Last year, a group of local twentysomethings found themselves up late on July 4 and the talk eventually turned to MySpace. The site, they complained, had become a pimped-out homage to Girls Gone Wild, where friend counts were a meaningless representation of real-life socializing. Cyberjerks abounded, and once-valued features like bulletins and messaging were routinely abused. They envisioned a site where only real friends were members, where they could notify each other about events and be fairly sure the people who showed up would be a lot like them. But what initially included only the core group’s 50 closest friends has since expanded to over 600 people—some of whom are as far away as Sweden. Now everyone’s asking, “What’s Buddytown, and how do I get in?”
It’s Nashville’s own members-only social networking site, and you gotta be invited. Once you’re in, you get but one invite to extend to someone else. Think of it as your plus-one to a buzzed-about show—you’re not gonna waste it on just anybody. “For some people, it’s a tough decision who to invite,” says co-founder Paul Hinman, a lanky 23-year-old who also spins at the Buddytown parties under the name DJ Tanner. “We have people who say, ‘I invited someone and they’re a douchebag, or they don’t use the site—can I have my invite back?’ And we say ‘no, you had your one invite and you used it.’ ”
The site just celebrated its one-year anniversary, though Hinman and co-founder/web developer Michael Madrid were already throwing events under the Buddytown moniker. They had organized everything from kickball to “Robot Invasions” (30 people donning robot costumes and descending on an unsuspecting establishment like Bar Twenty3), to the sporadic dance parties at Ombi Bar.
The site was a natural extension of the get-togethers, minus the hassle of contacting every friend individually. MySpace has bulletins, but they’re easily ignored, and selecting a few real friends out of a hundred fakes is painfully inefficient. They just wanted to invite Nashville’s party set, or as they put it, “the closest thing in Nashville to the East Village in New York.” The site’s motto is far more succinct, lest there be any confusion: “No douchebags.”
But this hasn’t stopped confident types from trying backdoor routes. “I’ll see random emails here and there that say ‘check out my MySpace page,’ ” says Madrid, a dark-haired 24-year-old who also works for the Seattle design company Asterik. “It’s almost like, ‘Look me over and invite me.’ We usually ignore it. We want it to grow through people we actually know.”
Still, the founders enjoy teasing members with their Wizard of Oz-like presence. An April Fools’ joke found the site shut down for three days and a message from the founders that Buddytown was kaput. They received a flood of emails from users asking what they’d done to offend.
The site is a cleaner, smaller version of MySpace, where people seem to be who they say they are. There are virtually no ads, and the rules are fairly clear: “Your first name and last name MUST be your real name. We will not tolerate names such as xCuteGirlx, KareBare and the like.” Need help using your invite? Heed this Buddytown pointer: “Friends who...you actually hang out with...aren’t Douchebags...don’t have shitty MySpace pages.”
But if your efforts don’t find you with a redemption code in your inbox, you can still ingratiate yourself with the founders or the City Council—the seven-person ruling body that oversees the site—at the public parties. The cover is an everybody-friendly 5 bucks, and Saturday night saw the Ombi Bar packed by 11:30. DJ Tanner was spinning New Order, M.I.A., Metric and Le Tigre, and the partiers shimmied on the dance floor with a liberated strut. With the exception of a few painfully normal-looking people, the patrons were all magazine-worthy stylish. It was basically a runway of the high-fashion end of indie rock—girls decked out in faux-vintage dresses sporting oversized sunglasses, chunky jewelry and every variation on belt-wearing imaginable. Boys wore short shorts, suits with running shoes and a staggering number of sweatbands. Hardly any douchebags at all.
“We get comments that at our parties there are a lot of young cute girls and gay guys,” says Hinman. “That’s what I love, because those are the people that like to dance and the people that have fun with it. This is a nice room—it’s not the Red Door. It’s not a place to just get shit-faced. So, if being tied to an exclusive online community keeps that air about these parties, then great. I don’t want this room full of Vanderbilt frat guys. I don’t wanna see khaki shorts. I don’t wanna see white hats.”
Madrid interjects: “But at that one party, we did have a guy in khaki shorts and a polo and he was having an awesome time. There was a guy here, probably somebody that maybe looked out of place. I’m not saying this is bad, but they kind of looked like an Eddie Bauer ad. But they were having the best time in the world. We just want people to have fun.”