Whether Nashville’s reign as “It City” began with summer 2012’s GQ feature or The New York Times’s travel-section coronation in the early days of 2013, Music City has spent the better part of the last decade in the throes of an identity crisis. Corners like 12 South and Green Hills have fallen victim to the loftiness of their Tripadvisor rankings, casting out the likes of Nashville staples from Bread & Company to Las Paletas in favor of overpriced apartments and middlebrow corporate restaurants whose antiseptic, Holiday–Inn–Express aesthetic extended to the inevitable remodeling of everything around them. Others like East Nashville hallmark The East Room have leaned into their low-fi anti-authoritarian roots (vaxx cards be damned) in attempts to absolve themselves from the sins of their neighborhoods’ gentrification.
Despite its press coverage, the oft-cited battle for Nashville’s soul has long lacked a concrete strategy. Of course a city of our size and energy is prone to creative destruction, especially since 80 outsiders (or 150 or 3000 depending on the vagueness of sourcing) move here every day—most of whom likely employ the term creative destruction on a regular basis. As proponents of Ye Ole Nashville fight to to preserve the past, few seem to ask the hard questions concerning which establishments typify the authentic Athens of the South and which flex their faux street credibility to cater to touring elites—be they out-of-towner bachelorettes, internationally famous celebrities migrating for their brands, or that budding music producer on the Young Entertainment Professionals Facebook group who regularly reminds us for months he just moved to the city and wants to collab. In this series, we examine the role of Nashville’s iconic institutions and their true contributions to the creative culture and intellectual life that our city must preserve long after our It status fades.