running out of money and was
about to be closed. They traveled all over the United States, and raised $20,000. Everybody
listened to opera. Then comes the Negro Spirituals, creating an entirely new form of music, an
entirely new form of art, and then taking that art all over the entire world. And it
started here, in this very building. (television playing, “you’ll hear the music of old time
fiddle, the singing, dancing, and fun of America’s greatest tradition in entertainment, the Grand
Ole Opry”) I think if you really go back to where it all began, I think we owe a lot to
an insurance company, believe it or not. The National Life and Accident Insurance Company
who owned radio station WSM, which stood for “We Shield Millions”. And when WSM started
a show on Saturday nights called the “WSM Barn Dance” to start with, and then later
when they called it the “Grand Ole Opry” for the first time, it kind of put roots down
here. When I first arrived in the city, I felt really lost, you know. I had a suitcase,
a suit and tie, and my mandolin case, and that’s all I had. And I thought, “well maybe
I’m in the wrong place”, so I went around to the other side of the Greyhound station
and came face to face with the Ryman Auditorium. And it almost made me cry, because that was
the place that I had listened to music come off of that stage and went straight to my
heart, with a fifty-thousand watt era behind it. There’s something about standing on that
stage, and the fact is it sounds fantastic, I mean people come from all over to play there,
and it’s one of the most beautiful sounding rooms. It’s a certain intangible, because
they kept it the sanctity of that inner room. You know that it’s going to sound exactly
as it did the night that Hank Williams first performed there. Everything else grew up here,
because the Grand Ole Opry was the trunk of the tree, it was the foundation, and the recording
studios came here, the entertainers came here, the songwriters came here, the production
people came here. Sixteenth and Seventeenth Avenue South was “Music Row”, and to me it
was like, you know, heaven. The thing about Nashville I think, that really makes it special,
is that, you know the music business is sort of concentrated on Music Row. My first manager
used to say to me “Kathy, Music Row was your college campus, this is where
you walked up and down the streets”. It was one tiny, it was about the size of a college
campus. You could stand on one corner and see all the major record labels when I moved
here, and there were six of them at the time. It’s the feel of the place, more than one,
or even two or three or a handful of places that makes the place feel right to me. As
long as there’s a community to it. We’ve survived and even flourished here in Nashville because
there is a community of musicians, and the whole network of it, and it’s very informal.
Musicians aren’t as comfortable in towering office buildings, it’s just not the way we,
sort of, roll. This town is very much still – in this neighborhood, I can certainly walk
out the door, knock on some door a block away, probably end up having a conversation, write
a song with some guy, and record it in his basement. I mean, it’s very much like that.
We call it “Little Big Town”, because it’s a city, but it’s so much smaller than New
York or L.A. So there’s a great quality of life aspect, a small town neighborhood kind
of feel, and access to world-class studios, and a pool of musicians and writers that’s
world-class. You know, I think when country music was being born, it was being born, it
was on the cusp, no one knew what was next. They were trying things out, and I think that
that spirit has remained. (music playing, “I don’t believe you, gonna be true, no one
could look as good as you”) I’ve a fondness for old sounds, you know, and history in music,
and Nashville just sort of fit the bill. I decided to move here, and it’s like, it’s
been the greatest, I love it here. Nashville has embraced that, others have embraced it,
the more we embrace our history, the more you find the support of true artists coming
in. Things are growing here, and there’s a good fire to it, there’s a good spirit to
it. That tells you a lot about a city that’ll allow, you know, music to grow organically,
and give bands a chance to go from relatively unknowns, like we were when we first started,
to getting a start on the walk of fame here. I think that’s what’s so special about Nashville,
is even if you’re new and you’re coming to town, the town has this energy, it has this
creative energy, that you never know who you’re going to bump into. You never know by what
you say to that person becomes the next hit on the radio. There’s just this thing, there’s
this thing there that I think is magical. Right now there’s some kid writing a song that five
years from now we’re going to be going “man, that was a classic song”, and I think the
future of Nashville is strong because you have a lot of artists that are doing that.
We’re not the last star that’s going to be out here, there’s going to be many, many,
more. Places like this are important, and it’s important to recognize them, so that
you won’t miss the others when they come along.

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