Renewing the Culture of Nashville

Guest curated by Jeremy Blume and Rob Forrester of Bearings

When we launched Bearings in Atlanta in 2008 with the mission to celebrate interesting, enriching and unique aspects of Southern culture, one of our next priorities was to set up an outpost in Nashville. This city has always held a special place in Southern lore, but over the past few years both a revival and reinvention of its culture has been taking place – and we couldn’t wait to tell those stories.

Certainly for some, Music City does, and will continue to, evoke images of honky-honk bars and cowboy boots – and that’s a part of its fabric. But what has been taking place is richer and more complex than that one dimension.

Others have written about the city’s economic boost and the prominence things like professional sports teams and the new convention center are bringing, but that’s not what we are talking about. This is something deeper that comes from both an appreciation of heritage and an innovative drive to explore what can be. Creativity has always been a part of Nashville’s DNA, but now there is a diversity in that expression that comes from a few people at the grassroots level who are tapping into doing what they do best: handcrafting leather, revitalizing old buildings, planting trees in neighborhoods, using coffee to create community and turning local farms into an innovative dinner.

Just look at a few aspects of the local culture that have sprung up in the past few years.

Nashville changed its view of dining and drinking through spots like Catbird Seat, Rolf and Daughters, Patterson House, The Pharmacy, Barista Parlor, Mas Tacos food truck and No. 308 – just to name a few. Others, like Porter Road Butcher, remind us of the importance of knowing where our food comes from. Or Twelve at the Table, a dining experience that asks us to slow down and savor good food with friends and family.

On the attire front, Imogene +Willie took over an old gas station and reshaped our view of denim – and in the process rallied a community around the 12South neighborhood. In a town known for dressing down, Otis James has put handmade ties on men across the city. Emil Erwin started making leather bags so fine and durable that we’ll be passing them on to our kids. And Peter Nappi took an old meat-packing plant and showed us that we have other footwear options beyond cowboy boots.

Then of course, there is all the music being made well outside of the traditional country comfort zone. Jack White brought his rock ‘n’ roll here and opened up Third Man Records to breed more. Chancellor Warhol has taken it even further with his brand of hip-hop. The city is also giving life to synth-pop, indie-rock and everything in between, thanks to bands like Paper Route, Kopecky Family Band, The Apache Relay and Leagues.

It’s these kinds of artisans (and many others like those behind SoundForest, Holler Design and Sideshow Sign Co.) who are making the collective culture of Nashville one that is fresh and multidimensional, while still maintaining a deep pride in its Southern heritage. This city has the self-respect to revere where it has been and also the courage to look at what it can become.

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