How Nashville's Evolving Music Scene Is Making the City a Design, Food, Fashion & Art Destination
Nashville may be known for its music scene, but it's also home to creatives making the city a destination for design, food, art and fashion.
Where Nashville Eats Now: Strategic Hospitality's Hotspots
When Benjamin Goldberg was just a 23-year-old college graduate trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life, he and a friend decided to open a bar in an abandoned warehouse in The Gulch.
The plan didn’t make much sense: The area, in southwest Nashville, was off the radar, and Goldberg had little business or culinary acumen. The space, though, epitomized where he wanted to hang out. “It was a snapshot of my life at that time,” says Goldberg, now 38. “And somehow the people in Nashville understood it and came out.”
Fifteen years and eight restaurants later, Benjamin and his brother Max, 34, who founded Strategic Hospitality in 2006, are still proving a single restaurant has the power to change an entire neighborhood. Among the standouts in their portfolio: Pinewood Social, a vintage bowling alley-meets-pool party-meets-bocce-ball cocktail hangout in Rolling Mill Hill; Bastion, a 24-seat eatery helmed by culinary darling Josh Habiger in the up-and-coming Wedgewood-Houston area; and Germantown’s Henrietta Red, where Nashville native Julia Sullivan (formerly of Per Se and The French Laundry) serves up oysters and seafood.
No two concepts are alike, and while the Goldbergs admit they wished they had a savvy business plan to help guide them, they always come back to two simple questions: “What are we really into right now? And will this add value to Nashville?” Says Benjamin: “It’s a city that has been really good to us, and we want to be good back to it.”
You were both raised in Nashville. What was a favorite place to eat back then?
MAX: Benjamin and I have great memories of going out to Centerville, Tenn., which is about an hour from Nashville, where our grandfather had a cattle farm and wood-chipping business, and there was a great fried chicken joint called the Beacon Light Tea Room. Our grandmother will kill us for talking about it, because it’s a hidden secret.
BENJAMIN: Sperry’s is an old Nashville favorite. The Picnic Cafe, which is a great chicken salad spot, is still there.
What’s happening in Nashville now that the food industry is booming?
BENJAMIN: There’s all sorts of wonderful people doing creative, thoughtful things here -- jean makers, artists, graphic designers, bar folks, restaurant folks. We all want each other to succeed, and when you see someone doing what they love, you end up being more likely to take a risk yourself.
Considering Nashville’s music roots, how does the scene play into your projects?
BENJAMIN: We’re doing more of a focus on concerts. We have a concession stand in the baseball stadium [First Tennessee Park] called The Band Box. Kings of Leon will play a show [at the stadium] in September, and we will be executing restaurant-quality food in the stand.
What’s the best show you’ve ever been to in Nashville?
BENJAMIN: The first show we ever had at our music venue [City Hall, which closed in 2008] many moons ago: Ray LaMontagne.
MAX: I took my mom and aunt to the Ryman to see Bob Dylan. One of the guys who was helping to do the music gave us one of the harmonicas that Bob played. He said, “This is a spit-certified harmonica. If I see it on eBay, I’m going to break your legs.” I think he meant it.
-- Brooke Mazurek
Where Nashville Buys Art Now: The South's Curators of Cool
When entertainment figures in Nashville seek to add to their art collections, they’ve typically looked to cities like Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York. In recent years, though, a nascent art scene has bloomed here alongside other growing industries, leading artists from around the country to set up studios and new galleries in the city.
Alex Lockwood, an abstract sculptor who also runs Nashville’s Elephant Gallery, moved from Brooklyn in 2011 with his now wife. He soon found himself getting the chance to take on projects that wouldn’t have been possible in larger art markets. “I got to do a show at a performing arts space, 10,000 square feet,” he says. “I had to make more work than I’d ever made. That kind of opportunity was a big deal for me and gave me confidence. It also got me working much harder than I had before.”
Because the visual-art market in Nashville has largely gone unnoticed, talent has been able to develop quietly, according to Lain York, the director at the popular Zeitgeist Gallery. “You didn’t see [these artists] because they lived in the shadow of the country music industry,” he says. “It allowed these hothouse flowers to develop.” Artists like Mika Agari, Bridget Bailey and Zack Rafuls have begun to make names for themselves and benefited from a community that offers support and camaraderie. “If you do good work and are not an asshole, you will get help. People will lift you up and have your back. That’s the beautiful thing about Nashville,” says Julia Martin, an artist who also runs a gallery under her name in the Wedgewood-Houston art district. That spirit was on display in June when Martin hosted Undefeated, a fundraiser to benefit Those Darlins singer Jessi Zazu, who has cancer and whose paintings were exhibited.
Despite the community support and opportunities for local talent, blue-chip buyers will still often shop elsewhere. “If they’re going to find a Nashville artist, it’s going to be through a gallery in another city, which is unfortunate,” says Lockwood. But that seems poised to change soon.
“Now that there’s so much development and so much is coming inside, people are starting to look around at what has been developing here for a long time. There’s more of a local market,” says York, who has no doubt that the emerging talents in Nashville are just as compelling as their big-city peers. “They’re new, they’re exciting -- just as exciting as the young, pretty, dangerous folks coming out of Yale."
KEY STOPS ON THE SCENE
Open since February, the space houses owner Lockwood’s studio and those of other artists, including ceramist Jess Cheatham.
1411 Buchanan St., 917-969-9755, alockwood.com
The space is a home for new talent as well as events keyed to social issues like gun violence.
444 Humphreys St., Suite A, 615-336-7773, juliamartingallery.com
Run by York, the unofficial “Mayor of Art Town,” the gallery has been around since 1994, with a focus on local creators.
516 Hagan St. #100, 615-256-4805, zeitgeist-art.com
David Lusk Gallery
After thriving in Memphis for two decades, the gallery opened in Nashville this year and reps artists collected by musicians such as Ronnie Dunn.
516 Hagan St., 615-780-9990, davidluskgallery.com
-- Adrienne Gaffney
Where Nashville Shops Now: The Son Is The One
A year and a half after opening, Nashville boutique Two Son has become a pivotal player in a style revival that has brought celebrated indie fashion labels Mayram Nassir Zadeh and Black Crane to the city for the first time.
The store was started by two married couples -- David Perry, who also has a fashion production company, and Leigh Watson, part of the folk duo Watson Twins; and photographer Aubrey McCoy and James Kicinski-McCoy, who runs the lifestyle site Bleubird -- who noticed a deficit in the city’s offerings. Now, the modernist, 2,200-square-foot space in East Nashville is a must-hit for locals in the know and tourists looking for edgy curation in home goods and men’s and women’s clothing.
“When we moved here, most of our friends said they shopped online or when they traveled,” says McCoy. “We wanted to open something different for Nashville and provide brands not sold here, like Lauren Manoogian and Jesse Kamm.” The sophisticated, architectural cuts would seem to run contrary to traditional country dress, but even those who aren’t ready to spend $300 on drop-crotch Caron Callahan pants “come to support the shop, see it in person and pick up a few things.”
Who Designs Nashville Now: Pencil & Paper Co.
Anyone who lives in Nashville will tell you the city has been undergoing a real estate boom during the past few years. The empty lots and abandoned warehouses that once dotted downtown’s southwestern fringe known as The Gulch, for example, have been replaced with chic cafes, shops and lofts. The same can be said for Germantown, where Gen and Benjamin Sohr have captured the synergy of old and new Nashville in the home and commercial spaces they reimagine for Pencil & Paper Co., the boutique design agency the couple launched in 2012.
“There is nothing more fulfilling than taking old architecture and shaking it up with colorful, graphic wallpaper. The juxtaposition of those things is what Nashville is now,” says Gen, whose penchant for mixing bold patterns, bright colors and both abstract and traditional art is well-documented on an Instagram account with over 90,000 followers. Among the Sohrs’ more recent coups is the brick-and-mortar store Reese Witherspoon had them design for her Southern-inspired lifestyle brand, Draper James. “The experience of the shop is really about her wanting to present the idea of ‘Where I grew up is amazing. Southern hospitality is real,’ ” says Gen.
But more than anything, the duo says the music that is so central to Nashville has become an innate part of its work. “Our backgrounds are in retail development, so everything we do is about the full customer experience, and music is such a big part of that,” says Gen, who grew up in Miami. When they were approached to reconceive the Tullahoma, Tenn.-based whiskey distillery George Dickell, “we decided the differentiator for them is that they need to be about Nashville -- and that means music,” says Benjamin, a Nashville native and music enthusiast who attends Bonnaroo every year. “So in addition to architecture and brand development -- the way things look -- we’re putting together all of these events that tap into what Nashville sounds like.”