Nashville’s always been known for its country music roots, but pop culture milestones like the successful ABC series Nashville and stars like Taylor Swift (who famously convinced her family to uproot and relocate which kickstarted her career), have made the city even more synonymous with the genre. Now, Nashville’s more famous than ever—the 100-person strong line winding around the iconic Bluebird Café each day is proof of this. Plus, it boasts bragging rights as the biggest American music industry hub outside of New York City. But while most people automatically assume that Nashville’s only specialty is twangy country, over the past ten years it’s undergone a musical renaissance. You could almost call it an overhaul, depending on what part of Nashville you happen to be in. Each pocket of the city is home to its own musical community, whether it’s garage rock, electro-pop, soul, or good old southern rock ‘n’ roll. Unsurprisingly, Nashville’s emergence from the home of country to truly embodying its “Music City USA” nickname has been a long time coming.
From the 80s to the early 2000s, it was nearly impossible for a non-country band from Nashville to gain major label attention and recognition outside the South. In fact, no rock band from Tennessee achieved a platinum album in 20 years, which locals dubbed “the Nashville curse.”Paramore eventually broke this streak in 2008 with their sophomore release, Riot!, and the city hasn’t looked back since. From locals like (the now defunct, but no less influential) Be Your Own Pet and JEFF the Brotherhood, to transplants like The Black Keys and Jack White (who moved his label Third Man Records in 2009), Nashville arguably offers the greatest density—and variety—of musicians anywhere in the world.
Given that housing prices are still pretty low, it’s a no brainer for young artists of every genre to see it as a musician-friendly mecca which is also brimming with songwriters and studio players looking to collaborate. And, because it’s the South, everyone is really nice. As Jordan Smith from Nashville rockers Diarrhea Planet explained: “Nashville bands sort of blend all kinds of different styles and it’s unique because all of the different scenes kind of meld into one giant friend group.” According to Smith the vibe is one that’s both diverse and close-knit, and, the most exciting part is, this melting pot is only getting more mixed. So save the Ryman and the Grand Ole Opry for another trip, and instead head out to West Nashville’s The Stone Fox or spots likeThe Mercy Lounge or Exit/In for a sampling of what Nashville is really like. If you need a place to get started, check out eight of our favorites below. Although the bands listed offer some of the best representations of this “new” kind of Nashville sound, it’s just a taster of the city’s deep well of emerging talent and the only way to really sample this is to book a ticket down South to see for yourself. See our picks here.