“Nashville, Tennessee, used to be just a city of 10-gallon hats and the Grand Ole Opry,” the piece opens. “Now it’s the most electric spot in the South, thanks to a cast of transplanted designers, architects, chefs, and rock ’n’ rollers.”
To make the case, writer Will Welch and photographer Ben Watts focus on 25 (mostly transplanted) local luminaries the likes of Karen Elson, Nikki Lane, The Whigs, Tennessee Titans Jason McCourty and Kenny Britt, The Ettes, novelist J. Wes Yoder and, for good measure, Marty Stuart, shooting them at and giving props to local locales like Patterson House, Parlour & Juke Salon, Imogene + Willie, Peter Nappi, Mas Tacos (truck, not HQ), Third Man Records, Grimey’s, The Cannery Ballroom, City House, The 5 Spot and The Zombie Shop.
As is the case with most features of this nature, GQ doesn’t really show or tell ear-to-ground Nashvillians much they don’t already know about their own stomping ground, but it does, for outsiders, offer up a decent time capsule capture of the city’s modern cultural touchstones.
Here are the real questions: How well represented do you the Nashvillian feel by this piece and by these examples? How new does circa-now Nashville feel to you? And how much of Nashville’s cultural rebirth does the city owe to outsiders coming in?
Here’s another question: If you stripped the text and token Marty Stuart inclusion from this piece, would you be able to tell that this is a spread on Nashville and not, say, Chicago, Atlanta or Seattle? What in these images truly, truly distinguishes them as Music City — or even truly Southern — scenes?
My two cents? I think that, while Nashville more than merits attention from GQ and others, these profiles and the praises in them are part of a larger media trend: that the rest of the country is trying really hard to have a love affair with Southern, Americana aesthetics, and it’s Nashville’s turn to shine in the spotlight. Nashville fits comfortably into a narrative of a new South steeped and recast in a rose-colored version of its own erstwhile aesthetics. This is nothing new — it was just a matter of time before coastal trends came to the source in search of authenticity.
Suspender-clad bartenders putting ice globes into specialty cocktails has been all the rage in cities like Brooklyn and LA for some time, and Nashville has finally caught up. This GQ spread gives a glance at what Music City has to add to the growing culture of boutique businesses and old-timey artisan attributes.