Artists Flock To The New Nashville

Music City is home to top talent from all genres, including the Black Keys, Ke$ha and Jack White, among others
  • Photo: John Shearer/WireImage.com
    The Black Keys
  • Photo: Scott Legato/WireImage.com
    Jack White
  • Photo: Frederick Breedon IV/WireImage.com
    Kings Of Leon are inducted into the Music City Walk of Fame
  • Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images
    Ke$ha
  • Rahsaan Barber
December 04, 2012 -- 3:44 pm PST
By Lisa Zhito / GRAMMY.com

That crashing noise you heard in 2011 was the music world's jaw dropping as Rolling Stone declared Nashville home to America's best music scene. While the city still maintains a large piece of country music history, and boasts some of the best honky-tonk spots in the nation, Nashville has outgrown its status as a country music-only destination. Artists ranging from the Black Keys and Sheryl Crow to Ke$ha, Kings Of Leon, Jack White, and Young Buck have flocked to Nashville, helping to diversify the city's musical image.

"There are so many genres represented in Nashville now," says Susan Stewart, The Recording Academy's South Regional Director. "Last year Nashville had GRAMMY nominees in just about every Field, from Spoken Word and Children's, to Rock, Pop, Classical, American Roots Music, Production, Country, and Gospel/Contemporary Christian Music. It's all across the board."

The Recording Academy recognized the need for a Nashville office in 1964 when it launched the Nashville Chapter. Situated on Music Row, the Chapter has grown to include more than 2,400 members. Given the organization's strong local ties, Nashville was the perfect place for The Academy to host its annual "The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!! — Countdown To Music's Biggest Night." Hosted by LL Cool J and Taylor Swift, the concert will take place live for the first time on Dec. 5 at Bridgestone Arena, with performances by artists such as Luke Bryan and Ne-Yo, plus a special tribute to one of Nashville's very own, the late Johnny Cash, by the Band Perry and Dierks Bentley.  

"Our brand is Music City," says Nashville Mayor Karl Dean. "If you say 'Nashville,' people all over the world immediately think of music and, for the most part, country music because that's how we got started and it's something we're very proud of. But it's important to remind people that Nashville is a center for all types of music. A visitor to our city or somebody who wants to go into music can find everything they need here."

For the musicians who currently live and work in Nashville, the town has a creative spirit unlike anywhere else.

"I wanted to live down south when I was trying to leave Detroit," Jack White told the Nashville Scene in 2011, just two years after moving his Third Man Records to the city. "I kept finding myself working in Nashville for reasons out of my control. And it sort of just hit me over the head: There's a reason I keep coming here."

Nashville native and saxophone player Rahsaan Barber, who launched his Jazz Music City label last year, spent several years studying and working in New York. When he decided to return home, his New Yorker friends told him it was "career suicide."

"But Nashville is kind of the perfect town because it allows you to think really freely," Barber says.

For example, when Barber wanted to put together a "hip-hop-New-Orleans-style brass band" for a concert to launch his label, no one in Nashville called him crazy.

"To be able to say, 'How about this?' and six weeks later it's onstage? There's nowhere else you can do that," he says. "For people that are open-minded and creative, this town offers something [unique]. There's that kind of culture here."

"[Nashville is] really pretty cool and it's very much its own thing," the Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach told the Associated Press in September. A native of Columbus, Ohio, Auerbach operates his Nashville-based Easy Eye Sound studio, which has hosted recording sessions by artists such as Jeff The Brotherhood and Grace Potter & The Nocturnals.

"Nashville is one of the few places that still is this kind of organic, holistic music community," explains veteran label executive and Nashville native Randy Goodman.

The former head of RCA Label Group and Lyric Street Records, Goodman co-chairs the Music City Music Council, a business group formed to spread awareness of Nashville as a global music center. Many creative people are drawn to Nashville for "quality of life" reasons, says Goodman.

Music Row, which is home to Nashville's industry infrastructure, traditionally served the country and contemporary Christian music and gospel genres. Goodman says one can now find managers, agencies and business managers serving Nashville's broader talent base.

"Now you've got someone like Ken Levitan, a Nashville-based artist manager who moved here from New York [and] manages Ke$ha and Kings Of Leon, as well as Trace Adkins, Hank [Williams] Jr. and Emmylou Harris."

With a thriving population of artist residents, Nashville has no plans to hand over its Music City crown. In early 2013, the first tenants will begin moving into Ryman Lofts, the city's first affordable housing community just for artists and musicians.

"I think it will help us retain our position as a city that's incredibly attractive to creative people," says Dean. "People moving here will have an affordable place to live."

"It's important to be seen as a city of creative people," says Ralph Schulz, president of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. "Young people and young professionals are looking for places that pop. And creativity is what makes things pop. It attracts talent of all kinds to this city."

(Lisa Zhito is a Nashville-based freelancer covering travel, arts and entertainment.)