Let the Sun Shine In 

Why Nashville could stand to be a little—just a little—like L.A.

Nashville is a city that goes to bed at night. The bars may close at 3 a.m., but after-hours hotspots are mostly an anomaly, and come Sunday, there’s nary a thing to do.
Nashville is a city that goes to bed at night. The bars may close at 3 a.m., but after-hours hotspots are mostly an anomaly, and come Sunday, there’s nary a thing to do. The rock clubs bear this out: go to a show on Sunday night at say, the Exit/In, and you’ll see a band grateful to have anyone show up at all. Nashville is a city that goes to bed at night. The bars may close at 3 a.m., but after-hours hotspots are mostly an anomaly, and come Sunday, there’s nary a thing to do. The rock clubs bear this out: go to a show on Sunday night at say, the Exit/In, and you’ll see a band grateful to have anyone show up at all. I recently moved back to Nashville from Los Angeles (cue eye-roll), but, surprisingly, in the two months since I’ve given up the glitter and the myth, I’ve seen more shows than I did in all six months combined in L.A. To be fair, it’s partly the logistics—in Nashville, every show isn’t a half-hour or more away, and here, the parking is mostly free. Here, a $10 cover is for a good show and a $6 beer had better be an import. Still, in L.A.’s fragmented and diverse music scene, there’s just something different in the air, and I’m not talking about the smog. There’s a palpable sense that something big is on the verge of happening, and indeed, try walking a few blocks out and a transgendered gang member-turned-actress is probably getting robbed. But seriously, L.A. is a city full of hustlers and dreamers, and you’re either trying to make it, or looking around frantically for someone who already has. Then you’re looking past that person for someone better to schmooze. At clubs in Hollywood like the Viper Room, show-going can become a little game. Can we get the leather-clad, stern-faced door guy to crack a smile tonight? Will he let us past the velvet rope without making us wait in a line comprised only of us, for a minimum—always a minimum—of five minutes before even acknowledging that we’re standing there? One night, the gatekeeper even iced someone who was in one of the bands. Once inside, will the bartender scoff when we ask for PBR in a can, and ask derisively if we’re “from Milwaukee or something”? Will anyone uncross their arms and actually dance when the band starts playing? What D-lister can we taunt silently by not acknowledging him? I returned to record humidity and a plethora of easy-access, low-cover-charge local shows like a free outdoor festival at Grimey’s and a Brooks & Dunn show at Ronnie Dunn’s ranch. And I realized that Nashville’s music scene—and its venues—give L.A. a run for its attitude in terms of the quality of acts lining up onstage. The problem is, we need about 9 million more folks on hand willing to take their chances on live music every night. Aside from a massive recruitment strategy, there’s not a lot we can do to increase the population. But we can look to L.A. to increase the show-going populace by tending to a few glaring holes in our own scene. A few ideas worth considering: The monthlong residency: Pick a band, any band. Give them a Monday night 9 p.m. slot with no cover charge, cheap beer prices and good advertising. Then sit back and watch them grow a fan base. It’s like an instant-draw kit for local bands. More local radio play: Hey, 102.9 the Buzz: Could ya play Bush’s “Glycerine” a little less and try incorporating just one local rock band’s song on the radio? If we can’t get our own local modern rock station to acknowledge our scene’s talent for more than two hours on a Sunday night, why should anyone else? Groupies: Watch any documentary on L.A.’s golden age of glam rock, or read We Got the Neutron Bomb, the oral history of L.A.’s punk scene. Time and time again, you’ll see the ladies stepping up to, er, foster the scene on multiple levels. It’s retrograde, to be sure, but yesterday’s groupies are today’s street teams. Put your friends on the guest list? Put ’em to work! Nothing looks cooler than a permanent entourage. Timing: Rock show start-time is an unpredictable thing, but if headlining local bands could cultivate an air of unpredictability before, say, midnight, you’d see a larger crowd willing to stick around longer. Shorter Sets: Yes, local bands are by nature ever present, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still master the art of supply and demand. Short, snappy, well-booked sets turn crowds into repeat offenders. Allow me to lean on the late, great Mitch Hedberg, who said: “As a comedian, you have to start a show strong and end the show strong. Those are the two key elements. You can’t be like pancakes, all exciting at first but at the end you’re fucking sick of them.” Yes, L.A. is a depraved pit of debauchery about to break off into the ocean, but their local music scene gets a few things right. Still, I’d never want Nashville to be L.A.—god knows we’ve got enough dudes in leather pants.

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