Next-Gen Nashville: 16 People, Places and Things Shaking Up Music City

DenisTangneyJr/Getty Images
Downtown Nashville, Tenn.

From a rock club drawing legends to the fringes of town to a podcast plumbing country’s sordid past to stars storming the Hot 100’s top 10, creativity is sprouting all over Music City.

The Crossover Stars: 
Maren Morris And Florida Georgia Line

With her Zedd and Grey collaboration, "The Middle," and its "Meant to Be" with Bebe Rexha, Morris and FGL are holding strong in the Hot 100’s top 10, at Nos. 6 and 2, respectively -- the first time two country acts have done so simultaneously this decade. They’ve done it, notably, with songs that are more pop than anything else.

The Agent:
Jonathan Levine

After a year of agency shake-ups in Music City, Paradigm’s head of Nashville has emerged as a steadying force, boasting clients like Margo Price, Sturgill Simpson and Anderson East who don’t neatly fit the traditional country mold. Levine and his team aren’t afraid to step outside country, either: He just booked six sellout "Duos" shows for Bob Weir and Phil Lesh with promoter Peter Shapiro.

The Institution:
National Museum Of African American Music

African-American contributions to popular music have long been underrepresented. Opening in 2019 in a 56,000-square-foot space steps from Broadway’s honky-tonks, this museum aims to rectify that with exhibits illuminating the roots of jazz, blues, gospel, rap -- even a look at the 1920s' "Race Records" and their influence on country.

The Venue:
The Basement East

In May, Kris Kristofferson will play three nights not at the famed Ryman Auditorium, but at this midsize East Nashville rock club -- increasingly the go-to spot for secret shows (Cage the Elephant), release parties (Kip Moore, Margo Price), all-star tribute nights and surprise drop-ins by the likes of Jason Isbell, Cam and Gillian Welch.

The Hip-Hop Collective:
PaShun Music Branch

Nashville’s hip-hop scene takes a back seat to country’s (or even indie rock’s), but this cutting-edge collective founded by natives Wes Hood and Jean-Luc Duquette is out to change that for good, hosting showcases and producing and promoting records for a diverse group of artists in order to prove that hip-hop is a vibrant, evolving part of Music City.

The Feminist Round:
Song Suffragettes

Every Monday night at the Listening Room Cafe, this 200-member songwriting collective highlights Nashville’s often-overlooked wealth of female talent, with over 100 attendees, including prominent executives, coming to hear a revolving lineup of up-and-comers and hitmakers alike. (Kelsea Ballerini and Carly Pearce have sat in.)

The Brand Strategist:
Jennie Smythe

As CEO of Girlilla Marketing, Smythe has built a multimillion-dollar shop creating digital media and social strategy campaigns for business (Red Light Management, Academy of Country Music) and artist (Toby Keith, Florida Georgia Line, Darius Rucker) clients alike -- all while keeping a savvy 12-member staff entirely consisting of young women.

The Podcast:
Cocaine & Rhinestones

Why was Loretta Lynn’s "The Pill" banned? Was Merle Haggard’s "Okie From Muskogee" a conservative ode or tongue-in-cheek satire? Through meticulous research and riveting storytelling, Tyler Mahan Coe proves fact is just as juicy as fiction in his podcast (season two on the way!) linking country music’s present, from its gender biases to its politics, to its past.

The Edgy Boutique Label:
YK Records

One of last year's most unique country albums -- Breakfast Alone, from twangy gospel crooners Little Bandit -- came not from Music Row, or even a prominent indie label, but a one-man show: Michael Eades' YK Records. Eades' philosophy is to stay small to highlight individual acts like Little Bandit, who've opened for Margo Price and pushed Nashville convention with an openly gay frontman. So far Eades has released over 50 LPs across genres, focusing on artfully designed vinyl fit for collecting.

The Recording Studio:
Eric Masse’s The Casino

A few years ago, you couldn't pay someone from Music Row to record in East Nashville, let alone on a quiet, residential street. But now, artists like Miranda Lambert, Charlie Worsham and Brothers Osborne are racing to work at the Casino, a studio helmed by producer/engineer Eric Masse that's changing the rules of how a mainstream country albums can be made. Lambert planned on getting out of town to record The Weight of These Wings but instead came here, seeking refuge -- and some sonic grit -- amongst Masse's collection of meticulously-curated vintage gear.

The Urban Hub:
Fifth + Broadway (opening in 2020)

When it opens in 2020, this retail, entertainment and restaurant hub -- located on the site of the old convention center, with views of the Ryman Auditorium and Bridgestone Arena -- will transform downtown, expanding the into a real pedestrian metropolis, not just a series of disparate areas connected by Uber rides. Key for music lovers: a new rooftop venue. 

The Songwriter:
Abe Stoklasa, Big Yellow Dog Music

Already politically vocal, sought-after songwriter Stoklasa decided last month to chip away at Nashville's gender imbalance in the place where he felt he could most make a difference: the writer's room.  Known already for his work with Tim McGraw, Charles Kelley and Chris Lane, Stoklasa used his Instagram last month to pledge that he would never do another three-person co-write without a woman included again. 

PLUS...

The Rapper: Mike Floss
The Producer: Matt Ross-Spang, Southern Grooves Productions
The Hip Honky-Tonk: American Legion, East Nashville
The Industry Showcase: Analog at the Hutton Hotel

A version of this article originally appeared in the March 31 issue of Billboard.