The only thing that’s been relatively consistent, over decades: People excitedly proclaiming that Nashville is “not just country music.”
It’s been said near, it’s been said far. It’s been printed in ink and blinked through ones and zeroes, again, and again, and again. It feels like people have been dropping this breaking news before Kings of Leon were courting Music Row, before Paramore was in feety pajamas. They were probably saying it back when George Jones was tooling around on his lawnmower.
It’s maddeningly consistent, to the point where it’s now mostly very, very funny.
Our alt-weekly, the Nashville Scene, seemed to think earlier this year that it’s finally waning: “That legacy seems to define us less and less each year as the ‘Not Just Country!’ travelogs have steadily given way to the ‘It City’ listicles that locals find just as groan-worthy.”
We love that wishful thinking, but won’t believe it until we really see it.
On that note, here’s a quick collection of some of the many, many ways we’ve been “not just country” over the years, including some pieces from days of yore, others that are painfully recent (and local). We know we missed a ton of them (the well is deep), but this should still paint a colorful picture of exactly how country we’re not just.
Way back in the halcyon days of 1993, it wasn’t quite so cringe-y to “not just country,” though the paper’s conclusion is certainly more true now than it was then: “It’s possible to find something to please everyone in Nashville.”
A tempered take from the Times, written back in 2002.
This one’s actually a thoroughly great essay from Nashville songwriter Marshall Chapman, who, even back in 2011, brought loud truth: “Nashville has long moved beyond the image perpetuated by Hee Haw. Nobody here wears overalls or pops up out of a cornfield shouting, ‘How-DEE!’ And no one has relatives who work in a rhinestone mine.”
An AP story from 2012 grabbed top rock-scene players, and punctuated with a painful (if shiny) pre-aughts observation: “The rock scene wasn’t bright enough for outsiders to see past the city’s rhinestone glitz.”
Somewhat unexpected perspective: MR, focused specifically on menswear, got drawn to Nashville in 2015, and saw the light: “It’s not just country music that Nashville folk are belting out these days: they’re singing the praises of fashion-forward menswear!” (Exclamation point ours; just felt right.)
Fair 2015 assessment from Vice’s Noisey: “While most people automatically assume that Nashville’s only specialty is twangy country, over the past ten years it’s undergone a musical renaissance. You could almost call it an overhaul, depending on what part of Nashville you happen to be in.”
This travel mag found the “not just” in 2015 too: “Nashville may be the genre’s epicenter, but that doesn’t mean honky tonks and the Grand Ole Opry are the only reasons to visit the city.”
U.K. paper The Guardian brought some uncomfortable perspective in 2016, about what “everyone” thinks: “Everyone thinks Nashville is a little honky-tonk town in the middle of Tennessee. It’s actually quite a commercial place, the beating heart of all the major record companies – there are cowboys walking around with guitars and Stetsons, but they tend to be commercial artists.”
“To all my faithful followers, all I can say is, ‘My boots are packed and I’m moving to Nashville!’ Well, not really, but let me share with you what has led to this yearning.” (Spoiler: It was country music.)
An extremely 2013 look at the local rock scene, from news site The Cheat Sheet, that hits all the heavy-hitters of the time, from Jack White to the Black Keys.
A fun 2013 roundup from this travel blog, most of it still applicable. But the intro brought some depressing insight into hair assumptions, which apparently persisted even that recently: “When most people think about Nashville, big hair and country music probably spring to mind. That’s certainly the way I thought Nashville was, until I visited.”
Breaking, in 2015, from crowd-content outlet The Odyssey: “It is slowly becoming a place where artists and musicians of all types can work and thrive.”
A local doing the (apparently still necessary) work in 2016: “While dispelling some of these rumors may make one sound like a broken record, it would surprise you how many tourists still come to Nashville and are — well, surprised, to find that Nashville is more culturally, culinarily, and sonically diverse than it gets credit for. We’re proud to represent country music and hot chicken, but there’s so much more to love about Music City.”
Worth, known for covering all manner of financial stuff, dug deep into our many non-country assets in 2016: “Long known primarily as a locus of country music, Nashville has in the past 10 or 15 years become not just one of the most culturally vibrant cities in the country, but also one of the most economically robust.”
We also have food. From 2016: “Nashville is famous for dulcet harmonies and whiskey-soaked ballads, but its new tune is daring cuisine and restaurants with patrons flying on private jets.”
One of our own news networks, in 2017. Sigh.
If you remember some particularly great “not just country” entries, please share — we’d love the reminders.
If you’re new to Nashville, and need help getting acquainted with how country or not-just country our city is, we’re always here to help. Reach ACRE here.
And if you’re thinking about setting roots, take a look at Nashville homes for sale.