Imagine a city with no professional hockey, no pro football stadium, let alone a team. There is no downtown art museum, no world-class symphony hall. There's hardly even any live country music. The downtown public library is falling apart, and the city's downtown retail hub for much of the century has been reduced to a few dying stores and a mostly empty mall. What's that you say—just order books and stuff online? What's "online?"
That was Nashville in 1989, the year a giveaway shopping rag called the Nashville Scene crawled up from the city's driveways and drainage ditches. Ever since, some would argue that we've never strayed far from the gutter. Sure, we might attempt sweeping urban-design plans, massive investigative pieces and the occasional poetry contest—but we made sure to subsidize them with ads for escorts, phone sex and inflatable gratification. Nobody could accuse us of getting above our raisin'.
Around here, that's a big deal. When former Nashville Banner reporter Bruce Dobie and former ad exec Albie Del Favero unveiled the new Scene in the summer of '89, it seemed that Nashville's fondest wish was to be Atlanta. As a city, we wanted their congested downtown; we wanted their outlying sprawl; and we coveted every chain restaurant and big-box retailer in between.
And really, in 1989, who could blame us? Between the death throes of Nashville's entrenched political machinery—corrupt and crazy enough to make us a national laughingstock—and our cultural ambassador Hee Haw, the city's chronic inferiority complex had reached crisis point. The city actually thought it was a status symbol a few years later when the monstrous Planet Hollywood set up an outpost of smarm on Lower Broadway. Meanwhile, authentic landmarks of country music's past sat nearby like the mountains that dwarf Gatlinburg.
But resistance was building. The rascals got booted out of City Hall. Salvation came to Lower Broadway in the form of the reopened Ryman and of hungry young bands lured, not deterred, by our hillbilly heritage. Tourists followed, and with them a booming new chapter in our downtown history. Across the city, from Hillsboro to East Nashville, local entrepreneurs stepped in to fill the gaps that no cookie-cutter could—coffee houses, record stores, restaurants of every kind and nationality.
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Nashville Scene's rebirth. For our 10th anniversary issue, the Scene laid out an exhaustive history of how much the paper had changed in that brief, whirling, taken-for-granted decade. There's even more to cover now in the Scene saga—a two-decade rollercoaster by which a local shopper transforms into a successful alt-weekly and ultimately a link in a national chain, while the media "landscape" gradually comes to resemble the black-lighted computer ether-world of the '80s sci-fi fantasy Tron.
When we started combing through the stacks, though, it wasn't our story that seemed compelling—it was yours. Some of the civic issues have changed surprisingly little over the years, as the sampling of headlines on p. 24 shows. But the overarching story of Nashville's past two decades is of newcomers and emboldened natives seizing the reins of the city's destiny, and the mixed blessing of shaking off some of our spirited dysfunction in the bargain.
Those themes recur throughout the essays in this issue—in Bruce Barry's survey of seismic shifts in Metro politics since the days of Fate Thomas (p. 14); in Christine Kreyling's scan across the vastly different cityscape (p. 19); in Kay West's open-hearted love letter to local sports, from Greer Stadium to LP Field (p. 21); and in our take on the most significant moments in music over the past 20 years (p. 26), followed by Bruce Dobie's closing memory of the Scene's madcap first year (p. 34 ). They're even ongoing concerns in Carrington Fox's overview of changes on the local dining scene (p. 22).
That last topic is something senior account executive Stevan Steinhart—the Scene's longest employee at 24 years and counting, followed closely by controller Gracey Davis and operations director Julie Rutter—can describe almost from memory (click here for his recollections). He's not the only one with much of his youth tied up in this place. It seems like yesterday that senior account executive Maggie Bond was in the hospital with her daughter Avery; her baby girl attends college this fall. As for the Scene itself, it did its growing up in public, with all the fits, tantrums and embarrassments that entails.
And now, at age 20, the paper finds itself young again—morphing into a hybrid print weekly/online daily, staffed by a cast of young writers finding their voices, under the guidance of a two-fisted Rust Belt riverboat captain whose pragmatic blue-collar spirit is like nothing in the paper's history. It doesn't seem like old times; it seems like new times—uncharted waters where the constant churn of information and the role of reportage change daily at the speed of a keystroke.
We're lucky to get to do what we do, to still get to do it (knock wood), and to serve and shape and find our way in a city that has given us all so much. So thank you to former editors Bruce Dobie and Liz Murray Garrigan; thank you to former publishers Albie Del Favero and Chris Ferrell; thank you to former managing editors Jonathan Marx, John Pitcher and Matt Pulle; thank you to all the writers who hoisted us aboard their backs; thank you to the salespeople and receptionists who've kept this ship afloat.
And most of all, thank you—not just for reading, but for accepting in advance our apology for the many times we'll needle, provoke, annoy, exasperate and scandalize you over the 20 years to come. It's our honor to live on your street.
20 years of Nashville politics: It's a tale of two mayorsbut that's not the whole story
People we miss
20 years of Nashville's landscape: Music City still can't decide between green and unclean
20 years of Nashville sports: From the Sounds to the Preds and Titans, a fan looks back
20 years of Nashville food: more options and greater expectations
Ten Scene stories that stirred up controversy
A 20-year reunion photo of some of the Rock Block's hardiest denizens
20 years of Nashville music: From Lucy's to Leon, momentous events from two decades in Music City
Then and Now
Recalling the early days, when the Scene walked the mean streets of Brentwood
Actual Scene cover stories or Onion headlines? You make the call.
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