It was a bummer of a year for the all-ages rock venue: Both punk-rock hole-in-the-wall The Muse and DIY warehouse space Little Hamilton said farewell and shuttered indefinitely. Fortunately, some of the folks behind Little Hammy opened a new and similarly come-one-come-all-spirited space called The Owl Farm in East Nashville.
We were sad to see Imogene + Willie's excellent outdoor Supper + Song series come to an end in September over concerns about noise. Also in September, lauded guitarist William Tyler and his sister Elise opened the highly anticipated new bar and venue The Stone Fox in West Nashville with a show featuring São Paulo Underground and Nashville's own Cortney Tidwell. (The Fox is where we shot Jessie Baylin, John McCauley and Cherub for this week's cover, as a matter of fact.) The folks behind the venues at One Cannery Row removed those pesky sightline-blocking poles in Cannery Ballroom and opened the fantastic new rock club The High Watt — basically a miniaturized Mercy Lounge — upstairs, not to mention a private-event space known as One up on the top floor.
The folks at 12th Ave. nightclub MAI opted not to renew their lease, instead moving into a space on Second now known as Seen — the old MAI space is slated to become Anthem in the coming weeks. The long underutilized space once called The French Quarter is also set for a transformation around year's end, though the new establishment — to be christened The Crying Wolf — will serve more as a bar and restaurant than a regular venue.
Popular art space/venue Brick Factory and repair shop/venue The Zombie Shop moved out of their old spots and shacked up together at 500 Houston St., launching with a show from rock 'n' rollers The Ettes and Blackfoot Gypsies on Nov. 30. There does seem, however, to be some disagreement over what to call the new spot. Zombie Factory? Brick Shop? New Zombie Shop? Fort Houston? —D. PATRICK RODGERS
Unlike, say, L.A.'s Guns N' Roses or Brooklyn's Barbra Streisand, Nashville acts don't tend to toy with their fans and the media by making trumped-up promises/threats of breakups, makeups, farewell tours or the unearthing of long-lost albums.
After more than a decade-and-a-half of physically punishing music making, The Legendary Shack Shakers went on official hiatus with a recent Mercy Lounge benefit show for their drummer Brett Whitacre, who's recently experienced health issues. But frontman and founder J.D. Wilkes has had a Southern Gothic side duo, The Dirt Daubers, up and running for a while now. Umbrella Tree's parting of ways was a little more surprising, coming on the heels of a new management deal and a new member. But the lit-pop band went out in classy, warmhearted fashion, gifting a new concert film to their fans. Also saying goodbye were full-bore psychedelic rock 'n' rollers Hans Condor — who likely put on the loudest show in Music City — though their split technically occurred in December 2011.
News that The Civil Wars were backing out of all their tour dates also seemed to come out of nowhere, and the combination of divorce-style lingo ("irreconcilable differences") and vague promises of new music made it all the more cryptic. On the bright side, we were treated to a taste of BR549's original lineup this year. First, producer Phil Harris wanted them to contribute a track to a Christmas album. Then Ketch Secor called and asked them to open for Old Crow Medicine Show at The Woods Amphitheater. Old Crow was just getting back out there themselves — and back to their rollicking old-timey forte — after a 12-month hiatus and significant lineup shifts.
The one nobody saw coming, though, was The Mavericks. They gave up on the band thing nearly a decade ago, only to pop up at CMA Fest and the Americana Awards Show this year sounding pretty damn inspired and finding themselves still the only Latin retro-pop and country-rock band in the game. —JEWLY HIGHT
Late this summer, SoundLand — the local music fest formerly known as Next Big Nashville — announced that, for the first time since its inception in 2006, festivities would take place for one day in one location only: on Oct. 6, 2012, at the brand-new Lawn at Riverfront Park. Louisville monsters of psych My Morning Jacket would headline, and other performers would include Divine Fits, Young the Giant, J.D. McPherson and a handful of locals. But two weeks before the event, a post quietly went live on SoundLand's website stating that "issues out of everyone's control have caused us to put this vision on hold until 2013."
Whether or not the 'Land will indeed return next year — and whether or not it will go down at The Lawn — remains to be seen. But the new riverfront concert space didn't go to waste its first autumn. The Lawn was unveiled Sept. 21-22 with a two-day stand from Zac Brown Band's Southern Ground Music and Food Festival, which featured — in addition to some down-home cuisine — performances from Sonia Leigh, Blackberry Smoke, Jerry Douglas, Michael Franti, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Los Lonely Boys and more, not to mention cameos from the likes of John Mayer and Sheryl Crow.
On Oct. 26-27, The Lawn once again played host to a genre-specific mega-event, when EDM superstars Skrillex and Pretty Lights brought their two-day With Your Friends Fest to Nashville. WYF also featured performances from indie-electronic darling Santigold and hip-hop heavyweight Nas, not to mention a carnival ride and several thousand youngsters shivering away in their Halloween costumes. Not a bad two-dose christening for Nashville's latest outdoor space, even if SoundLand remains endangered. —D. PATRICK RODGERS
Southerners are a defensive bunch, eager to find condescension in the best of intentions. Assorted Nashvillians were certainly ready to take their toys and go home once it was announced ABC was ordering up a show called Nashville about three woman at various levels in the music business. A show set in our city, about country music? Original thought. The pedigrees of creator Callie Khouri and music director T Bone Burnett didn't matter. There was still the fear that the show would somehow get the city "wrong."
But guess what! The show is filmed in town, and Nashville producers have gone out of their way to cater to local viewers by having characters mill about in places people actually mill about — Bluebird Cafe, the Gulch and The 5 Spot, for starters. Local musicians are featured, and the songs range from decent to spectacular ("No One Will Ever Love You" from the second episode? So good!) But make no mistake: This isn't a folksy reflection on average people. It's rich-people melodrama of the highest caliber, where a problem with a record label or political rival is more pressing than a problem with a marriage.
It works by and large thanks to the innate likability of stars Connie Britton (as established and respected singer Rayna Jaymes) and Hayden Panettiere (playing sassy-upstart-with-a-past Juliette Barnes). While still just a good show, it has potential to be great: more high dudgeon from Britton and Panettiere, less mayoral machinations and woe-is-me dopery from the East Side "hipster" contingent. If you're going to go prime-time soap, you may as well go hard. Someone should tell the writers that Nashville allows guns in bars. Cliffhanger! —ASHLEY SPURGEON
The cast of ABC's Nashville wasn't the only talent to plant roots in Music City this year. Among 2012's cast of notable local transplants is a debauched indie-rock star and Year in Music Scene cover boy (Deer Tick/Diamond Rugs frontman John McCauley); an Alabamian bard of Americana (Jason Isbell); a revered alt-folkie from The Great White North (Lindi Ortega); and a Georgia trio of garage-rock revivalists (The Whigs). Oh, and then there's pop singers Colbie Caillat and Kelly Clarkson. Ever wonder who actually buys up condos in those Midtown high-rises? Well, in September Clarkson told The Tennessean she calls her new Nashville crash pad "The Pop Star Place," and Caillat recently told the local daily that she's on the lookout for a Music City crib. —ADAM GOLD
For the umpteenth year in a row, news on the major label front seemed to be all mergers and purges all the time, while country's most muscular indie label group, Big Machine — shrewdly led by one Scott Borchetta — managed to carve out a bigger chunk of the radio airplay pie and snatch up veteran acts who'd been dropped.
It's a lot easier to find interesting startup and success stories on the roots and rock side of things. Dualtone, for instance, had been an independent home to a lot of well-respected Americana vets for more than a decade, but the East Nashville-based label had a banner year in the breaking-new-acts department with anthemic folk-rockers The Lumineers — whose sing-along single "Ho Hey" went platinum — and down-home garage-pop duo Shovels & Rope.
Brendan Benson — burnt-out on handing his music over to other people's labels — launched his own Readymade Records, which doesn't have a static, salaried staff so much as a commission-based team tailored to each project. It was a prolific first year for them, with albums from Benson, Young Hines, Cory Chisel and The Lost Brothers, plus a concert film and a Howling Brothers album in the can.
Speaking of label heads who've walked a mile in a signee's shoes, Kings of Leon expanded Serpents and Snakes from an imprint set up specifically for The Features into a haven for additional Followill faves like Turbo Fruits — who found it an artist-friendly reprieve to release their album Butter on the label after a less-than-satisfying experience on Fat Possum — The Weeks and Snowden, whose full-length album, No One in Control, is due in January. —JEWLY HIGHT
Living in Nashville means having half a dozen stories about that time you saw Ben Folds at Bongo Java or when you mistook Robert Plant for a homeless guy at The Pharmacy. But in 2012, it started to feel like our lives had become a sweeps week of celebrity cameos. And we're not just talking about Patrick Carney's SUV.
This year in famouses kicked off in earnest back in February when Degrassi Community School's favorite graduate dropped in for a surprise fireside chat with students at Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet. Drake, who was in town for a date on his Club Paradise Tour, spoke to the babies about the importance of academics — something that he never heard from a comparable figure. "I made a choice in the 12th grade to drop out of high school," Drake admitted. "Despite all of the great things that have happened in my life, that was one of my biggest regrets." Preach it, Jimmy!
Sure, teenage minds were blown by Drake, but that paled in comparison to the full-scale nerd meltdown that Protomen fans faced when Jack Black joined the band onstage at Exit/In for a cover of "Bohemian Rhapsody." The sprawling synth-opera outfit got in good with Tenacious D on a handful of Canadian dates and managed to sweet-talk Jables and others into joining their Mega Man rock riot-turned-Queen-tribute show.
But not all of the celebrity attention was desirable. We found that out the hard way when Glenn Danzig abandoned his Danzig Legacy set at Bonnaroo to go ape on Scene photographer Michael W. Bunch. Bunch was shooting the crowd when the killer wolf bounded off stage to shout him down and disappear. Moments later, Danzig reappeared on stage, wearing a mask and ranking about how some people "always gotta try and fuck shit up." No hard feelings, right? —LANCE CONZETT
The collaborative impulse brought together producers and producer-musicians and living legends and legends-to-be in 2012. Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach produced JEFF the Brotherhood's big-label debut, Hypnotic Nights, adding keyboards to Jake and Jamin Orrall's post-Black Sabbath, post-Pavement brand of jovial stoner rock. Auerbach also took the helm for Dr. John's Locked Down, which modernizes the New Orleans musician's sound.
Meanwhile, Americana favorite Justin Townes Earle produced rock 'n' roll-country legend Wanda Jackson's Unfinished Business (see feature on p. 72). Lambchop leader Kurt Wagner joined The Altered Statesman on Something Missing, which suggests these two kindred spirits should work together more often. Old punks The Waco Brothers — including the great Mekon, Jon Langford — teamed up with Nashville country-pop traditionalist Paul Burch on Great Chicago Fire.
On the pop tip, Music City singer-songwriter Mikky Ekko co-wrote the piano-driven ballad "Stay" for Rihanna's new Unapologetic, while proto-punk icon Iggy Pop co-wrote and sang "Dirty Love" with the irrepressible, sex-ghosted Ke$ha. Jack White worked with Beck on a strange, compelling country-rock song titled "I Just Started Hating Some People Today" and with Tom Jones on a revved-up cover of Howlin' Wolf's "Evil" — we're still waiting to hear if and when the material Radiohead recorded at White's Third Man Records in June will be released. Brendan Benson and The Greenhornes teamed up with venerable English blues-rocker Eric Burdon on a four-song EP. And local neo-soul ravers Fly Golden Eagle got together with Alabama Shakes shouter Brittany Howard and Brooklyn imports Clear Plastic Masks to make some rockin' noise under the name of Thunderbitch. —EDD HURT
Although music videos aren't the promotional tool they once were (you're infinitely more likely to see one on a computer monitor than a television set), Nashville artists big and small did their part to keep the medium alive this year. Take, for example, Jack White. Always one to harness the power of the visual, White tapped directors like Hype Williams and Dori Oskowitz to helm clips for Blunderbuss singles like "16 Saltines" and "Freedom at 21" — clips in which the locally based international superstar got arrested by sexy cops, hogtied and thrown into the back of a burning K-car by evil children and found himself shakin' all over the screen.
The Black Keys submitted themselves to the grotesque visions of art-house auteur Harmony Korine for creepiest-video-of-all-time contender "Gold on the Ceiling." Using jerrybuilt Baby Bjorns, the director strapped band members Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney to ghoulish dead-eyed doppelgangers and sent them roaming around one of Nashville's more unsightly neighborhoods. No wonder the suits at Warner Bros. wanted to shelve this one.
Another gem was Wanda Jackson's video for "Tore Down." Directed by Scene contributor Seth Graves, the '60s-tinged clip not only boasted an appearance by porn-star-turned-almost-cultural-icon Ron Jeremy, it captured local luminaries the likes of Tristen, Coco Hames, Chris Crofton, J.D. Wilkes, Brandon Jazz and Nikki Lane acting as switchblade brothers and sisters and their innocent bystanders.
Directors Michael Carter and Elise Tyler cast a who's who of local rockers, got 'em drunk at the lake and managed to sneak a split-second shot or two of male nudity into JEFF the Brotherhood's "Sixpack" video. No small feat, seeing how the clip was bankrolled by a major label and all.
Carter also directed the hilarious, party-riffic clip for Turbo Fruits' "Harley Dollar Bill$," in which the band bro'd down as honorary members of The Best of Both Worlds black motorcycle club.
On the über-mainstream tip, country star Carrie Underwood's like-lightning-striking, high-budge, tornado-tastic clip for "Blown Away" was like a remake of Garth Brooks' "Thunder Rolls" meeting a remake of Twister.
A perhaps more overlooked entry, local post-rock duo Hammock's clip for "Cold Front" was gorgeous and affecting. Whether shooting in a drab motel room or on an idyllic shoreline, director/band member David Altobelli handily found and captured powerful moving images of stunning beauty. —ADAM GOLD
Celebrity is a magnet for attention of all kinds, and buzz and backlash both travel at the speed of broadband these days. Nashville, as we know, has a few sizable targets of its own. Taylor Swift's Kennedy-linked summer intensified the breathless who's-she-singing-about gossip cycle following the release of her new batch of confessions. And on the critical appraisal front, a Salon essay describing that album, in a nutshell, as female pop fluff drew well-founded charges of sexism and rockism from Sasha Frere-Jones and a small army of critics.
Then there was Carrie Underwood. When a U.K. interviewer got an expression of support for same-sex marriage out of her — and the sentiment seemed genuine, as apparently unrehearsed as it was — that quote became a shot heard round the tabloid world. And we can't forget Ke$ha. For as long as her pulsing, primal dance party's been on the radar, there have been critics dismissing her as a trashy hedonist, and a cadre of brainy bloggers and Gender Studies profs claiming her as a liberated, role-subverting feminist icon. Not too long ago, The Atlantic even cast Ke$ha as a modern day Betty Friedan.
Jack White's solo album Blunderbuss got pretty much the opposite response — at least at first. One writer argued that the songs conveyed a violent desire to control women, while another countered with a recap of White's history of welcoming women as bona fide bandmates and collaborators, and so on. But that wasn't the biggest White-related controversy of the year. It seemed like every New York-watching news outlet on earth reported on his abruptly cut-off 55-minute show at Radio City Music Hall in September and its royally pissed-off audience. —JEWLY HIGHT
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